The 12 Best Personal Development Books

You can judge the value of a personal development book based on the concrete changes it produces in your life.  Do you walk away happier or more productive?  Do you walk away with a set of skills you didn’t have coming in?

By that metric, these are the best personal development books I have ever read.  If I taught a class called “Living: A Guide To Do It Right,” this list would constitute the best syllabus I could compile.

I’ll be adding to this list.  Not just the new revelations, but the old ones whose lessons have become so ingrained in my mind that I forgot to mention them.  For now, here are the 12 best personal development books (up until now).

4 Hour Work Week

Four Hour Work WeekReligious texts aside, I’d bet this has been the most impactful book of the 21st century. Add up all the businesses that have been created and all the people who have been affected by those businesses – it’s
staggering. It’s no question why. This book is chock full of life-changing mindsets: the low-information diet, batching, fear-setting, the idea of a “muse” business….it’s a modern masterpiece. If you want to live a life with more freedom to travel when and where you like, to do the things you like with who you like, start here.

Awaken The Giant Within

Awaken the giant

This is a book about how to control those things that so often control us: emotions. Yes, it can be long-winded. But read it bit by bit over several weeks, pausing to do the exercises when prompted. When you’re finished you’ll have a toolkit to manage your feelings every single day. It’s kind of like the guidebook to living that they forgot to give you in school.  If you’ve not read him, I know Tony Robbins may seem overhyped and the title is cheesy as hell, but give this book a shot.

6 Pillars of Self Esteem

6 Pillars

In my opinion, high self-esteem is what distinguishes the people who are truly successful in life from those who aren’t. That’s why this book is so amazing. It teaches you to think and to act in ways that will make you brim with pride. And it’s got concrete steps you can take to actually improve your self-esteem, rather than simply theorizing about it. If you’ve struggled with doubts of your self-worth or if you suspect that you might not be maxing out your self-confidence, read this book.

How To Win Friends And Influence People

HTWF

I’ll be honest, if you read the Cliff’s Notes of HTWF, you won’t be impressed. There is very little in this book that can be boiled down to a shocking one liner. But the sum total of the stories Carnegie shares will transform how you relate to other people. You’ll find yourself out and suddenly a story will pop into your head. You’ll handle the situation differently than normal and things will go better than normal. This is the foundational text on speaking with other people. Read it.

Essentialism

Essentialism

This book has an incredibly simple message. Do less. This isn’t just some surfer mantra – the energy we all put into managing several different projects, keeping up with so many requests isn’t JUST more stressful. It actually is the purest form of laziness because it keeps us from getting what really matters done. You’ve heard of the Pareto Principle by now, but spending 200+ page with this book is almost guaranteed to illuminate an area of your life where you’ve yet to apply it. It’s simple, but the returns are huge.

Predictably Irrational

Predictably Irrational

It’s absolutely shocking how irrational people are.  But it’s not just sometimes: our irrationality occurs predictably and Dan Ariely demonstrates that with panache. By the way, when I say “how irrational people” are, that includes YOU. From spring cleaning to free coffee, there are so many areas of your life where your own irrationality is secretly subverting you. And simply arming yourself with that knowledge is often enough to protect you from the downsides of irrationality.  As a bonus, the odd things people do start to make much more sense!

The War of Art

War of Art

This book is why this blog exists. It’s the reason I went from “guy with 50 half-written articles no one has ever seen” to “guy who has sold thousands of copies of his book.” If “someday” you’d like to be an artist of any kind–musician, writer, painter–read this book. It will strip away the excuses you have for waiting and leave you with a single mandate: start producing.  The only reason it isn’t at the top of the list is because it is specifically for artists.

Influence

InfluenceJust about every book that has been written on persuasion in the last 28 years has drawn heavily from Cialdini’s Influence.  It’s the grandaddy and it’s good.  You’ll learn how to defend yourself against the common persuasive tactics used by everyone from politicians to Girl Scouts.  You’ll also learn how you can tailor the messages you send daily so that people are more likely to happily comply.  Like many of the books on this list, it is a powerful handbook for speaking with humans.

Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling

We think we know what makes us happy. Read this book and you’ll find out you don’t. The most common misconception is that achievement of certain goals leads to happiness. That may mean a raise, a certain physique, arriving at a long awaited vacation. But research shows time and time again, that none of these things lead to lasting happiness. The true path to increasing happiness is to improve how you feel right now. It’s by changing your mindsets. Read this book to learn exactly how.

Power of Habit

Power of habit

Habits aren’t just something that we do from time to time, like biting our nails or twirling your hair. They are fundamentally who we are. You’ll learn that we spend 40% of our waking hours engaged in some sort of mindless habit. That’s 40% of you day that can be spent becoming the person you want to be or moving away from that person — all depending on whether or not you learn to manage your habits. Read this book in conjunction with Willpower to take control over that 40% of your life.

Willpower

Willpower

Doing the right thing is hard. We also struggle from time to time to find the stregnth to drag ourselves out of bed and to the gym or to do the project we have been putting off (in my case writing this list). The good and bad news is that willpower isn’t something you have or you don’t. You don’t have to muscle through those difficult times and “drag” yourself to the right thing. There are simple ways to cajole yourself so that doing the right thing becomes infinitely easier, almost unthinking. That’s what you’ll learn in Willpower.

Give and Take

Give and Take

Are you a giver or a taker? Many people fall into one category or the other. They get walked on like a doormats or tread on others without realizing how they’re damaging their relationships. Give and Take will teach you how to manage the careful balance between the two extremes. You can reap the rewards of a social network that is excited to offer you help without coming across as a demanding jerk.


 

See any that I left out?  Drop me a note in the comments so I know what books to check out next!

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39 Responses to “The 12 Best Personal Development Books”

    • I heard that Sinek’s books are more fun as speeches so I checked that out a few weeks ago and thought it was super interesting. I dug the part about the different brain chemicals and the effects they have on people

      • Hello Charlie. I have got one project and i should create presentation about human who inspires me. I have choosen you. Do you want to see this presentation? I hope that you will be happy

      • What u said was right. It really is. Dopamine is one of the common chemicals that is pump into our blood. Great!

  • Please check out Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maitz. An old classic upon which many of these principals are built.

    Regards,

    jj

  • This article is great. I loved hearing your 12 books recommendations. It would be great to hear your thoughts on the best documentaries you’ve ever seen. Similar idea. Different medium.

  • I’ve read the four hour work week once every year since 2012. Just started my 4th go 🙂 P.s Your website is simple and classy!

    • It’s funny! I do the same thing with How to Win Friends and Think and Grow Rich. Even after reading them every year, I still pick up complexities that I hadn’t seen before.

  • I have been studying success habits for years now. I can honestly say that Dale Carnegie’s book on How to Win Friends and Influence People has dramatically changed my life. I believe this is one of the best skills someone can learn to master. It changed my life, it changed Warren Buffetts life and it can change yours. Thanks Charisma on Command for a great list! All of these books are gems.

  • I’m probably a little late to this article, but great book recommendations. I have read a couple of them already. Btw, your youtube channel is really interesting, that’s how I got to your website XD

  • I was walking by the beach 2 weeks ago in Vancouver BC and someone left the book the 4 hour work week on a ledge. Inside it said “To who ever finds this enjoy!” Really cool! I love what the book is about so far! “Give and Take” and Habit look really intriguing and I will be checking them out next!

  • For an excellent book on emotions, check out the Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters.

    This was a good list. Not because I know the books on it are good, but because the mini-reviews are succinct and engaging.

  • Charlie… I have to admire you–your writing is both piercingly persuasive and engaging.

    Do you have any references that could help a wannabie marketer such as myself master the art of writing?

    • Appreciate that!

      The “War of Art” is what made me start publishing what I wrote. I think Steven King’s “On Writing” is excellent for honing the craft.

  • I was surprised not to see 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. That typically makes it on these types of lists. It’s an instant classic in my humble opinion. Do you have some beef with Stephen Covey?

    • Thanks Adrianna! I love writing, but our website is built on a bit of a rocky foundation. It means that when we post, we tend not to rank on Google.

      Now that we have the ability to do so, we’re going to invest in fixing the website up. That way I can post more on the site and it won’t just get buried for all time!

  • Last spring, I read Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect, Kelly McGonigals’ The Willpower Instinct and Ryan Holiday’s Ego Is The Enemy, one after another. In close order. Not on purpose, but it worked out like that. The three of them kinda built on each other and have had a huge impact on me.

  • What about Robert Greene’s books?

    I think that Mastery belongs here.

    Also, 48 Laws of Power, 33 Strategies of War and Art of Seduction are all profoundly useful for dealing with people and becoming a pragmatist, with the examples coming from classical history and great leaders of the 20th Century. People tend to consider these books ‘amoral’, but that is how people behave, isn’t it? You could always read a book like ‘Win Friends’ afterwards to prevent yourself from becoming a sociopath.

  • ‘So good they Can’t Ignore You’ is really good. It’s like a better version of the ‘Go Giver’, it mentions ‘Purple Cow’ and ‘Four Hour Work Week’, and it has the best explanation of flaws with the general 10,000 hour rule, and gives the best description on how to execute it. Also whoever mentioned the Robert Greene books, those books suck except for the one cowritten with 50 cent because it’s autobiographical. I’ve read all Greens books except Seduction and they’re formulaic and self aggrandizing meaning they’re written more to intrigue than to actually give you things you can directly use. I loved them at first and then realized I wasted a few weeks per book and then got nothing out of them.

    • ‘So good they can’t ignore you’ and ‘Essentialism’ are two books that directly impacted career decisions and actions I made on a day to day basis.

  • Dale Carnegie is the mastermind of interpersonal communication and development. I’m glad you listed him here for me to stumble upon. He has 5 or more books that so far have all been great for me.

  • I suggest you read “Doing Good Better” from Will MacAskill. It may change your life completely. It definetly changed mine from the bottom up.

    Another great book is “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman. Helps you becoming a more rational person.

  • All these books are great motivational, personal improvement knowledges! I’d like to recommend something for relationships, not about picking up girls but to actually to maintain a sustainable relationship, which most of us will agree is harder. It’s called “Getting the love you want” by Harville Hendrix, it talks deep into the phycology of attractions, conflicts and needs, after all, what can be more important and more meaningful than relationships with another human being, which I believe it’s one of the most enssential human purpose!
    Cheers!
    Simba

  • Thank you for this list of excellent books. I’ve read a couple and once I’ve finished reading the others I would dare to recommend other ones that I’ve liked to you. As an aside however I question the lack of female authors in your list.

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