I’m not a particular fan of the classic self-help book format. It’s not that I think I’m perfect or don’t need some guidance in my life. I very much do. But the typical personal empowerment literature tends to feel either a little patronizing or condescending. Moreover, while the idea of a certain number of steps to attaining happiness might seem helpful, life doesn’t work that way. Shit happens.
The books that I’ve read that have had the biggest impact on my life and the way I think are just simply books. Whether they’re biographical or fiction, a well-written and honest book with a clear idea can leave lasting impressions long after you’ve put it down. If you’re looking for ways to better yourself or change the way you think, then simply getting lost in one of the essential books every guy should read, or opt for a solid graphic novel.
But you don’t need to venture into the self help aisle of the bookstore even if you’re looking for a book that will help you become a better person. These nine books reveal key philosophies about leading a good life and can genuinely make a difference in how you navigate the world.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
This book bills itself as the anti-self-help book. I mean, the name kind of gives it away. Author Mark Manson advocates for embracing the absurdity of life and shying away from the ideas of relentless positivity. “Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it,” Manson says. Which is a fairly honest summary of the human experience. The writing is straightforward and even-keeled, and the message is still refreshing years after this book was published. I’d argue that in the year 2022, we’re a little past the hand-wringing around people being spoiled and expecting participation stories. But, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is still a useful tool for dealing with the chaos of modern life.
Outliers: The Story of Success
Sometimes reading about the life of revered and successful people can help inspire your own success. Writer Malcolm Gladwell seems to agree by using his book Outliers as a way to explore the lives of the best, brightest, and most influential people of all time. It’s like that school project where you can invite anyone to a dinner party. Gladwell’s book isn’t billed as a self-help book, but his writing offers brilliant insights into the lives of successful individuals. Plus, it’s a fun read.
Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most important writers of this generation. And his revelatory work Between the World and Me is well-regarded as a modern classic. Written as a letter to his teenage son, this memoir touches on key discussions around race and masculinity in America. While it’s clearly a deeply personal work, Between the World and Me can also be profoundly instructional for living a thoughtful life. It’s profound and challenging, which might not sound like common keywords for a self-help book. But, in this case, it makes for an excellent read to improve the way you experience the world.
Self-Reliance and Other Essays
Ralph Waldo Emerson is among my favorite writers. He very often can break down complex concepts into breezy sentences that make reading his work a joy. Self-Reliance and Other Essays collects a series of essays on broad topics, including “Heroism,” “Art,” “Friendship,” and more. You could certainly just read these for pleasure, but I think Emerson’s essays are useful for considering how to live a rich life — particularly his words on friendship and self-reliance, which speak volumes even in the modern world.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
If you’re looking for an inspirational speaker, Brené Brown should be your first choice. Brown has made the rounds at TED Talks, college campuses, and more spreading the gospel of radical vulnerability and empathy. Men are often told that these are signs of weakness, but Brown is able to effectively communicate the strength and courage it takes to be actively empathetic. Watch this video if you need a little primer. Daring Greatly is Brown’s thesis boiled down into one book, which can offer great insight into improving our human connections and ultimately make us better people.
Let My People Go Surfing
So often, self-help books are written by wealthy businessmen and women who attempt to distill their strategies into a few key steps. They’re rarely unique or even all that helpful, in my experience. But Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, isn’t your typical businessman. His memoir demonstrates how his deep passion for environmentalism dictates just about every decision he’s made. And as a result, he’s one of the most influential and successful business owners in the country. It’s a brilliant read and an inspiration if you do decide to enter the world of business.
Not only is Educated a gripping read, it’s a profoundly inspiring one too. This memoir tells the story of Tara Westover, who left an abusive and isolated family as a teenager to pursue schooling for the very first time. It’s a profound, award-winning book that offers enlightening lessons on the power of education as well as the complex emotions and compassion of a family. There are universal truths here that can offer great advice for just about anyone.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
If you pursue any career in writing or if you just want to communicate better, this should be required reading. On Writing is both a memoir and something of a thesis statement from Stephen King, one of the greatest modern authors. It’s a wildly entertaining read, but it also reveals plenty of useful information for aspiring writers. It might not shake you to your core or change your way of thinking, but it will definitely improve your life by having read this book.
Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business
The hospitality industry is often used as a metaphor or a lesson in self help in instructional books written by “successful” people. But their experience in the food and beverage world is often limited to that one job they held in high school at the local fast food chain. Danny Meyer has made a career in the hospitality industry and has some supremely useful advice for those interested in pursuing a similar path. Setting the Table offers tips specific to the culinary world, but it also communicates paramount truths about productivity, labor, and determination.