25 books that changed me

When you think about it, a book is a truly magical thing.

For the cost of a lunch, you can have an experience that can change your life. And that experience can be made even more profound when the book is a gift, inscribed with a short note that says: “I loved this book and I wanted to share it with you.” Maybe this holiday season you’ll give yourself or another special person that experience.

So here, for all of you, are 25 books that made me better, smarter, or happier in some way.

New approaches to basic skills

The best book on writing non-fiction Reading Like a Writer Presentation Zen

Resonate Never Eat Alone

These 5 books helped me re-think how I write, present, and develop relationships. With their help – and practice, practice, practice – I’ve become much better at these fundamental skills.

  1. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
  2. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
  3. Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
  4. Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences
  5. Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time

Insights into my health

Omnivore's Dilemma Younger Next Year

These books changed how I think about my body. One made me mindful of what I was eating (which helped me lose weight, lower my cholesterol, and stop eating meat, something I never imagined I’d do). The other made me re-think what my old age could be like and inspired me to exercise regularly.

  1. Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
  2. Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond

Thinking about…thinking

Thinking Fast and Slow Your Brain at Work Self-Esteem

Be Free Where You Are A New Earth

Having a better understanding of how your mind works is perhaps the most empowering knowledge you can have. These books explained why I think the way I do and made it possible for me to control my thoughts rather than have them control me.

  1. Thinking Fast & Slow
  2. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
  3. Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem
  4. Be Free Where You Are
  5. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

How and why individuals change

Flow Drive The Willpower Instinct

Steering by Starlight Are You Ready to Succeed

These books helped me understand what generally motivates people (including me) and how to change my habits. They also empowered me to actively shape my future instead of watching it unfold.

  1. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
  2. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  3. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It
  4. Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny
  5. Are You Ready to Succeed? Unconventional Strategies to Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life

Driving larger-scale changes

The Lean Startup The Checklist ManifestoInfluencerThe Dragonfly Effect Mountains Beyond Mountains The Blue Sweater Whatever It Takes

These are good books whether you’re trying to change your firm, change your local community, or change the world. They provided me with approaches, frameworks, and heroic examples that inspired me and made me more effective.

  1. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
  2. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
  3. Influencer: The Power to Change Anything
  4. The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways To Use Social Media to Drive Social Change
  5. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
  6. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
  7. Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America

A worldview

The Art of Possibility

Finally, this might be my favorite book on the list. I’d always thought of myself as a positive person but this book freed me to be more joyful and more open to the wonders in other people.

  1. The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

The first chapter of “The Art of Possibility” opens with this short story:

“A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying:


The other writes back triumphantly,


That’s what all these books have done for me – transforming me from the first salesperson to the second. They’ve opened my mind to possibilities for my relationships, my career, and my life that I hadn’t thought possible or simply never imagined.

Books are little miracles. You can read these 25 book and imagine that you can do anything.

Because you can.

Thank you

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
This entry was posted in Self awareness and improvement and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to 25 books that changed me

  1. thanks for the recommendations, John. Funny, I just ordered “younger next year” a couple of days ago. Well.. the version for women, of course 😉 Have a merry christmas!

  2. Adore. Adore. Adore. That is all.

  3. Eve Eaton says:

    Selfishly, I love the fact that two of my recommendations made the list! But more than that, thank YOU for recommending these over the past years. Every one you’ve recommended has absolutely had a positive impact on me as well. Keep on reading (and recommending)!

  4. Thanks, John. I love this idea, enjoyed some of these, and look forward to exploring more of them.

  5. Eric Best says:

    There’s one missing! 🙂

  6. Thom Fisher says:

    I do like resonate and have shared with others. Try…the element, finding your passion, sir ken robinson….also guy prestowicz has some good books on asia economies…..3 billion consumers…all yours are the self improvement kind……vs fun reading list?…….jupiter’s travels….riding a motorcycle around the world…..

  7. Great list, I see several that I’m going to order today. Thanks and happy holidays!

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  9. Cheryl says:

    Great list, John, thanks for sharing! I had started “Younger Next Year.” I realy liked it but didn’t finish because it seemed written for men. But now I’ve learned through the comments that there’s a version for women. Ordered. Excited. Thanks!

  10. Michael Norwich says:

    John — about to get on a plane in Fiji for our return after a very special meeting and 2 days with Jive! Will be in touch soon.

    Best. Michael

    Sent from my iPad

  11. RG says:

    Thanks for this.

    Long ago I shared an eclectic list of some of the many books that had an impact on me (http://itftd.blogspot.in/2007/07/i-tftd-23-book-list.html).

    The only difference between where you are right now and where you’ll be five years from now are the people you meet and the books you read.
    -Charlie Jones

  12. Great list John! I’ve added a bunch of these to my reading list. Now for the hard part…finding the time to read them all! You seem to go through books pretty fast based on what you write about. How do you make the time for them all?

    Here’s a recommendation too. I just finished this book, which I think you might like based on what I see on this list. It’s called “Curious?” and it was recommended to me by a person who conducted a Resilience Training class at my company. Link: http://www.amazon.com/Curious-Todd-B-Kashdan-ebook/dp/B0026772WO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388640563&sr=1-1&keywords=curious

    Happy New Year!

    • John Stepper says:

      Hello, Rob! It’s been a while. Thanks for the tip re: “Curious?” I list my books (the good & not so good) on goodreads.com and like their service a lot. Great way to discover books from people whose opinions you care about.

      As for the time, I think I just might be a dull boy. 🙂 (No cable, no commute, no sports. Just family, interesting work, and good food & wine!)

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