A great book can change your life.
It can open up entire new worlds of questioning and understanding. It can make you look at a situation from a completely different angle. It can change the way you view the world and your place within it. In essence, it can shake the very foundation of your being. That’s why the economist Tyler Cowen refers to them as “quake books.”
Only very special books have this power, of course. It’s not just the content of the book that matters, but also in how it is presented and, most especially, how it connects and resonates with the reader. That is why quake books are different for everyone.
For me, they should impart lessons without being dry or dull. They should be inspiring without being preachy or overly motivational. To become one of my quake books, a work needs to balance the art of dispensing wisdom while still telling some sort of narrative, even if it is told in an unconventional way.
These four books do that brilliantly.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
For such an advanced, intelligent life form, most of us do not know very much about our own species. Sapiens is the book that explains our evolution from early human to current day…and beyond. The subtitle is A Brief History of Humankind and that is neither hyperbole nor irony. Harai manages to depict 200,000 years in less than 500 pages, but still pack it with detail. His writing is clear and vivid, and while he employs references and analogies to the modern world, he is careful not to overdo it. The book is filled with fascinating tidbits about our distant ancestors that largely explain why our lives unfold the way they do and how we went from hunting and gathering to mergers and acquisitions.
The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley & William D. Danko
There are seemingly countless books on personal finance and, whether they are focused on climbing out of debt or striking it rich, the vast majority of them consist of an author didactically giving the reader a stringent list of dos and don’ts. By contrast, Stanley and Danko’s book reads more like a business case that investigates the habits and lifestyles of everyday millionaires and presents those findings objectively (even expressing surprise at the modest tastes of most), ultimately leaving it up to the reader to decide whether or not to follow in their footsteps.
On Writing by Stephen King
Unlike many of his commercially successful brethren, Stephen King is a skilled writer and tactician of the craft. As a former English teacher, he knows the rules of grammar and syntax and as a novelist, he knows when to bend or even break those rules. In this half-memoir, half-how-to manual, King describes how he came to be a writer, how drugs and alcohol almost wrecked his life and career, and how he came back to it after being struck by a van while on his daily walk, as well as what aspiring authors should do if they wish to have a career of their own, from reading and writing a lot to finding a literary agent. Whether you’re a published writer, an aspiring one, or someone that just loves books, On Writing has something for everyone. It certainly made me approach the act of writing in a completely different way.
The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
The book that has had the greatest impact on me, The Tender Bar was everything I needed at a time I needed it most. The language is absolutely beautiful, sweeping the reader away in its elegance, but the story – and the lessons contained therein – is even more impactful. The memoir of a boy that grew up without a father and thus turned to the patrons and proprietor of the local bar for male guidance, it examines our relationships – to others, to ourselves, to life – and how and why we come to view the world the way we do.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.