29 of the Most Gifted and Highly Recommended Books

It started with a simple question:

What book (or books) have you given away to people the most and why?

The email was sent to an interesting subset of people I’ve interacted with over the past year — CEOs, entrepreneurs, best-selling authors, hedge fund managers, and more.

While not everyone replied, and some of those that did preferred not to have attributions to them, I think you’ll find the resulting list contains a lot of gems. One book is over $400. (We ordered that one and will share what we learn.)

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“The way I give books away is basically I read a book I get excited about and then get it for like nine people over the next couple weeks and then move onto some other book I'm excited about and start pushing that on everyone. At the moment, I've been giving Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant's Option B to a lot of people. Reading it helped me understand what someone mourning a loss is going through better than I ever had before. So the first people I thought of were those I know currently in mourning, and I sent it to most of them. Then I sent it to some other people who are close with the people who are grieving, because it's also very useful (and fascinating) as a guide for how to support someone coping with a loss.”
— Tim Urban, author of Wait But Why

Kennedy and King by Levingston. “The reason I am giving it is because I don’t think most people have a good enough understanding of the civil rights movement and why Trump is so reviled by those who made that progress in the ‘60s.”
— The source of this suggestion prefers to remain anonymous

“I started giving books away after I met Mohnish Pabrai and I saw that he was doing it. First book I gave away was the Checklist Manifesto. Now I am constantly giving books away – my own, those of friends, and those that I think will be interesting. Sometimes I just give away my own, personal copy, and sometimes I give away a number that I buy in from the publisher. Other books (that I’ve given away) have included: Guns, Germs, and Steel, The Shipping Man, Dangerous Odds by Marissa Lankester, Sapiens, Homo Deus, Cialdini’s Pre-suasion, Peter Bevelin’s books (Seeking Wisdom, All I Want To Know Is Where I'm Going To Die So I'll Never Go ThereA Few Lessons for Investors and Managers), Alice Shroeder’s biography of Buffett.”
— Guy Spier, Aquamarine Capital Management

“I make it a point to give everyone Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth by Nick Murray when they ask about my investing philosophy and my career. No single book has been more formative or more influential on how I give advice to others, and how I think about my own financial future.”
Downtown Josh Brown

Resilience by Eric Greitens. It’s a book I give someone whenever I find out they’re going through some type of adversity. In Resilience, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens (and now governor of Missouri) shares a series of letters written between him and a SEAL buddy who was going through a rough time in his life with alcoholism, job loss, and PTSD. Greitens calls upon his background in philosophy to provide insights and advice for his struggling friend on how to develop resilience in the face of adversity and suffering. Greitens’ book is by far the best I’ve ever read on the subject. Every page has some nugget of wisdom on how you can become more resilient to big adversities, or just life’s mundane struggles. Along the way you’re treated to personal war stories from Greitens’ SEAL days, as well as excerpts from Thucydides, Aristotle, and Aquinas.”
— Brett McKay, The Art of Manliness

Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schull. The book is a cutting look into the machine gambling industry and the nature of addiction. It paints a telling portrait of who gets addicted and the games designed to take advantage of them.”
— Nir Eyal, author of Hooked

Chapters in My Life by Frederick Taylor Gates. Charlie Munger says that extreme outcomes – good and bad – often educate best. With useful detail, these memoirs recount the extreme good outcome of Gates, a Baptist minister with no business education or business experience, who came to be lauded by John D. Rockefeller as the greatest businessman he ever encountered, better than Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie.”
— Peter Kaufman, CEO of Glenair and Editor of Poor Charlie’s Almanack (I realize this is a very expensive book, so I’ve ordered it and will share what I learn with you).

The Power Broker – a perfect book on the relentless nature of accruing power, and how it can be wielded without a large public persona. As a counter-weight – Jane Jacobs' biography. One of the few people to defeat Bob Moses, AND she came to Toronto, AND the godmother of advocating for urban planning in a dense manner. Deep Work + So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal hit's the nail on the head – it's not about passion, it's about solving problems. Biographies – Arnold, Steve Martin, George Carlin – honest insight on how people succeeded, self-awareness, and more. Dumas' Three Musketeers and Count of Monte Cristo. Just great fiction, and too many entrepreneurs don't take the time to appreciate that. Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Sivers – just no-nonsense entrepreneur advice. No platitudes, not aspirational/inspirational – just the hard info.”
— Sol Orwell, SJO.com

“I love gifting The Specialist, a tiny little book written in the ‘30s by Chic Sale. It’s about a fictional carpenter called Lem Putt, who builds crappers. But these outhouses are the most considered, the most empathetic constructions you can imagine. He’ll suggest techniques like locating the outhouse past the wood pile, so when folks are going out to use the bathroom, they can come back with wood in their hands, rather than making it obvious they've just been doing their business. When you see how much thought and craft can go into building a bogger, you understand how much better we can all be at our chosen craft. Oh, and because it has been around forever, it's fun gifting old school second hand versions, that feel like they've already inspired other folks to elevate their craft. I hope it makes the recipient feel more like they're receiving ancient wisdom that has already served others well.”
— Andy Fallshaw, CEO of Bellroy

The Dream Machine by Mitchell Waldrop.”
— Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe

Frederick Lewis Allen's book The Big Change. It explains technology and social change better than any book I've come across. There are so many small lessons about how America works — culturally and economically — that I've never seen articulated elsewhere. “
— Morgan Housel, Partner at the Collaborative Fund

“I like to give The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Balthasar Gracián and The Waste Books by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. Both are collections of aphorisms and notes around similar themes: how to live, how to grow and improve as a person, what success means, and how to understand and work with people as they are – not as we wish they would be. They are also quite witty, making them a joy to read. Gracián was a 17th-century Jesuit priest and administrator, and Lichtenberg was an 18th-century scientist and academic. Neither author is fond of the many failings of human behavior (many of which we’d categorize today as cognitive biases), and they don’t pull their punches. The aphoristic style also makes these books wonderful for repeated browsing. I’ve read them both many times, and every other page is dog-eared to mark a particularly insightful section. Time with either of these books is time well-invested.”
— Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA

“I run a small team of about 10 remote employees, and we have had to reinvent ourselves completely more than a few times in the decade Nerd Fitness has been in business. For that reason, I've given “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson to everybody on Team Nerd Fitness – it's a fast, fun, thought-provoking parable that has helped us pivot faster, embrace change, and seek out challenges rather than shy away from them. When it comes to peers and friends, I've gifted Ryan Holiday's “Ego is the Enemy” more times than I can count (along with reading it multiple times myself) – it's a great reminder that we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to growth and success.”
— Steve Kamb, author of Level Up Your Life