9 Creative Ways To Find Books That Will Make You A Genius
Time disappears. A new world reveals itself. The future will be different than the past because of the words you’ve read.
Author’s Note: This article was written over 60 hours with love and care using the blockbuster mental model.
If you’ve ever read a good book, you know what I’m talking about. And at $20 give or take, a book may be one of the best investments in the world.
But all books are not created equal, and finding that gem is not easy. It means going beyond bestseller lists and your close network (your friends are likely to be people just like you. So the books they recommend will likely not open you up to whole new worlds.
To find unique approaches that work, I interviewed top entrepreneurs who love reading and analyzed recommended book lists of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and other world-class leaders.
#1: Read Book Lists
One of the best hacks for getting into the mind of a role model is to read the books that shaped his or her thinking.
Fortunately, that information is readily available because many top entrepreneurs have shared their favorite books publicly.
Austin Epperson and I spent over 30 hours researching and combining 50+ book lists of prominent entrepreneurs and executives like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and Elon Musk into one document of 460+ book recommendations. Then, we analyzed which books were recommended the most.
Here are the top six:
The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen, recommended by Andrew Grove, Evan Williams, Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Jobs
The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, recommended by Whitney Tilson, Kevin Rose, Jamie Dimon, Warren Buffett
Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks, recommended by Michael Dell, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates
Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, recommended by Charlie Munger, Elon Musk, Bill Gates
Life Is What You Make It by Peter Buffett, recommended by Bill Clinton, Ted Turner, Bill Gates
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, recommended by Larry King, Salman Khan, Bill Gates
Have you read these yet? If not, it’s time to load up your Amazon shopping cart.
To see the full document with all of the book recommendations along with why each executive recommended the book, visit our site.
#2: Read To Solve Problems You’re Facing
If you’re reading for business value, it’s important to think in advance about what problem you’re ‘hiring’ the book to solve.
Just as you would carefully consider anyone you hire or seek professional advice from, so should it go with a book you want to gain business insight from.
What am I trying to learn or improve?
Why is it so important to me?
Why is this particular book (over an alternative) going to be the best resource to help me accomplish that goal?
This problem-solving approach led Simonetti to read The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz as he struggled with some tough questions surrounding the launch of a new business line, which was causing stress in the organization.
It was the perfect selection,” Simonetti said. “Absolutely incredible book by the way and a must read for any founder or venture capitalist investor.
#3: Search For Great Chapters; Not Just Great Books
Every 3–6 months, Herold considers all the core projects that he’s involved in, or is leading. Then he looks for books that will give him an edge and help him be successful in those projects.
From there, he focuses like a laser beam on only the parts of the book that are relevant to his projects.
Business books are not novels. You do not have to read them from front to back.
— Cameron Herold
With this approach, instead of spending 10 hours reading a book, Cameron can spend 1 hour and get what he needs.
To focus in on the most pertinent chapters or sections, you can use the skim before you read approach:
Read the title page and preface to understand what the book is about.
Look at the table of contents to get a sense of how the book is organized.
Go to the index to see the topics in the book and the types of publications the writer cites.
Flip through the book with an emphasis on chapter intros and conclusions to understand the main themes of the book.
If provided, examine the writer’s summary of the book (often found in the back).
#4: Read Leadership Memoirs
Winston Churchill famously stated:
The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.
Reading about historic business, military, social, and political leaders from the US and across the world gives you a window into the past, and a better perspective on how historic leaders have shaped the world we live in now, and will live in the future. Furthermore, leadership memoirs are fun to read and give you insight into how to be a better leader.
Jessica Mah, founder and CEO of Indinero, which has 140+ employees, focuses on reading memoirs of great leaders in many of the 100+ books she reads per year. Whenever a memoir she’s reading mentions another leader, she reads that other person’s memoir as well. In so doing, she understands how the qualities of exceptional leaders stay the same and differ across time, place, and domain.
Research from Stanford on how people develop expertise shows that this approach has a lot of merit. “Contrasting examples” helps you uncover deep underlying principles that you can apply across a wide variety of disciplines.
#5: Read Source Material
Social media can be a profound exchange of ideas—and incredibly useful when those ideas are actually true.
However, many people repost things that sound true but aren’t, before they’ve even read the actual content. Maybe you’re guilty of this yourself sometimes? I am.
In this way, we are all playing a giant game of “telephone,” where a message is whispered from person to person and gets distorted along the way. The same happens in our society with ideas.
Going back to source materials gives you a deeper and more accurate understanding of a topic.
In a recent interview on the Tim Ferriss Show podcast, he shared that he had recently read Darwin’s The Origin Of Species to more fully grasp the theory of evolution.
[The theory of evolution] is my binding principle whenever I’m trying to explain any human action. People read all kinds of blog posts and tweets on evolution. Everyone has a loose understanding of how evolution works, but how many have actually read The Origin Of Species? Ravikant said during the podcast.
Source materials aren’t just about books that were written decades ago. According to the book Outsiders, Warren Buffett has kept up a habit of reading 3 annual reports a day for his entire career. This way, instead of depending on other analysts, he can form his own independent opinion.
To apply this strategy to your life, think about the foundational ideas that are part of your life and then look for the source book. For example, Democracy In America by Alexis de Tocqueville and The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith can help you understand democracy and capitalism.