At the beginning of his investment career, Buffett would read anywhere from 600 to 1,000 pages a day. In an interview with Charles Munger for the book The Complete Investor, Buffett stated, "Look, my job is essentially just corralling more and more and more facts and information, and occasionally seeing whether that leads to some action."
Buffett even claimed that Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor is the best investment he ever made, and the book changed his life. Buffett is right. Books have the power to change our lives. They can also solve business riddles, teach us how to communicate effectively, or provide us with entertainment. Whether you’re the parent of a newborn, making a career change, or studying for the GMAT, the knowledge you need to progress will likely be found in a book.
Recently I accepted a job with EA Games in Austin, marking the next chapter in my career. I’m thrilled about the opportunity and excited for the challenge. I don’t believe I would have been able to move forward in my career without reading. This is the list of 25 books everyone should read during their first job. I’ve listed them in order of utility, but you can skip around and choose what seems useful to you. Remember, the book that you don’t need now may be crucial at a later date.
1. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
Robert Greene’s Laws of Power is a timeless compilation of the various power games people use to either maintain power, obtain power, or control others. The book serves as an expose of how power works at every level, using historical examples.
The laws presented in the book are useful for us to understand how power works in the world we live in and what power games are being played. If you understand power games, you have a better chance of not being caught off guard or manipulated.
2. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
In Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday draws from Stoic philosophy, which dates back to ancient Greece and Rome, to show readers how ego infiltrates our daily lives.
At every stage of our lives and careers—aspiration, success, and failure—the greatest threat to success is our ego. Our ego is what closes us off from other people, opportunities, or doesn’t realize risks and repercussions in our actions. Any young person aspiring to succeed in their careers should read this book to understand why humility is their greatest asset.
3. The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph by Ryan Holiday
The Obstacle is the Way is Ryan Holiday’s book prior to Ego is the Enemy and also influenced by Stoic philosophy. The book is heavily influenced by Marcus Aurelius, the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome. During his reign, Marcus faced a life of constant war, a potential affair, deaths of his children, sickness, and he was far from home due to war.
Throughout his various obstacles—oftentimes bleak and seemingly insurmountable trials that would stop most of us dead in our tracks—Marcus pressed on. Holiday shows how the philosophy of this emperor can be implemented in our own lives.
Within each one of our obstacles there are opportunities. Opportunities to learn, practice a virtue, and grow stronger. This is the book we all need to overcome setbacks, failures, and situations where the odds are stacked against us.
As Marcus Aurelius said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
4. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin are two Navy SEALS that led SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser during the Battle of Ramadi of the War in Iraq. This was urban warfare and one of the most violent battlefields of the war. SEAL Team Three and Task Unit Bruiser are one of the most decorated teams of the war, even including famed sniper Chris Kyle, known for the book and film American Sniper.
Extreme Ownership covers the philosophy these two SEALS used to lead their men in combat. They now share their lessons with businesses across the world. The message is simple: we each must take ownership of every detail of our lives. The failures, the mistakes, and the egregious errors. This is easier said than done—especially on the battlefield when lives are on the line—but the SEALS map out the framework to accomplish our missions.
5. Deep Work by Cal Newport
In Deep Work, Cal Newport has a useful hypothesis. The workplace is filled with knowledge workers, and the demand for such is growing. At the same time that the emphasis on knowledge work is increasing, the number of workers who can perform deep knowledge work for extended periods of time is decreasing (due to social media and internet addiction and our limited attention spans).
This provides a market opportunity for those of us who can increase our abilities as knowledge workers. We can become even more of a commodity by doing what he calls “Deep Work,” the long hours of concentrated and distraction free work needed to get various jobs done. Newport lays out the framework we can follow and explains why his hypothesis is correct.
6. So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
Also by Cal Newport, the book is titled after a famous quote by Steve Martin. When Martin appeared on the Charlie Rose Show in 2017, he was asked what his advice was to aspiring performers. Martin gave a simple answer. He said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” And that’s the hypothesis of Cal Newport's book.
Newport shares why following your passion is bad advice. He shows readers why obtaining a job they like, a career they are proud of, and success are often less about following a passion or dream, but more about being extremely proficient at something. To do so, we must learn how to be so good that we can not be ignored.
7. Linchpin by Seth Godin
Seth Godin is a master marketer and famed blogger. He’s known for books that have influenced many marketers and businesses (which you should read), but in Linchpin he speaks on the individual level. He targets workers and how we can get ahead.
How can you succeed at your company? How can you impact the bottom line? How can you be creative and innovative? You have to be a Linchpin. What’s a Linchpin? Open the book's pages to find out.
8. Pitch Perfect: How to Say it Right the First Time, Every Time by Bill McGowan and Alisa Bowman
Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time has dire consequences. We may lose our case for a raise. We may bomb the interview and not get the job. We may do permanent and irreparable damage to a relationship. The words we use and how we choose to say them are important.
Knowing how to say the right thing is especially important at the beginning of your career. Whether you work in communications, sales or other fields, having the ability to effectively communicate will further your chances at success and harmony. This is a skill that must continuously be worked on, but books like Pitch Perfect help cultivate a brain for proper communication.
9. Perfecting Your Pitch by Ronald M. Shapiro
While some communication happens at a moments notice and we have to be on our toes using good instincts, other forms of communication should be planned long before.
If you're asking for a raise, pitching a product, or ending a relationship, your message should be prepared and practiced. Ronald M. Shapiro takes readers through the process of drafting and editing their messages so that they can find success and execute.
10. Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal by Oren Klaff
Pitch Anything is geared toward successful execution in the business world, but his methods can teach any of us about how to pitch an idea and what social structures are taking place during interactions.
Klaff uses social science to explain what's happening underneath the surface environments we find ourselves in, and he has the credentials and success to back it all up. We may not be pitching early in our careers, but the information in this book is worth placing in our brains, and it may be one to come back to as we advance.
11. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson
In Mark Manson’s Subtle Art of Not Giving an F***, he uses ideas that I found to be rather Stoic. Though the title may make you believe that Manson is implying that people should not care about anything, it’s quite the opposite. Manson wants to show readers why they must determine who and what to care about, and at what time.
Knowing what to care about in career and life is vital. If we care about the wrong things we may overreact to trials, we may chase faulty goals, or we may never cut the negativity out of our lives to free up the mental energy and time to be productive and grow as people. Manson’s Subtle Art is a fun and simple explanation as to how we can determine what is important in our lives.
12. Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson
Change is constant. We change jobs. We move cities. We move houses. Friends leave us. No matter who you are, change is a constant in your life. Who Moved the Cheese has been passed among those in the business world for years, helping readers understand how to cope with change.
The book reminds us that not all change is bad—oftentimes it’s for the better—and the only reason that we are in a rut about what has changed is because we are applying incorrect thinking toward the new situations in our lives.
13. Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court by John Wooden with Steve Jamison
There are many lessons to be learned about life and career from the game of basketball. Many of these lessons can be learned by John Wooden, one of the games greatest teachers. Wooden won seven straight national titles with the UCLA Bruins, and they won 10 in 12 years. He is one of the winningest coaches in basketball at any level.
In this book, Wooden shares his philosophy about life, success, friends and family, and much more through the lens of basketball. He reminds readers that process and journey is much more important than results. Once you finish this book you will feel invigorated and free to go on and do the work you need to get done.
14. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
Though the title seems to focus on men, this book provides timeless wisdom for readers of any gender. As a Man Thinketh is a classic by James Allen. The book was published in 1903. That means this self-help book is over 100-years-old, and after a century it is still going strong. I find many of the ideas in As a Man Thinketh to be Stoic and similar to Zen Buddhism.
Rather than making a claim that success is based on dreaming and meditating on what one desires—like most modern self-help--As a Man Thinketh reminds readers that as their minds and thoughts go, so do their bodies. If we can tame our minds, we can mold it for our own needs. This shouldn’t be confused with self-help literature that endorses positive thinking and visualization—which I don’t believe works, because the world is unpredictable and positivity has its limits and delusions—rather it encourages readers to properly control their mind.
15. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe The World by William H. McRaven
Do you want to change the world? You should start by making your bed.
That’s the hypothesis of Admiral William McRaven, a decorated Navy SEAL who now serves as the chancellor for the University of Texas System. Drawn from a commencement speech he gave to University of Texas at Austin class of 2014, McRaven shares the lessons he learned during SEAL training and why if implemented, they will aid readers in changing their lives and the world.
16. Peaks and Valleys by Spencer Johnson
This book is also written by Spencer Johnson, author of Who moved My Cheese. If Who Moved My Cheese is a framework to get through changes in our lives, Peaks and Valleys shows us how to overcome the peaks and valleys that we all face.
We all face hurdles, obstacles and extreme low points—but as you might have seen in the trend of books that I’m sharing—the attitudes, mental framework and philosophy that we apply during difficult times (and successful ones) will determine the outcome of our events and lives.
17. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
The War of Art is geared towards those in creative fields that are dealing with the mental hurdles of getting their work done. It’s common for people in creative fields to procrastinate, fail to sit down and create, and never allow the ideas in their heads to come out in the real world.
In this book Pressfield shares the wisdom he learned to finally start writing and getting the work done. And he’s the perfect example, because it took him many failures and overcoming homelessness before finding success as an author later in life.
18. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Dr. Meg Jay
I shared this book suggestion when I first graduated college. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Meg Jay shares why the 20’s are the decade that will define our lives, and how we should approach the various decisions that will shape our future, like work, marriage, and much more.
Since this book covers the 20’s as a whole and not just post-graduate life, I believe it remains useful for anyone that’s in the beginning stages of career and life. Some of the wisdom should be revisited many times over.
19. Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York is the pulitzer-prize winning biography of Robert Moses, the city planner who through the sheer use of power and control built modern New York City as we know it.
This book is a different selection on this list, but it’s a case study for how a man can rise to power, manipulate power, and then fall from the throne. The Power Broker is a book that is useful to see the type of corruption that the world is capable of, it’s elegantly written, and due to its length, Power Broker also serves as a test for readers to muster through a challenging, potentially dense and long book.
20. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
The famous phrase by Will Durant (oftentimes incorrectly attributed to Aristotle) says, ”We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”
In The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, a reporter for The New York Times, he explores why some of us are able to turn around from our bad habits, while others are unable to rid ourselves of them.
The Power of Habit examines what Duhigg describes as “the habit loop,” a cue, routine and reward mechanism inside of our brains that governs our habits. Through The Power of Habit we can better understand how habits form and what we can do to get rid of them.
21. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
If there’s one book that may take the mantle as book to live by, it’s quite possibly Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl is an acclaimed neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.
In this deep philosophical and analytical work, Frankl explores why some men were able to endure the atrocities of concentration camps, while others were not. He explains how humans can cultivate a purpose, why we MUST cultivate a purpose, and what makes a life of meaning, even among the worst of human atrocities.
22. All of the Stoic Philosophers
I’ve written about the Stoics previously. They’ve been referenced many times in this post, and you’ve noticed that they are sprinkled in any many of the posts I write and on social media.
The Stoics are my favorite school of philosophy because their lessons are practical, applicable, and they don’t deal with the abstract which people often associate with philosophy. Their lessons can be applied to the here and now.
The three most popular stoics are Marcus Aurelius (the emperor of rome), Epictetus (a freed slave turned philosopher), and Seneca (tutor and advisor to the evil emperor Nero). If this philosophy can work for a slave, an emperor, and an evil emperor's advisor, it can work for us.
I’ve taken a particular liking to Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, but I enjoy all Stoic work. Readers should explore these three Stoics, as well as Zeno, Cato the Younger, and others. Books I recommend include:
- Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
- Discourses and Selected Writings - Epictetus,
- Letters to a Stoic - Seneca
- On the Shortness of Life - Seneca
23. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss
Tools of Titans is Tim Ferriss’ behemoth of a work where he covers over 200 world-class performers across many spaces, including actors, musicians, dietitians, athletes, businessmen, and much more. He aims to explore the habits, lifestyles, and methods that allow these people to succeed.
Tools of Titans is a massive work, but Tim Ferriss wrote it as a choose your own adventure book. Readers can skip around to examples they find useful or interesting, and like I mentioned to begin the post, since some books are more useful for different times in our lives, Tools of Titans is an awesome choice for your bookshelf and early career, as well as for revisiting. Whether you recently started running or a new diet, it’s very likely that the information regarding it will be in Tools of Titans.
24. When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
When Breath Becomes Air is a heavy book. It was written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was deeply informed by literature and philosophy. Early in to his career Kalanithi learned he had stage IV metastatic lung cancer. His prognosis was dire, and the plans he had for a future were cut short and in many instances taken away.
When Breath Becomes Air is Kalanithi’s exploration of what it means to be human, to be alive, and how we should live with the time that we have. It's an autobiography, memoir and marvelous work that's beautifully written.
25. On Writing by Stephen King
Stephen King’s memoir On Writing is made for the writer in all of us. This book will be most useful to those who write as a trade, but even those who are fans of King’s work or enjoy a good memoir will be pleased with On Writing.
The book explores what it means to be a writer, how to succeed as a writer, and it's filled with uplifting anecdotes of the struggles King overcame, along with the fulfillment he finds in his craft.
In Closing, Get to Reading!
I work in communications, marketing and content writing. The books I've listed above I believe are useful for anyone in their first job and early in their careers. You likely have a different career path and will find other books valuable.
What's most important isn't what you read, but that you read. As you begin or continue your journey as a reader, you'll be amazed not only by what you learn, but by what topics you begin to find interest in that you might have never expected. Reading is a lifelong journey, and books are one of the most useful tools at any stage of our lives.