Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Reading is important to me. It’s how I spend most of my days. It’s also the source of knowledge, which is why I read well over 100 books a year. Reading alone, however, isn’t enough. What you read matters.
Most of us read the wrong things. As Haruki Murakami put it, reading what everyone else reads means you’re probably going to think what everyone else thinks. All those books from high-school? Everyone else has read them, too. The best-sellers? Same.
That’s not to say these books aren’t valuable. They are. They’re just not going to help you get unique insights, see problems in a different way than others, or even help you solve more problems.
They will however make you sound like you’re smart because you can talk about the things everyone else is talking about. However, there is an old adage that when you do what everyone else is doing, you shouldn’t be surprised to get the same results everyone else gets.
While thinking the thoughts that other people have is enough to get a seat at the table, it’s not enough to win the game.
To win you need to see things that other people can’t see. You need to connect things that other people can’t connect.
Reading can help you develop insights, connections, and understanding that baffle others. To do this, you can’t, however, follow in the same footsteps as everyone else because that leads you down the same path.
With that in mind, here are five books that you’ve probably never heard of (and one you have) that will change your life and enable you to see the world in a new light.
La Rochefoucauld’s critical and pithy analysis of human behavior won’t soon be forgotten. A list of people influenced by his maxims include Nietzsche, Voltaire, Proust, de Gaulle, and Conan Doyle.
“The reader’s best policy,” Rochefoucauld suggests, “is to assume that none of these maxims is directed at him, and that he is the sole exception. …. After that, I guarantee that he will be the first to subscribe to them.”
I’ve never read this book in a cover-to-cover sense, but I’ve read each of the laws. More than that, I’ve broken each of the laws. I’ll give you an example. The first law is “Never outshine the master.”
Once I worked directly for a CEO. I worked as hard as I ever have to show off my talents and skills, and at every turn it backfired over and over again. The lesson — “make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.” I wish I read this book earlier in my career. It certainly would have been helpful.
This book sat on my shelf for a year before I picked it up recently. This is the biography of Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus the Elder, who made the oldest known declaration of human rights. The book is full of leadership lessons.
Here’s an example: “Brevity is the soul of command. Too much talking suggests desperation on the part of the leader. Speak shortly, decisively and to the point–and couch your desires in such natural logic that no one can raise objections. Then move on.”
This no-nonsense collection of 20 letters from a self-made man to his son are nothing short of brilliant, as far as I’m concerned. This is a great example of timeless wisdom.
The broad theme is how to raise your children in a world where they have plenty, but the lessons apply to parents and non-parents alike. Check out a sample.
This is an autobiography of Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon, a remarkable polymath who more people should know about. In an age of increasing specializing, he’s a rare generalist — applying what he learned as a scientist to other aspects of his life. Crossing disciplines, he was at the intersection of “information sciences.”
He won the Nobel for his theory of “bounded rationality,” and is perhaps best known for his insightful quote: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
And one more… just for good luck but you’ve probably heard of this one.
OK, this is a bonus pick, as I figured a many of you might have read this already. However, the translation matters. Get this one. The best way to sum up this book is: a simple and powerful guide to life.
This book was never intended for publication; it was for himself. How many people write a book of epigrams to themselves during a war? Get it. Read it. Live it.
This article originally appeared on Medium.
Shane Parrish writes for Farnam Street.