7 Eye-Opening Books That Changed My Thinking

There are a couple of eye-opening books that changed the way I think about my life.

I thought I’d share them here.

Please note that I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas presented in these books.

I have tried to make it clear what exactly these life-changing ideas were and what points I disagree with.

I hope you will find a few titles on this list that will change your thinking, too.

1. Getting Things Done

“Getting Things Done” by David Allen is a book about self-organization.

It teaches you to capture all the things on your mind in a central inbox. Then, you must process these items by putting them on different lists.

For example, date-sensitive items go on your calendar. Actionable items go on a “Next Action” list. Items that you won’t get around to immediately go on a “Someday/Maybe” list.

By downloading your brain into an external system, your mental RAM is no longer preoccupied with trying to remember stuff. The result is what Allen calls, “A mind like water.”

This single idea — that our mental bandwidth is limited and that we are wasting it by trying to remember technicalities — changed my life. It allowed me to focus on what our minds were really made for — creative thinking.

I have read GTD more times than I have ever read any other book. That is all the more noteworthy, as it is one of the driest reads I have ever come across. It reads like the manual for a vacuum cleaner.

However, that is not David Allen’s fault; it simply comes with the territory. When you try to create a system that is an accurate representation of our busy lives, it is bound to get complex.

But if you endure that complexity, you’ll get rewarded. In a world selling you magic bullets, GTD is the one method that does what it says. Invest the effort, and it will revolutionize your life like it revolutionized mine.

Where the book falls short:

The one issue I have with GTD is that it doesn’t talk about prioritizing.

Even with a near-perfect system like GTD, if you keep adding projects, you will experience overload.

You will get to a point where you are so busy administrating, you have no more time for doing.

This is why I always recommend the next eye-opening book.

2. The One Thing

“The One Thing” by Gary Keller has a simple, but powerful message — you can’t have it all.

If you want to succeed, you must pick one thing and give that your all. Everything else gets deliberately ignored.

For me, that is something I have always struggled with. For too long, I thought I could juggle multiple projects and become excellent at all of them. Of course, that was delusional.

Another great point of the book is that you must put the work in. Keller references the popular 10,000-hour rule, which states it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a master at something.

To apply this, he proposes a technique called time blocking, where you reserve 4 hours each day, 5 days a week, to do your most important work. Keep this up for about 10 years, and you become a force to reckon with.

If you are interested in more details, check out my in-depth book review of The One Thing here.

Where the book falls short:

The book starts by making a radical point — make your life about one thing, and accept that you won’t get around to most other things.

Unfortunately, the longer the book goes on, the more that message gets diluted. In the end, Keller himself is talking about balancing various areas of life.

I suspect that was a concession to the mainstream audience of the book. You can’t be too radical if you want to sell copies.

Keep that in mind. Soak up the initial message, and ignore the backpaddling.

3. How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

If I could only recommend one book on this list, it would be, “How I Found Freedom In an Unfree World” by Harry Browne.

For me, this book acted as the great unifier. Through the common thread of personal freedom, it brought all the important themes in my life together. Reading Browne felt like coming home.

The best idea of the book is what Browne calls “direct alternatives.”

Most people, when they face a challenge, will opt for indirect change. Typically, they will try to rally other people around their cause.

That rarely works.

For starters, it’s hard to get the masses moving. Also, you might not live to see the change you desire. And even if you do, it won’t look like what you had imagined. Causes get turned on their heads all the time.

It is much better to focus on the one thing that you can control — yourself. For example, if you don’t like the laws in the country you live in, move to a country with better laws.

There is always a direct alternative that solely depends on you, and nobody else. You just need to develop the courage to make these choices.

For the rest of the book, Browne points out such direct alternatives for various areas of life — your career, relationships, paying taxes, etc.

Browne offers many great, practical ideas to take back control of your life. Once you are done reading this book, you won’t have any excuses left.

Where the book falls short:

I don’t agree with Browne’s overly simple conception of man.

His basic assumption is that we are all rational machines, striving to be happy. What makes each of us happy will differ from person to person. Each of these agendas is equally valuable.

The end.

But we are not as rational acting as Browne would have us believe. For example, we are all prone to repeating certain patterns in life, even though these patterns are harmful. Our psychological baggage is always with us.

Second, I don’t agree with his relativism. For example, eating fast food might make you happy, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. Certain behaviors are clearly and universally better, like eating healthy food.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for freedom of choice. You have the right to self-destruct. But let’s call a spade a spade.

4. The Game

In “The Game,” journalist Neil Strauss describes his foray into the world of pick-up artists — an online subculture where wannabe ladies’ men exchange tactics on how to score with women.

Strauss, himself a late bloomer, soon becomes the master pupil of legendary pick-up artist Mystery but also has various encounters with other eccentric seduction gurus.

Rechristened as “Style,” Strauss goes on a sexual rampage through the LA nightclub scene, before supposedly finding true love (the relationship didn’t survive the publication date of the book for too long).

The whole pick-up artist thing gets a bad rep and for a reason. It attracts a lot of angry, sexually frustrated weirdos who like to blame their lack of success with women on feminism. That doesn’t fly too well in a #MeToo world.

Having said that, my adult life would not have been the same had I not read “The Game.” It presented with me an alternative to our flawed dating paradigm.

With the current paradigm, you get to choose from two bad options.

Option 1 — you can date whoever happens to be in your social circle. That’s a small pool. Your chances of meeting someone that you are truly compatible with will be microscopic.

Option 2 — you can do online dating. But since you only have pictures to go on, you swipe right, even though that person might have been perfect for you. It’s like shooting in the dark.

Essentially, the one thing that we have the highest hopes for in life — romantic love — is the one thing we leave completely up to chance. It’s mind-boggling.

“The Game” fixed this for me. It made me realize you are free to hit on absolutely anyone (as long as you do it respectfully).

You can talk to that attractive stranger at the supermarket or while in line at the theatre. In fact, many people will appreciate it. And both of you will right away get a sense if there is attraction or not.

Where the book falls short:

“The Game” offers no perspective on what comes after sex.

Sure, you can keep sleeping around. But eventually, that gets old. We crave emotional connection.

Disney love is not the answer either — just look at divorce rates.

A better model, I think, is ENM relationships. By letting the other person be free, such relationships can succeed where the traditional paradigm fails.

5. The 4-Hour Workweek

“The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss is about overcoming the work/retirement paradigm. You shouldn’t spend your best years working a 9 to 5 and postpone pleasure to when you are old and sick.

The alternative Ferriss proposes is to create a “muse.” By that, he means an automated online business that you can run on 4 hours per week (hence, the name of the book). You are now free to indulge in your hobbies, travel the world, or do whatever else you feel like.

If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. As far as I can see, Ferriss has never provided any real evidence that people were able to implement his model.

The actual strong point of the book is not the technical advice, though; even if it did work, it would be outdated by now.

What’s truly interesting is Ferriss’ sober analysis of the status quo. In a world glorifying the corporate ladder, he cuts to the chase. We are wasting our best years at nonsense jobs, just because our parents and teachers told us so. And we only realize it when the game is almost over.

Once I had read “The 4-Hour Workweek,” it was impossible to keep believing the 9-to-5 lie. I had to break away. It was this book that got me started with the digital nomad lifestyle.

Where the book falls short:

I already touched upon the “muse” model being unrealistic. You can’t start and maintain an online business on just four hours per week.

Even if you are lucky enough to find an underserved market, eventually, somebody else will find it, too. If they are willing to work more than four hours per week, they will soon provide a better product and a better customer experience.

The result — your customers will switch to your competitor.

6. Vamps & Tramps

“Vamps and Tramps” is an essay collection by American scholar and feminist Camille Paglia.

Its centerpiece, “No Law in the Arena,” is Paglia’s attempt to rectify our vanilla views on sex. Some of her points include:

  • Young middle-class women in the US grow up so hyper-protected, they are ill-prepared for the excesses they will encounter in the sexual marketplace.
  • Prostitutes are not victims of patriarchal oppression but rather subvert it. They should be celebrated for their shrewdness, instead of being portrayed as helpless pawns.
  • Pornography is a representation of the Dionysian forces in us, just like high-brow art celebrates the Apollonian side of things. Both have a right to exist.
  • Homosexuality, especially the male kind, is a glorious rebellion against the “fascism of nature.” Gay dark rooms are the epitome of sexual independence.

For me, Paglia confirmed what I had always been suspecting — that sex is the violent force at the center of our existence. And no matter how much the Puritan mainstream will try, it can’t be domesticated.

But it’s also how she says it. Paglia revels in insulting the bourgeois establishment and does it eloquently. She is better read than her enemies and loves to rub it in their faces. In short, she is an intellectual hell-raiser.

In the early 90s, that mix catapulted her to intelligentsia stardom. But with the advent of cancel culture, Paglia became a persona non grata. She was vilified as reactionary.

But that says more about the zeitgeist than it does about Paglia.

It’s not that Paglia is some alt-right witch in disguise. She is a wild child of 60s feminism, with its strong emphasis on individualism.

As such, Paglia is urging us to acknowledge the rules of the sexual marketplace. We are players, responsible for our choices. We can’t claim victim status.

But this, the woke mainstream won’t forgive.

Where the book falls short:

Personally, I think it’s not worth it to get involved in culture wars like Paglia has. Our limited time on this planet is too precious for that. Focus on optimizing and enjoying your own life.

Having said that, if she hadn’t, we wouldn’t have her fantastic essays.

7. The Decline of the West

Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West” is a book about the cyclical nature of history.

Spengler breaks with the Hegelian notion of progress. History is not an upward trend, where we continually improve on those who came before us (The Greeks, the Romans, The Middle Ages, etc.). We are not the pinnacle of creation.

Rather, our current civilization, what Spengler calls the Faustian culture, is just one more iteration in a never-ending cycle of iterations. Civilizations come and go.

Spengler likens this idea to the organic world around us. Just like a flower, civilizations start out as a seed, germinate, come to full fruition, and eventually wither.

These phases play out in the same way during each cycle. For example, the Egyptian Old Empire shows the same developmental characteristics as the Gothic period of the Faustian cycle. They are what Spengler calls “simultaneous.”

Reading Spengler shook my world, for two reasons.

First, it made me realize what a bunch of historic narcissists we are. Deep down, we all believe that those who came before us were primitives.

“Oh, look at these simple-minded ancient Egyptians/Chinese/Romans and their strange ways. It’s good that we are so much more enlightened.”

Second, it became clear to me that the days of the West are numbered. Of course, that is a notion that enrages us. We don’t want to think of ourselves as the last remnants of a once-flowering high culture.

However, it’s nothing to get worked up about. On the contrary, there is much to appreciate about these decadent phases, like their relaxation of social norms. One can find beauty in the decline.

Where the book falls short:

“The Decline of the West” is a fantastic read, but it should have been much shorter. Spengler meanders a lot, often showing off his immense encyclopedic knowledge.

Fortunately, there is an abbreviated English version. Get that.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some more eye-opening books and essays that I recommend.


  • “The Paleo Diet” by Loren Cordain
  • “The Abolition of Work” by Bob Black
  • “Industrial Society and Its Future” by Ted Kaczynski
  • “Civilization and Its Discontents” by Sigmund Freud
  • “My Secret Garden” by Nancy Friday
  • “Awareness: The Key to Living in Balance” by Osho
  • “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm
  • Anything by Friedrich Nietzsche


  • “Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov
  • “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac
  • “Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse
  • “Fools Die” by Mario Puzo
  • “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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