Matt’s Essential Reading List #5

Here is my fifth installment of what will eventually be 50 essential books to read.

A reminder of my guiding criteria:

  • Prestige of the author and/or book
  • Readability/ApproachabilityA
  • Subject Matter
  • Quality
  • Perspective

Another reminder: a * denotes that the book is also on Amazon’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime”

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie


A book that is often credited with kicking off the self-improvem`ent genre, and is still a best-seller more than 80 years after it was first published.  I’ve read this book twice now, and will probably read it again soon in order to take specific notes instead of just reading.

To be fair, the book could be subtitled A Sociopath’s Guide to Manipulating People. That criticism aside, the book does operate from the belief that your intentions are genuine and sincere.  The tips are relatively simple and make a lot of sense, such as repeating people’s names during conversation when you first meet them, both to show interest and to help you remember their name, or talking about your own mistakes before criticizing.

I also appreciate how much Carnegie discusses and gives stories about Abe Lincoln (who seems to seep into a lot of my book recommendations!)

The lessons of this book are applicable in all aspects in life and everyone would benefit from studying them.

*To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


The standard of literature classes that I didn’t read until long after school. The complexity of racism in the south as seen through the lens of a child gives an amazing perspective.  The integrity and basic goodness of Atticus Finch has inspired so many throughout the years since its publication, as well as the movie’s release.

This book is an incredible exposition of the both the dark and optimistic aspects of human nature.  There is a reason it is required reading for so many students, and it should continue to be so.  If you were not required to read it in middle school or high school, you should definitely read it now.

Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times by Nancy Koehn


This book is actually five mini biographies.  It tells the stories of five historic figures, with a general biography on each, but with extra focus on the defining struggle each of them faced, and the lessons one can take from them.

It covers: Ernest Shackleton and his doomed Antarctic expedition; Abraham Lincoln’s and his decision about the Emancipation Proclamation during a time of the Civil War when loss seemed more likely than victory; Frederick Douglas and his decision to return to the USA from England risking recapture in order to be a leading voice for abolition; Deitrich Bonhoeffer and his role as a Christian leader resisting the Nazi government in Germany; and Rachel Carson and her struggle to write Silent Spring, triggering an environmental awakening, all while fighting cancer and supporting her family alone.

The biographies are well-written and concise to give a complete picture of the person profiled, without going into a lot of detail. The details are saved for the episodes of crisis, with a focus on how he or she persevered.  Koehn, a historian with the Harvard Business School, provides insights on lessons that we can take from their stories.

This book is an easy and engrossing read that provides great lessons for the reader to consider and hopefully apply to his or her own life.

*A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking


Everyone should challenge themselves and ponder the deep questions of the universe.  And this is the perfect book for that.  This is the book that brought concepts of astrophysics and cosmology to the masses.

To be honest, you have to be in the right frame of mind to read a book like this, because it is likely that a few different possibilities could happen.  (1) You might begin reading it, and realize that this is just to deep for me to read about at this particular moment.  (2) You could read part of the book and then lay awake that night pondering the implications of what you have you have just read.  (3) You will contemplate the mysteries of the universe and grow as a thinking being in the process.

I have an illustrated version of this book which helps immensely in picturing and understanding these difficult concepts, which Dr. Hawking already does a great job in dumbing down for us ignoramuses.

Any Collection of Brainteasers, Riddles, Puzzles


While I was in Greece doing watches for Refugee Rescue and later while doing watches onboard Tenacious while crossing the Atlantic, occasionally, we would pass the time by asking each other riddles.  Things like “Mary and Shery look exactly alike and were born on the same day of the same year to the same mother, however they are not twins.  How is this possible?”

These brainteasers helped pass the time in an entertaining and social way.  So, as you may be going on long road trips with the family for summer vacation, these riddles could be a nice activity as opposed to everyone staring out the window or at their phones with earbuds in.  Additionally, just by yourself, they are a fun challenge to get yourself to think critically and creatively.

I’m not recommending any particular book (the one pictures is simply the one that was free through Amazon Prime Reading a few months ago, and so I have it on my Kindle currently).  The link is to a list of such books from Amazon, find one that seems right for you and your friends & family and enjoy!