The Road to Excellence: My Reading List

If I had to give one piece of advice to everyone in the world, it would be, “read. A lot.

I’ve been called precocious. I’m not one for false humility; in the purest definition of the word, I agree. But the truth is, I am precocious for one reason: for several years, I have been a voracious reader. Whatever maturity, good ideas, and knowledge I possess is almost certainly derived from something I read.

Which is both good and bad news for you. The good news is you can do it too. The bad news is you have to read a lot for years (it never ends, really- which is a good thing), and know what to read.

And, of course, you have to put what you learn into action.

I’m going to help get you started on the ‘what to read’ part. This list will establish a very strong base from which to branch out from. Much of it is self development focused in one way or another. That’s for a reason. I avoid mainstream woo-woo feel good self-help because it’s mostly a bunch of BS in favor of a more pragmatic, reality-based approach.

I include blogs because some of the best (and most influential) material is on blogs, and because it’s what I primarily read in the past few years once I really began to focus on this sort of stuff. I’ve since shifted more to books.

This is my opportunity to pay homage and say thanks to the people who have helped shape me. I’m not sure where I’d be without these people, whether I have actually spoken to them or not.

The Fundamentals & Most Influential

The Flinch – Julien Smith
A must read. Julien Smith has a knack for writing things that are both highly true and fire you up. Free.

Principles – Ray Dalio
Ever heard of a small* investment management firm called Bridgewater? This is written by it’s founder, who breaks down the principles of his success, his companies success, how to replicate it, and most importantly- how to think. Extremely highly recommended. It’s also free.
*It’s the biggest in the world.

On the Shortness of Life
A nice wake up call. Do not attempt to read this quickly.

The Four Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss
It’ll light a fire under your ass.
Side note for the haters here: this is not a book about working four hours a week. It’s about productivity (aka: 80/20, chunking, eliminating BS) and mindset shifts (aka: what’s possible).

Julien Smith’s ‘Best Of’ Blog Posts
Caution: his writing is edgy and explicit, and I love it. Must reads: “The Complete Guide to Not Giving a Fuck”, “The Simple Guide to Growing Some @#$%ing Balls”, “20 Things I Should Have Known at 20”, “How to Change Your Life: An Epic, 5,000-Word Guide to Getting What You Want”.

Mark Manson’s Blog
One of the most influential writers in my life. Rational personal development and relationships.

Breakthrough Advertising – Eugene Schwartz
The bible of copywriting. At it’s core, the book is about psychology.

RSD Tyler’s YouTube Channel
Okay, so this isn’t written. And it definitely won’t resonate with women. But it was so influential for me that I can’t leave it out. I’ll get this out of the way: Real Social Dynamics is the biggest company in the ‘pickup’ market. I, like many guys, initially got into self development (‘inner game’) through pickup. RSD is a big company with varying views; I watch(ed) Tyler’s videos primarily. Some of this channel is about actual pickup (‘outer game’), and some of it is about inner game (usually explained within the context of interactions with women). There is an incredible wealth of information on psychology, confidence, success in general, and social skills in this channel. It’ll light a fire under your ass, personal-development wise. I don’t agree with all of it, though.

Zero to One (Added Oct 30)
Believe the hype. Every chapter immediately shifts the way you think about the world & companies. Required reading for entrepreneurs, ambitious people, and anyone who wants to make an impact or change in the world.

The Castle is a Bunch of Rocks – Sebastian Marshall
If you are young and ambitious, watch this.

The Full List (Everything Else)

Models – Mark Manson
The best book on dating and relationships ever written for men.

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
A must read for creatives.

Influence – Robert Cialdini
Foundation reading on the psychology of persuasion. All other texts build off of Cialdini’s landmark work.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Ryan Holiday describes this book best: “Just wrap your head around this: At some point around 170 AD, the single most powerful man in the world sat down and wrote a private book of lessons and admonishments to himself for becoming a better, kinder and humbler person. And this text survives and you have access to it today.”

Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Understand progress and happiness.

The Way of the Superior Man – David Dieda
Understanding women, masculinity vs. feminitity. A little woo woo, but definitely worth it.

Rework – DHH, Jason Fried
Succinctly written. Will change how you look at business.

Assault on Lake Casitas – Brad Alan Lewis
Not for everyone, but very influential for me. I was a rower when I read this, and it taught me a lot about grit, funneling anger, and brutal focus.

Into the Wild (movie)
Adventure and spirit. Resonated deeply with me. One of my favorite movies of all time. Yes, I’m aware of how much of an idiot he was when it comes to basic survival skills.

Starting Strength – Mark Rippetoe
The training program I use when I lift.

5/3/1 – Jim Wendler
The first training program I used. Effective, but better for more advanced athletes. Read it for his perspectives however.

The Naked Warrior – Pavel
Understand how strength works, and how to make a bodyweight workout very difficult. This is what I follow when I don’t have access to a gym whilst traveling, and the reason my strength didn’t completely tank. Not a replacement for heavy weights however; I did become weaker while only doing this.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Hilarious and disturbingly insightful. I’ve read the first three, and they are all great.

The Beach – Alex Garland
This book consumed me like no fiction had before. The movie is shit – read the book. Influenced my more hardcore adventure edge and gave me some ideas as well… You’ll understand after you read it.

Articles & Shorter Content:

Neil Gaiman Commencement Speech
The core lesson I got from this was doing things that get you closer to your goals. As you near your goals, the actions that would once move your forward are now behind you. You are past them. Always choose to do things that move you forwards.

Ryan Holiday
Reads more than anyone I can think of. Brilliant marketer, no bullshit type of guy.
How Dropping Out of College Can Save Your Life

Taylor Pearson
A DC‘er and really smart guy. A sadly under-read blog.
You’ll Never Understand How to Become Successful
Existential Terror is Just Another Word for Happiness
EP: Why Starting a Million Dollar Company is Easy

Sebastian Marshall
Strategy and life from a historical and more pragmatically aggressive view. Give it a good read through. I’m currently reading a pre-release version of his newest book with Kai Zau, Gateless, and it’s incredibly good. One of the successful people I’m lucky to converse with regularly.
The Million Dollar Question
Cutting Down. You, Brilliant Person, You Need to Cut Down
What Skills Do You Need to be an Entrepreneur? Only Two
If you want to get rich, stop being a fucking joker

Derek Sivers
Musician, entrepreneur, thinker. I haven’t read through this blog as much, but there’s good stuff.
No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH! or no.
It’s all who you know?
Ideas are just a multiplier of execution

Minimalist who lived in a van, was part of Project Hollywood, owns an island, and created a blogging platform called SETT. Former semi-pro poker player and a college dropout. Super interesting guy.
The Long Shots
The Hustler’s MBA
What Your Priorities Are
Believing Things That May Not Be True
Training Yourself
Doing Things That Aren’t Supposed to Be Done

Tim Ferriss
I’m a big Tim Ferriss fan. Of people I’m aware of, he’s done the most things I’d like to do. Checkout his blog and go through the posts by category (as there’s too much to just go through all at once).
Tim Ferriss Show Episode 2: Josh Waitzkin

Ira Glass on Creativity
Very insightful and quick video. Frequently referenced.

31 Rules for a Young Critical Mind
I read this a long time ago, but found I agreed with most of it. Excellent quick list.

Seth Godin
Just subscribe to his blog and read it every day. If some of his ideas don’t sound original, that’s because they’ve been so widely accepted and used in marketing that you’ve heard them elsewhere. They originally came from him- he was way ahead of his time. This is the only blog that I’ve read every post from for nearly two years. (Update June 13, 2015: I no longer read this blog daily, as I have cut down on content consumption.)

On Startups:
DHH of 37signals at Startup School 2008
DHH is funny and accurate at the same time. If you’ve considered doing anything in tech, watch this. He ridicules the classic tech approach, and has a point.

Paul Graham
Read every essay. Master wordsmith, tech luminary, and founder of YCombinator.

Both Sides of the Table
No-bullshit view of startups from someone who has been both the entrepreneur and the VC.

The Struggle – Ben Horowitz
A post for founders. If you don’t know who Ben Horowitz is, you don’t have business starting a tech company.