Of course, the best books for life can be an individual thing. However, books that answer the question of purpose in life, teach useful skills and knowledge, help build relationships, guide you in navigating your environment, and help with disciplined management of resources are going to be better than books that merely entertain, make you feel good, or provide useless information. Here are six books you can read for a better life (plus one audio program for listening).
Any best book list that doesn’t have the Bible is not a good book list. The Bible is the greatest collection of books, written over 1,500 years it tells the story of redemption, through the conflict of sin, with the main character of God. A book rooted in geography it emerges from history speaking meta truth. It is a book about all meaning, not individual meaning.
The Bible is experienced as the greatest unified literary work of all times with a linear narrative and recapitulations. It is universally important for understanding the past, present, and future. For the Greeks looking to Homer and the Romans looking to Virgil for moral guidance modern man should look to the great canon of Holy Scripture!
Great care must be taken when reading the Bible not to impose our values and culture on to it. Remember, all art is a mirror of the time and culture from which it emerges and has to be understood within its own framework. The Bible is a gift from a God, a personal love letter to you!
My favorite Bible is the NIV Life Application as it provides many guides, commentary, overviews, statistics, and help to grasp difficult concepts. Dr. Bill Creasy whom I have studied under for years has an excellent one-year Bible study that can be listened to as you read through scripture. His knowledge of scripture is deep and his teaching engaging.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Discourses of Epictetus
Many philosophical treatises could be placed on this list. However, my favorite is the Discourses of Epictetus. A series of lectures written down by Epictetus’ pupil Arrian. As a crippled and freed slave Epictetus is intensely practical. The discourses focus on the three cornerstones of living a meaningful life: understanding our desires, recognizing the choices we have to act in orderly ways, and giving proper assent in our judgements.
Epictetus recognizes we are bound up by the laws of nature and must take care to focus on what is under our control with ultimately all things under the will of God. For Epictetus the ideal human is one who suffers without giving into anger and loves even those who beat him.
If we can identify the things within our control and outside our control what skills would be useful in having? How can we develop skills that benefit from shocks, thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, learn to love adventure, risk, and uncertainty? A notoriously difficult book to summarize because of its complexity Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder is valuable to those that put in the work to understand it. At its core is the fact that nice arguments are not as useful in the field as they are in reality. The map is not the territory.
When we focus on extremes of safety and speculative risk (“barbell strategy”) we become able to find areas to transform what is concave (fragile) into something convex (antifragile) and benefit from disorder and chaos. The Lindy effect allows us to identify convex, chaos benefiting seeking to replicate them in ways that reduce our fragility. Theological thinking gets to truth by subtracting (Via negative) and learning more about what not to do, than what to do. The best way we can replicate this in our lives is by having “skin in the game”. Being antifragile isn’t about avoiding risk but risk taking. As long as the risk taking doesn’t cause us to blow up, we can learn from it similar to the process of hormesis where a stressor brings benefit.
The Five Love Languages
If you have purpose to life and you are growing your skills do not forget the importance of relationships. How do we give and receive love? Dr. Gary Chapman answers these questions in this beautiful book. There are five love languages – words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts (indication of thought), quality time, and physical touch. We often show love in ways that we understand, which comes natural to us. However, the person we are trying to love may “speak” a different “language” and not “hear” what we are “saying”. This may hamper are relationship. Understanding the love language of those we care about will help us to remember to communicate in ways the perceive as love. Likewise, it will help us see the love others are showing us that we may not have naturally perceived as love.
“Love doesn’t erase the past, but it makes the future different.”Dr. Gary Chapman
The 7 Habits
Navigating this world is about being effective in reaching our goals. Meaningful goals are set by meaningful principles and a developed character. The path we walk in the world goes through a progression of development for which Covey lays out seven habits. We must master ourselves by being proactive, developing purposeful thinking, and assenting to proper action. From this self-mastery you improve how you work with others seeking mutually beneficial solutions, understanding and being understood, and improving many relationships. Ideally, this should be done in a way that is balanced and sustainable throughout your life. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of my all-time favorites.
Discipline = Freedom
We are only given a certain quantity of resources in life for finding our purpose, developing skills, building relationships, and navigating our world. The most finite of which is time but can be many other things. Commonly money and materials, but knowledge and relationships are resources, too. How should we treat our resources? Jocko says, “Discipline.” This is a poetic treatise on doing! Yes, a book of poetry about action. It will not give you a short-cuts or solutions. These are swift kicks to the backside for when you feel lazy, apathetic, and weak. Stand to, move forward, eat healthy, stop waiting for motivation, and go get some.