40 Modern Nonfiction Books Everyone Should Read

Books Everyone Should Read

I credit a fraction of who I am today to each of these books.  Many of these titles challenged my internal status quo, opening my mind to new ideas and opportunities.  And together, they gave me a basic framework for living, loving, learning and working successfully.

If you haven’t taken the time to read them, do yourself a favor and do so.  It will be time well spent.

  1. The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck – Pretty much the granddaddy of all self-improvement books, it’s easily one of the best nonfiction works I’ve ever read.  By melding love, science, and spirituality into a primer for personal growth, Peck guides the reader through lessons on delaying gratification, accepting responsibility for decisions, dedicating oneself to truth and reality, and creating a balanced lifestyle.
  2. Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton – The book’s basic point is sound – honesty is the best policy.  With a brash, ‘in your face’ writing style, Blanton states that lying is the primary cause of human stress and advocates strict truthfulness as the key to achieving intimacy in relationships and happiness in life.
  3. The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin – Josh Waitzkin transformed himself from a championship chess master into an elite Tai Chi martial arts practitioner.  This book is part autobiography, part chess memoir, and part martial arts philosophy.  Essentially, Waitzkin offers his own approach to becoming a student and applying certain disciplines and habits toward learning and eventually mastering any skill.
  4. Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard – Shepard started his life over from scratch in Charleston, South Carolina, with $25 and the clothes on his back.  He lived in a homeless shelter while looking for work.  His goal was to start with nothing and, within a year, work hard enough to save $2500, buy a car, and to live in a furnished apartment.  “Scratch Beginnings” is sometimes sad, sometimes amusing, pointed and thought provoking – all the makings of a book well worth reading.
  5. The Joy of Simple Living by Jeff Davidson – A great resource for anyone wanting to cut down on the clutter and confusion in their life.  Davidson takes a step-by-step, easy to follow approach to simplifying your house, garage, office, car, etc.  Not only will you learn to create an orderly home, you’ll gain the knowledge necessary to be a more successful spouse, parent, and worker by learning how to prioritize and simplify.
  6. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini – Arguably the best book on the science of persuasion.  Cialdini explains the six psychological principles that drive our powerful impulse to comply to the pressures of others and shows how we can defend ourselves against manipulation (or put these principles to work for our own interests).
  7. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Ecker – This book competently discusses the missing link between wanting success and achieving it.  If you suspect that your mindset is holding you back from making more money and achieving your goals, you’d be wise to give this title a thorough read.
  8. Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson – Farson zeros in on the paradoxes of communication, the politics of management, and the dilemmas of change, exploring relationships within organizations and offering a unique perspective on the challenges managers face.  I highly recommend this book for anyone in a management or leadership role, including parents and teachers.
  9. Overachievement by John Eliot – According to Eliot, in order to achieve spectacular success, one must change his or her thoughts about pressure and learn to welcome it, enjoy it, and make it work.  Eliot says that goal-setting, relaxation, and visualization, the typical self-help suggestions, just don’t work well for most people.  This book provides some great food for thought that attempts to counteract the primary points of other major self-help gurus.
  10. The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz – This is another classic self-improvement book.  Schwartz gives the reader useful, proactive steps for achieving success.  He presents a clear-cut program for getting the most out of your job, marriage, family life, and other relationships.  In doing so, he proves that you don’t need to be an intellectual or have innate talent to attain great success and satisfaction in life.
  11. An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn’t by Judy Jones – Simply fun and insightful, this book is truly a wonderful supplement to any person’s mental knowledgebase.  It’s basically an intellectual outline of history with a lot of helpful charts and guides.  It’s written in a very humorous tone and nails the humor attempts more often than not.  Whether you’re interested in a ‘refresher’ or just a quick briefing on an academic area you never had time for, this book is for you.  It’s not in depth, but it does tell you what you should know in all areas, including history, philosophy, music, art, and even film.
  12. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – Easily one of the best and most popular books on people-skills ever written.  Carnegie uses his adept storytelling skills to illustrate how to be successful by making the most of human relations.
  13. How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes – Another practical book about conversational people skills.  Lowndes helps the reader discover how to make small talk work, how to break the ice, how to network at a party, how to use body language to captivate your audience, and much more.
  14. The Irresistible Offer by Mark Joyner – Create an irresistible offer.  Present it to people who need it.  And sell it almost instantly.  A great sales and marketing primer for anyone trying to sell something.
  15. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich – This is the book that provoked Adam Shepard to write “Scratch Beginnings.”  It’s another first person perspective on poverty in America.  In the book, Ehrenreich moves into a trailer and works as a waitress, hotel maid, and Wal-Mart sales clerk.  Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and duality.  I found it to be an extremely thought-provoking read.
  16. The Power of Less by Leo Babuta – Babuta’s message is simple:  Identify the essential.  Eliminate the rest.  Get on your way to living a simpler life in order to do and achieve the things that are of real value to you and your family.  This is my favorite book on the art of simplicity.
  17. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell – Gladwell embarks on an intellectual journey to figure out what separates the best, the brightest, and the most successful people from everyone else.  He investigates these high achievers by looking closely at their culture, family, generation, and the individual experiences of their upbringing.  This book really gets you thinking about success from a totally different perspective.
  18. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner – This book just may redefine the way you look at the modern world.  Through skillful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and Dubner set out to explore the hidden side of everything from the inner workings of a crack gang to the myths of political campaign finance to the true importance or unimportance of gun control.  It’s an eye-opening read.
  19. Maximum Achievement by Brian Tracy – This book is probably exactly what you would expect from a well-written, classic self-improvement book.  Tracy’s straightforward advice is accompanied by easy-to-do exercises and enhanced with inspiring stories of successful, highly motivated achievers in many fields.
  20. You, Inc.: The Art of Selling Yourself by Harry Beckwith – Beckwith concentrates on the importance of being a considerate human being as it relates to running a successful business or living a successful life.  The title is somewhat deceiving because the book is more about giving than it is about selling… or should I say, it’s about giving as a way to sell yourself.  Either way, this book is packed with practical tips and insightful stories.
  21. Getting Things Done by David Allen – The ultimate ‘organize your life’ book.  Allen’s ideas and processes are for all those people who are overwhelmed with too many things to do, too little time to do them, and a general sense of unease that something important is being missed.  The primary goal of this book is to teach you how to effectively get your ‘to-do inbox’ to empty.
  22. The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit by Seth Godin – Godin challenges the age old idea that winners never quit.  He states that every new project or career starts out exciting and fun.  Then it gets hard and less fun, until it hits a low point – and at that point you have to figure out if you’re in a dip or at a dead-end.  This book provides a look at how the market actually expects people to quit and what to do about it.  It’s a short and insightful read.
  23. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely – Looks at the reasons so many of us continuously make irrational decisions on a daily basis.  It’s a scientific but easily readable and unquestionably insightful look about why we do what we do on a daily basis, and why we never change our ways even though we often ‘know better.’
  24. The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel R. Solin – A short, no-fluff guide to investing.  Solin provides an easy-to-follow four step plan that allows investors to create and monitor their portfolios in 90 minutes or less per year, explaining how to asses risk and how to allocate assets to maximize returns and minimize volatility.  This book was absolutely invaluable to me when I first started investing my money.
  25. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey – A classic self-improvement book.  Covey presents a principle-centered approach for solving personal and professional problems by delivering a step-by-step guide for living with integrity and honesty and adapting to the inevitable change life brings us everyday.  It’s a must-read.
  26. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath – Why do some ideas and stories thrive while others die?  And how do we improve the chances that our ideas and stories will catch on with others?  Heath and Heath tackle these questions head-on.  This book is extremely entertaining, while simultaneously providing practical, tangible strategies for makings things stick.
  27. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser – “What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the last forty thousand,” Schlosser observes, yet most Americans know very little about how that food is made, where, by whom, and at what cost.  In a wonderfully horrifying way, this book exposes the American fast food industry’s evil side.  It’s a true eye-opener.
  28. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert – Gilbert, a Harvard professor of psychology has studied happiness for decades, and he shares scientific findings that just might change the way you look at the world.  His primary goal is to persuade you into accepting the fact that happiness is not really what or where you imagined it would be.  This is my favorite book on happiness by a long shot.
  29. The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki – Surowiecki argues that “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.”  He uses statistical examples to backup this theory.  For example: “…the TV studio audience of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire guesses correctly 91 percent of the time, compared to ‘experts’ who guess only 65 percent correctly.”  Hmm… perhaps this is why Wikipedia is so successful.
  30. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss – Ferris challenges us to evaluate our perspective on the cost and availability of our dreams.  And he teaches us that hard work isn’t very hard when you love what you’re doing.  Although there’s certainly some pages of self promotion within, Ferris provides invaluable tips to help us remain aligned with our goals, set expectations on our terms, and eliminate unnecessary time-sinks while increasing our overall effectiveness.
  31. Personal Development for Smart People by Steve Pavlina – A surprisingly well-written, broad, and totally raw look at the different aspects of self-improvement.  Pavlina skillfully unveils the truth about what it takes to consciously grow as a human being by teaching what he calls ‘the seven universal principles’ behind all successful personal growth efforts.
  32. The Now Habit by Neil Fiore – Quite possibly the best book ever written on overcoming procrastination.  Fiore provides an optimistic, empathetic, and factual explanation of why we procrastinate and then delivers practical, immediately applicable tips for reversing the procrastination spell.  On many levels, this book saved my life.
  33. Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod – Where does inspiration and creativity come from?  This little book attempts to uncover this mystery.  MacLeod states that creativity is not a genetic trait, nor is it reserved for professionals.  Everyone is creative sooner or later, but unfortunately, most people have it drilled out of them when they’re young.  MacLeod’s primary goal is to un-drill it and unleash your creative mind.
  34. Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi – Ferrazzi explains the guiding principles he has mastered over a lifetime of personal and professional networking and describes what it takes to build the kind of lasting, mutually beneficial relationships that lead to professional and personal success.  Most of this book is fantastic – you learn how to relate to people, how to establish contacts and maintain connections, and how to create a social network.  If you interact with a lot of people on a regular basis, it’s a great read.
  35. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki – This inspiring work ranks with the great Zen classics, in a voice and language completely adapted to modern-day sensibilities.  Suzuki’s words breathe with the joy and simplicity that make a liberated life possible.  As he reveals the actual practice of Zen as a discipline for daily life, the reader begins to understand what Zen is truly about.  If you’re even slightly curious about the practice of Zen Buddhism, you’ll find this book to be extremely enlightening.
  36. Eating Well For Optimum Health by Andrew Weil – If you only read one health and nutrition book in your whole lifetime, read this one.  Weil sheds light on the often confusing and conflicting ideas circulating about good nutrition, addressing specific health issues and offering nutritional guidance to help heal and prevent major illnesses.  Of particular value is his examination of recent dieting fads, such as low-carbohydrate, vegan and ‘Asian’ diets, with an eye toward debunking the myths about them while highlighting their benefits.
  37. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – Gladwell looks at how small ideas can spread like viruses, sparking global sociological changes.  The ‘tipping point’ is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.  Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate.
  38. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn – Although this book is likely to be more interesting to Americans than citizens of other countries, it’s truly a great read either way.  Covering Christopher Columbus’s arrival through President Clinton’s years in office, as well as the 2000 election and the War on Terrorism, the book features an insightful and frank analysis of the most important events in American history told from the perspective of minorities and the working class.
  39. I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi – This is the ultimate personal finance book for twenty-somethings (and anyone else in need of a financial planning makeover).  It’s one thing to know about finance, another to be able to write about it, and another entirely to write about it in a way that aptly motivates the younger generation.  Ramit hits the tri-fecta here.  He tells you exactly what to do with your money and why.
  40. Career Renegade by Jonathan Fields – This book is simply about building a great living around what you love to do most.  And it’s one of the best guides I’ve ever read on the subject.  Fields, a big-time lawyer turned serial entrepreneur, shows you how to turn your passion – whether it’s cooking or copywriting, teaching or playing video games – into a better payday and a richly satisfying career.

Photo by: Joel Bedford


  1. says

    I would add four books to that list, which is pretty complete but lacks 4 I find interesting :)
    * Eat that frog (Brian Tracy)
    * Questions to a Zen master (Taisen Deshimaru)
    * On writing well (William Zinsser)
    * The right stuff (Tom Wolfe)

    The last one is just because when I read ‘Nonfiction’ in your title I thought it was about that, nonfiction writing. And for me, this is one fine example of non-fiction.


  2. Sarah Cohen says

    Good List. Thanks for the Suggestions. I’m concerned that “The World Is Flat” by Thomas Friedman didn’t make the cut. It seems to me that anyone interacting with the modern world needs to know this book. It makes light years of difference to your conversation’s relevance quotient. Thanks again, and Here’s to the Future!

  3. says

    I think this is a good list, but it seems like way too many of them are in the “advice and self-help” category. I’d like to seem more like A People’s History of the United States and less like How to Win Friends and Influence People.

  4. Kacie says

    Fantastic list. I’ve read quite a few of them, and many others are on my must read list. I have bookmarked this and plan on reading my way through it!

  5. Snowy Heron says

    This is a great list of books and I have already read about a dozen of them. Good suggestions for future reading. The two that I have problems with, though, are Howard Zinn’s book and anything by Barbara Ehrenreich. For US history, I would recommend anything by David McCullough. Ehrenreich’s attitude is such a passive, “someone else take care of me” childish way of thinking that I am sure there are other writers out there who have more “can do”, positive ways of thinking. I can’t think of anyone right at the moment, but I know there are others out there.

  6. says

    I know many books from the list above. Some only hear about some are my best. For me is nice that you put ‘Eating Well For Optimum Health’ Also i would recommend to everyone this book which is as guide for healthy nutrition.
    Great post!

  7. a reader says

    I came across this site & it has been wonderful so far :)

    This is a good book list. I would definitely add the 2 below:

    Improv Wisdom: don’t prepare just show up – by Patricia Ryan Madson
    What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 – by Tina Seelig

  8. says

    This is a great reading list. I have read some of the books already such as “Freakonomics” which is an excellent book. I will definitely check out some of the other books listed.

  9. js says

    This article should be named “popular nonfiction books everyone should read.” I throw in the word “popular” because all of the most important nonfiction starts and stays within academia. I hate to say it, but its so unlikely (but not impossible, and depending on the topic) for the most important non fiction to not come from academia, which is where all these books come. All these books offer relevant insight, but they’re all on topics the best educators better explain in one fifth of the words in articles no one ever reads.

  10. david smith says

    some ok books but scope is pretty narrow. mainly self-help & stuff

    non-fiction i read is more diverse but also a bit heavier (i try to find mind-changing books on subjects i know little or nothing about). some are a bit hard work but the rewards are usually greater…

    anyway, case anyone’s interested, here r a few of my top picks…

    1. secrets of the soil (agriculture)
    2. the unnatural history of the sea (ecology)
    3. straight & crooked thinking (how to think)
    4. the lost science of money (intro to weird subject of money)
    5. images of organization (how to design organizations. bit technical but v profound stuff)
    6. living water (mystical properties of water)
    7. a pattern language (ground breaking book about architecture)
    8. permaculture: a designers manual (big book about alternative agriculture)
    9. bitter fruit (good for finding out what mischief the US government get up to. this time in guatemala)
    10. desmond morris’s Naked Ape & Human Zoo (easy to read. very good at seeing people as animals)

    honourable mention…
    elements of typographic thinking (about typography but actually very well written)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *