15 Timeless Books That Will Make You Wiser in 2021

Vishal Kataria

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Four million blog posts are published on the internet each day. That’s a whopping number, isn’t it? However, just like everything else, blog posts slot neatly into the Bell Curve, which means that only around 2 percent comprise what Rand Fishkin calls 10x content.

Some articles are a result of lessons learned by entrepreneurs over years, but even most of the ‘good’ ones have about ten hours of research behind them. And then, blog posts essentially cater to relatively smaller ideas.

Books, on the other hand, “typically have better writing (more tightly edited) and higher quality information (better fact-checking and more extensive research)”, believes James Clear. “From a learning perspective, it’s probably a better use of time to read books than to read online content.”

So here is a list of 15 books that you can read in 2021 and further sharpen your intelligence.

I: Human Psychology

1. Influence

While reading this book by Dr. Robert Cialdini, I kept thinking, “I know this… I know this…” Most of the insights offered were already posted on the internet. However, the book was published in 1993, long before blogging became popular. This means that the six universal principles which most psychology blog posts are based on have originated from this book. Highly recommended if you want to understand the foundations of human psychology better.

2. Blink

Which list of books to increase our intelligence is complete without mentioning Malcolm Gladwell? Each of his books is a masterpiece. Blink provides terrific insights into something we fail to notice today — intuition or gut feeling. It sheds light on correlation and how some people are proficient at managing stress. This book reveals that what differentiates great decision-makers from the rest of us is not the ability to process more information or spend more time deliberating, but the ability to “thin-slice” i.e. filter critical factors that truly matter in an overwhelming number of variables.

3. The Power of Habit

Yes, the title sounds like it is another book for the ever-booming self-help industry. But The Power of Habit is the perfect example of the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It is filled with case studies about how minute alterations to routine changed the way people and organizations (and cultures) functioned and is the ideal sequel to Blink. This book is a must-read if you want to incorporate good habits without feeling stressed, or help someone else do the same.

4. Predictably Irrational

Man, by nature, is an emotional animal. He believes he will make rational decisions in every situation. But in many cases, certain triggers entice him to take irrational action. However, author Dan Ariely points out that there are patterns to this irrationality. If you are a marketer and want to nudge your customers into making decisions that mutually benefit them and you, read this book twice over.

5. Nudge

Just like Predictably Irrational, Nudge shows that man wants to take decisions in his best interests, but often does the contrary. Through tiny nudges, authors Thaler and Sunstein show that by knowing how people think, we can design choice environments that make it easier for them to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society. These nudges are tiny enough for him not to notice their influence.

II: Personal Empowerment

6. 4-Hour Workweek

Tim Ferriss has authored many books like The Four-Hour Chef, The Four-Hour Workout, and others, all of which are based on the philosophy of the Four-Hour Workweek. Ferriss explains the exact steps he took to reduce the number of his weekly working hours from a hundred to sixteen, and then four. He explores theories like ‘task management versus time management’, ‘effective delegation’, and using Pareto’s Law in everyday life. If we keep an open mind and implement even 50 percent of the concepts in this book, we will double our productivity and find more time to do what we love.

7. Enchantment

I am a fan of Guy Kawasaki’s philosophies. They are simple, easy to follow, and remarkably effective. Through this book, Kawasaki points out that in business and interpersonal relations, the aim is not to get what you want, but bring about a “voluntary, enduring, and delightful change in other people.” From an increasing value for people, we serve to improve relationships at home and at work, this breezy read offers classic insights on tackling the most pressing issues that perturb us today.

8. Linchpin

Seth Godin’s book changed my life. Most professionals today are cogs in a well-oiled machine — as similar as vehicles coming off a manufacturing line. Godin urges us to become the linchpin that holds cogs together, without which a machine cannot function. We must aim to be indispensable if we truly have to make a mark in this world. “If you still have to make a resumé, you aren’t doing enough”, he writes.

9. Meditations

Musings of one of the first practitioners of stoicism — Marcus Aurelius, the learnings in this book date back to 140–180 AD. Marcus Aurelius gathered his thoughts in a personal diary, but in the process, creating one of the greatest works of philosophy. In Meditations, he instructs his directing mind to indulge in tasks with unaffected dignity and complete presence in the moment rather than brood over others’ behavior and mindsets. “Your duty is to stand straight — not held straight (sic),” he writes.

10. Lateral Thinking

Through repeated activities, our brain formulates patterns. These patterns allow it to save energy and function smoothly. However, they also restrict creativity and innovation. Our brain starts ‘vertical thinking’, as author Edward de Bono terms it — thinking in one direction. Hence, subjecting the brain to new experiences regularly is important to keep creative juices flowing. In this book, the author presents us with simple exercises to keep empower us to think laterally and find different patterns in mundane events. They can be used by us every day and also by professors for stoking creativity in students.

III: A Shift in Perspective

11. The Art of War

Conflict is inevitable, but everything we need to deal with it wisely and with honor lies within us, believed Sun Tzu, a master strategist in ancient China. This book is not only read by people in Asia but has been adapted in various forms for management lessons by the west.

The teachings of The Art of War are applicable from warfare to competition and conflict in everyday life. They don’t teach you how to overpower your opponent by engaging in an all-out war. Instead, they help you be victorious without a battle and develop remarkable strength through understanding the physics, politics, and psychology of conflict.

12. The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

The title of this book by Carmine Gallo will lure you to think that it helps readers improve their presentation skills. And you will be right, partly. This book doesn’t just make your presentation stand out among your peers in the office or at Toastmasters. Instead, it turns your perceptions about presentations around on their head.

Plus, it brings a tectonic shift in the way you perceive life. Jobs was not a master presenter because he aced the art of presenting, but because he imbibed a Zen-like state in life. The book is as close as you’ll get to having the master presenter himself speak directly in your ear.

13. Business Sutra

The only book by an Indian author on this list, Business Sutra goes deep into the concepts of management and is very different from management science. The author Devdutt Pattanaik uses his extensive knowledge of Indian mythology to share lessons taught by ancient Indian scriptures. Again, it is a book that leads to an intrinsic shift in the way you live. It teaches you the art of detachment and shatters beliefs like money must be pursued, people must be ‘managed’, and more.

The skills which we expect leaders of today to possess were in abundance among the Indian Gods and had been documented by sages in ancient times. A must-read if you want to know what will help you stand out among the competition and bring peace to your life.

14. Zen Pencils

“Cartoon quotes for inspirational folks”, is how Gavin Aung Than describes his remarkable comic book Zen Pencils. Gavin takes inspirational quotes by legends like Bruce Lee, Confucius, Theodore Roosevelt, Vincent Van Gogh, and present-day icons like Neil Gaiman and Brené Brown, and turns them into remarkable comic strips.

The book is a breezy read (you can read it in a single sitting) and makes you feel like getting up and doing something awesome right away. It is highly recommended that you read Zen Pencils — I and II.

15. The Art of Happiness

This book is based on Dalai Lama XIV’s teachings and has been documented by Dr. Howard C. Cutler. The Dalai Lama says that “the main purpose of life is to seek happiness”. Yes, we need food, clothing, and shelter, but beyond a level, we don’t need more money, more fame, or more success. Instead, we can use the time to pursue what makes us happy.

How to be happy, though, has always been the question. In this world where everything is looked at from a scientific and rational perspective, it is difficult to explain how to get on the path to happiness. Through stories, conversations, and meditations, the Dalai Lama explains how we can overcome anxiety, insecurity, and anger and take defeat and discouragement in our stride as we aspire towards a better quality of intrinsic life.

Some of these books are breezy reads while others will take time to complete. If you are a lifelong learner, reading 15 books is like a piece of cake, isn’t it?

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