Updated on 09.17.14

Eleven Inspirational Books That Rise Above the Rest

Trent Hamm

A little over a year ago, I posted an article entitled The Essential Bookshelf: The Only Eight Books I’ve Kept (After Hundreds of Reviews). In it, I discussed the fact that I’d read and reviewed hundreds of personal finance, personal growth, productivity, and career books for The Simple Dollar, but had only found eight of them essential enough for me to keep for future reading and reference.

Since then, more than a year has passed. I’ve read somewhere around eighty more books on those topics and integrated tons of advice into my life. I’ve also found that I’ve “drifted away” from some of the books in my library, finding other ones that provided food for thought.

So what does my library look like now? Here are the eleven books I’ve reviewed on The Simple Dollar that I own a copy of and turn to regularly for inspiration and reference.

Books from my library

Yes, out of the nearly three hundred books I’ve reviewed (here’s the complete list – my book review index), I’ve only read eleven that have found a permanent place on my bookshelf. Here they are – the links go to detailed reviews and discussion of the books.

Getting Things DoneGetting Things Done is, hands down, the best book on time management I’ve ever read. The basic idea behind it – the piece that really stuck with me and changed how I managed my time and my information – was the idea that by writing down everything in your head instead of trying to remember it – and then reviewing what you wrote down very regularly – you can free up your mind to focus more intently on the task at hand. From this basic idea, David Allen builds a thorough time management system – though it’s very modular, meaning you can just pull out the pieces that work well for you.

Whenever I feel I have too much on my plate, I usually step back for a bit and take a serious look at Getting Things Done through a pair of fresh eyes – and it often provides just the answer (or the inspiration) I need to reorganize the way I’m doing things and find the time to take care of the things I need to take care of.

ymoylYour Money or Your Life singlehandedly inspired me to take control of my finances. More than any other book, this one convinced me to stop and really think about what I was doing with my money. It pushed me to reconsider my goals and choices in life and pushed me towards the realization that most of the material stuff that filled my life was largely unimportant.

I turn to Your Money or Your Life whenever I struggle with temptation. If I find myself feeling aimless and giving into short term desires too often, my long term goals begin to slip away, and Your Money or Your Life is a brilliant antidote for that very problem.

Complete!The Complete Tightwad Gazette is kind of a “nuts and bolts” guide to trimming your spending. It’s incredibly long and detailed, filled with countless specific ideas for trimming your spending. The book is actually organized much like a blog, as it consists of hundreds of articles extracted from the 1990s Tightwad Gazette print newsletter.

I often pick up this book, turn it to a random page, and look for new cost-cutting ideas to try out. Sometimes, the suggestion is a very simple one, saving me just a few cents – at other times, it makes a huge difference. Every time, though, I’m entertained by the experience I have with this book and, over the several years I’ve owned it, the book has saved me quite a lot of money.

Never Eat AloneNever Eat Alone, which I’m currently reviewing in detail, is a powerful discussion of the art of building friendships and value-based “weak ties” with other people. A network of friends in your life is incredibly valuable – it provides companionship, advice, and often material assistance in countless different ways.

My nature leaves me a bit ill at ease in social situations, so I’ll often turn to this book for insight, particularly when I’m facing an upcoming social situation where I want to build relationships with the people I’m meeting. Without fail, Never Eat Alone provides the advice I need to help me turn those events into a success.

made 2 stickMade to Stick focuses on how to present ideas in a way that makes them tangible to the people that receive them. Since I’m effectively in the business of sharing my ideas with others, the advice in this book is particularly relevant to me – but it’s invaluable to anyone who works in an information-heavy environment.

For me, this book provides constant help when I’m writing articles. I often know what I want to say, but at times I’ll struggle with a catchy way to present that idea so that it sticks in people’s minds. When that happens, I’m glad that Made to Stick is right at hand. It’s an invaluable tool for anyone who has to present ideas as part of their work.

WSJGThe Wall Street Journal Complete Personal Finance Guidebook is my default money reference book – whenever I have a question about how a particular investment works or a general game plan for handling a particular financial situation, this is where I start. It’s definitely a reference book for me and, while there are books out there with more detail, I find that this one strikes the best balance of accessible writing and timeless material – instead of going into abundant detail (which would make the book dated quickly), the book often sticks with more general concepts, allowing me to use this book as a default starting point.

The Wall Street Journal Complete Personal Finance Guidebook is almost always the book I turn to when a reader writes to me with a fundamental personal finance question (like “how does a checking account work?”). Thus, it’s also my starting point for research when I begin to write a “personal finance 101” article which explain basic money concepts. Whenever I need those answers for my own life, I start here.

raising financially fit kidsRaising Financially Fit Kids was the most recent addition to this shelf, but it’s simply the most thorough and thought-provoking book I’ve yet read on how to teach money concepts to one’s children. The book is laid out and organized exquisitely well, making it quite easy to pick up and dig into whatever area of my child’s financial education that I want to focus on in a given moment, and the thorough nature of the book means that I rarely have a question that isn’t addressed in a thought-provoking way.

I have two kids at home and the oldest of the two is just beginning to become really aware of the role that money plays in his life. As he grows into new layers of responsibility – and his younger sister begins her journey as well – I feel pretty good being able to use Raising Financially Fit Kids as a guide to help me parent them through this process.

The Millionaire Next DoorThe Millionaire Next Door forces me to question my assumptions as I slowly move from a desperate financial situation to a more stable one. I picked it up again recently (via PaperBackSwap) after reading and enjoying the more recent books Rich Like Them and The Difference, which focus on similar topics.

The Millionaire Next Door works because it focuses on the specific things that financially successful people do to make themselves financially successful. By seeking out people who truly had achieved financial success, the authors found that many of the traits that these people had in common are far from what are typically seen as “rich” traits. Many financially successful people are quite frugal, in fact, and derive pleasure from non-material sources. Every time I dig into this book, I find a new insight that makes me reflect on the choices I make and whether or not they’re really in line with some of the bigger ideas I have for my life.

The Bogleheads' Guide To InvestingThe Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing is simply my default book for all investment advice. When I have a question about specific investment options, which investment options to choose, and when I should choose them, this is the book I immediately turn to.

The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing does a brilliant job of explaining the nuances of specific investments from a conservative perspective – excessive risk is bad, which is a philosophy I agree with (unless you recognize that you’re just gambling with the money). It’s a fairly dry book – it definitely functions better as a reference – but if you want strong advice from a conservative investing perspective, this is an extremely well-executed reference resource.

mindsetMindset has caused me to question my thinking and perspectives over and over again over the past six months. Am I boxing myself in by thinking too small? What can I do to make choices that give me room to grow, both personally and professionally? Am I thinking of all of this in the right way – a way that leaves me open to the abundant possibilities of the future – or am I assuming that things will just stay the same? And am I teaching my kids appropriate lessons that will allow them to grab the world by the horns?

The big idea behind Mindset is that there are two distinct ways of looking at the world – a “fixed” mindset, in which you believe that you and the world will stay largely the same, and a “growth” mindset, in which you believe that you can change and grow as a person. People who subscribe to the “growth” mindset have a much stronger likelihood of achieving things because they’re willing to invest significant time and effort to improve themselves – because they believe it’s possible. Mindset digs deeply into this idea, and I find Dr. Dweck’s insights deeply engaging and worth returning to regularly.

the new global studentThe New Global Student is all about education, and it takes the fairly controversial stance that the typical SAT/ACT/extracurriculars/AP classes/college path that many students follow does not prepare students to succeed in the real world. Instead, you should encourage your child to initiate truly independent projects and encourage them to explore diverse situations, even going so far as to live in other countries. Why? Such experiences teach children to be highly self-reliant and resourceful, making the experience of college much easier (if they choose it), and given a set of such challenging activities on a college application, admission is often easier than you think.

As my children begin to approach school age, I’m constantly thinking about how I can teach them to be more self-reliant. Right now, independent play works, but what about when they’re in school? When they’re teenagers? I believe firmly that self-reliance and resourcefulness are the most valuable lessons one can teach their children – and a pretty sure route to your children’s future personal and financial success. The New Global Student is a challenging handbook for those ideas.

What about the other books? Many of the books I review are checked out from the library. The ones which I receive a review copy of often have those review copies sent on to readers who express a certain interest in the book. If this fails, I swap the copies I don’t want to keep via PaperBackSwap or find others in the community who may want them. A great library isn’t full of books you’ve already read and know – it’s full of books you haven’t mastered and haven’t yet read. These are the ones that continually challenge me and push me to grow.

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  1. Patty says:

    Great List of books. I’ve lots of these on my shelf. You have brought a couple to my attention. Now I’m ordering them from the Library. Should be a good read coming up.

  2. chacha1 says:

    Oh, Trent, I have to be ridiculously petty and disagree with this:

    “A great library isn’t full of books you’ve already read and know – it’s full of books you haven’t mastered and haven’t yet read.”

    Noooooo!! A great library is full of books with lasting value (educational or entertainment). And, perhaps pertinent to your situation as a parent, a great library is full of books that your kids observe you to read and enjoy.

    Now, I know that you are a devoted public library-user and as such you are providing a great example to your kids. But for those who don’t or can’t use the public option, a personal library is only a negative when it becomes clutter.

    Yours is a terrific list, “Made to Stick” in particular is one I’ve been tempted by since its authors write for Fast Company magazine, which is the only business magazine I read.

  3. Noel says:

    This is definitely a good list. I do have some of them. Still I am looking for a book on credit score i.e. what credit score is and how its calculated. What affects your credit score etc. This book is written by CEO of one of those credit score companies. When I read the reviews of the book, many noted that this book has info that is not available otherwise. But I have forgotten name of the author and name of the book. Does anyone have it on top of their mind?

  4. Shevy says:

    I’m also going to disagree with the statement:
    “A great library isn’t full of books you’ve already read and know – it’s full of books you haven’t mastered and haven’t yet read.”

    A great library is acquired one book at a time, with books you care about being added as you finish reading them. Whether they make you laugh, make you think, make you learn or make you remember, those books are the bricks of which a great library is built.

    A “library” full of books you haven’t read is a pretentious display, rather like buying books by the foot or yard to fill a specific size of bookshelf. It’s also a waste of money, while those shelves of well-loved, often read volumes are not.

    In at least one childrens’ literacy program, the number of books in the home correlated positively with the literacy of the children. They found that homes with at least *25 books* nurtured the most literate children! When I read that, I walked through my home and found that the only *room* that contained *less* than 25 books was the bathroom. My 3 grown children are all voracious readers.

    The library is nice and my 6 year old usually goes once a week to the school library and once every week or two to the public library (where she takes out up to 5 books at a time). However, I consider it to be only an adjunct to the real thing, the shelves that are available 24 hours per day, every day, at my house.

  5. Have you read any of Dave Ramsey’s financial books? I’ve found his advice easy to follow and generally sound, what do you think?

  6. Megan says:

    I loooove the Tightwad Gazette and was so happy when you featured an interview with Amy D. several months ago!

    I write a bright green environmentalism blog, and it’s amazing to me how much overlap there is between personal finance and thinking in new ways about how we live on the planet. One thing I love about the Tightwad Gazette — and about The Simple Dollar — is that they are both about living thoughtfully, with intention and creativity.

    If anything is truly going to lift us up into the kind of clean, just future we want to live in, it’s this kind of attitude toward life. Thanks for another great post.

  7. kristine says:

    Good list! I have ready about half of these. On a frugal note- the Tightwad Gazette can replace expensive magazine subscriptions for bathroom reading- it’s random format makes for great 5 minute reads! I also love “Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things: 2,317 Ways to Save Money and Time”, an excellent addition to any loo library.

  8. Ellen / MoneyLounge says:

    I really appreciate the reviews you do on these books. It’s great to have sound advice and a good preview of financial books before you read them. Some of the stuff out there is just rubbish, so thanks for the insights!

  9. Little House says:

    Thanks for the book reviews. I’m currently reading course required material and don’t have time to check out books for my own reading pleasure. Based on your reviews, I can’t wait ’till winter break so that I can read The Millionaire Next Door.

    Thanks for the post-
    Little House

  10. KC says:

    If you don’t want to read the entire Boglehead’s book then try John Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing. It’s the same book without all the numbers.

  11. Maureen says:

    I totally agree with Shevy. It is very important that children have ready access to books in the home in addition to school and public libraries. Books can be acquired very inexpensively through garage sales, thrift stores, even book sales at libraries. They make great gifts, too. Very often my children asked for bookstore gift cards for birthday and Christmas gifts.

    If you want to raise a reader, it is important that you provide a literature rich environment and that you as a parent model reading. And most importantly, that you read, read, read to them!!! Take advantage of programs like the summer reading club at public libraries. Sometimes you can link your child up with a volunteer ‘reading buddy’ through the library.

    Also note that there is a well-documented sex difference in childrens’ reading. Boys are much less likely to enjoy reading and are less likely to consider themselves good at reading. Instilling a love of books at an early age will certainly help.

  12. I’m going to try to read all of them!

  13. andrea says:

    Oh Trent, you can do tremendously better!!! You need more poetry, more passion, tears, saliva, blood, breath, sweat, cold, desperation, rain, leaves, waves, rock, fire, skin, thorn, teeth, punch… But I like those book either. I’d send you an italian book about women’s life at the beginning of the former century. I think it’s not translated in english but I’d translate for you some chapters… It’s very inspiring.
    Many thanks.

  14. Rabia says:

    Some of these titles are very interesting to me. I’m putting them on my booklist. :)

  15. Georgia says:

    I have always had a tremendous library, much of it fiction. I have given away approximately 2-5k books in my lifetime. I worked at Scholastic for 3 years and getting paperbacks for $.10 and hardbacks for 3/$1, I bought lots and gave them away. Kids need to read and find the things they enjoy.

    I read to my children until they were through high school. My husband also sat in on the reading sessions. I tried different types – sci fi, comedy, romance, adventure. My daughter still does not enjoy sci fi, but she remembers Willis the baby Martian. My son loved an English romance because there were lots of car chases and adventure. They all loved Kon Tiki, Aku Aku, etc. They also laughed a lot at Herr Reisenfern and we read Christmas poetry and A Christmas Carol each year.

    But, one of my favorite reading adventures was teaching my mother to love reading. She had only gotten to the sixth grade and had never had time to read even the children’s books. Time’s were hard in her family. She always complained that I read too much. So-I started her on the Five Little Peppers, Little Women, Jo’s Boys, etc. She then went on to read more and more until she was almost as prolific a reader as I was.

    However, I am not a very avid reader of financial or motivational books. I get my best information from sites such as yours, the Tightwad Gazette, et. I also have a book I love called “ReUses, 2133 Ways to Recycle and Reuse the Things You Ordinarily Throw Away.” When you read too many hints, you often fail to use any of them. So each few months, I grab ReUses and pick one thing out to try on a regular basis. It has worked great.

  16. Shevy says:

    Aww, Willis! I just recently read Red Planet to my 6 year old. It was the first SF book I ever read (at age 7). Such good memories….

  17. reulte says:

    May I suggest you read “Mastery” by George Leonard? It is on my permanent collection shelf of books I don’t see myself getting rid of anytime while I’m alive along with a few others.

    I like your choices and have read most of them and am on the waiting list for most of the rest. I suspect this isn’t your complete bookshelf — merely your PF/PP bookshelf. While I tend to agree with Shevy and would love to have a minimum of 25+ books in every room, I have to cope with moving every two years and my books take up a good portion of my weight allowance.

  18. Megan says:

    I was fascinated by most of your choices. I’ve only read a couple, but I’ve added them all to my shelfari.com “I plan to read” shelf.

    Have you explored shelfari at all? I don’t use it as much of a social site, which I suppose it could be, but it’s a really great place to keep track of the books that you want to read. If you need help doing that. I know I do.

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