13 Books Well Worth Reading: The Cream of the Book Review Crop

Every week, I review a different book on The Simple Dollar (those reviews appear on Sunday afternoons, for those who are new to the site). Over the years, that’s amounted to a lot of book reviews – 259 as of today. Here’s a full list of all of the books I’ve reviewed on The Simple Dollar.

Obviously, I don’t currently own all of these books – 259 such books would overstuff a bookshelf. What I find myself doing instead is keeping them around for a bit to see if I return to them as any sort of reference, and if I don’t, I then trade them or give them away. If the book was originally from the library, I see if I find myself wanting to check it out again, then I seek out my own copy of the book.

In any case, what eventually happens is that my personal library of books is small and it consists of a handful of books I return to over and over again for ideas on personal finance and personal growth. Right now, that library consists of thirteen books, with another one on the verge of joining for the long term.

In short, I found each of these books well worth reading on the first read and they’ve also stuck around on my bookshelf, providing continuous insight and ideas. Each of these books is well worth your time to read.

Getting Things Done
David Allen
gtdGetting Things Done does something no other book I’ve ever read has done: it meshes time and information management together in a natural and intuitive way. Rather than treating your time and your information as two separate things, Allen essentially treats them as the same thing – you process appointments in the same way that you process reports and other things you need to read. They all go through the same process and they all wind up on your “next actions” list. The system described in the book is so elegant and filled with so many modular pieces that it has transformed my life and my ability to, well, get things done.

What really sets this book apart from the others is that the system itself doesn’t focus on micromanaging every sliver of time that you have. Instead, it’s all about simply having a trusted system that keeps track of everything going on in your head, no matter what that everything happens to consist of. That’s why it works for me – I handle my professional obligations and my personal appointments and my intellectual concerns all in the same system, with little need for borders.

Sound interesting? Check out my Getting Things Done review series.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette
Amy Dacyczyn
Reducing your spending is often a matter of taking little steps. The Complete Tightwad Gazette is a giant tome that collects more little steps together in one place than you could possibly tackle in a year. The joy of this book isn’t in the tips, though. It’s in the writing and attitude of the author, Amy Dacyczyn, who clearly relishes frugality and pairs it with a crisp and yet down-to-earth sense of humor throughout. Dacyczyn does a brilliant job of making even the most extreme of frugal ideas seem normal, completely accessible, and often incredibly fun.

This book clicks because the multitude of ideas it presents are fun. They practically beg you to have a yard sale or make a price book or make a homemade Halloween costume (could this be an October post?). When you find that those interesting activities put some jingle in your pocket as well, it’s both exciting and empowering.

Sound interesting? Check out my Complete Tightwad Gazette review.

Making It All Work
David Allen
making it all workMaking It All Work is a follow-up of sorts to Getting Things Done, but it has a much different focus. While Getting Things Done focused on developing a system to handle all of the information in your life, Making It All Work focuses on why you’re handling all of those things in the first place. To put it as simply as possible, Getting Things Done addresses the how, while Making It All Work addresses the why.

The why is absolutely key, though. The why provides your motivation to get things done. It also helps guide you with regards to the constant choices we make between different things that need to get done. How do we prioritize? It all comes down to what our greater goals and priorities are, and Making It All Work does a brilliant job of tying the mundane day-to-day work to the larger things we want out of life, no matter what those things are.

Sound interesting? Check out my Making It All Work review, plus the upcoming series focusing on this book.

Raising Financially Fit Kids
Joline Godfrey
I have three children under the age of five. Teaching them about money is a constant adventure, as they’re also learning about impulse control, patience, and the idea that money is merely a means of exchange between very different kinds of things (work and goods). Even the simplest step of putting a found quarter into a piggy bank is an opportunity for financial learning, let alone big things like running a lemonade stand.

Children don’t come with manuals. On some level, all parents are making it up as they go along, but many parents find it useful to turn to the advice of others on some issues to get more insight on dealing with specific aspects of parenting. To put it simply, Raising Financially Fit Kids is the most thorough guide I’ve yet found for parents looking to teach their children lessons about personal finance, from the basics of saving to the ins and outs of entrepreneurship and from preschool children to high schoolers.

Sound interesting? Check out my Raising Financially Fit Kids review.

Your Money or Your Life
Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin, and Monique Tilford
ymoylYour Money or Your Life is the personal finance book that turned my life around.

The book didn’t accomplish this through great investing advice or tons of specific frugality tips. It accomplished this change by recasting the role money played in my life. Your money and your life are intimately tied together. Money is not just a resource that you use to buy things. It’s a representation of your life’s energy – you work for it, expending your energy, and you get to use it in whatever way you choose.

By reframing the entire personal finance conversation in such a way, Your Money or Your Life completely reshaped my relationship with my finances and put me on a much better path. Money isn’t just something with which to acquire goods – it’s a representation of all of the effort you’ve put in and a representation of what kind of a mark you can leave on the world.

Sound interesting? Check out my Your Money or Your Life review series.

The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing
Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, Michael LeBoeuf, and John C. Bogle
Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing is the single best all-around investment book I’ve ever read. It is always my first reference when thinking about investment options.

Why does it work? It succeeds on two levels. First, it advocates for a conservative – but not overly conservative – investment philosophy that helps people to reap the rewards of economic growth without losing everything in a downturn. Second, it actually explains the logic and reasoning behind the investment choices as the options are laid out. There’s as much why as how in this book and there’s also a refreshing lack of self-promotion and tales of impossible riches. It’s just good, sound investment advice for beginners and advanced investors alike.

Sound interesting? Check out my Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing review.

Born to Buy
Juliet Schor
born to buyAs my children grow older, it’s so easy to see the influence that marketing has on their daily lives. Even a simple trip to the grocery store is loaded with marketing tactics, convincing children that they need particular products before they have the sophistication to make good choices on their own.

Born to Buy focuses on this very concern: marketing to children. In this modern marketing-saturated world, how can you possibly raise smart consumers that make good choices from an early age? Schor accomplishes this not through heavy-handed advice, but by showing the multitude of techniques marketers use to influence children, reinforcing the notion that merely knowing is half the battle. From there, the book moves onto a few well-illustrated parenting strategies for raising savvy children with regards to marketing influences.

Sound interesting? Check out my Born to Buy review series.

Mindset
Carol Dweck
Mindset hinges on a simple idea with profound implications in personal finance, careers, and everyday life. There are two essential mindsets with regards to how people see their options and abilities. Some people have a “fixed” mindset – a self-definition that is static and doesn’t or can’t change – or a “growth” mindset, meaning that with work and effort, they can change who they are.

Obviously, a “growth” mindset is far more loaded with avenues for success and life possiblities. The book focuses on how to shift your own mindset to a “growth” mindset, as well as advice on how to raise children with a “growth” mindset. We are all limited by what we think our own limits are. When we are willing to step beyond those limits and try new things, even as simple as talking to others and building relationships (my biggest challenge), we are almost always deeply rewarded.

Sound interesting? Check out my Mindset review.

Never Eat Alone
Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz
neaSpeaking of my own challenges with communicating with others, Never Eat Alone focuses on that very concern. How exactly do we build meaningful relationships with others in the modern age? What does a “meaningful” relationship actually mean, and what value does it have, personally and professionally?

Never Eat Alone addresses both of these concerns in a very clear fashion, offering up a set of core ideas on how to build value-based relationships with others. The underlying principle is very simple – give of yourself first and foremost and people will come to value their connection with you – and it truly works. The more you give of yourself, the more others come to see you as a valuable person to be connected with.

Sound interesting? Check out my Never Eat Alone review series.

The Millionaire Next Door
Thomas Stanley and William Danko
The Millionaire Next Door opened my eyes to one simple fact: to be rich usually means the opposite of the pop culture perception of what a rich person is like. The generic idea of a rich person is a media created entity, one designed to sell lots of products to people who aspire to be seen as rich by matching that media perception.

The truth of rich people, as this book shows very clearly through detailed research, is that most people who are millionaires live very humble existences, often driving old cars and living in smaller houses. The people driving shiny new SUVs and living in McMansions often are not rich at all. Perception does not match reality.

Sound interesting? Check out my Millionaire Next Door review

Voluntary Simplicity
Duane Elgin
voluntary simplicityVoluntary Simplicity goes hand-in-hand with The Millionaire Next Door and Your Money or Your Life in many ways. However, instead of focusing directly on money, it instead centers on focusing on the core things that bring value into your life. What are the things that really matter to you?

The central argument of Voluntary Simplicity is that you can essentially let go of those elements that don’t really matter to you in order to focus your energy and resources on the handful of things that do matter. If you don’t value living in a big house, why live in one? If you truly do value it, then you are willing to devote the time and energy it takes to maintain it. If you’re investing your resources into something, yet you don’t value it enough to actually utilize it and maintain it, you’re misusing your life’s resources. Elgin expands upon this central idea in many different ways, with a lot of profound conclusions.

Sound interesting? Check out my Voluntary Simplicity review.

Outliers
Malcolm Gladwell
What elements make a person able to succeed in what they choose? Is it God-given talent? Is it luck? Or is it something else. Outliers proposes that time and time again, no matter the field, the people that rise to the top are the people that sink a lot of hours into their field. Their skill, earned through tremendous hard work, opens doors for them.

Why do I keep returning to this book? With a lot of research to back it up, Outliers emphasizes the value of hard work and preparation as the most valuable things a person can do for themselves in life if they want to succeed. Fortune favors the prepared, they say, and Outliers makes that statement very clear.

Sound interesting? Check out my Outliers review.

The Total Money Makeover
Dave Ramsey
ttmmThe Total Money Makeover is the best all-around “getting out of debt” book that I’ve ever seen. The advice is simple, very concrete, and very achievable if you’re willing to put some work and patience into it.

That’s not why this book stands out to me, though. It works because of Ramsey’s voice, which comes across as a stern but lovable coach. His ability to motivate personal finance success through the written word is quite incredible and I often simply enjoy the fervor and positive attitude he puts forth in some of the passages, even if the ideas themselves are simple.

Sound interesting? Check out my Total Money Makeover review series.

And, one honorable mention…

The Checklist Manifesto
Atul Gawande
The Checklist Manifesto has been a big influence on my thinking over the past month or so and I find myself rereading sections of it quite frequently. As I mentioned last Sunday in my review of the book, the central idea is that we often lose track of little details of the routines that are part of our lives. We are so familiar with them that we lose a step or two, and those little steps are often the ones that turn out to be absolutely crucial. A good checklist, therefore, is one that handles a specific situation in your life thoroughly, and following it each time you engage in that situation ensures the kind of continuous success that you can build a career and a successful life upon.

Sound interesting? Check out my Checklist Manifesto review.

Hopefully, you’ll find a book here that can change your life. If not, then there’s always my own book.

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  1. Des says:

    Some of these books are my very favorite, but I have to say I was frustrated and disappointed by Getting Things Done. I had heard so many good things about this book, from reputable sources. But it turned out to be one of the most poorly written books I’ve ever read. It is a GREAT system…but it only takes about 25 pages to explain it. The whole book is just a repetition of those 25 pages (over and over and over…) with a healthy amount of fluff thrown in for good measure. It was very difficult and frustrating to try and filter out any useful information.

    To be honest, I recommend people read your *review* of GTD rather than the book itself. You get all the good stuff from the book without having to fight through the filler.

  2. Carole says:

    Another outstanding book is “Living More With Less” by Doris Janzen Longacre. She was a young Mennonite mother who compiled other Mennonites’ thoughts on living simply. She died before finishing the book, but her husband completed it. She wrote earlier a cookbook called “More With Less

    Another outstanding book is “Living More With Less”. It was written by a young Mennonite mother who died before finishing it, and her husband completed it. It’s a compilation of thoughts on simple living by other Mennonites. It was first published in 1980.

  3. Jones says:

    I’d love to see a review of ‘The Wealthy Barber’.

  4. Briana @ GBR says:

    Thanks for this Trent. I’m in the process of making a list of things to read, so I’ve clipped this page on Evernote and making a plan to read them all

  5. valleycat1 says:

    Actually, even if you figure an average of 1.5 inches per book, you’d only need about 35 running feet of shelf space for those 259 books – I’m NOT saying you need all of them on hand. We easily have at least that much bookshelf space in our house – approx. 20′ of shelves are built in to an otherwise dead space in a small spot floor to ceiling.

    There was an interesting post on the Funny About Money blog regarding hanging onto books (or not) just yesterday.

  6. Steve says:

    I have to admit, I only made it about halfway through Your Money or Your Life. I was on board until I realized I was not the target audience – I’m not spiraling out of control financially. I certainly could have followed through with it, but I just didn’t feel a need to do it. I think it is one of the large number of PF books that you only want to read after you no longer need it.

  7. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    I wasn’t a big fan of the millionaire next door. It seemed overly simplistic to me without a lot of good takeaways. Otherwise, love this list.

  8. JMS says:

    Have you ever read Affluenza? I haven’t seen it on many lists, but I would certainly add it to my cream of the crop after reading it. I do want to read Voluntary Simplicity…thanks for the review!

  9. Joy Sosoban says:

    I have to agree with Des. I found “Getting Things Done” clunky and difficult to wade through. I had a better time following the system through your review, Trent.

  10. Carol says:

    Looking forward to sharing these with my daughter, she and I can self study our way to financial independence. ;D– please read as, “spending our time the way we want,” much as you are. I am nearly there, she has to overcome the way she was raised regarding money. I know she must learn for herself, but, I still will be around with helpful hints for her if not outright advice–only if she asks and with the express understanding that she will choose whether to use it or not. ;D

  11. Mark says:

    I’m not sure how Never Eat Alone found its way onto your list of keepers. It wasn’t a horrible book, but I can’t think of anything in there that would be worth going back and referencing again later. Plus, the whole premise of how Keith lives his life is so contrary to my own. It is not a coincidence that he has no mention of a spouse or kids in his book. His life is his work and nothing else. I prefer to balance work with other priorities.

    Just my thoughts. I plan on checking out some of the other books you have mentioned though. Appreciate your listing them out.

  12. Chris says:

    Just a correction: Outliers argues that people who have been successful couldn’t do it all by themselves. They received tremendous help from their society and people around them. It book doesn’t tell you much at all about hard work and success.

  13. Landon says:

    Great list, Trent. I’ve read many of these thanks to you, JD Roth, and others’ recommendations.

    A personal favorite is The Millionaire Next Door. VERY motivating.

    In response to Mark’s post above, I sorta agree/disagree with his point about Keith Ferrazzi. While reading the book, I had conflicting feelings of a) This guy is a total sociopath to b) This guy’s life is totally inspiring me to be a more socially networked person! It seemed like he was always trying to meet the big wigs, CEOs, etc. and playing the “social game” to move up in life. Almost to the point of being fake. However, he also was genuinely happy meeting people and socializing and increasing his network; things that I think all humans enjoy because we are social animals. Hard to resolve this internal conflict, but still an interesting read.

  14. zac thomas says:

    I own a few of these but I’ve got the rest on reserve at the library ;)
    “Getting Things Done” sat in the pocket of my car door for three years so I finally got the abridged audio CD from the library but, after these comments, I may even forgo that and just study your review. I’ve been following your blog for over a year and this is my first comment so I’ll just add that I love what you’re doing; a voice of reason amongst a lot of noise out there.

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