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 personal 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. And so on.

By downloading your brain into an external system, your mental RAM is no longer being eaten up by 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. Once I had gotten a taste of what it feels like to be always on top of things, I could never go back again.

As a result, 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.

That is not really David Allen’s fault. It 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 polluted with productivity “hacks” and magic bullets, GTD is the one approach that actually 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, there comes a point when you experience overload. If you keep taking on more and more projects, you will still crash.

You will get to the point where just keeping stock of what is going on will take up all your waking hours. Getting around to actually making progress on these projects? Forget about it.

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

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

To put this into practice, 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 will 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 out strongly 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 is back to giving suggestions for 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.

So, 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, it acted as the great unifier. It brought all the important themes in my life together through the lens of personal freedom. Reading Browne felt like finally coming home.

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

Most people, when they face a dilemma, will opt for indirect change. They will try to influence other people to get what they want. For example, they might organize protest marches to change a certain law. Or they might pressure their spouse to behave in a different way.

That almost never works. You can’t change people. They have their own set of experiences and values, which will always be different from yours.

Instead, focus on the one thing that you can control — yourself. If you don’t like the laws in the country you live in, move to a different country. If your spouse is getting on your nerves, find a more compatible partner.

There is always an alternative you can choose that solely depends on you, nobody else. You just need the courage to make these sometimes hard choices.

For the rest of the book, Browne points out such direct alternatives for various areas of life — your career, making friends, sex and love, paying taxes, etc.

There are many great, practical ideas here. They do away with all the excuses we have.

Also, Browne’s distinct voice as a writer is a joy — the unpretentious, smart energy he gives off makes me wish I could have met him.

Where the book falls short:

I think Browne is too simplistic when it comes to the human mind.

He assumes we are all rational machines, constantly striving to feel happy. What makes each of us happy is different from person to person. And that’s all there is to it.

I don’t agree with his relativism. You might enjoy wolving down fast food and drinking beer, but it’s not a good idea. There are certain behaviors that are clearly and universally better, like learning how to enjoy healthy food. This extends to all areas of life.

That doesn’t mean I am entitled to interfere with your life. You have the right to self-destruct. But you should at least acknowledge to yourself that certain choices are objectively better than others.

Second, we all carry a lot of psychological baggage. It makes us repeat certain patterns, even though these patterns are harmful to ourselves and others.

You can’t ignore those entanglements as Browne does. Rather, you must address them to break away, or you’ll never be free.

4. The Game

In “The Game,” journalist Neil Strauss talks about his foray into the world of pick-up artists. In this online subculture, 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 finding “true love” (the relationship didn’t survive the publication date for too long).

The whole pick-up artist thing gets a bad rep and with 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 showed me an alternative to the flawed dating paradigm we are stuck with.

Essentially, 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.

Isn’t it mind-boggling? The one thing that we have the highest hopes for in life — romantic love — is the one thing we leave completely up to chance.

“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.

Don’t leave things up to chance — take responsibility for your love life.

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.

Strauss himself promotes a return to Disney love — which he has notoriously failed with over the years. So, that’s not a great option either.

The real answer, I think, is an ENM relationship model. 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 soul-crushing 9 to 5 and postpone pleasure to retirement.

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

If this sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. In my opinion, Ferriss has never provided any strong evidence that people were able to implement his model as outlined in the book.

That doesn’t take away from the impact the book had on me. “The 4-Hour Workweek” was what got me started with the digital nomad lifestyle.

The actual strong point of the book is not the technical advice it gives; even if it did work, it would be outdated by now. What works in online marketing changes every six months.

What truly stands out 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 everybody else does so too.

Once I had read “The 4-Hour Workweek,” it was impossible to keep believing the 9-to-5 lie. I had to break away.

Where the book falls short:

I already pointed out that the “muse” model is unrealistic. Specifically, you can’t start and maintain a successful online business on just four hours per week.

Even if you are lucky enough to find an underserved market, eventually, somebody else will figure it out too. And 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 hard-working competitor.

So, if must work long hours anyway, wouldn’t it be better to make your work about something you are excited about? Otherwise, what is the difference to your 9-to-5 grind?

6. Vamps and 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 correct our vanilla views on sex. Some of her arguments include:

  • Young women grow up so hyper-protected, they are out of touch with the sexual marketplace. They are ill-prepared for the excesses they are bound to encounter.
  • Prostitutes are not victims of patriarchal oppression but rather subvert it. They should be celebrated for their shrewdness, instead of being portrayed as helpless puppets.
  • 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 have achieved what 60s feminism was fighting for.

For me, Paglia confirmed what I had always been suspecting — that sex is a much more violent affair than the mainstream wants us to believe. We are players in a dangerous game and as such, every move has consequences.

But it’s also how she says it. Paglia clearly revels in insulting the bourgeois establishment. She paints herself as larger than life, like her favorite pop star Madonna. Paglia is a highly entertaining hell-raiser.

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

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

Paglia represents 60s feminism and its strong emphasis on individualism. If you want something, it is up to you, the autonomous individual, to take it for yourself.

In contrast, the current wave of feminism is mass-centric. The “system” is supposed to fix things. Here, the individual is too fragile to take care of themselves.

It’s not that Paglia is some alt-right witch in disguise. The problem is that she is telling us to stop pointing fingers. And that, the herd cannot have.

Where the book falls short:

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

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

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 continuous progress. History is not an upward trend, where we improved on those who came before us (The Greeks, the Romans, The Middle Ages, etc.). We are not the pinnacle of creation.

Instead, our civilization, what Spengler calls the Faustian period, is just one more iteration in a never-ending cycle of iterations. Civilizations continuously rise and fall.

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

These phases, Spengler argues, play out in exactly the same way during each cycle. They mirror each other. For example, the Egyptian Old Empire shows the exact same characteristics as the Gothic period. They are “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/Chinse/Romans and their strange ways. It’s good that we are so much more modern and 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 decadent, last remnants of a once-flowering high culture.

However, that is nothing to get worked up about. You might be trapped in the historical macro, but in the micro of your life, you are free as a bird. This is even more true for the decadent phase of any civilization, with its relaxation of social norms.

There is beauty and even thrill in the decline. Embrace it.

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 just 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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