Tim Ferriss Book Recommendations
Best-selling author Tim Ferriss and books simply go hand in hand, whether we’re talking his favorite nonfiction titles or those written by him – he became well-known through his “4-Hour” self-help book series including The 4-Hour Work Week, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef, that focuses on lifestyle optimizations.
“The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time,” Ferriss reminds us. “The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually,’ just do it and correct course along the way.”
Reading has clearly played a profound role in shaping Tim Ferriss as a person, and furthermore, this favorite educational activity of his must have had something to do with the spirited – and rewarding for that matter – approach he takes to life.
Therefore, in order to get to the bottom of what inspired a most capable individual to pursue meaningful productivity, we’ve compiled this list of 20 inspirational books Tim Ferriss has read himself and would certainly recommend to others as well.
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
This book draws its inspiration from stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy of enduring pain or adversity with perseverance and resilience. Stoics focus on the things they can control, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher. As Marcus Aurelius put it nearly 2000 years ago: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Ryan Holiday shows us how some of the most successful people in history – from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs – have applied stoicism to overcome difficult or even impossible situations. Their embrace of these principles ultimately mattered more than their natural intelligence, talents, or luck.
Source: “It has helped me to turn problems upside-down, become the calm within the storm, and even uncover unique opportunities,” Ferriss acknowledges.
Principles by Ray Dalio
In 1975, Ray Dalio founded an investment firm, Bridgewater Associates, out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Forty years later, Bridgewater has made more money for its clients than any other hedge fund in history and grown into the fifth most important private company in the United States, according to Fortune magazine. Dalio himself has been named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Along the way, Dalio discovered a set of unique principles that have led to Bridgewater’s exceptionally effective culture, which he describes as “an idea meritocracy that strives to achieve meaningful work and meaningful relationships through radical transparency.” It is these principles, and not anything special about Dalio – who grew up an ordinary kid in a middle-class Long Island neighborhood – that he believes are the reason behind his success.
Source: One of those special books Tim Ferriss “highly, highly” recommends. “It has already changed how I think about making decisions in my life and in my business,” he says.
Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa
Miyamoto Musashi was the child of an era when Japan was emerging from decades of civil strife. Lured to the great Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 by the hope of becoming a samurai – without really knowing what it meant – he regains consciousness after the battle to find himself lying defeated, dazed and wounded among thousands of the dead and dying. On his way home, he commits a rash act, becomes a fugitive and brings life in his own village to a standstill – until he is captured by a weaponless Zen monk.
The lovely Otsu, seeing in Musashi her ideal of manliness, frees him from his tortuous punishment, but he is recaptured and imprisoned. During three years of solitary confinement, he delves into the classics of Japan and China. When he is set free again, he rejects the position of samurai and for the next several years pursues his goal relentlessly, looking neither to left nor to right.
Ever so slowly it dawns on him that following the Way of the Sword is not simply a matter of finding a target for his brute strength.
Source: “Musashi’s transformation from talented yet conflicted young warrior to one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) swordsman of all time teaches you about critical thinking, strategizing, and ultimately, that there is more to life than merely surviving,” Ferriss explains. “Musashi re-created himself from nothing and rose from destitution to legend.”
Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
Franz Kafka, frustrated with his living quarters and day job, wrote in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912, “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”
Kafka is one of 161 inspired – and inspiring – minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do, whether by waking early or staying up late; whether by self-medicating with doughnuts or bathing, drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks.
Source: “It became my daily companion,” Ferriss writes. “There were gems everywhere, and I underlined nearly every page. I began to read 1-2 page-long profiles each morning with my pu-erh tea, and this ritual not only shocked me out of a major depressive funk, it also triggered a creative explosion.”
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
There’s nothing like vagabonding: taking time off from your normal life – from six weeks to four months to two years – to discover and experience the world on your own terms. In this one-of-a-kind handbook, veteran travel writer Rolf Potts explains how anyone armed with an independent spirit can achieve the dream of extended overseas travel.
Source: “Vagabonding easily remains in my top-10 list of life-changing books. Why? Because one incredible trip, especially a long-term trip, can change your life forever. And Vagabonding teaches you how to travel (and think), not just for one trip, but for the rest of your life,” Ferriss wrote in the book’s foreword.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.
Source: “Through Ender’s journey, you’ll learn how to capitalize on your strengths and those of your teammates, as well as exploit your adversaries’ weaknesses,” Ferriss shares.
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
When Bastian happens upon an old book called The Neverending Story, he’s swept into the magical world of Fantastica – so much that he finds he has actually become a character in the story! And when he realizes that this mysteriously enchanted world is in great danger, he also discovers that he is the one chosen to save it. Can Bastian overcome the barrier between reality and his imagination in order to save Fantastica?
Source: A delightful gem among books Tim Ferriss recommends, this was his favorite literary adventure for three or four years in elementary school.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who – from the New Jersey home he shares with his old-world mother and rebellious sister – dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú – a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA.
Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere – and risk it all – in the name of love.
Source: Though for so long he didn’t read very many non-fiction books, Tim Ferriss calls this a fun read with lots of geek culture, great history, and, oh, that it also won the Pulitzer Prize.
Payoff by Dan Ariely
Payoff investigates the true nature of motivation, our partial blindness to the way it works, and how we can bridge this gap. With studies that range from Intel to a kindergarten classroom, Ariely digs deep to find the root of motivation – how it works and how we can use this knowledge to approach important choices in our own lives.
Along the way, he explores intriguing questions such as: can giving employees bonuses harm productivity? Why is trust so crucial for successful motivation? What are our misconceptions about how to value our work? How does your sense of your mortality impact your motivation?
Source: “The real-world stories are heart wrenching and keep the pages turning,” Ferriss says.
The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz
The Magic of Thinking Big gives you useful methods, not empty promises. Dr. Schwartz presents a carefully designed program for getting the most out of your job, your marriage and family life, and your community. He proves that you don’t need to be an intellectual or have innate talent to attain great success and satisfaction – but you do need to learn and understand the habit of thinking and behaving in ways that will get you there. This book gives you those secrets!
Source: Ferriss admits, “I still personally read the first two chapters of this book whenever doubt creeps in.”
On Grief and Grieving by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying changed the way we talk about the end of life. Before her own death in 2004, she and David Kessler completed On Grief and Grieving, which looks at the way we experience the process of grief.
Just as On Death and Dying taught us the five stages of death – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – On Grief and Grieving applies these stages to the grieving process and weaves together theory, inspiration, and practical advice, including sections on sadness, hauntings, dreams, isolation, and healing.
Source: An invaluable work among books Timm Ferriss recommends reading, he believes this will prove very useful for preparing yourself for the inevitable losses that you will face.
Grit by Angela Duckworth
The daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Angela Duckworth is now a celebrated researcher and professor. It was her early eye-opening stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience that led to her hypothesis about what really drives success: not genius, but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance.
In Grit, she takes us into the field to visit cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, teachers working in some of the toughest schools, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance.
Source: Ferriss views this as “really about teaching your kids to focus on hard work and not intrinsic capability.”
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
The Mongol army led by Genghis Khan subjugated more lands and people in twenty-five years than the Romans did in four hundred. In nearly every country the Mongols conquered, they brought an unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, and a blossoming of civilization. Vastly more progressive than his European or Asian counterparts, Genghis Khan abolished torture, granted universal religious freedom, and smashed feudal systems of aristocratic privilege.
From the story of his rise through the tribal culture to the explosion of civilization that the Mongol Empire unleashed, this brilliant work of revisionist history is nothing less than the epic story of how the modern world was made.
Source: In Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss made note that this book had been suggested to him by several billionaires.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Born in 1875, the great German lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke published his first collection of poems in 1898 and went on to become renowned for his delicate depiction of the workings of the human heart. Drawn by some sympathetic note in his poems, young people often wrote to Rilke with their problems and hopes.
From 1903 to 1908 Rilke wrote a series of remarkable responses to a young, would-be poet on poetry and on surviving as a sensitive observer in a harsh world. Those letters, still a fresh source of inspiration and insight, are accompanied here by a chronicle of Rilke’s life that shows what he was experiencing in his own relationship to life and work when he wrote them.
Source: One of the few very powerful books Tim Ferriss recommends to everyone.
How to Make Millions with Your Ideas by Dan S. Kennedy
You’ve come up with a brilliant idea for a brand-new product or service you know could make you rich. Or maybe you currently own a business that pays the bills, and your dream is to become fabulously successful and retire a millionaire.
This book is packed with the true stories and proven advice of ordinary people who began with just an idea, a simple product, or a fledgling business and wound up with millions.
Source: “Like steroids for your entrepreneurial cortex,” Ferriss says.
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
It is the story of the quest of Siddhartha, a wealthy Indian Brahmin who casts off a life of privilege and comfort to seek spiritual fulfillment and wisdom. On his journey, Siddhartha encounters wandering ascetics, Buddhist monks, and successful merchants, as well as a courtesan named Kamala and a simple ferryman who has attained enlightenment.
Traveling among these people and experiencing life’s vital passages – love, work, friendship, and fatherhood – Siddhartha discovers that true knowledge is guided from within.
Source: “Consider reading or rereading this short gem,” Ferriss encourages.
Happy Money by Elizabeth Dunn
Happy Money offers a tour of research on the science of spending, explaining how you can get more happiness for your money. Authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton have outlined five principles – from choosing experiences over stuff to spending money on others – to guide not only individuals looking for financial security, but also companies seeking to create happier employees and provide “happier products” to their customers.
Source: Ferriss adds, “it answers the question ‘can money buy happiness?'”
Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher
Since its original publication nearly thirty years ago, Getting to Yes has helped millions of people learn a better way to negotiate. One of the primary business texts of the modern era, it is based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, a group that deals with all levels of negotiation and conflict resolution.
This gem among books Tim Ferriss recommends offers a proven, step-by-step strategy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements in every sort of conflict. Thoroughly updated and revised, it offers readers a straight- forward, universally applicable method for negotiating personal and professional disputes without getting angry or getting taken.
Awareness by Anthony De Mello
Happiness is not an achievement; love is not an achievement; holiness is not an achievement. They are each a grace – grace called awareness, a grace called looking, observing, and understanding. If you would only switch on the light of awareness and observe yourself and everything around you throughout the day; if you would see yourself reflected in the mirror of awareness the way you see your face reflected in a looking glass – accurately, clearly, exactly as it is without the slightest distortion or addition; and if you observed this reflection without any judgment or condemnation – for what you judge you cannot understand – you would experience all sorts of marvelous changes in yourself.
You would not be in control of those changes, be able to plan them in advance, or decide how and when they are to take place. It is this nonjudgmental awareness alone that heals and changes and makes one grow. But it can only be done in its own way and at its own time.
Source: “When I feel myself bleeding into overwhelm or feeling scattered, this is one of the first break-glass-in-case-of-emergency steps that I take,” Ferriss divulges.
The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
Robert Iger became CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 2005, during a difficult time. Competition was more intense than ever and technology was changing faster than at any time in the company’s history. His vision came down to three clear ideas: Recommit to the concept that quality matters, embrace technology instead of fighting it, and think bigger – think global – and turn Disney into a stronger brand in international markets.
Today, Disney is the largest, most admired media company in the world, counting Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox among its properties. Its value is nearly five times what it was when Iger took over, and he is recognized as one of the most innovative and successful CEOs of our era.
In this insightful read among books Tim Ferriss recommends, Robert Iger shares the lessons he learned while running Disney and leading its 220,000-plus employees, and he explores the principles that are necessary for true leadership.
Source: One of those special autobiographical books Tim Ferriss enjoyed, he says, “the negotiation stories with Steve Jobs alone make this book worth the read.”
If you enjoyed this guide to books Tim Ferriss recommends, be sure to check out our list of 20 Inspirational Books Elon Musk Recommends Reading!