Julien Smith 25 min read

174 Pearls of Wisdom I’ve Gleaned from Reading 174 Books

Self Improvement best books business

julien smith 174 books
julien smith 174 books

I recently realized that I’d been reading a book every week now for  5 years straight.

It kind of made me wonder: what did I really learn? Am I smarter than I used to be?

I started to wonder, and this is what happened. 140 characters per book, for 174 books… 174 things you may not know.

Are you curious? I sure was when I started. Here we go.

A Walk in the Woods

The Appalachian Trail is a trail in the woods that’s over 2000 miles long. In 1990, Bill Irwin became the first guy to ever walk it– BLIND.

The Millionaire Next Door

Those that are wealthy are not those who ACT wealthy. Those that look wealthy are usually in just debt, while the rich tend to act broke.
“Sometimes we’re right about things– especially when we’re experts. Other times we’re wrong.” With a bunch of examples.

How To Succeed in Anything by Really Trying

The three A’s of careers are Ability, Ambition, and Attitude. If you have those three down, you’re good.

The No BS Ruthless Management of People and Profits

If your employees suck, nobody is happy. So fire them– fast. Stop being so bleeding-hearted about it.

The Dip

The real rewards come to those who can outlast the competition. If you can do that while staying unique, you win.

The Little Red Book of Sales

the little red book of sales
People do business with people they like. So if make it easy to be someone they like, you’re a big part of the way there.

Crash Proof

The US is carrying massive amounts of debt. This may or may not reduce the value of the dollar over time, so invest to compensate for it.

On Writing Well

Simplicity matters. Clarity matters. “Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it.”

The Little Teal Book of Trust

Trust matters, but more importantly, Jeffrey Gitomer is a master salesman, and it is always possible to write a new take on an old subject.

Everything Bad is Good for You

Even culturally “stupid” things like reality TV can have lots of value. In fact media is getting more complex over time. Don’t dismiss it.

The Myth of Multitasking

Do one thing at a time or you’re wasting your time. Man, I could still really learn this lesson. So could you.

What Would Google Do?

Companies that embrace Google-like qualities win over “closed” companies. Free, open, etc. wins.

Old Masters and Young Geniuses

There are two ways to success. Either be young and have a huge insight, or get older and gradually improve.

Pow! Right Between the Eyes

Surprises create emotion. Emotions create memories. Information has nothing to do with convincing someone.


Learn practical skills or you’ll regret it when you need them. Being useful matters.

Lance Armstrong: Every Second Counts

Persistence is everything. Ignore detractors and push forward no matter what.

Problem Solving 101

It’s easy to sell a little book to a bored guy in Chicago O’Hare airport… yeah, that’s all I remember.

Talent is Overrated

Work matters more than talent– this is like a much better version of Outliers. Focus on the work, always.

Japan! – Culture Smart

There are at least 5 ways to talk to people in Japan, based on their status and yours. In America, we’re lucky to have social mobility.

Thank You and OK!

Even Zen Buddhists can be messed up. No single path will make you perfect.

The Way of Zen

Japanese Daruma dolls are really cool symbols for persistence. Keep real objects around you that remind you of your purpose.

Stumbling on Happiness

The stuff we think will make us happy usually doesn’t. We need to be clear on what those mistakes are or we waste a lot of time.

Not Always So

Enlightenment is about the practice, not the talking. You can’t intellectualize insight.


Simplify your life and you’ll appreciate what you have more. Yes, it’s that simple.

The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die

Most of the answers to happiness have been figured out by old people. Ask them, they’ll tell you.


Simple environmental changes can radically alter behaviour. It’s how change happens. So don’t blame yourself or your weaknesses.

The Game

Girls like confidence, and confidence is hard to fake.

How To Sell

Girls apparently like jewelry too. But not as much as confidence.

Six Pixels of Separation

Mitch Joel is an under-appreciated asset to the whole social media community. This book has secretly outsold every single other social media book out there, by the way.

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20

Frankly, this was not memorable. If you are reading a book and can’t come up with any significant quotes or ideas from it, you should probably stop. Trust me.

Mastering Your Hidden Self

Do yourself a favour and don’t read books about spirituality. They’re usually crap and are trying to sell you on something.

Man’s Search For Meaning

Between stimulus and response there is a space, and in that space lies our growth and our freedom. (This was the largest inspiration for my book The Flinch.)

Feel the Fear… And Do It Anyway

If you feel fear in non-dangerous situations, you should just go forward anyway. It’s rare that bad shit happens.

Blue Ocean Strategy

Low competition means it’s easier to win. Always search for the easiest, least competitive way.

What Should I Do With My Life?

Follow your passion or you’ll regret it. Speaking from experience, this is true.


Stuff doesn’t make you happy, but you’ll never stop thinking it will.

She Comes First

Lol. I can’t believe I’m admitting that I read this. It was good though. You should read it.

Purple Cow

Being remarkable means your customers will notice, and being noticed is the first step on the way to being successful.

50 50

Doing the impossible is often easier than you think. Most people don’t try to find the real limits– they just trust what others say.

Presentation Zen

Stop putting walls of text on your Powerpoint slides. Everyone knows this now, don’t they?

Getting Things Done

Having a system in place is necessary to facilitate completing lots of tasks. Otherwise, you get lost. But if it’s too complex, the system itself gets you lost.

Open and Shut

The Canadian government never would have let Obama win, or even run, because he’s an outsider. This stifles innovation from the Canadian system.

Rules of Thumb

Any lesson is easy to learn… but applying it is hard.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty

Saying no to something is actually very hard, so learn social “techniques” to help you say no when it matters.

Crush It

Fact: It’s possible to talk into a microphone and have it be made into a bestselling book.

Status Anxiety

It’s programmed into our brains to seek higher status, and when we can’t do it, we feel like crap.

The Architecture of Happiness

Our physical environment is important. How we feel in a place influences our behaviour in it, so try to create a space you love.


Even if people are outside your social network, you influence them. In other words, humans aren’t like wolves, we’re like bees.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

Hyperlinks subvert hierarchies. (This sounds simple but it’s in fact very profound.)

Gambling Scams

Amazing book. Crazy stories. Most scams are about getting the mark to feel like they’re getting away with something, not the other way around.

Zen and the Art of Archery

Reading short books helps you get ahead on your reading list. Don’t underestimate this. :)

The Numerati

The world of the future will be controlled by those who have, and understand, the numbers. Intuition is no longer good enough.


Traveling full-time is easier than expected. You, yes you, could probably do it… just not as you are now.


If you have trouble with a book, persevere anyway. It’s worth it.

Your Money or Your Life

Your spending habits are changeable. Stop letting them direct your life. What seems “essential” usually isn’t.

Of the Dawn of Freedom

Black people had it really bad, you guys. We are all lucky to be alive when we are right now.


Motivation from inside gets you moving. Motivation from outside stops you dead cold.

The Social Contract

There are implicit and explicit “contracts” that occur between people all the time, without people even talking about them.

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Working on things (vs, say, ideas) is rewarding, because you can see the results of your work and how it improves the world.

Escape From Cubicle Nation

Quit your horrible job. ASAP. Trust me.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

Unfortunately, all work sucks at least a little. But life is still good, so don’t worry about it too much.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Amazing things will happen, and terrible things will happen. Deal with both in the same way.

The Paleo Diet

Removing sugar and grains from your diet is one of the best things you can do for your health.

7 Days in the Art World

Art is all about personalities and technique is no longer that important. Often, big artists don’t even make their own work anymore.


Change is about working with three things: intellect, emotion, and environment. Get all three and change is easy.


I read this while in Cuba. This is the book I wish I had written. I was both impressed and upset when I read it because it was what I had wanted to do.


Simplicity is often harder than complexity, and often, there’s a lot of garbage that can just remain unsaid.

The Art of Eating In

If you’re doing it right, food in the house can be just as great as eating at restaurants. Take time to work on your cooking skills.

The Fighter’s Mind

People that fight intimately understand something that we do not.

The Greatest Salesman in the World

Mindset is everything.

The Creative Habit

One of the world’s most famous choreographers gets in a cab every morning to bring her to the gym to make sure she works out. In other words, high achievers have more than just “willpower” to make it happen.


Books that say a little are often way better than books that say a lot.

Do More Great Work

Getting people to do exercises makes them think about things more than if they just read about them.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Starting a cult is easy. :)

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Think about your life as a story. How would you make it worth watching? Also, a character is what a character does. This is very important.

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate

Zen Masters are just normal people that sit around a lot. They aren’t saints. I spent a month in a Zen monastery in Japan, so I know this is true.

Global Citizens

Don’t downgrade your standards for books just because you’re getting on a plane in New Zealand. Just garbage.

Ogilvy on Advertising

People used to be very gullible I think. A wall of text used to convince people… wait, maybe it still does?

Tao Te Ching

This book made me appreciate Chinese writing. The fashionable thing is to like the Japanese, but honestly I think ancient Chinese philosophical writing is far superior.

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography

History will distort what your message is, or it will forget you. Focus on making the people near you happy instead of your “legacy” or whatever.

All Marketers Are Liars

The story you tell yourself (and others) is really important.

In Defence of Food

If it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it may not actually be food. So never go through the aisles of a grocery store– go around the edges instead, where the fridges are.

I Am Not a Gadget

The web is making you into a commodity and narrowing your thinking without you knowing it.

5 Love Languages

Behind the things your spouse does is a way of thinking. Aligning yourself with that will help you understand them.

The Vegetarian Myth

I was a vegetarian/vegan for 10 years and there were lots of talking points I believed without researching them. So the lesson here is, read up on sound bites before repeating them.

The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King

Big bets either pay off or wipe you out. But even if they wipe you out, you can still come back from it.

A Brief History of Everything

Systems look very different from the inside than they do from the outside.

The Gift of Fear

Your instincts have been honed by millions of years of evolution. When your intuition tells you something, don’t ignore it.

Three Steps of the Ladder of Writing

In order for great art to emerge, you must suffer. (I have also experienced this firsthand.)

Se liberer du connu

Any habit, no matter how stupid, will end up with religious significance if unquestioned.

The Primal Blueprint

One book on the paleo diet is enough. Stop re-reading the same information over and over again. (This also applies to social media books.)

Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong

The French are best appreciated as a deeply distinct culture. They may have cars, McDonald’s, and shopping malls but they are not like you.

The Art of Non-Conformity

I could learn a lot from Chris Guillebeau. You can too.


When things go viral, it’s because they touch upon emotion, not logic. This is actually a big message most web people forget.

The Happiness Project

It’s shocking how much this book has sold. I guess it goes to show what happens when you put “happiness” in the title. It’s good, but…

The Little Black Book of Connections

Your network is everything. Access to the right people accelerates everything you do.

The Paleo Solution

Another paleo book may not have been the right thing to do, but it does prove that presentation matters. This book is the best presented of all the ones I read.

Hamlet’s Blackberry

People have encountered new technology many times before, so looking to the past can help you understand how you should deal with it when it happens to you.

The End of Food

Unless it’s local and needs to be refrigerated, the food you eat had a terrifying ride to get to your plate.


I think I’ve read enough Edward de Bono books. This was about success, but whatever. Why do I keep reading about the same things?


Old people have tons of amazing stories– but most of us don’t know them because we just don’t ask.

It’s Not Just Who You Know…

Pull other people up. Be considerate to everyone.

Good Calories Bad Calories

Native people all over the world, before being introduced to Western food, had significantly less chronic disease.

Making Ideas Happen

The productivity system you use must be available everywhere and give you your tasks only for today, not for next week.

Work the System

You should not be working inside your company putting out fires. You should be improving its efficiency instead. This book is like a better 4-Hour-Workweek.

Food Rules

When you name something a “rule,” everyone believes it even though it may not be true.

Foucault for Beginners

Michel Foucault was gay and came up with the panopticon.

A Treatise on Elegant Living

What you wear isn’t just surface– it also displays your personality and what matters to you.

Why We Get Fat

Science writers usually write a complicated book, and then a simple one after that. Always read one or the other. Never both.

The 4-Hour Body

Do the minimum possible to affect the largest possible change. Everything else is wasted energy (unless you want to master a discipline).

Emotional Intelligence 2.0

I was in Thailand while reading this. Skip it and go to Thailand instead.

What Technology Wants

Technology is a force and it’s going in a certain direction. If you work on the web, you need to understand what direction that is.

How I Became a Famous Novelist

Thailand again… this was the funniest book I ever read. It made me want to write other things than business books for the first time.

One Small Step Can Change Your Life

Large change is best done in small steps, because it doesn’t set off your emotional alarm system.

The Alchemist

Have a quest.

Program or Be Programmed

Most people on the web are writers, not programmers, and in so doing, they are less powerful than they could be.

As You Think (and other short books)

Writing down goals has power.

Poke the Box

Become a person that initiates. Others will follow.

What the Psychic Said to the Pilgrim

People give up extremely easily. If you don’t, you automatically win.

The Thank You Economy

Social media is all about basic human interactions, so being as human as possible means you have the most impact.

The Long Walk


All Stephen King books are about a regular thing that becomes evil. Carrie is a high school girl that becomes evil. Christine is a car that becomes evil. Cujo is a dog that becomes evil. The Long Walk is about a walk that becomes evil.

How to Get a Grip

Most self-improvement is in fact very basic to do. Stop kidding yourself.

Do the Work

Just sit on your ass and do it. It’s that “easy.”

Go Forth and Kick Some Ass

eBooks are quick to read and people will probably buy lots of them.

Against the Gods

Insurance companies (and others) understand risk in an extremely sophisticated way– but most individuals do not. They consider risky things safe, and safe things risky.

The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins is not nearly as much of an asshole as some think he is.

Five Little Pigs

Agatha Christie is the greatest fiction writer in the history of mankind. She is a master.

Rules for Aging

Amazing short book about important life lessons. Very funny.

The Places That Scare You

“Drop the storyline.”

Born Standing Up

Even if their movies are bad, celebrities usually aren’t idiots… especially the comedians. Also: read more biographies.

Born to Run

Marketing, especially when applied to things we have been doing for millions of years, can really screw things up. People with expensive shoes, for example, get more injuries than minimalist shoe runners.

The Dip

Wow, I read this twice! Well, this one was an audiobook, so I guess that’s different. Kind of like being on the Camino de Santiago with Seth Godin.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

After finishing this book, I realized that I should be reading it every single year. It’s that good.

A Whole New Mind

The mind necessary in the 21st century is not like the one we were taught to use. We need to learn to think and learn differently.

Getting Unstuck

Godin also recommended I read some Pema Chodron. He was right.

The War of Art

This is the perfect writing book. It’s so good it makes you never want to compete with it.

The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll Be Dead

Sickness and aging happen very slowly, so you never actually notice it happening. Plan accordingly.

Your Dog is Your Mirror

Bad dogs aren’t bad for no reason. They have been with us for longer than any other animals, so they are uniquely attuned to our emotional states.

The Consolations of Philosophy

Most of our basic human problems have been solved a long time ago. If you start digging, you can solve them pretty easily.

When Things Fall Apart

Even though pain may seem catastrophic, it’s actually temporary. And again, “drop the storyline.”

Evil Plans

When you draw, you can say a lot with a little. I plan on drawing a lot of my work in 2012 and beyond.


I read this because I was asked to blurb it, but it was actually a good primer.

Read This Before Our Next Meeting

Most time in offices is wasted. I heard the other day most people actually “work” around 2 hours per day. Meetings are partly responsible.

Purple Cow

When I read this for the second time, it was because I was trying to “distill” the Flinch. It worked.

Self-Reliance (Domino edition)

Always read the original.

The Power of Myth

Joseph Campbell, although not “undiscovered,” is still under-appreciated. The dude did things his own way in a time when conformity was the norm.

The 22 Laws of Marketing

Tim Ferriss was right. This book is simple yet awesome.

Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness

People who give you simple formulas are spoon-feeding you. Be skeptical.

L’art de la sieste

Some books are inappropriately titled. I thought this book was about napping, but it isn’t. It’s about people napping in paintings. No kidding.

End Malaria

The most easily marketed work is the one that is publicized collaboratively. In order to facilitate this, you should also write collaboratively. (See Godin’s What Matters Now for another example.)

The Pilgrimage

Universal themes in books never get old, and Paulo Coelho is a master. As he visited each town, I remembered how I felt while visiting them.

The Warrior Ethos

Throughout history, there have been cultures that have been hard, and others that have been soft. We are soft. The Spartans were hard.

5 Minds For the Future

The most appreciated people in the 21st century will be those who do the jobs that computers are bad at.

We Are All Weird

Find a little tribe that is like you, be yourself to them. Build yourself a business around it. (See also: 1000 True Fans.)

Accidental Genius

Freewriting unlocks ideas that your brain may never have otherwise encountered. Read this and try it for yourself.

Rum Socialism

I should go to Cuba again. You should too, probably. It’s going to change a lot soon. Foreigners just got the right to buy property there.

Falling While Sitting Down

You can radically change your writing and still keep a lot of your audience.

The Game Master

Yes, I still play Dungeons and Dragons. Yet there is little writing about how to write a game. This was a good one. You can download it here for a donation or for free.

Cognitive Surplus

When you free up a lot of your time, or give yourself many more options than before, your creativity and that of society is entirely transformed. Kickstarter and Sokap are great examples.


Each fact in a book should be considered separetely. For example, Willpower says glucose depletion is a primary cause of making bad decisions. Not sure about that.

The Education of Millionaires

I should be going to more events. Summit Series, for example.

The Lean Startup

There is a methodology behind exploration of new concepts. Don’t just do it chaotically– have a method behind the madness.


Get advice from people who have been there before. Don’t reinvent the wheel.


This is a kind of Gladwell-style book, but much more interesting. I also learned here that there are about a million books about psychological errors that people make.

The Power of Eye Contact

It literally took me a year to finish this. I started in January and finished in December. Anyway, eye contact is important for relationships.

Never Eat Alone

You are not networking as much as you should be.

Strong Enough?

Incremental change can make you amazingly strong. (This applies to all areas of life.)

Think Twice

We make cognitive errors all the time without knowing it. Correcting them usually means big rewards.

How To Be a Man

In an anarchist state, manners would become the main substitute for laws. So be polite.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Many famous and well-respected writers have copied, or translated, other people’s works. See also: Hunter S. Thompson.

18 Minutes

Set your phone to ask you once an hour whether you’re being productive. Watch massive change occur.


Influence on the web comes from working with regular people, not “influencers.”


Almost all decisions we make are influenced by our biology.

Julien Smith is the CEO of Breather.

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