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10 Recommended Books by Ryan Holiday That Will Expand Your Brain (No, I’m Not Kidding)

Leadership, creativity, and power

Original Image: wikipedia / Image Edited by Author

You only have power over one thing!

What is that?

Your thoughts.

No matter what is happening around you, if you can become the master of your thoughts, you can brave any storm.

This is one of the many lessons that Stoic philosophy teaches us.

But there is more from where that came from. The modern-day Stoic, Ryan Holiday’s book recommendations are filled with deep and insightful reflections and more.

Let’s go through them one by one.

Also, make sure to check out his latest book — Right Thing, Right Now: Goodness to Greatness

The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

Escape the prison of the past!

This book is a memoir by a Holocaust survivor.

Through her own story of surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp, Edith Eva Eger shows us that even in the direst of circumstances everyone has a choice.

“Here you are! In the sacred present.”

Eger’s family lived in Hungary. Eger was 16 years old when she along with her sister Magda and their parents were taken away.

Their parents were killed in the gas chamber. The sisters survived. But they endured being taken from camp to camp and being forced to participate in the death march.

Ultimately the sisters are freed when Americans liberate Gunskirchen. Extremely emancipated, the girls spent time healing and recovering. They also reunited with their middle sister.

The rest of the memoir traces Eger’s marriage and her move to the US. Here she studies to become a psychologist. We also learn stories of her patients.

“We cannot choose to have a life free of hurt. But we can choose to be free, to escape the past, no matter what befalls us, and to embrace the possible.”

Throughout the book, the author motivates us to focus on the present and to make our way out of the prison of the past.

The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton

Let’s portal back to the 5th century BC.

This book is from 1930.

Edith Hamilton was an educator and an author.

“The Greeks were the first people in the world to play, and they played on a great scale.”

This book of hers is a landmark contribution. It shows us the 5th century BC Athens. We get to know the unique culture, literature, and art of that time.

The author tells us about the games in Greece. She says that they were the first people to play elaborate games. These include races, music, and dancing contests.

She contrasts this with the lack of games in Egypt or Mesopotamia. There are so many Egyptian murals. If they played games, we’d know, she says.

Another interesting thing Hamilton discusses is the mind and body balance of the Greeks. Their mind and spirit were not at odds with each other. The author considers this a superior mentality.

“The fullness of life is in the hazards of life.”

This book will acquaint you in detail with the golden age of Greece.

Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life by Arnold Schwarzenegger

He achieved a lot. How?

The author’s second name reminds me of the word ‘Worcestershire’. No offense. It was the first thought that came to my mind as my eyes glazed over ‘Schwarzenegger’.

Fun and games aside, Arnold Schwarzenegger is no ordinary man. He is an actor, bodybuilder, businessman, and politician.

How did he achieve all those things? I mean we all have 24 hours. Here is the thing. Schwarzenegger used them.

“You have 24 hours. Use them.”

‘Be Useful’ is the advice that the author’s father drilled into him.

This book consolidates his life advice in the form of 7 rules.

  1. Have a clear vision

  2. Never think small

  3. Work your ass off

  4. Sell, sell, sell

  5. Shift gears

  6. Shut your mouth, open your minds

  7. Break your mirrors

The pages of this book are filled with anecdotes, examples, and more that will inspire you to be better and make something of yourself.

The author tells us not to be held back by failure. He reminds us that J. K. Rowling’s original Harry Potter book met rejection 12 times.

Honestly, I would’ve given up after 3 or 4.

“If you can choose joy over jealousy, happiness over hate, love over resentment, positivity over negativity, then you have the tools to make the best of any situation, even one that feels like failure.”

He also shares the Stoic lesson of loving fate. It means that we shouldn’t only accept how things turn out. Rather we should be happy with how they turn out.

It’s like loving fate for what it is.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

A Roman Emperor’s personal journal.

Marcus Aurelius was a powerful ruler of Rome. He had a private journal. In it, he wrote his reflections and thoughts.

He worries about his family, his relationship with others, and more.

“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”

Marcus was heavily inspired by Stoicism. That can be seen in his writing to himself.

He focuses a lot on one’s own thoughts. Our thoughts make up our lives. He says that a little can make a man happy if his way of thinking is correct.

There is strength of character in Marcus, as can be seen in the following quote.

“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”

Being the ruler, Marcus had to deal with all sorts of people. Good, evil, grateful, ungrateful, jealous, and supportive. That put a lot of stress on him.

His writings were a way for him to handle all that was going on around him. He tells himself to remember in the morning… you will meet these jealous, ungrateful people.

They are ignorant of the difference between good and evil, he says.

But they cannot hurt you.

“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”

A lot can be learned from Marcus’ thoughts, even in the modern day. Because humans… They are always the same.

5. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Don’t use this book for evil!

‘It’s all about power.’

This is usually said in terms of politics.

This book tackles the topic of power in an unusual and controversial way. Through stories and historical events, the author lays down the 48 laws.

“Do not leave your reputation to chance or gossip; it is your life’s artwork, and you must craft it, hone it, and display it with the care of an artist.”

These laws cover how to gain power, maintain it, and the ways of protecting one from the power of others.

The interesting thing about this book is that it has been banned in many US prisons.

Law 46 is as follows:

“LAW 46 — Never Appear Too Perfect”

Makes sense, to be honest.

We all have flaws. But we don’t want others to know about them. If we appear too perfect, we will create envious rivals. The author recommends displaying defects and human mistakes.

Well, this book is… interesting.

Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier by Kevin Kelly

Learn from the Senior Maverick of Wired!

Kevin Kelly is the founding executive editor of the Wired magazine.

This book details what he has learned over his life.

As we age, we all think… ‘I wish I had known this earlier.’ But here is the thing. We couldn’t have known it earlier. Because fate brought us experiences, mentors, and others at the right time in our lives.

Today, it is time to get wisdom from a seasoned 70-year-old writer.

“To be interesting, be interested.”

To make other people interested you have to show interest in them, Kelly says. He also talks about the importance of listening intently to our loved ones. He calls listening well a superpower.

“The purpose of listening is not to reply, but to hear what is not being said.”

This book is not dense or overbearing as the advice is short. Kelly himself says: ‘Each one is like a tweet — a wisdom tweet.’

The Storm Before The Storm by Mike Duncan

What brought the downfall of the Roman Empire?

The Roman Republic reached its peak in 146 BC and then came its downfall.

But what happened before the downfall? The author discusses the start of the decline in Roman power.

“Thieves of private property pass their lives in chains; thieves of public property in riches and luxury.”

We learn about the key players of that time, the political turmoil, and the state of the public.

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was an influential aristocrat. When he rose to power, he worked on giving land to the landless commoners. But the elite didn’t like his move.

This is one of the many things that laid bare, the polarization in Roman society.

“A raging fire naturally commands attention, but to prevent future fires, one must ask how the fire started.”

The author explores the internal and external conflicts that plagued Rome. This bit by bit eroded the strength of the Roman institutions.

This book shows us that the fall of a nation doesn’t happen suddenly. There is a buildup to it.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

The power games.

This is a 1935 dystopian political novel.

It tells the story of an American politician named Berzelius Windrip. Windrip riles the American public and makes many promises.

After becoming the president, he starts a totalitarian form of government with the help of paramilitary forces. Windrip’s rule symbolizes the fascist leaders of the world.

“So much in a revolution is nothing but waiting.”

While some support the harsh actions of the government, others form a resistance.

Doremus Jessup is a traditional liberal who is a part of the ‘New Underground’ resistance. His actions lead him and his family into hot waters.

“A country that tolerates evil means- evil manners, standards of ethics-for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end.”

The novel traces the ups and downs of the authoritarian government, the reaction of the public, and the resistance movement.

Many parallels can be drawn between the novel and real-life political affairs.

Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

What makes a person a leader?

The author discusses the leadership lessons from 4 US presidents:

  1. Abraham Lincoln

  2. Theodore Roosevelt

  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt

  4. Lyndon B. Johnson

Goodwin worked with Lyndon B. Johnson in person at the white house. Her experience grants her an inside look at how the presidents of the US operate.

“Avoid dull facts; create memorable images; translate every issue into people’s lives; use simple, everyday language; never use big words when small words will do.”

The author has also written a separate book on each of the presidents she has covered in this one. Due to this, her background knowledge is very strong.

We learn how some qualities in each of these individuals stood out well before they were leaders.

Goodwin also goes on to discuss how each of their leadership styles was enhanced and improved by the situations they faced.

“Refuse to let past resentments fester; transcend personal vendettas.”

This book will acquaint you with lesser-known facts about past US presidents while extracting practical wisdom from their lives

Get those creative juices flowing.

Getting your creativity flowing isn’t always easy.

Rick Rubin is someone who has been through it all. As a music producer, he has seen the ebb and flow of his own creativity.

Through his years-long career, he has learned a lot. And that wisdom has been compiled for other creatives in this book.

“If you have an idea you’re excited about and you don’t bring it to life, it’s not uncommon for the idea to find its voice through another maker.”

The author warns us that if you don’t put your idea into action someone else will.

He tells us that there is a river inside us (of creative juice maybe).

When we share our ideas, art, and work, the river keeps flowing. But when we hold them back, the river clogs up.

Rubin wants us to release our ideas into the wild and keep more coming.

“As artists, we seek to restore our childlike perception: a more innocent state of wonder and appreciation not tethered to utility or survival.”

He also discusses an artist’s connection with nature.

All creatives should get their hands on this amazing book.


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If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my book lists on my blog-

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