If you were looking for fiction you’ve come to the wrong place.
I love novels, and there’s plenty we can learn about our lives just from reading the art of some of the best writers around. However, if you’re looking for ground-breaking books that will make you re-examine your own life, then this is the place to be. Non-fiction and pop-science have grown massively as genres as we go to learn more about ourselves and the world around us in a fascinating and digestible format. Here’s my top 5 ground-breaking books that changed my life, and could definitely change yours.
Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari
If you’ve somehow avoided hearing of Sapiens then fair play, because that’s a challenge. This book is absolutely everywhere at the moment, and for good reason: it’s around 450 pages of mind-boggling, life-changing, ground-breaking revelations by Dr Yuval Noah Harari, an award winning historian from the University of Oxford. Sapiens plots the history of humankind in startling detail, from the earliest version of our species all the way through to today with everything in between. Through this lens, Harari discusses happiness, progress and crushes pretty much every preconception of life as I thought I knew it. Money is the greatest invention of all time. Equality is a myth. Colonialism was indeed brutal, but necessary. It’s a challenging book, and indeed might not be one I would say you will enjoy reading, but the satisfaction at finishing is immense and, I assure you, your worldview will be permanently altered.
Personality – Daniel Nettle
Have you ever wondered what makes you, you? Psychologist Daniel Nettle takes a stab at explaining this impossibly difficult question in this short but fascinating pop-science book, as he uses scientific study to explain how our personalities are formed. By examining and dissecting the Five-Factor Personality Model, Nettle explains how our individual personality is formed both as a genetic product from our parents and also in response to our surroundings. He goes on to convincingly demonstrate the evolutionary process that led to differences in personalities, before going on to the most important part of all: showing how to get the best out of your own personality. This wonderful book gets on to my ground-breaking books list because it taught me to value my own, unique set of characteristics and how to best use them to succeed.
Lying – Sam Harris
However you feel about Sam Harris, his long essay, Lying, is a seemingly obvious but often ignored treatise in how to live your everyday life: don’t lie. Ever. From lies of omission to not telling his children about Santa Claus, Harris believes that there isn’t a single situation where lying would be preferable to telling the truth. It’s a difficult mantra to adopt, especially when faced with difficult conversations that little white lies would make easier, but his doctrine has had a profound impact on me, encouraging me to tell the truth in every situation and seek truth from everyone else I know. Difficult? Sure. Painful? At times. Worth it? I’d say so. Ground-breaking? Undoubtedly.
Ego Is The Enemy – Ryan Holiday
If you think you’re free from ego, you’re deluding yourself; we’re all inherently prone to getting stuck in our narratives and thinking of ourselves as key players in the grand scheme. However, as Ryan Holiday goes to lengths to prove in this wonderfully humble book, if we could remove ego from our process then our work would both improve and become more meaningful. By examining a variety of historical figures, some of whom gave in to ego and some that did not, Holiday carefully and gently proves that abandoning ego is the first step in living a fulfilling, healthy life and getting the most out of our work. To me, this is a ground-breaking book because it made me let go of the silly narratives, instead encouraging me to work patiently in the background; the rewards for hard work will far outweigh the short-term pleasure of ego-building gratification.
Bounce – Matthew Syed
Of all my ground-breaking books, I thought Sapiens would be taking the crown. But, on reflection, that honour belongs to Matthew Syed. Syed, a world-class table tennis champion (also known now as ‘The Ping Pong guy’) uses Bounce to expose the myth of meritocracy, demonstrate the power of practise and smash the oft-sold but misconceived notion of natural talent. Using Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘10,000 hours of practise’ rule, Syed uses case studies to show that the idea of natural talent is non-existent and that anything is achievable with practice. This knowledge has transformed my attitude towards almost everything I do: I know that hard work and practise are the only ways to become better at the things that I want to be good at, and I am able to rationalise my jealousy for those who out-compete me, accepting that they simply put more work into what they do than I did. If you’re looking for evidence that will encourage you to work harder, this is it.
I’m sorry if you were looking for fiction but non-fiction is just as worthy of your time. These books changed my life, and I hope they change yours too. Don’t forget to check back here soon, because I will make that list of 5 fiction books that could/ would/ should change your life.