What are your 50 books?

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Tag: [Books]


3min read

In Rolf Dobelli’s The Art of The Good Life, Dobelli talks about the way we are reading, and how that is “wrong”, in this short essay. Let me partially quote some bits here:

What’s the point of reading a book when the content largely seeps away? … Why is it we retain so little of what we read?

We’re reading wrong. We’re reading neither selectively nor thoroughly enough. Today I read differently than I did a few years ago. Just as much, but fewer books - only I read them better, and twice. I’ve become radically selective.

Dobelli also gives a motivating example, prior to the section above:

We don’t read correctly. We don’t read selectively nor do we read carefully enough. We need to read differently: here is my case for a radical book regime.

A multi-trip train ticket in Switzerland has six spaces. Before each journey you insert your card into an orange-coloured machine which stamps it with the date and time and removes a tiny corner from the margin on the left-hand side. Once all six spaces have been stamped, the ticket is used up and worthless.

Now imagine a reading ticket for books with fifty spaces. Same system: Before you read a book, you must stamp a space. But unlike the multi-trip train ticket this reading ticket for books is the only one you’ll ever have. It will be impossible for you to get another one. Once the ticket is used up, you won’t be able to open any other books – and while you may beat the transport system by evading the fare, there is no cheating with the reading ticket. Fifty books only for an entire lifetime – a non-issue for many but for you as a reader of this newspaper an appalling prospect. How is one supposed to get through life even half-civilised with so few books?

Dobelli suggests that we could read more selectively, and read each shortlisted book at least twice, which does make sense. Books can be enjoyed more than once, like a song. Furthermore, if we would like to “practise” what’s written in the book, like practising playing the guitar, we would indeed play the same song on the guitar more than once.

Now suppose you were to take on his idea, and specially curate a list of 50 books that you would read more than once, and in principle, be able to better to embody and apply the learnings from these 50 books.

I gave it a shot, and my list stops at 10. Either I have not read enough, or I am being very selective. The following list of books are however, highly aligned to how I view and/or how I choose to interact with the world.

Personal Finance

  1. Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robins

The corporate world, dealing with other people

  1. Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson
  2. The Rules of Work by Richard Templar

Stoicism, living life

  1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
  2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  3. The Art of the Good Life by Rolf Dobelli1
  4. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday

Modern Psychology

  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman


  1. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell


  1. The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb2

What about you? What would be your 50 books?

  1. Yes a little “meta”, but this book is really good.
  2. One of the very first books that I seriously read, and that inspired me about finance, statistics, and most importantly taking time to learn something and go deep in them.