My 23 Favorite Books on Creativity, Productivity & Life
By Tobias van Schneider
I read a lot. I didn't used to, but over the last couple years I made an effort to change myself and I'm happy to report that I've succeeded. One of the best decisions I made was ordering a Kindle from Amazon and reading my books on there instead of purchasing physical books.
The majority of books I read are non-fiction, and most of them aren't really related to design. But I always believe that books about psychology and other topics bring me closer to design than "design" books ever can.
So below are some of my favorite picks. Most of these books I read twice or even more often. They're currently my favorite all-time reads. I hope you find one or two and add them to your reading list in 2017.
PS: The majority of the book covers you see below are just little artworks I did myself some time ago. They're not the original covers of these books.
Ed Catmull is one of the founders of Pixar. And I particularly appreciated the mix of candid management lessons combined with insights into the inner workings of Pixar and it's founding story.
The business lessons and leadership lessons might not be completely new to you, but Ben's writing style is entertaining. It's also a great reminder that even people such as Ben go through phases of extreme self-doubt.
This book written by Dale Carnegie is a classic. The title is cheesy but I read it already 3 times. It's a book everyone should read at least once. Ignore the title, or the fact that it's marketed as a self-help book, just get it and read it. (if you haven't already)
Another classic, but what I love about it is how simple and blunt it's written. The Alchemist seems to be loved by many people as everyone is able to interpret it in their own way. The story of the alchemist is simple but thought provoking. This book is about.
Marcus Aurelius is essentially everything you need to know about stoicism by one of the worlds greatest leaders & thinkers. If you're new to stoicism make sure to read the book to the left first. Meditations can seem a bit tedious if you're either unfamiliar with stoicism or not into it at all.
This book is a fairly short and simple introduction to stoicism. I personally love the concept of stoicism and found my basics in this book. For more advanced reading continue to Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
Achieving more by doing less is something I’m personally always interested in. In this book the author Greg McKeown guides you through examples on how to apply a more selective criteria for what is essential to us. This is a must read & a sure re-read.
A book written about why and how we make decisions based on our culture, religion or our general environment. As a designer myself it's critical to understand why and what influences other people to make decisions so we can design around it. A book packed with research & insights.
You don't have to be a girl to read this book. #GIRLBOSS is a powerful book written by NastyGal's founder & CEO Sophia Amoruso. I'm personally very inspired by Sophia's story and how she turned NastyGal from selling vintage clothes on eBay into a striving $100 million+ fashion brand.
I’m a fan of biographies and Mastery is a collection of a dozen ones ranging from Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein to Leonard da Vinci. Robert Greene takes apart some of these success stories and tries to make sense of the myth behind becoming a true master.
Not much to say about this other than read it! It’s a little more on the heavy side but the complexity of the character Malcolm X is just fascinating. His personal path & transformation from being a criminal into one of the most important political activists was absolutely inspiring to me.
I was on the plane from NYC to Salt Lake City. I started reading the book the moment we took off and didn’t put it down until I got forced to leave the plane. I finished it the same day. Hatching Twitter is an entertaining & dramatic story of Money, Power, Friendship and Betrayal.
This is one of the most important books which had such a high impact on my life. Everything we do is driven by habits - We're creatures of habits and mastering them is the true secret to happiness. This book explores how habits work and affect our lives.
By the age of four, 90% of kids understand the concept and benefits of lying. On an average we lie about 10 times a day, men usually more than women. Most of these lies are called “white lies” — What happens when those lines start to blur?
With Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell asks what makes successful people so special? Is it hard work, or Privilege? Is there a pattern to success? Certainly there is. One of my favorite books and already on my "re-read" list.
It's a timeless classic that I often ignored because of its cheesy title. The book was written in 1902 but its lessons about finances and how to acquire personal wealth still apply to today. It's the best advice about money I've ever read.
Another book by Ryan Holiday. But let me quote this piece from Amazon:
In an era that glorifies social media, reality TV, and other forms of shameless self-promotion, the battle against ego must be fought on many fronts. Armed with the lessons in this book, as Holiday writes, “you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness, and as a result, you will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve.”
Not the first book by Malcolm Gladwell on this list. And to be honest, I've read pretty much all of his book and generally identify with his style of writing.
"The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas."
Schopenhauer once said that we as humans will be left between either one of the two extremes of distress or boredom. We're either fighting to be alive, getting to a point where we don't need to worry about food and shelter, or we're cursed with boredom which ultimately leads us to depression. I found this book randomly by doing some research on "Boredom" and enjoyed reading about where boredom originated and how boredom can be both, a blessing and a curse.
Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Besides the fact that I grew up very close to where Arnold is from, I've always been a fan of him. Total Recall is just a summary of what he has achieved in such a short life time so far, but I'm hugely motivated by what he has accomplished. I think very few people give Arnold the credits he actually deserves.
The most stunning thing is that he did something very few has ever done, working his ass off to reach the top of three different industries. Starting out to be the worlds most famous body builder, becoming Hollywoods highest paid actors in both action and comedy, and then moving on to becoming Governor of California. Arnold is one of the most inspiring human beings for me personally.
One of the best books I've ever read on human behavior and decision making. I don't even know how to sum up what can be found in this book. I think it's just a must read, especially when working as a designer and maker.
Here is what Amazon has to say about it:
In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation―each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.
You know this feeling when you're working on something, you listen to some good music and you're just jamming along designing or coding while forgetting everything around? And then you look at your watch and it's 6 hours later but you feel fantastic? This feeling is called "FLOW" or you could also refer to it as the "optimal experience". It's the feeling you get when you're riding the perfect wave, do a line of skateboard tricks or just having a run while playing poker.
Flow is amazing. It's addictive as hell and we all want it. This book will tell you all about it.
Man's Search for Meaning is probably my all time favorite book right now. It's not an easy book to read but it helped me during one of my most difficult times when I struggled with panic attacks and anxiety. It not only gives you perspective, but it helps you understand and deal with the biggest question in your life: "What is my purpose? What does this all mean?"
To keep it short: The author of the book, Victor Frank, was held & survived four different Nazi camps, including Auschwitz. This book is basically a summary on his own experiences as a practicing Psychiatrist. Victor argues that we can't avoid suffering but we can choose to cope with it, find meaning in it and move forward with our own purpose.
Once again, it's a very difficult book to read but I'd argue it changed my life.
I'll make sure to post more of these articles as well.
Stay awesome & Happy Reading Tobias
**In the spirit of full disclosure, this article contains one or more affiliate links, which means that I may get a small commissions if you decide to purchase any of these books from Amazon. Of course, I only recommend products & services that I use and love myself, so I know you’ll be in good hands.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!