As a life coach and author, I am often asked by my clients “what do you consider the best personal development books that I should read?”
When presented with that question, I think of the words of the great American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. He recommended that you spend much of your time reading what he referred to as “The Heroic Books” – those books that contain “the noblest recorded thoughts of man.” Let your mind drink deeply from the works of the great philosophers, such as Epictetus and Confucius. Study the poems of the wisest poets, such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Emily Dickinson and John Keats, and the novels of Leo Tolstoy, Hermann Hesse and the Brontes. Read the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Mother Teresa.
While I passionately believe that almost any reading will improve your mind, in a world where there is too much to do, you must be selective in the books you read. Applying Thoreau’s philosophy to the personal development arena, the following are some of the “heroic” books that I highly recommend you add to your self-improvement library. These books have helped me change my own life and given me the wisdom and inspiration to live more deliberately and completely. If you read all of them, and act on the lessons contained within their pages, you cannot help but improve your circumstances profoundly.
Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl
None of us can avoid suffering. We all suffer from time to time and we all are confronted with strokes of fate. In Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl shows that while we are unable to avoid suffering, we are still capable of coping with it. His book brilliantly shows how we can find meaning in suffering and what we can do to move forward.
Viktor Frankl’s book details his life in a Nazi camp and his insights from his experiences. It changes your perception on the purpose of life. It is also an excellent guide that encourages the reader to pursue what they find meaningful. Understanding one’s life purpose and meaning is vital to personal development. As Frankl says, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”
I cannot recommend this book enough. Grab a tissue and discover your “why” with this book!
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
Published in 1902, this timeless classic has inspired millions to give more thought to their thinking patterns. It was one of the first books that highlighted the relationship between thoughts and character. Instead of focusing the discussion on strategies to become more successful, Allen’s discussions are centered on the great impact our thoughts can have on our lives. In a brilliant and eloquent manner, he points out how our behavior and personality are shaped through our thinking processes. The result is a unique book that encourages the reader to strive for integrity, purity of mind and the realization of one’s dreams.
This short book will help you realize that you are only as good as you think you are and help you change the way you see and imagine yourself. Your thoughts and your dreams determine what you are and what you will be. This book is meant to stimulate men and women to the discovery and perception of the truth that they themselves are makers of themselves, by virtue of the thoughts which they choose and encourage.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Think and Grow Rich is another of several old-school classics on this list and its place is well-earned. This book is not so much about financial wealth as it is about the making of a rich life. You will learn how important it is to have a burning desire that galvanizes your focus and releases your creativity. You will also discover the imperative of setting clear goals and the value of “a mastermind alliance”.
This is the mother of all personal development books. Admittedly, numerous modern-day self-improvement books discuss the principles that this book laid out. But not even one comes close to the original. If you are looking for insights on how to achieve your dream or a specific goal, this is a classic you cannot do without.
The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Dr. Peale’s classic is the quintessential self-help book, being one of just a handful of early books from around the 1950s that shaped the entire self-improvement space. For that reason, there are many themes in the book that you will see echoed throughout many of the other books on this list. The Power of Positive Thinking is great for anyone looking to get back to basics and learn some of the fundamental lessons that are essential to developing self-confidence and an optimistic mindset.
The book brilliantly highlights how positive thoughts can lead to a positive reality. Peale is not promoting the “think positive and success will miraculously manifest” approach. Instead, the book equips the reader with the attitude required to become successful. Those who are looking to make their lives happier, more satisfying or who simply want to learn to believe in themselves and their abilities have a lot to gain by reading this popular title.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
How to Win Friends and Influence People — the timeless best seller written by Dale Carnegie — has been heralded as the most successful personal development book of all time. It holds the keys to creating and strengthening any type of relationship.
Carnegie does a great job of showing that good communication really has nothing to do with natural talent or smooth words but knowing the right tactics to use when interacting with others, something everyone can do. Carnegie’s lessons show how to win people for your cause with integrity, honesty, and authenticity.
Communication is one of the single most important skills you can work on, given how critical communication is to everything that we do. If you want (or believe you need) to become a better communicator, or simply want to get better at working with people, read this now. I consider it required reading — especially for an introvert like myself.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Stephen Covey’s seminal work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is another of many well-known classics on this list. This self-help book is exactly what it sounds like: a guide to seven habits you need to be successful in life and work. Covey’s strategies to become more effective are therefore centered on cultivating powerful habits.
But more than that, there is an incredibly important undertone that forms the real power of this book and is the prime takeaway: living with fairness and integrity is the path to maximum efficiency and success. In a world where shortcuts, secret deals, and dishonesty are prominent, Covey preaches a message that the world needs more than ever — and shows you how to apply it in the form of simple, straightforward habits.
All in all, Covey’s book is an invaluable roadmap for better living.
The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren
Self-development should be more about character than anything else, including success, wealth or overcoming bad habits. Living a life of purpose is the foundation and the root of all those other things anyway. The book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, gave me more clarity on who I am and what I am on earth to do. It helped me to make choices in life, relationships and business that are in alignment with my purpose for being.
This book will help you understand why you are alive and reveal God’s amazing plan for you both here and now, and for eternity. Rick Warren will guide you through a personal forty-day spiritual journey that will transform your answer to life’s most important question: What on earth am I here for?
Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins
Awaken the Giant Within is probably the most well-known self-help book from popular motivational coach Tony Robbins and, once you read it, you will know why. As the title suggests, the book outlines a variety of strategies to attain greatness and self-mastery. Many of the books on this list home in on a particular subject, but this one does not. Robbins gives his best advice for improving your relationships, confidence, finances, and finding your purpose.
It is all about awakening the giant that lies dormant within each one of us. But Robbins also encourages us to be the best we can be. Filled with timeless advice and profound philosophical thoughts, Awaken the Giant Within seeks to help the reader to unlock their full potential.
What makes this book so powerful is the fact that Robbins stresses numerous times how important it is to implement his teachings in everyday life. Additionally, Robbins shares his own struggles in life and what helped him to overcome these. These lessons alone provide excellent ideas on what you can do to transform your life.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist, a seminal classic by Paulo Coelho, is an easy evening read. The story about an Andalusian shepherd boy and his quest to find a hidden treasure buried in the pyramids has inspired millions around the world. The journey that starts as an endeavor to fulfill worldly desires is magnificently transformed to a spiritual undertaking in search of the treasure within.
I read this book a few years ago and was quite entranced by it. If you’re looking for guidance in a general sense, are at all religious (or even agnostic), or simply want wisdom on how to discover what it is you were meant to do and become, this book will quite literally change your life forever.
Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
Presented as a book that changes lives, Way of the Peaceful Warrior is a manifesto about inner peace. It is the part-fictional autobiography of the author, Dan Millman, and humorously combines piercing truths with philosophical wisdom.
This story may be fictional, but it offers powerful lessons in being strong in mind and spirit rather than in the body. One does not need to become a peaceful warrior. By virtue of living here, on planet Earth, each and every one of us is a peaceful warrior in training — to the degree that we strive to live with a more peaceful heart, but also recognize that there are times we need to live with a warrior spirit.
Connecting with works such as these for even a few minutes a day will keep you centered on what life is about and will ultimately profoundly affect your character.
I recommend reviewing our bookstore where you can discover some additional exceptional personal development books.