This article was originally written by me for The Mission
The common thread running through the following selection of books is that I feel each is best read by individuals during their formative years. That being said, there countless other books that inspire and influence teenagers to achieve great things; this list is not exhaustive — 10 is just a handy number.
1. ‘The Richest Man in Babylon’ by George S. Clason
“‘A part of all I earn is mine to keep.’ Say it in the morning when you first arise. Say it at noon. Say it at night. Say it each hour of every day. Say it to yourself until the words stand out like letters of fire across the sky.”
Originally serialised in an American newspaper, George S. Clason’s classic illustrates undying truths about personal wealth through eloquently written parables set in ancient Babylon. This short book is especially pertinent in today’s world where it is all too easy to forget the merits of saving and investing for the long term. The book is definitely essential reading for anyone who aspires to financial independence and is recommended by countless billionaires, entrepreneurs, and businesspeople.
2. ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
This cult classic has been read by just about every wandering soul that has ever bought a bus ticket just to experience a journey. Based upon his experience of travelling around the USA and Mexico for seven years, Jack Kerouac’s magnum opus chronicles the various characters he encounters along the way, including the enigmatic Dean Moriarty (who was based on Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady). Through all its ups and downs, the book perfectly reminds readers how many of life’s pleasures are beautifully simple.
3. ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand
“What greater wealth is there than to own your life and to spend it on growing? Every living thing must grow. It can’t stand still. It must grow or perish.”
Another cult favourite — this time among ambitious students, Wall Street financiers and libertarian-inclined tech pioneers — Ayn Rand’s most famous book is not a light read. The gargantuan novel, which sprawls across more than 1100 pages, envisages a world where government regulations prevent businesses and industrialists from operating as they wish, causing them to disappear and join the mysterious John Galt. Whatever one’s political persuasion, Rand’s argumentative storyline offers much food for thought.
4. Principles by Ray Dalio
“Pain + Reflection = Progress”
Who wouldn’t want to learn from one of the world’s most successful and compassionate billionaire hedge fund managers? Ray Dalio has turned the lessons he learned over decades into easy-to-implement principles that can be used by any reader to achieve greater success in whatever fields they choose to pursue. Among those that have sung praises of Dalio’s book are both Bill Gates and Arianna Huffington, so you can count on it being worth your time.
5. ‘Tools of Titans’ by Tim Ferriss
“My goal is to learn things once and use them forever.”
The first of his books not to feature the “4-Hour” tagline, Tools of Titans is Tim Ferriss’ attempt to distill the wisdom of many of the world’s top performers from a multitude of different backgrounds. The book is subdivided into three sections, entitled ‘Health’, ‘Wealth’ and ‘Wisdom’ and is not necessarily designed to be read in that order. Instead, readers are encouraged to skip to the section that most interests them and immerse themselves in what the world’s most successful individuals have to say. This is definitely worth reading if you’re inclined towards optimising various facets of your life.
6. ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari
“We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”
In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari chronicles the story of mankind by explaining it as a product of four distinct revolutions. Harari tackles enormous questions without descending into academic jargon or reducing the magnitude and significance of the topics he discusses. Nor does Harari shy away from our role in driving countless species into extinction and the horrors of modern meat harvesting. Ultimately, the book charts humanity’s achievements without whitewashing its crimes, before providing a tentative insight into what the future might hold for us.
7. ‘Elon Musk’ by Ashlee Vance
“Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.”
Although Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was initially reluctant to be the subject of a biography, tech writer Ashlee Vance finally managed to crack him. The result is a gripping account of the life of the world’s most prominent entrepreneur and his vision for the future of mankind. The biography covers Musk’s difficult upbringing in apartheid-era South Africa, his initial forays into business with his brother Kimbal, and his present role in radically changing the aerospace and automotive industries. Above all, Vance highlights how powerful a combination of extreme resilience, boundless ambition and relentless execution can be.
8. ‘Freakonomics’ by Steven Dubner & Stephen J. Levitt
“Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work, wheareas economics represents how it actually does work.”
Economics is only taught to students to decide to pursue it, but everyone needs a grasp how the economy works, or how are we able to vote for the people who run it? That’s where Freakonomics comes in and makes the what Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle called the “dismal science” both fun and accessible. Levitt delves into everyday riddles such as how people of different races name their children, and how this affects their chances in life. If crack dealers make so much money, why do they still live at home with their mums? This book is guaranteed to make you laugh, think and will also heighten your curiosity about the world around you.
9. ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho
“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”
This is a fable you can read in a day, but one you will certainly want to come back to. It’s the tale of a young Spanish shepherd who sold his flock to travel to Egypt in search of treasure. This beautifully written little book is an extraordinary adventure story of a boy with big dreams. The novella is packed full of life lessons about perseverance, believing in yourself and finding your true calling in life. It’s truly an uplifting and inspiring read.
10. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J. R. R. Tolkien
“Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.”
J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic is a celebration of individual and collective bravery in the face of a seemingly insurmountable evil. Aside from perhaps being the most famous work of fantasy ever published, it is also credited by numerous Silicon Valley CEOs as having inspired them to achieve great things. In fact, Peter Thiel’s data analytics company, Palantir, is not only named after an object in the books but also takes the slogan “Save the Shire” — after the home of Tolkien’s hobbits. All that being said, I fully understand if teenagers would rather watch Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations…