I love reading. Reading expands our world view, our knowledge, our wisdom and our interestingness. It helps us to escape the bubble of thoughts and opinions that we are born into due to our social status, location and/or upbringing. Simply put, reading expands us; and that’s a good thing. Although I’m not the kind of guy to read a book in a day, or read ten books in a month, I have read many great books so I thought I’d share some of the best ones that have shaped who I am and effected my views on life and the world around me. I’ll focus on quality over quantity here; only recommending the best of the best that I’ve read. And I’ll do my best to update it often 🙂 If you have read any of these and can attest to their greatness, back me up in the comments below; and feel free to leave me suggestions there as well as I’m always looking for new books to change my life!

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”
– Confucius

“Give me a man or woman who has read a thousand books and you give me an interesting companion. Give me a man or woman who has read perhaps three and you give me a dangerous enemy indeed.”
– Anne Rice, The Witching Hour

“We read to know we are not alone.”
– C.S. Lewis

“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
– Charlie “Tremendous” Jones

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx (thanks to Irv Rollman for sending me this quote, hehe ;-))

Finance

The Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey pretty much saved my financial life and future. Nobody really taught me about money and how to avoid debt growing up. I sure as heck didn’t learn it in school (which is a joke). I financed Kristin’s engagement ring. We financed our honeymoon, our big screen TV, our furniture, our meals, our cars, our lives. Before I knew it we had around 10k in credit card debt, two car payments, no savings and we were somehow spending every penny we made.

After reading this book and going through Financial Peace University at our local church we turned our financial path around. In early 2013 we officially became debt free (except for our mortgage) and the peace that comes with that is incredible. It’s hard work and requires a lot of sacrifices for a little while but it couldn’t be more worth it.

The Millionaire Next Door – Thomas Stanley

This book is an excellent companion to The Total Money Makeover. The basic premise is that the authors interviewed hundreds and thousands of “average” millionaires from around America to see how they live. These are not celebrities, athletes or trust fund babies. These are your next door neighbors, the ones you’d never expect. The book is full of fascinating statistics that show again and again that the best way to ensure you’ll never become a millionaire is to spend all your money trying to keep up with the Jones’s. The average millionaire drives a used 3-4 year old Jeep Grand Cherokee, wears a $50 watch, lives in a $250,000 house and has never spent more than a few hundred bucks on a suite.

I have friends my age who live more extravagantly than that, but they’re in debt up to their eyeballs.

Work/Business

The 4 Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss

Want to escape the 9-5, grind it out, paycheck to paycheck rat race? Want to live life on your terms, doing what you love to do? This book will get you pointed down that path. Time is the new wealth. Our parent’s and grandparent’s generations chased wealth at all costs (and the supposed ‘happiness’ that money brings) by working 80-90 hours a week sacrificing along the way their health, their marriages and ironically – their happiness. You can either work your life away, have money and hope that time will eventually come as well. Or you can choose time and work smart instead of hard. The choice is yours.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win – Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

Whether you’re in business for yourself or looking to be the best you can be in your current field, this book will completely change how you approach life and work. I discovered Jocko through Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss. He was the most highly decorated SEAL in Iraq’s battle for Ramadi and now heads up a consulting firm with Leif called Echelon Front, where they help struggling businesses by teaching them how to be leaders and win.

The lessons in this book are incredible. Jocko and Leif take turns telling stories from their time as SEALs and how the lessons learned from those stories apply to situations they encountered with businesses. This book will teach you how to stand out if your at the bottom, how to lead effectively from the top and how to take control of every aspect of your life with the mindset of a Navy SEAL. “Discipline equals freedom.”

Fiction

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

I don’t read a lot of fiction books. I don’t have anything against them, I just tend to read more non-fiction. This is the best fiction book I’ve ever read. If you want to follow your passions and get inspired to find your purpose in life, this book is a great kick in the pants to get you started or rekindle that flame. Life’s too short people…

Personal/Misc

The Case For Christ – Lee Strobel

This book was written by Lee Strobel, who was an incredibly devoted and intelligent atheist and a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. His wife became a Christian and he set out to prove her wrong by interviewing scholars just like he would for an article in the newspaper or in a court room. He set out to find the holes in Christianity, the scriptures and in the process….became a Christian. And he wasn’t some weak minded atheist. He’s Yale educated and spent his early life debating with Christians and making them question their faith.

Whether or not Jesus is who he said he was, whether or not God exists, whether or not Jesus is the only way to heaven….these are some of the most important questions of our entire lives and it deserves a close look and dedicated investigation. Some people spend more time researching what camera to buy than they do on their faith or lack thereof.

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis

Since I can’t list every book C.S. Lewis wrote, I’ll simply include Mere Christianity in hopes that you will read it, and then use it as a jumping off point for the rest of his books. Mere Christianity was adapted from a series of radio talks Lewis did on BBC during World War II. In these talks, Lewis defends Christianity by building a logical foundation for belief and constructing an entire theology upon that foundation.

He begins with the premise that a Natural Law must exist, as humans did not invent it, but humans respond to it and cannot escape its influences. From this he proposes that God must exist, and that this God must be made up of three parts: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Love springs from the relationship between the Father and Son. The Holy Spirit is a conduit for that love, and the Son has the responsibility to bring as many human souls to the Father as possible. C.S. Lewis has a way of explaining things and bringing them into perspective that few others have or ever will.

Blink – Malcom Gladwell

An incredible look into the decisions and snap judgements we make in the blink of an eye. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing”-filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

No Easy Day – Mark Owen

I’ve always been fascinated with Navy SEALs. I wanted to join the Navy and try out after high school more than anything but because of my asthma, I never would have had a chance. No Easy Day is an autobiography of Navy SEAL Mark Owen (a pseudonym), a member of SEAL Team 6 (aka DEVGRU) and one of the SEALs that participated in the mission to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. What makes this book such an interesting read though is that Mark walks you through his life and several missions leading up to the OBL raid, highlighting his struggles and weaknesses along the way.

Letters from a Stoic – Seneca

Stoicism is one of the more misunderstood philosophies you’ll find. It is often mislabeled as a way to dumb down your emotions to get through tough times. This couldn’t be further from the truth of course. Lary Wallace has a more accurate definition: “Stoicism is, as much as anything, a philosophy of gratitude – and a gratitude, moreover, rugged enough to endure anything.” He went on to say that “Stoicism is a way of looking at misfortune and hardship as an opportunity to strengthen our resolve, not an excuse to weaken it.” Seneca was not the founder of Stoicism, but his letters are perhaps the most helpful and easy to digest.

  • Lynn C

    I love Jesus but haven’t read this book. Dave Ramsey uses sound Biblical principles and is just darn practical. I did read The Millionaire Next Door and its everyday application got through to me. Reading it changed the way I look at where I spend and why. I am as Paul says in Phillipians 4:11, content in all things – and when I’m not, I know where to go!

    • James Brandon

      Thanks Lynn, glad you enjoy them as well!

  • I have just signed up to subscribe to your newsletter. I have done so because obviously I am an amateur photographer wanting to continue to improve, and you seem to be a very interesting person. I started photographing in a serious way when out on patrol as a Marine Platoon Commander in Viet Nam (1966) and ran across a couple of combat photographers. Things were quiet at the moment, so we began to talk. Even though quite large and bulky, they recommended that I get my hands on the newly released Nikon Photomic T (I know that is not spelled right; however, there is nothing I am able to do about it now.). Canon had not really made much of an entrance in the market at the time and these guys liked three things about the Nikon: the glass was excellent, the body was made of metal and could take a few bangs and bumps, and finally that Nikon guaranteed that any Nikon lens would always be able to be used on any future Nikon camera produced. The lens may not have automatic focusing, etc., etc,, but it would be able to be fitted and used on the camera body. I now have a Nikon D700, along with a bunch of film bodies in the attic (also, new but not brand new lenses) and am still having fun. I am looking forward to being part of your group.

    David

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I have just signed up to subscribe to your newsletter. I have done so because obviously I am an amateur photographer wanting to continue to improve, and you seem to be a very interesting person. I started photographing in a serious way when out on patrol as a Marine Platoon Commander in Viet Nam (1966) and ran across a couple of combat photographers. Things were quiet at the moment, so we began to talk. Even though quite large and bulky, they recommended that I get my hands on the newly released Nikon Photomic T (I know that is not spelled right; however, there is nothing I am able to do about it now.). Canon had not really made much of an entrance in the market at the time and these guys liked three things about the Nikon: the glass was excellent, the body was made of metal and could take a few bangs and bumps, and finally that Nikon guaranteed that any Nikon lens would always be able to be used on any future Nikon camera produced. The lens may not have automatic focusing, etc., etc,, but it would be able to be fitted and used on the camera body. I now have a Nikon D700, along with a bunch of film bodies in the attic (also, new but not brand new lenses) and am still having fun. I am looking forward to being part of your group.

    David

  • Dick Millerbernd

    Have been to Death Valley 35 years ago and want to return. It is a place, for me, that is best experienced alone and not with a schedule and a group of others. Making photographs distorts
    what one sees. The scenes remembered in the brain alone are the best.

    The first experience in Death Valley should not involve a camera throughout. Photos on subsequent
    visits perhaps only when used to encourage others to see. Photography should be used to tell a story, not become the story.

    Dick
    Manannah, Minnesota

    • I fundamentally disagree with pretty much everything you just said Dick, but that is ok :-). Seeing a place like Death Valley (or any beautiful place for that matter) is enhanced by viewing it through a lens and with the mindset of a photographer. I don’t think taking pictures distracts me from the beauty in front of me in the slightest. Different strokes for different folks though, I suppose.