Reading is kind of a rediscovered hobby of mine. As a kid I used to love reading books. I downright devoured them, staying up late reading with a flashlight under the covers. Unfortunately, I lost that interest in books at some point and got more into playing video games. Reading then felt like work to me and required effort whereas gaming, watching TV, or procrastinating on my phone was pleasurable and even rewarding. I didn’t have to strain my attention after a day of school when succumbing to such activities, my brain could unwind.
However, the instant gratification we receive today from mindless consumption, social media, and fast-paced technology is rewiring our brains. Many of us have grown increasingly impatient and struggle with extremely short attention spans, myself included. I wasn’t aware of that at that time, but I sure had become unhappy with how much time I was wasting being unproductive. I was just dawdling my time away instead of doing something meaningful with my life. It is no coincidence that phones suck you in for hours. They are deliberately engineered to be highly addictive. I wanted to do something about that. Reading became a way for me to not only become more educated and to widen my horizon but also to decelerate my life and fight my phone addiction. I highly recommend watching the following video. I’ve already fast-forwarded to the relevant part for your convenience, but you definitely need to watch the entire thing.
Yes, taking up reading as a hobby is hard in the beginning. I went through that, too. I often caught myself putting my Kindle away in the middle of a sentence to check Twitter or Instagram on my iPhone, asking myself just seconds later “What are you doing?”. That’s the shortened attention span I mentioned earlier. It takes time to get used to reading again, since after all your brain is not mindlessly consuming anymore. You’re putting it to real work now. It has to build entire worlds in your imagination or ponder heavy thoughts. But soon enough you’ll get hooked and find yourself reading late into the night again, just like you did as a child. When you’ve reached that point, reading will be just as addictive as gaming, with one difference … two years from now, no one will be talking about today’s Call of Duty anymore whereas the ideas you pick up from reading books stay with you forever. So ask yourself: what are your priorities?
“My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind … and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much.” — Tyrion Lannister
While I think it’s fair to say that we simply had more free time available when we were kids compared to now as adults, I also have to say that most people’s excuse that they “don’t have the time for reading” is bullshit. They say they have no time, yet they still wind up spending an hour a day scrolling through their Instagram feeds. You don’t have time, you make time. Take Bill Gates for example. Bill Gates famously reads 52 books a year, i.e. each week he finishes an entire book. Are you saying that you’re busier than Bill Gates? … Yeah, I didn’t think so. President Obama reads at least 1 hour before going to sleep to relieve the stress of the day—every single day. If someone like him can make the time for reading, you can do it too. If you’d like to do what I did, delete your social media apps, news apps, etc. from your smartphone. Allow yourself to check social media only at certain times when you’re sitting in front of your computer, maybe during your lunch break, and you will be surprised how many hours you still can squeeze out of a day when you thought you had no time. The world will not end if you don’t check your Instagram every hour or don’t respond to a text immediately.
If you want to get more into reading but just don’t know what to read to make you put aside your phone or game controller more often, here are some books that had a great impact on me.
The Books I’ve Enjoyed the Most
You don’t necessarily have to start your reading habit with one of my favorite books. As I’ve said, reading is hard in the beginning and if you don’t enjoy it the chances are high that you will eventually quit and abandon your new habit all together. So start with something light, something fun, something that you can enjoy in order to ignite the spark. If that means that you’ll have to ask your parents to search the attic for your childhood Harry Potter books, then that’s perfectly fine. When your fire has started burning, figuratively speaking, I highly recommend reading the following books.
Biographies and memoirs are one of my favorite genres. They often tell the stories of truly inspiring human beings, give you insights into the minds of some of the worlds most successful people—often amongst the best in their respective field—and teach you how to think like them. At the same time, they are easier to digest than business-related or other non-fiction books that keep your problem-solving apparatus going, which makes biographies perfect for bedtime reading.
- Creativity, Inc.
- Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
- Elon Musk
- The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
- Born a Crime
- Steve Jobs
- Becoming Steve Jobs
- Total Recall
- Let My People Go Surfing
- Leonardo da Vinci
There are two kinds of people: those who see a problem and those who see an opportunity to grow; those who are nervous and those who are excited; those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. I belong to the latter. I’m a constant improver, never content with the status quo. This category of books might be the most important category on this page. It does not matter how much you currently know, with the speed the world is changing you will eventually end up a dinosaur if you don’t keep learning.
- The Obstacle Is the Way
- Ego Is the Enemy
- The Daily Stoic
- Thinking, Fast and Slow
- How to Win Friends & Influence People
- A Mind for Numbers, the accompanying book for the Coursera course Learning How to Learn
- Tools of Titans
- Tribe of Mentors
- The 4-Hour Workweek
- The 4-Hour Body
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
- The Power of Habit
I hate working in mismanaged corporate environments. These books are must-reads if you’re someone else’s boss or want to become your own boss. Even if you’re unhappy in a shitty day job—these books will show you how a fulfilling job can look like and give you the much needed nudge to look for a new job. Unfortunately, the people who need to read these books the most are those who probably won’t.
Biology and Neuroscience
As a computer scientist I want to understand how my computer works. As a human I want to understand how my body works—on the most fundamental level. Since I’m specializing in machine learning, I’m particularly interested in the brain.
- Why We Sleep
- The Brain: The Story of You
- Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
- The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Head is Really Up To
- The Epigenics Revolution
I often wondered what exactly black holes are. I wanted to understand the science behind the movie Interstellar. Being a computer scientist and with quantum computers on the horizon, it’s certainly not a bad idea to get to know how quantum mechanics works. When you’re delving into quantum mechanics, you will consequently also ponder on gravitation, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and string theory—and understand what exactly Sheldon from the TV show Big Bang Theory is working on. You will appreciate what a brilliant genius Stephen Hawking was. And as a sideline, you will also learn how stars like our sun are born, what unimaginable things had to happen for life on earth to form, and what alien life could look like. For example, the very blood in our bodies would not be able to transport oxygen to our cells, had not some dying star in a far-away galaxy dispersed its iron core in a ferocious supernova. We literally are made of stardust. Makes you value life even more. Extremely exciting topics!
Technology and Economy
These books focus more on how our future will be like when a general artificial intelligence and robots fully take over, and what that will mean for our jobs. Even jobs as complex as software engineering will one day be automated away. At the moment, the safest jobs in that context seem to be low-wage jobs like haircutter, since that is what machines currently struggle with the most. That’s not to say, though, that you should drop out of college to become a haircutter
- Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
- The Rise of the Robots
- The Second Machine Age
Whether it’s learning how to invest your own money, reach financial freedom and retire early; whether it’s learning how flash traders screw millions of regular people trying their luck in stock markets; or whether it’s reading about how the 2008 financial crisis came to be—the finance genre can be as captivating as any genre and is not as bone-dry as you might initially suspect … given that you read the right books.
- Flash Boys
- The Big Short (has been adapted into a blockbuster movie starring Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt)
- The Intelligent Investor
As a result of sitting so much—be it in front of a computer, on the couch watching TV, or all day in university classes—I was stiff as a board. I couldn’t even touch my toes without bending the knees. Understanding the various muscle groups in the human body and doing the exercises from the books of leading mobility coach Dr. Kelly Starrett has helped me immensely in becoming more flexible, improving my posture, and avoiding the typical mistakes the average gym-goer makes.
I mentioned the problem-solving apparatus earlier. While all books on this page are extremely interesting, you don’t want your brain to put the pedal to the metal right before you go to sleep. This is not helpful when trying to calm down. So what I usually do before going to bed is to meditate for 10 minutes, drink a cup of tea with honey, and read some fiction until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.
- Shogun: The Epic Novel of Japan (for this one you absolutely need to get the audiobook too. It’s that good!)
- A Song of Ice and Fire and its companion book, The World of Ice & Fire
- Ready Player One
- The Three-Body Problem
- Dark Matter
Since my native language is German, I also read books from German authors. I usually stick to the original version rather than to translations.