Each week, I highlight ten things each week that inspired me to greater financial, personal, and professional success. Hopefully, they will inspire you as well.
Since this is the 100th “pieces of inspiration” article, I decided to do something a bit different.
As many of you know, I’m a voracious reader. I read several books each month and I’ve been doing so since I was in junior high.
Naturally, over that period, some books have deeply impacted my life, while others are scarcely remembered.
Today, I simply wish to share the ten books that have inspired me more than any other. If you want a book that will change how you see the world or push you to grow in some fashion, you’ll find it on this list.
When I first started writing this post, I actually had a list of about forty books that I had to carefully pare down.
1. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In my life, faith is a constant struggle. I constantly expose myself to different ideas on the nature of man and God, ranging from atheism across all of the religious traditions of the world. No book I’ve yet read has shook me quite like this one did. The ideas of “cheap grace” and “costly grace” that Bonhoeffer discusses here have gone beyond merely shaping my theological perspectives, but altered how I behave in the world because of them. There is scarcely a day that goes by where my mind does not return to this book and the implicit challenge it laid down in my life.
2. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
I wrote about this book once before. This book singlehandedly transformed my desire to write for a living from a childhood dream into something I wanted to attempt in adulthood. Ellison’s way of bringing the titular character to life was something I’ve never really experienced before or since. It also awoke my own opposition to political correctness and my recognition of the value of honest writing. I’d far rather read or hear something improper yet genuine than something polite and useless.
3. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
When I read fiction, part of me deeply wants to be taken to another world different than my own, inhabited by fleshed-out characters. Through that, I’m both entertained and, in a strange way, informed about my perspectives on the world I live in. All throughout my life, science fiction and fantasy novels have done that for me. For me, the pinnacle of all of those thousands of science fiction and fantasy novels is this one. It has inspired my imagination, it has inspired me as a writer, and it has thoroughly entertained me each time I have read it.
4. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
5. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
I list these two together because my reasons for including them are very similar. More than anything else I’ve ever read, these two books made me think deeper about the situations that others find themselves in and that, by judging people at first glance, you often have little idea of what’s going on beneath the surface. In the former book, the disastrous life of a woman all connects back to a painful past. In the other, you see the challenging reality of a person born with physical characteristics of both genders. Both shook my thinking in a powerful way.
6. The Complete Poems by Walt Whitman
My high school English teacher introduced me to the poetry of Walt Whitman via Leaves of Grass. As I have grown, the words of Whitman have filled me with motivation, inspiration, hope, and direction, almost as if he were a wise friend walking beside me at each step in my life. I’ve had several different collections of Whitman’s poetry over the years, but this relatively fresh copy of The Complete Poems is the one I find most enjoyable and the one that has a home on my desk. Here’s a sample, and another.
7. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
I have read this novel more times than any other book. I can say that virtually without any doubt. Every time I’m near a copy of this book, I pick it up and get absorbed again. There is something magical in this novel for me. Whether it’s McMurtry’s skillful storytelling, his use of language, the strong characters, or the rich setting, I’ll never know for sure. I tend to think that it’s just this perfect mix of those elements that makes Lonesome Dove perhaps my favorite novel of all, and certainly my most-read novel.
8. Getting Things Done by David Allen
This book reshaped my life because it showed me a path for balancing my home life, my career, and my professional dreams all at once. The ideas in this book made it possible for me to create The Simple Dollar and nurture it for years while holding down a full-time (and more) job and still maintaining friendships and a strong family life. In terms of the ideas in a book directly impacting my life, this one (along with #10) stand head and shoulders above the rest.
9. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
This is a richly-written biography of one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever read about. I hold Theodore Roosevelt in incredibly high esteem because of the diversity of challenges and successes he had in his life in so many different avenues. This is hands down the best biography of Roosevelt. It is the first of a trilogy of biographies, but I consider the first one the best.
10. Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
This list really wouldn’t be complete without Your Money or Your Life. It is the book that showed me how to turn my financial life around and, paired with #8 on this list, basically rebuilt my life from the ground up. It helped me figure out my values and build a life where everything was directed toward those values, leaving behind a life of financial challenge and personal struggle.
These ten books have inspired me so much. I hope that you’ll take the time to read at least one of them.