(Disclosure: links marked with a asterisk * are affiliate links)
This is a list of books that I have read, that shaped who I am today.
In this list you’ll only find books I’ve actually read. This is not a wish list (that one is coming soon).
I didn’t read many books in 2019 and the first half of 2020 though.
Personal Finance / FIRE / Investing
Well, as you’ll discover soon, this section is not strictly about “finance”. It lists the books that contributed the most to my financial awareness. They’re mostly about the philosophy of money, psychology of money, minimalism, frugality.
Take this section, and read the books descriptions in the order presented. That’s my FIRE Epiphany I guess.
You might say “where the hell is book X or Y? Why are they missing from this list?“. Simply because I’m a first principle thinker, and all I need are first principles. I don’t need a book on “how to invest”, and neither you do.
To Have or To Be?* (IT*), by Erich Fromm – my first book about “Money”. Not about money, actually. About being vs having. It depressed me. I understood the uncomfortable truths expressed in the book, that you either pursue a materialistic life or a deep one, but I refused to accept them, leaving the resolution of the paradox for a later moment in life. I never tried to solve the dilemma of Happiness & Meaning vs Money, I just embrace its essence now. I know it’s not black/white, but many shades of grey.
Walden* (IT*), by David Henry Thoreau – My desire for extreme minimalism showed up during my late 20s and early 30s. I was already disillusioned by the false promise of modern society: “work until pension age, then wait to die”. When I discovered that “a different life was possible” I devoted a full year (I guess it was my 31st or 32nd year, 2008-2009) to that. Didn’t know about FI, but I knew I didn’t want to work forever, to buy stuff I didn’t need, to impress people I didn’t like. Walden has been a cornerstone of my transformation. The book is very old, and the writing style is harsh. But you’ll find invaluable gems, and slow descriptions of landscapes and supposedly boring activities with such a fullness that you realize you can’t fully appreciate unless you clean your mind off a bit.
Small Is Beautiful*, by Emil Fritz Schumacher – Hippy Economics that I soon bought into, given I was in my minimalism / anticonsumerism / maybe anticapitalism years (2008-2009). The chapter on Buddhist Economics was amazing. The central point is that “big” is unsustainable. This book is the personal reflection of Schumacher (an economist), after the 1973 energy crisis. A critique to western civilizations and a call to action to care about sustainability. A 50 years old climate change manifesto? I loved it at first sight.
Vagabonding* (IT*), by Rolf Potts – Not at all a book about personal finance / money. It’s a book about lifelong travel. Simplicity, minimalism. A dream life you could achieve if you saved enough money and learned how to live small. Maybe it was my FIRE Epiphany? I’m no longer interested in lifelong travel, but the main concepts stuck with me. Back when I read that book (2009) I had a 10 days bike trip from Milano to Marseille, where I spent less than 100 EUR in total. I was hosted in Couchsurfing each day along the route, and I was offered food all the time. Something clicked. I can do this forever, and it would be extremely cheap. You get to pick where you are on the FIRE Spectrum, and I decided that calling it done back then would have been to risky. But something clicked. And never went away.
Your Money or Your Life* (IT*), by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez – The book that many classify as the birth of the FIRE Movement. I read only half of it. I missed the FI aspects (which according to good old Mustachian Joe could be achieved by investing in bonds alone…) I was more focusing on the “work is bad” side. Still in my Hippy years, I missed the concrete, important aspects of the best book about money ever written.
La Decrescita Felice* (Degrowth), by Maurizio Pallante (Italian) – First book that attempts to build a different Macroeconomic System. Not based on GDP but on some Happiness measure. A bit more political. I became a supporter of the Degrowth movement for a few years (2010-2014?), then they affiliated themselves with a populist Italian party and I said goodbye. Anyway, thanks to this book I have been able to envision concrete alternatives to our unhappy society. Today, ten years later, I think I was wrong, and Degrowth was too extreme. Sustainability and Growth are not only both possible, maybe (warning: controversial link) Growth is the only way toward Sustainability. I don’t have Certainties here anymore. I embrace a complex model, with a lot of Unknowns.
Adesso Basta* (Stop, Now), by Simone Perotti (Italian) – Early 2010s, in my mid 30s, I’m facing my first existential crisis, dream job disillusion, trying to make sense of Degrowth, Freedom, Capitalism, Socialism, Consumerism, Work, Money, Happiness, Relationships. I would call reading this book from Simone Perotti as my FIRE Epiphany. Simone’s own story is the essence of leanFIRE or Barista FIRE: He accumulated a nice amount of money to secure several years of freedom (few hundreds of thousands EUR), reduced his expenses to bare minimum, and quit his horrible job as marketing manager to follow his passions: writing and sailing. Amazing book, but re-reading it after 10 years and with FIRE knowledge, the financial strategies look very dumb. It’s more a motivational book to get rid of a shitty job and live a free life than a concrete financial book. Anyway, thanks to this book I started tracking my expenses and running my numbers. He mentioned the importance of saving a huge fraction of your income and reducing expenses. Not a word on inflation, not a word on Investing, except buying a crappy flat… Italians! And quitting your job after N years, not based on a monetary goal or whatnot. Still, this book was gold at that time. ERE was not around (yet).
Avanti Tutta* (Keep Going), by Simone Perotti (Italian) – This is a follow up of Adesso Basta. It’s Simone Perotti’s own reflection after few years of his version of FIRE. I loved this book more than the previous one, but now I see how biased I was. Simone mentioned that all the financial plans he made were moot because… you have no idea how your life would change once you quit! In Adesso Basta he said he thought he would spend 1600 EUR/Month, in Avanti Tutta he documented he spends 800 per month. And he could cut his expenses even more. It was an amazing and “confirming” book to read, but I now see problems I wasn’t able to spot back then. He’s single. He dove deep down into minimalism. He works a lot both as a writer and as a skipper. Not very representative of my conditions, or your conditions. Anyway, I loved both books. And Simone’s TV series “Un’Altra Vita” (a new life).
Early Retirement Extreme*, by Jacob Lund Fisker – ERE fixed many moving parts in my work-in-progress new philosophy of life. I think it was 2012. Before I moved to Switzerland. ERE put everything I believed back then in a consistent framework. Minimalism, resilience, sustainability, skill nurturing, renaissance man, and – finally joining the party – capitalism and Investing. Before reading that book, investing in stocks was evil, something only “capitalists” do to “speculate” and keep the population poor. Please forgive me, growing up in Rome I had to get out of so many bad cultural layers and false stereotypes. Closed minds everywhere. It wasn’t easy. ERE told me that you can be anti consumerist and capitalist, and it’s ok. It’s probably your best chance at doing something good for the world. Via leaving a small footprint, you’re both freeing your time and doing a great job for future generations. Via growing your skills in a variety of fields, you’re being an interesting and inspiring person to have around. Via joining the party of business owners, your doing your part at advancing civilization. Everything made sense. Until you start a family. Goodbye ERE!
Note: I didn’t read a single book on investing! I know the message of almost all the “classics” (a Random Walk Down Wall Street, The Intelligent Investor, The Simple Path to Wealth, The Millionaire Next Door, …) thanks to book notes available online, and animated book reviews. No wait! I lied!
The Richest Man in Babylon* (IT*), by George Samuel Clason – A classic book on Saving and Investing. Very essential. A bit overrated in my opinion, but a pleasant read. I can say it’s the only book I’ve read about investing 🙂
The list above shaped my views on economics, politics, and the use of time and resources like money. The list below cares about personal aspects like philosophy, psychology, happiness and what to do with my life.
Siddharta* (IT*), by Herman Hesse – Do I need to introduce this book to you? It’s a personal journey of self discovery that passes thru many stages. Read 2-3 times in my teen years and early 20s, I remember first time it disappointed me. I mean, this guy had superpowers (think, wait, fast) and made a lot of bad moves for romance, weakness… Growing up I stopped empathizing with the flawless “Supermen”, and accepted the inevitable fallacies of humans. Anyway, thou must read it now.
Your Erroneous Zones* (IT*), by Wayne Dyer – This is my first “self help” book, probably still the best one. I read it 2-3 times in my 20s. There was no internet back then, or at least no “self help” outlets around. This book taught me how to name, classify, recognize my own bad behaviors, and how to correct them. Too many things I gave for granted before reading this book. I owe Wayne a good chunk of what I have become. Rest in Peace my dear mentor.
How to win friends and influence people*, by Dale Carnegie – Written in 1930s, this is still the best book on how to handle people (empathy, leadership, listening…). Worth re-reading every once in a while.
The Game*, by Neil Strauss – Yes, I admit it. I read and liked the book. I think it’s a deep psychological book, disguised as a pick-up documentary. I learned a lot of things about myself, and what I was doing wrong with my social circle. I’d put this close to Dale Carnegie’s book.
The Structure of Magic* (second book*), by Richard Bandler, John Grinder – I know, the topic of PNL is very controversial. I liked the practical ideas deployed in the book, especially the way to eviscerate and open psychological problems via deep dialogue and right questions. It helped me in better arguing. Asking explanatory questions is much more effective that defending your statements.
Living the Wisdom of the Tao*, by Wayne Dyer – Read many chapters. I’ve always been interested in Eastern religions and culture, and always wanted to know more about the Tao Te Ching and Lao Tzu. Dyer adds a bit too much, but the book is pleasant.
Walking*, by David Henry Thoreau – A small book on the beauty of simply walk, and be in the moment.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance*, by Robert Pirsig – Didn’t finish the entire book, and I regret it a lot. It was a bit disturbing, a mix of sanity, calm and insanity in the main character flashbacks and dark history.
Pianeta Terra, guida per visitatori alieni* (Planet Earth, guide for alien visitors), by Astutillo Smeriglia (Italian) – It’s a fun read from the author of In Coma è Meglio blog. I classify it in the personal growth section, because most of the material presented is mocking human flaws: cognitive biases, weird collective behaviors, lack of rationality and so on. Smeriglia is also the author of few video series like Preti and Ancora Preti, available in English as well.
Search inside Yourself*, by Chade Meng Tan – Not a bad book, but maybe the first that will later be classified as Mc Mindfulness. Corporate Self Help. Yes, your job sucks but it’s your fault. Learn how to cope with that. We’re not going to change anything. Actually, there’s more stress for you to handle. Anyway, not a bad book. But I only read 20% of it.
Predictably Irrational*, by Dan Ariely – Amazing guy, Dan, amazing book. On cognitive biases and irrational behaviors that could be predicted (and exploited). Even if it’s not, this is one of the best book in behavioral finance – like Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman and Tversky.
The Obstacle is The Way*, by Ryan Holiday – I discovered Stoicism thanks to Ryan Holiday. Or maybe Tim Ferriss… Anyway, this book is the best of the Ryan Holiday books on Stoicism. It embeds the core philosophy of it.
The Daily Stoic*, by Ryan Holiday – A stoic meditation a day. At Hooli a colleague started a Stoic mailing list where we discussed the Daily Stoic entry for the day. What an awesome way to start the day!
Tools of Titans*, by Tim Ferriss – Never read Tim’s most famous book “The 4-hour Workweek”, but I’ve watched few videos of him (including the Fear Setting TED Talk, and some of his podcasts), and wanted to know more. This book seemed perfect: I could get a grasp of 100+ of his podcasts in a reasonable time. I ended up loving the book, highlighting a lot of content, and procrastinating the task of extracting notes from the book since 3 years! So many amazing advices from so many awesome people. For example I didn’t know who Naval Ravikant was before reading this book. Of course I purchased Tribe of Mentors as well, but didn’t raise its priority to “next book to read” yet. I need 48-hour days, not 4-hour workweeks!
An Astronaut’s guide to Life on Earth*, by Chris Hadfield – I had an space-fetish for a period of a couple of years (around 2013-2015). I followed every news on SpaceX, read the Waitbutwhy posts about SpaceX, followed many sources about “Big History”, astrophysics, space geography… It was 2013-2014 more or less. I still love it (and claps at Falcon 9 rockets landings), but my interests has faded a bit. By that time I followed Chris Hadfield, a very “social” astronauts on the ISS. He started the trend of making videos on the ISS and sharing them on YouTube. Pretty popular his Space Oddity version. The book is an autobiography full of nuggets of wisdom. I read the book cover to cover, waiting for a second volume. This guy is amazing.
Principles* (IT*), by Ray Dalio – Ok, I’m cheating. I didn’t read the full book, only few pages. But I read many book summaries, and watched Ray’s video three times at least. Does it count? I like the idea of defining one’s principles. It’s a step above defining one’s values.
Sapiens* (IT*), by Yuval Noah Harari – I think this is the best book I’ve read in the last decade. It’s about human history, but it tells you who we are, how we work. It’s the answer to the question “why is it useful to study history?”. I’ve also bought both Homo Deus* and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century*, but… you know… time is scarce.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You*, Deep Work*, Digital Minimalism* by Cal Newport – Yeah, cheating again. Didn’t read the actual books, but read, listened to, watched a lot of content related to the Cal Newport productivity trilogy. For example his 99u talk, or his TEDx Talk, or his entire blog essentially. I also wrote a post on Deep Work.
The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck*, by Mark Manson – This book was recommended to me by Morten, at FIWE 2018. Well, more than recommended, the book was given to me as a gift. I read it. I read it two times. A lot of inspiration. I then devoured Mark Manson Blog during summer 2018. I took notes. 2 Years later, everything seems so distant. Nothing survived the challenge of time. I’ll give the book another chance, I’ll re-read at least my notes (to extract them to my PKM) and will let you know.
Sophie’s World*, by Jostein Gaarder – This is my introductory book about philosophy. I’m halfway thru it, but eager to get back to reading philosophy. It’s a very good book, even though I’m not sure the best way to approach philosophy is the chronological one. Anyway, a recommended read.
Meditations*, by Marcus Aurelius – Personal writings of the Roman Emperor, which happened to be one of the last Stoics on ancient Rome.
The Elephant in the Brain, by Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler. Why we, as individuals and as groups of people, do what we do? There are hidden motives that we strategically avoid talking about.
Gödel, Escher, Bach*, by Douglas Hofstadter – Never thought about Music and Art from a mathematical point of view. I grew up as a science guy who considered non-science just bullshit. Except theater acting for some reason. This book opened my eyes. Maybe it should be in the Personal Growth category 🙂
The Road To Reality*, by Roger Penrose – I don’t understand why math and physics at school must suck so much. Take this book instead. It walks you thru the most complex topics ever within its first 10 pages, and it’s an amazing trip from there on. Ok, maybe it’s a bit too complex (maybe hyperbolic geometry on page 30 of 1100 “could” scare someone), but it makes the learning process so fulfilling!
The Black Hole War*, by Leonard Susskind – During my space-fetish (2013-2015) I read a lot of material on astrophysics. This book was the one who put everything together. I finally have a good understanding of Black Holes.
Computer Science / Software Engineering
(Work In Progress)
Free as in Freedom, by Sam Williams – The story of GNU/Linux, the character of Richard Stallman, the birth of Free Software. Yes, I was in my Hippy years 🙂 – I also read Richard Stallman’s Free as in Freedom.
The Algorithm Design Manual* by Steven Skiena. This book contains war stories, that are stories around finding the right algorithms for specific problems. I loved the storytelling, the thought processes, and the hands-on attitude of the book. Code while your read the book. This is the book I devoured while preparing for the Google interviews.
What If?, by Randall Munroe – Serious scientific answers to absurd questions. Nerd, very nerd.
All the ZeroCalcare books (Italian). A cartoonist from Rome, actually he lives a couple of km from where I grew up. The cultural environment where his books take place could be mine. I can empathize a lot with his stories and his events. Remarkable Kobane Calling*, and Macerie* Prime* (both books). Funny and deep.
All the Stefano Benni books (Italian). Creativity, imagination, surrealism, humor. I’ve read maybe 10 of Stefano’s books. I’d classify some of them as philosophical books as well.
My view on fiction books is that they are philosophy books. You challenge the status quo, and ask yourself deep questions. If that’s not the case with a book, it’s not a book worth reading.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien – Probably the first serious book I read. I loved it, but I must admit I don’t remember why. I didn’t like The Lord of the Rings though. I know, I’m a weirdo.
Darkover (series), by Marion Zimmer Bradley – I think I’ve read 20+ books in the series. It’s not very popular, but I loved it. In the far future, at the down of human space colonization a ship is lost and they have to rebuild society in an habitable planet. With few generations society collapses and new orders are established. A middle-age-like society, with a touch of magic and feminism, experience the return of the humans from Terra after a couple of thousand years. I loved the series so much!
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger – Another book that kept me turning pages after pages. Read twice when I was young. I don’t remember much, but for sure this book helped installing the reading habit. I owe you one JD!
Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy (series), by Douglas Adams– A classic. “A trilogy in five books”. A must. Never laughed so hard while reading books.
Flatland, by Edwin Abbott – A 1800s story about a well described 2D world that comes in contact with a 3D entity. It’s a book on limitedness of our sensory perceptions and imagination. On our need to make new data fit old hypothesis. On Confirmation Bias. But also a fun story.
The Martian, by Andy Weir – One of the best books I’ve read in last decade. I felt I could have written that. It’s so nerdly accurate, and what a story! The movie was inferior.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline – A lot of references from my culture, the 80s, and a very good story and dystopian environment. Loved it. The movie was inferior.
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green – A romantic adolescent story that made me cry so much!
Silo Trilogy (series), by Hugh Howey – Wool, Shift, Dust. Amazing dystopian world. I read the three books in a month. Addicting.
The Hyperion Cantos (series), by Dan Simmons – A pilgrimage on a strange planet, inhabited by strange people. Only read the first half of the first book. But I want to take it back asap.
The Expanse (series), by James S.A. Corey (per name of the duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) – Humans in a distant but not too distant future explore the solar system. And fight. Only read the first book, but loved so much! Also the TV Series is of very good quality 🙂
- Shakespeare Plays: I’ve acted in theater for more or less 15 years. Many times on stage. I played several Shakespeare Plays, including Midsummer’s Night Dream, As you like it, The 12th night, The Tempest, and a couple more.