Since I discovered audible I have been able to enjoy books again. For a long time, I did not read many books because of the frequent headaches and migraines I experience. This, coupled with poor eyesight generally, made it difficult to actually read books after a long day staring at a computer for work. I started with audible on a trial basis and I was hooked instantly. I signed up for my membership in 2018 and have now finished over 230 titles. The bulk of my phone’s memory is taken up with audible books. I would go as far as saying that listening to audiobooks is now my favourite form of entertainment, surpassing film and television.
Fortunately the frequency of headaches and migraines I experience has reduced thanks to the medication I take. This has allowed me to start reading some physical books again, although the bulk of my “reading” is still in the form of audiobooks. I don’t understand people who don’t read. I’ve met many people over the years who seem to take a strange sort of pride in not reading. The written word is one of the greatest inventions of humankind. A collection of symbols can communicate the entirety of human history and describe the most outlandish creations of our imagination. Not reading is like depriving oneself of a sense. It’s just so bizarre to me.
Most people who know me are aware of my obsession with books, both written and audio. As such, I am often asked what my favourite books are. Each time I try to narrow it down I struggle because there are just so many incredible books out there. Also, my opinions are changeable and I make no apology for that. However, in this post I will try to narrow down my list of favourite books to my five favourite works of fiction and my five favourite non-fiction books. I will post images of the book as well, and if you feel compelled to buy the books clicking on the picture will direct you to the Amazon listing. Buying in this way will earn me a small commission and help support the costs of running this blog, and it will be at no extra cost to you. So, here we go…
1. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
This was the book that signalled the start of my journey to FIRE. The book is a game changer for everyone I know who has read it. Kiyosaki is a marketing genius because he managed to sell this book based on a single, controversial, statement; your house is not an asset, it’s a liability.
In a culture where we are conditioned to believe that owning your own home is a status symbol and an asset for the future, this is a statement that initially puts people on the defensive. However, I found that as I read the book my understanding of money started to change. There are no major practical lessons in this book. It’s not a how-to guide or a series of steps to acquire wealth. Instead, it’s a book about changing your mindset and I feel it’s a great place to start your financial education.
2. A Higher Call by Adam Makos
This book tells the story of the Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown incident from World War Two. As someone who has read extensively about the war, I had heard of this incident but I did not know the human side of the story. The main details of the incident are that in December 1943 an American bomber was returning from a mission over Germany. The bomber was attacked by German fighters and heavily damaged. Many of the crew were dead or dying. The plane was barely holding together. There was seemingly no chance the aircraft would make it back to Allied territory. Charlie Brown was piloting the bomber. One of the attacking German fighters was piloted by Franz Stigler. He approached the bomber and saw the injured crew. He saw the state of the enemy plane and instead of finishing them off, he flew in formation with them so that he could escort them out of German airspace.
A Higher Call is not so much about the incident, as it’s a fairly well known event from the war. The book is about how this event impacted both Brown and Stigler in the months, years and decades that followed. I will not spoil the book for you, because if you don’t know about the incident, I think you are best served going in to the book with as little information as possible. I finished the book in two sittings whilst I was in Romania. I remember finishing the book in bed with my girlfriend asleep beside me. I’m not ashamed to say that the book moved me to tears. A truly incredible, emotional story. A must read.
3. How to Own the World by Andrew Craig
This was one of the first books about money and investing that I read that actually contained practical, useful information. Many of the books I had read until this point had been great at changing attitudes and opening your mind to new ways of thinking. What they lacked was basic instruction about next steps. Andrew Craig’s book was excellent because it gave a lot of guidance about what to do, how to do it and why you should do it. Also, the book was written from a UK perspective which is unusual in the FIRE community as most information out there is Amerocentric. For those who want a useful starting point for investing, this is often the first book I recommend.
4. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
This book is referenced by almost every book on psychology, philosophy and investing that I have read. It is also one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist, philosopher and holocaust survivor. His work is moving, insightful and a must read for anyone as the wisdom contained in the text is useful to any situation. Frankl is also one of the people I would choose, if I was to answer the question about which five people I would most want to have dinner with. Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with a quote of his I have used a few times previously. It is a quote that informs the way I try to live my life;
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.“
5. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
The oldest work on this list, having been written almost 2,000 years ago by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. I often wonder if he ever thought his work would go down in history as one of the most celebrated in Stoic philosophy. It is a testament to his writing that a mortgage advisor in 2021 can identify with much of what an Emperor from centuries ago is thinking and feeling. This says so much about the universality of human struggle. I believe that the world would be a much better place, if instead of teaching children religion, we taught them Stoicism. The writings of Marcus Aurelius would be a fantastic place to start.
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1. The Warlord Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell
This is my favourite series of books and I have read them a number of times. I recently experienced them via audible and the narration by Jonathan Keeble was fantastic. The story is set in post-Roman Britain as the Saxons begin their invasion. This is not a fantasy telling of the story of Arthur, but rather a realistic version of the legend, set against a backdrop of religious revolution and political scheming. The writing is rich and emotive, and the characters are all fully developed. Whenever I go back to these books, I feel I am reuniting with old friends. The legend of Arthur has been butchered time and time again, to the extent that no filmmaker will probably touch the story again. It is just tragic, as this trilogy could easily fuel a series of films or a high budget show. If you enjoy The Last Kingdom, you will enjoy this, you just have to give it a chance.
2. The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest & Death’s End by Cixin Liu
I stumbled across these books by accident when I was reading about the Fermi Paradox. This in turn, led my to the Dark Forest theory which takes its name from a theory in the second book of this trilogy. The Three Body Trilogy tells the story of our first contact with an alien civilisation. It is told from a, primarily, Chinese perspective which was refreshing to a Western reader. I think the word “epic” has been overused, but it’s the only word that can truly capture the spectacle of this story. Although certain liberties are taken in the name of entertainment, the science is generally rooted in reality. This is more science fiction and less space opera. Unlike some other “hard science” books, this series has a real sense of emotion at its core. A few months ago news broke that Netflix commissioned a TV adaptation to be made by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the men responsible for bringing Game of Thrones to our screens. I hope that the Chinacentric setting is not lost, as it was a huge part of what made the books work.
The first book hooked me instantly as it follows a scientist who is coerced into investigating a spate of suicides by physicists who all claim that physics is broken. I don’t want to say too much more because it will spoil a real rollercoaster of a ride for you. My advice is, go into these books knowing nothing more than what I’ve told you. As a Western reader, the names of characters may be hard to remember at first, but please stick with it.
3. The Expanse by James S. A. Corey
I saw the show after hearing from a lot of sources how good it was. I never realised it was based on a series of books, which was in turn based on a game. That sort of genesis rarely works, however the show was excellent, and the books turned out to be even better. So far there are eight books in the series in addition to a set of novellas. The ninth, and final, book is due for release later in 2021.
The Expanse is set roughly three-hundred-years in our future. Earth has colonised the solar system and there are three factions engaged in a Cold War. The U.N. controls Earth and Luna. The Martian Congressional Republic controls Mars. Then, there is The Belt which is loosely under the control of Earth and Mars, with the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) battling the “inners” for independence. Against this backdrop there is political scheming which makes Game of Thrones look tame, and a shady conspiracy regarding the discovery of an alien substance which has the power to change life as we know it.
One of the main appeals of this series is the lived-in feel of the ships and colonies. Space travel in The Expanse is hard. There is no artificial gravity or magical devices to make food. There is no warp engines or hyperdrives. It takes time to travel between planets and the management of food, air and water is key to surviving on those long voyages. For those who like their science fiction to be, well, scientific, you should definitely check these books out.
4. The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett
Another series of books that blew me away. The Century Trilogy follows the fortunes of several families in the US, the UK and Russia as they live through the First World War all the way through to the present day. Someone who read these books before me explained that they, “tell the history of the world.” He was right. The strength of these books lies not in seeing how the characters shape world events. This is not a Forest Gump type situation. Instead, this series looks at how the characters handle those events. It took me a while to warm to the writing, but by the time I was on the third book I was sprinting through the pages. Strangely enough, I can’t get on with other books by Ken Follett, but this series is fantastic.
5. Station Eleven & The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Ok, so this one is a bit of a cheat. Where my previous entries were all series of books telling one story, these two books are not directly linked. There are, however, some connections that perceptive readers may discover. Both books stand on their own as complete stories and it does neither book harm if you read them in isolation. My advice would be to read them in their published order; Station Eleven first and The Glass Hotel after.
What I’ve realised from writing this list is that the works of fiction that have stuck with me are those that have a deep, melancholic feel. The characters are all flawed and feel real. Some people prefer reading stories where the characters are idealised heroes with no flaws. Those characters are boring.
Emily St. John Mandel is an author I have only recently discovered but her writing is incredible. The emotion and atmosphere that she brings to her work is up there with the very best. I firmly believe that she will go down in history as one of the great authors of our generation.
Both books are told in a non-linear fashion, following different characters that overlap with each other, not realising the impact they have on each other. Again, I don’t want to say too much about the stories because I think you will enjoy them more going in blind, as it were. I can’t wait to read Emily’s next book.