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The Top 10 Books You’ve Always Wanted to Read But Never Have

How many books have you carted on vacation only to leave them untouched at the bottom of your suitcase?
by Ben Hughes | Nov 22 2015

How many fine hardback exemplars are currently gathering dust on your nightstand? How many important treatises have you sworn you’ll get through “this year” as part of your New Year’s resolution, but then never touched? I’d bet that that number is “a lot,” and that more than a few of them are on this list.


This list of ten nonfiction works are among the top ten books that people most want to read, but then never get around to. Maybe Sun Tzu doesn’t feel immediately relevant to you, or you find the idea of learning about evolution from the gene up daunting. Or perhaps the idea of getting caught clutching the Communist Manifesto on your commute unsettles you. Whatever your reasons for not reading, this is your chance to take down the ultimate book list. Add a few that you see here and refresh your own choices and make it the year you finally make good on your wishful reading.

P.S., if you’re pressed for time,  you can read the key insights from each and every one one of the books mentioned here on Blinkist.

1. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Corporate executives and movie villains love to quote this book, but how many have actually read it? It’s over 2000 years old, but it still influences military tactics as well as business and legal strategy in both the East and West. Leaders such as general Douglas MacArthur and Mao Zedong have drawn inspiration from it.

How can you ensure victory? What’s the best way to manage your troops? What are the most dangerous failings of a leader? If questions of martial dignity and excellence are on your mind, read Sun Tzu’s classic.

2.  The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The basic unit of evolution is the gene—it exists as multiple copies and is damn near immortal. And you? You’re full of them.

This landmark 1976 work in the field of biology puts the gene as the central actor in the process of evolution, explaining why genes are fundamentally “selfish” in order to replicate.

Sound boring? Quite the contrary, discovering the history of life on earth is absolutely riveting. Dawkins teaches you why altruism isn’t actually a thing, and how genes are better programmers than even Google can hire.

3. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Written by one of the most renowned physicists of our day, the book explores mind-boggling concepts like the history of our universe, the Big Bang and black holes.

Learn the mysteries of the “fourth dimension,” why time isn’t actually fixed, and how a black hole is really just a less poetic name for a languishing star. Whatever fascinates you most, this book is one that’ll leave you gazing wistfully skyward.

4. The Innovator’s Prescription by Clayton M. Christensen

Some business executives still think that managing their companies well in the traditional sense is a good idea in the face of disruptive technologies. And yet, take a look at Uber, Airbnb, SpaceX, Twitter, and myriad other modern powerhouses and it’s clear that anyone who wants to take advantage of the next huge technological innovation needs to think outside the strictures of tradition.

Clayton M. Christensen coined the term “disruptive innovation” and in this 1999 book explores why successful, big companies are in grave danger of being overtaken if they focus only on satisfying their customers’ current needs. Today more than ever, the game is changing so quickly that it’s being played on the terms of the small and the nimble.

5. The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

Have you ever wondered how an autocratic leader like Vladimir Putin has managed to stay in power in Russia for well over a decade, despite frequent human rights abuses and violations of international law?

Niccolò Machiavelli would say that the answer lies in Putin’s great skill at the political game of power. It may be 500 years old, but some of the tactics described in this Medici-era masterpiece on political philosophy are still in use in modern politics, and you’ll begin to spot them after reading this. Also, if you believe that the ends justify the means, this book will reassure you of that fact.

6. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

In economic theory, what exactly is the “invisible hand?” Do you really know how a free market operates? How did mercantilism lead to the useless hoarding of gold and silver?

Published in 1776, this magnum opus of the Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith is the place to find out. Considered a cornerstone of classical economics, The Wealth of Nations touches upon topics like division of labor, free markets, and productivity. This is the origin point of some legendary economic examples, like how the labor of making pins can be divided up into specialized tasks so that productivity is increased a hundredfold compared to one person doing them.

7. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

At least in the US, the political machine is chugging and whirring into life, so what better time than now to finally understand the foundations of one of history’s most controversial and extreme governance systems—communism?

It’s not exactly light bedtime reading, but this manuscript written in 1848, which mixes economics and political thinking, has wielded a tremendous influence on world events ever since, having introduced the term “class struggle.”

Read on to learn about the worldwide union of the proletariat and how communists had hoped to revolutionize ideas of power, property, and production.

8. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Written by a renowned psychologist and Nobel laureate, this book is considered daunting by many would-be readers. In it, Kahneman describes the two systems that drive our thinking: the fast & intuitive one and the slow & analytical one.

Understanding these will help you make better decisions and avoid mental mistakes.You’ll learn about how to get around your own mind’s laziness, what studies of pain can tell us about the loose-as-a-shoddy-wicker-basket nature of memory, and how the ways in which information is presented us affects the risks we do—and don’t—take.

9. The Republic by Plato

This one is a classic in the truest sense of the term. Over 2000 years old, this is Plato’s best-known work and it is widely considered one of the most influential titles ever written on philosophy and political theory.

In this dialogue, Socrates and his interlocutors discuss the attributes and virtues that make for the most just person and for the most just form of government. The Republic also examines the relationship between the citizen and the city, and considers how this relationship bears on philosophy, politics, ethics, and art. The book debates the meaning of justice and the vision of a a utopian city ruled by philosopher-kings spun.

10. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

He’s been the President of the US for nigh on eight years, so now’s the last chance to read the book where he outlined his core values when originally running for the office back in 2008, while they’re still relevant.

With this book as guidance, it’s also an opportune time for a little review of how the leader of the free world’s done since then. Looking at this analysis of the status quo and its problems, did equality and social justice increase under his leadership, and did Obama actually reinvigorate American policy for the 21st century?

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