I find it so remarkable that the inky, scribbled symbols a person has arranged—just so—to be set down on paper, whether thousands of years ago or just yesterday, can so radically change our perspectives, points of view, and life paths.
It boggles the mind. It is also why I chose writing as a part of my life's purpose.
In an email correspondence between economist Tyler Cowen and bestselling author Ryan Holiday, Cowen comments on the power that some books have to produce a "view quake".
Of course, not all books have this power. In fact, such books are likely the exception to the rule. The ones that do produce momentous, seismic shifts in our thinking are worth cherishing, and re-reading.
I decided to make a list of 5 books that have rocked my world. After having read them, I will never be the same again—in a good way, of course. I hope that they rock your world too.
#1: Mindset by Carol Dweck
This isn't the most elegantly crafted book. It isn't going to be winning any prizes for style or sophistication. And yet, at the heart of this book is an earth-shatteringly transformative idea: our mindset determines, to a great extent, our self-esteem, how much we learn, and how good we can get.
When I read it, I felt as though a light switch had been turned on. I had been sitting in a dark room of fixed-mindset thinking my whole life. I had seen mistakes as a failure on my part, as weighing in on who I was as a person.
In order to preserve the "smart" designation that my parents had given to me, I had to do well right away. Errors meant I wasn't a natural. So, I became outcome-oriented. Instead of challenging myself and stretching the limits of my capabilities, I spent lots of time in my comfort zone.
At music school, this looked like "practicing" rudiments and drum patterns I had already learned, and avoiding everything else. At university, this meant focusing on parts of a lecture I already knew (which reinforced my sense of being intelligent) instead of looking for questions and areas of uncertainty.
I kept searching for the one "thing" that I would be great at, instead of working towards becoming great at one thing.
As Carol Dweck writes in Mindset: "Becoming is better than being".
If you haven't done so already, read this book. It will relieve you of any mistaken assumptions you may have about your limitations as a human being.
#2: Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Man's Search For Meaning has the distinction of being the book I have read the most times. This book can easily be read in a day, and contains some of the most vital wisdom I've encountered about finding purpose and meaning in the most dire of circumstances.
Much of the book recounts the horrific experiences of being a prisoner in concentration camps, including Auschwitz, during WWII.
He soon discovered upon entering these death camps that those who maintained a will to live, through the preservation of meaning and purpose in their lives, often survived unimaginable suffering, whereas many of those who gave up hope and a sense of purpose could no longer go on.
For Frankl, there were 3 possible sources of meaning in life: one's work/mission, caring for others, and courage in the face of suffering.
Man's Search For Meaning offers readers a roadmap towards a meaningful life, and is something that I wish I had read much earlier.
One of his deepest insights is on best way to approach accomplishing great things:
"Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself."
#3: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is an eloquent masterwork of a novel, and is one of my all-time favourite works of fiction. Translator Gregory Rabassa has done an extraordinary job capturing the whimsical beauty of the prose and the profound textures of magic realism.
For those unfamiliar, the novel follows the Buendia family across generations and their relationship with the mythical town of Macondo.
The book is a supreme exemplar of detailed world-building, and reading it means being immersed in a dreamlike universe where flowers rain from the sky, trails of blood tell stories of murder, generations pass by in a single sentence and ice is a mystical substance waiting to be discovered.
My favourite line that has stayed with me long after many of the details and descriptions have faded: "dominant obsessions can prevail against death".
No other book I have ever read comes close to the evocative, imaginative tour-de-force that is One Hundred Years of Solitude.
#4: Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make A Difference by William MacAskill
If having a mission in life makes things more meaningful, this book is like meaning rocket-fuel. I first heard about Effective Altruism through philosopher Peter Singer, and later discovered this groundbreaking book by William MacAskill.
In a nutshell, it has given me a passionate long-term focus for making the most out of my charitable donations, and made me value my time more considerably.
The book begins by outlining the key problem that plagues many charities today: prioritizing visibility and reputation over efficacy. MacAskill introduces Effective Altruism and demonstrates how it can help people make better decisions about where to contribute, focus on the most neglected ares (instead of the ones that garner the attention of celebrities and the media) and even save lives in the process.
A must read for anyone who is unsure about how to best make a difference, or who is looking for a direction and wants to make a positive impact.
#5: Atomic Habits by James Clear
Okay, I will shut up about this book. I promise. Soon. But, this post is all about view quaking books, and this one is as groundbreaking as they come.
Imagine a book that revolutionizes every area of your life. This is that book.
It explains why habits are the ultimate life hack, reveals why goals are overrated, uncovers the secrets for developing and keeping good habits, and puts forth an achievable systems mindset that will transform your life.
And if that isn't enough, it is written in a remarkably clear, concise and elegant way that could serve exceptionally well as a prototype for any aspiring writer.
Clear also has all kinds of free material on his website that is of the same super-high quality, and could be a great place to start reading.
My favorite quote from the book:
"Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity."
I hope you find 1 (or more) of these 5 books inspiring and life-changing!