The 5 books that changed my outlook on life

Several books have shaped my thinking over the years. Below is a list of some of those books. Most of them are out of copyright and can be found in the public domain at Enjoy!

As I thought more about this list, it became apparent that there are some recurring themes. The books below are nonfiction and many include a young man's journey of some kind toward enlightenment or self-actualization. They offer practical advice on how to live and how we should interact with others.

1. Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
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In my opinion, the greatest American that ever lived. He was a cunning statesmen, brilliant inventor and thinker, and one of the most influential people of the 18th century. Above all else, he rose from humble beginnings and excelled in just about everything he attempted. He was self-made and spent the first half of his life amassing his fortune and the second half making scientific advancements, helping to grow our fledgling nation, and engaging in philanthropic endeavors.

Although the work was written retrospectively, it gives us a piercing glimpse into the life and times of one of our most important founding fathers. As a lifelong Philadelphian, I have always had an affinity for Dr. Franklin. Franklin is one of our most tangible founding fathers and this book gives us his first person perspective.

2. The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims by Arthur Schopenhauer
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Schopenhauer's undying pessimism spoke to me as a young man full of piss and vinegar. Despite some of his backward and misogynistic views, he was a brilliant German philosopher who turned my thinking on its ear. I find his writing style more cogent than his disciple Nietzche and much like Thoreau, he illustrates the folly in chasing titles, possessions, and the favor of others. He paints a picture of how one can become self-actualized and self-sufficient.

3. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

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The quintessential book to help you increase emotional intelligence. Carnegie's pragmatic approach to business and dealing with others has withstood the test of time. His writing style and anecdotes offer a roadmap on how to treat others. I have kept this book in my nightstand for nearly two decades and Carnegie's advice never gets old.

I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology and believe this book easily taught me more about human behavior and motivation than all my courses combined.

4. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
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Thoreau eschewed society and lived an esoteric existence on the edge of town for two years, two months, and two days. He subsequently wrote about his minimalist lifestyle and 
what he considered to be a utopian existence. According to Thoreau, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Living in the moment is an ideal that I have chased as long as I can remember. 

Thoreau's writings showed me that the clock is always ticking...that our time here is short and that we must use it wisely...but also that the endless pursuit of material items is an exercise in futility. 

“The better part of the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool's life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before."

5. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
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TR started life as a weak and sickly child and through the sheer force of his indomitable will he was able to overcome and build himself into one of our greatest presidents. His life reads like an adventure novel. He was a scrappy boxer and Harvard alum who became a real cowboy and war hero as well as an accomplished author, naturalist, and NYC police commissioner. There was seemingly nothing that he couldn't do. He stretched the powers of the executive office and while fighting antitrust battles was also able to protect huge tracts of land preserving our natural spaces for generations to come. He was a speed reader, an accomplished orator, and a tireless advocate for his country. 

Honorable Mentions: Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand...not surprisingly, they have similar themes as those listed above.  


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