Whether it’s for Christmas, birthday, a special event or just for pleasure, a book is an original and exciting gift with the potential to completely change the life of the person you give it to. Few things can boast such possibility and at such modest cost. But it is difficult to find that rare pearl in the maze of bookstores and libraries. So I am offering you a selection of mind-blowing, rare and demanding books, all of which transformed the way I look at the world. Look for the one that will best suit the person you love or appreciate – or the one that is likely to get them to give up their bad habits 😉
Here is a list of each of the books, the critiques and my notes are lower down on the page:
For learning to read books in another language
1 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Well being and happiness
2 – Being Genuine: Stop being nice and be real! by Thomas d’Ansembourg
Entrepreneurship, work, and success
3 – Living The 80/20 Way: Work Less, Worry Less, Succeed More, Enjoy More by Richard Koch
4 – The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris
Finances and Money
5 – The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley et William D. Danko (1998)
6 – Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman
7 – Anticancer by Doctor David Servan-Schreiber
For learning to read books in another language
1 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997, 224 pages)
This is the book that made me start reading books in English (because, remember, I’m French so English is as second language for me 😉 ), although my old high school grades were frankly not brilliant and it seemed like a huge obstacle to overcome. And yet I knew that this ability would open doors for me to thousands of books of excellent quality that have never been translated – a new culture was opening its doors to me. So I bought the first volume of the Harry Potter series, in English, and it arrived like a letter in the mail. This book is short, uses simple vocabulary and tells an engaging story. It gave me the confidence to continue, so I can now read the much more complex books of my Personal MBA Challenge, without any problem ;).
“Great”, you will say, “but I’m a native English speaker, so what’s in for me ?”
Great question ! Well, you see Harry Potter has been translated in more than 80 languages, so it doesn’t matter if you want to learn Spanish, French, Russian or Ancient Greek, you can find the Harry Potter version for it 🙂
The series is actually excellent for this because it grows in thickness and complexity of vocabulary, and in intrigue, throughout the volumes, which makes it a great way to tackle difficulty gradually.
And if you get stuck on a passage go back to your original edition 😉
- Simple and clear
- Engaging story
- An excellent introduction to start reading in a foreign language
- Somewhat childish
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Well being and happiness
2 – Being Genuine: Stop Being Nice, Start Being Real by Thomas d’Ansembourg (2004, 256 pages)
Thomas Ansembourg is a former lawyer who has spent ten or so years in an association that deals with troubled youth. After being around them, he changed dramatically; he understood that violence is born out of frustration over basic needs and he is trained in non-violent communication.
The author explains in this book that if we are nice and say yes too often in order to please others, we gradually cut out our real needs, and that the frustration that builds up might one day explode, hurting someone much more than if we had told them no sometimes, thus causing a mean reaction in us.
He traces this behavior that influences us in a reasonably significant, and more or less unconscious way to our childhood, then presents the various disadvantages of this approach and what it would do for us if we were more in tune with ourselves, by explaining to us in a way that is completely simple, passionate and meaningful. It is a book that is both easy to read, and has a richness that merits reading several times, giving you more with each reading to get more in tune with yourself, be happy and more yourself.
- Motivating, enthusiastic
- Simple and easy to read
- At some point or another, you will get wrapped up in what the author is saying
- It is profound enough to read (or listen to) over and over
- Quite honestly, I didn’t find any, and that’s rare 😉
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Entrepreneurship, work, and success
3 – Living The 80/20 Way: Work Less, Worry Less, Succeed More, Enjoy More by Richard Koch (2007, 200 pages)
This book is a version of The 80/20 Principle oriented towards the public at large, and it is a marvel of simplicity, clarity, and practicality.
The author shows us how to use Pareto’s very universal Law, which states that 80% of results are generated by 20% of cases on a daily basis, to improve our lives in all areas. 20% of a company’s customers make up 80% of its sales. 20% of countries in the world share 80% of the wealth. In these same countries, 20% of people share 80% of the wealth, 80% of our work is done in 20% of the time we are allotted, 80% of our worries come from 20% of our relationships (clients, friends, acquaintances, etc), 20% of our relationships bring us 80% of the love we need, etc.
Without this book, I would not be in the middle of learning to devote myself to the essentials, and understanding what are the important tasks and what are not, who are the important people and who are not, what really matters to me, what are the tasks that take 80% of my time and don’t count for anything or very little, etc.
The author provides ideas, concrete examples and tables to complete as support for reflection so that we can use this principle to its fullest in our work, our finances and our relationships so that we can finally experience the joy of living life to the fullest.
- Concrete and goes straight to the point
- Pleasant and varied format
- Numerous exercises offered to find out what you wish for and how to apply the 80/20 rule.
- A little dry
- Not as meaningful as The 4-Hour Workweek (but it is a great companion)
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4 – The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris (2007, 300 pages)
These individuals have wealth just as we would say “we have a fever,” and it is a fever that comes over us – Sénèque
The 4-Hour Workweek made me open eyes to so many things that it would be impossible to list them all here. It made me realize that efficiency is not performance, that working 10 hours a day is not necessarily more productive than working 6 hours a day, that it is better to manage tasks in batches, to remove interruptions, to restrict information and practice selective ignorance. He taught me to devote myself to the basics, made me really understand the meaning of Pareto’s 20/80 law (it is, therefore, an excellent companion to the previous book because it shows how to use it in practice) and gave me a more detailed model to create an automated business that almost runs itself.
Because of this book, I get that many people drown working to ruffle the air and fill a void. I really get up to what point rules can be bent, twisted and recreated.
Whether you want to give it to an entrepreneur, an overworked executive, a laborer, a student or anyone else, everyone will be able to draw from it interesting ideas for his own life, see and find the desire and the inspiration to change completely! 🙂
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Finances and Money: To manage your finances and invest to increase your wealth
5 – The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko (1998)
For 20 years, the authors studied rich people, which means people with over one million dollars, in the United States, to try to understand their habits and behaviors, and to what extent these behaviors might be related to their wealth.
The surprise was huge: the rich are not those who live in exclusive neighborhoods, drive sports cars, and have jobs considered at the top of the social ladder. At least not necessarily: the proportion of financially independent people (who could quit their job for a long time with no problem) and wealth is lower in this group than in others: people who spend much less than they earn.
In a veritable sociological study of the subject, they dissected the average millionaire and showed that he lives more than anywhere, in a middle-class neighborhood, drives an “ordinary” car, for which he negotiated the best price, sticks to a budget, invests intelligently, limits unnecessary spending as much as possible, uses all the tax breaks that he can, owns his own home, and belongs to a social class that has no need of living ostentatiously in order to be considered successful.
Millionaires live frugally and well below their means. This allows them to invest a substantial percentage of their earnings (between 20 and 40%) which ultimately with the magic of compound interest, allows them to amass a colossal fortune.
This book made me understand that wealth is not necessarily tied to high incomes, that every little expense today could have an exorbitant cost 20 years later, and that everyone who acts intelligently could save enough to become financially independent as quickly as possible.
For example, between a nurse who began working at age 20, and a doctor who starts at 26, you might think it would be the doctor who someday might have more disposable capital than the nurse. That is no doubt true in most cases, but not necessarily. If the nurse works 6 more years than the doctor, during which time she benefits by saving and starts to invest, she will have less need to spend her money on useless gadgets and ostentatious things like a large house or a big, polluting car to show how successful she is, and will be able to achieve financial autonomy sooner.
Let’s say that the nurse earns an average of $2,000 / month for 20 years, that she saves 20% of her earnings ($ 400) every month and invests it at 10%: At the end of 20 years, when she is 40, she will have a sum of $ 303,347 which will bring her about $ 2,500 / month in interest. She can retire at 40 and still keep a comfortable sum.
The doctor begins working at 26. Let’s say he earns $ 6,000 a month on average until he is 40, and he saves 10% of his earnings every month ($ 600) and invests it at 10%. By age 40, he will have a sum of $ 218,000 which will bring him about $1,800 in monthly interest. The doctor has an important way of life (big cars purchases on credit, beautiful house, with a mortgage, numerous gadgets like a large screen TV) and he cannot retire and live off his pension. It will take him a lot more years before he can retire.
You must read this book intelligently. Dying with a pile of gold is just as stupid as dying with 2 villas and 5 luxury vehicles if you have not realized your dreams. Money is a means, not an end, and you must also enjoy life. But the basic message to take away, I think, is to focus on the essential: what good is it having a flat panel TV, a great vehicle, and lots of gadgets if you are not happy? Everything we buy ends up owning us rather than the other way around, better save your money for things that are more useful, more interesting, for things that we really want, like traveling for example or working less.
One piece of advice worth keeping: begin to save as much as possible. With the magic of compound interest, this money will become a small fortune in about 20 years. I wish I had known this when I was 18. Today I would have had an enormous sum of money to invest.
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Health: For someone who is not interested enough in health or for someone who is! 😉
6 – Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman (2005, 525 pages)
This book was the first to radically change my life, it took almost 4 months to finish it and integrate it pretty much completely.
Starting with the premise that 1) western medicine is primarily a curative medicine that heals you after the onset of symptoms but does not teach you to prevent disease and 2) that doctors, with all their skills and experience, when all is said and done, spend only 15 minutes with you in consultation, the authors show that only you can effectively take charge of your health for the long term.
Without this book, I would still be eating anything, and especially fatty, sweet and salty foods such as pizzas, and ready-made meals smothered in sauce, I would not be eating fruit and fresh vegetables, or exercising, and I would still be thinking that you worry about your health when you get old and you begin to have problems. All behaviors that increase dramatically the likelihood of being affected by a disease endemic to western civilization in the twentieth century: diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, terrible diseases but which can be largely prevented by two simple things simple: a healthy diet (fruit and fresh vegetables, not too much sugar, not too much salt, not too many bad fats) and exercise.
What the book explains
The book explains the underlying mechanisms of many of these diseases and the means that exist to prevent them. On the agenda: food and water, carbohydrates and the glycemic index of foods, fats and proteins, digestion, ideal weight and obesity, the problem with sugar, insulin and diabetes, genomics, inflammation, methylation, toxins and detoxification, the prevention of heart disease, cancer and its detection, the brain, the hormones for youth and aging, active supplements, physical activity and finally, stress.
Reading this book will be good for you to understand your body and the impact of your lifestyle on your long-term health. In addition, Ray Kurzweil is an inventor of genius, an American millionaire, and also an acknowledged futurist who punctuates the book with passages of science fiction to delight fans 🙂
- Detailed and very complete
- Exciting (in any case it really drew me in)
- Punctuated with paragraphs of fantastic and exciting futurism
- A starting point for a real awakening for people who have never thought about all this before (myself included)
- Some controversial passages (particularly on the importance of the alkalinity of water)
- The underlying theme of the book (use the best current medical knowledge to extend your life until science enables us to save more than one year of life expectancy every year. Eliminating old age and death) may put off some readers
- Quite long
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7 – Anticancer, by Doctor David Servan-Schreiber (2007, 360 pages)
David Servan-Schreiber is a physician, psychiatrist, and neurologist who tells us in this book about his ordeal when it was discovered, by chance, that he was suffering from a brain tumor. This news hit at the height of his glory when he was a promising 30-year-old researcher in Pittsburgh in the United States, and he had to face up to the consequences of his new condition, personally and professionally – his relationships with his medical colleagues were not very easy.
In this work, which complements the first nicely, and is very readable, he takes us by the hand and explains how, in addition to conventional therapy, he decided to take charge and completely change his lifestyle, which did not include exercise and healthy food. He takes this opportunity to tell us that doctors and researchers are so taken by their work – healing the sick. They do not have time to learn about the research taking place on how to prevent cancer and other diseases. Here again, we find the pitfall of modern western medicine, which is content to solve problems once they have occurred, rather than teach us to prevent them.
It is certainly far less developed than our sophisticated health system. At least has the value of a preventative approach: if the patient of a competent doctor who practices in this way becomes ill, it is because the doctor has failed. This is a radically different approach which is sadly lacking in ours.
In the end, nothing really new in this book – essentially we should eat well, exercise, be relaxed and thrive in order to have a healthy life. But David Servan-Schreiber tells us in no uncertain terms, with the emotion of his own personal experience, and a first hand point of view, of the general ideas of western medicine, in which he points out precisely – and in a pleasant way – the deficiencies. For a person who has never thought about these questions and eats anything without doing any exercise, this book is a revelation. And could mean the difference between health and sickness in the long run.
- Very simple and easy to read
- The doctor’s point of view of the medical world and its limitations
- Interesting stories of people who were cured against all odds
- As with the first book, this one could be the starting point for a real awakening in people who have never thought about all this before (myself included)
- A little bit Déjà vu
- A lot less content than Live Long Enough to Life Forever
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