What 15 Best-Selling Authors Teach Us About How To Think



“All great authors are seers.” — George Henry Lewis

Some books and authors change how we think.

I was catching up with an old friend and I was distilling some of my favorite books into one-sentence summaries to show the contributions of various authors. 

He suggested I share them as a post, so here it is …

  1. Al Ries and Laura Ries  teach us that to dominate a category, narrow our focus in The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.
  2. Dan Gilbert  teaches us we can’t predict our happiness, we can make our own happiness and it’s just as real (synthetic happiness)  in Stumbling on Happiness.
  3. Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner teach us that difficult behaviors stem from 4 intents: get the task done, get it right, get along with people, or get appreciation in Dealing with People You Can’t Stand.
  4. Gary Klein  teaches us to fill our heads with patterns and experience to make better decisions in Sources of Power.
  5. John C. Maxwell  teaches us that leadership is influence in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.
  6. John Eliot  teaches us to use stress to be our best in Overachievement: The New Science of Working Less to Accomplish More.
  7. Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles teach us to create a vision of perfection, centered on the customer in Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach To Customer Service.
  8. Malcolm Gladwell  teaches us that thin slices of data tell us a lot in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
  9. Marcus Buckingham  teaches us to give our best, where we have our best to give in Go Put Your Strengths to Work.
  10. Martin E. P. Seligman  teaches us that optimism is not about thinking positive–it’s simply not thinking negative–and avoiding explaining bad events as permanent, personal, and pervasive, in Learned Optimism.
  11. Nassim Taleb  teaches us that If you miss the train, don’t chase it, catch the next one (missing a train is only painful if you run after it) in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
  12. Seth Godin  teaches us to quit the right things and pick the right dips to lean into in The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick).
  13. Stephen Covey  teaches us to find our voice, and help others find theirs in The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness.
  14. Steven Pressfield  teaches us that resistance is the enemy within in The War of Art.
  15. Tim Sanders teaches us that likability is a skill in The Likeability Factor.

What book changed how you think?

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  1. My choice of a classic would be “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. While it is an extremely old book, it does have many useful bits in it. I wonder if anyone could write a book today that has the same level of impact that Mr. Tzu’s book has had in many different fields as while the book has obvious military uses the strategies can apply to most fields if one can read between the lines to find the many nuggets of wisdom within the book.

  2. J.D. a fine list and your personal blink on the main point of each one. This was a fun post to go through.

    “Blink” definitely changed the way I think about over analysis. The Art of War was also thought provoking in terms of dealing with people in corporate America, and God Hunger influences me spiritually probably as much as the writings of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

    The books we read and the people we spend time with do change us.

  3. Great lineup.
    I have read some already, and some not.
    Going next for “Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance”

    Damn it, love perf 🙂

  4. Hi JD

    Gosh, I’m trying to think of which books to comment on here. There have been many.

    One that I have read lately and really enjoyed (perhaps you and your readers would too):

    Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely.
    That shows just how illogical we are – and, shockingly, it is quite predictable.

    Here’s his website: http://www.predictablyirrational.com/

    Think I’m going to be reading some of your mentions in the not too distant future…


  5. @ Positively Present

    Big things come in small insights 🙂

    @ JB King

    I like the patterns-oriented approach of the The Art of War. I would like to analyze the Art of War in conjunction with Thirty-Six Stratagems.

    @ Vered

    It’s one of those game-changing ideas that helps us get a little more out of life, if we know the way.

    @ Erin

    Thank you. Well put – the people and books in our lives do shape us.

  6. @ Alik

    It’s one of the most pragmatic books I know for playing to your strengths in work and life.

    @ Juliet

    I’ve heared of it, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s on my backlog and I’ve heard good things.

  7. I totally totally agree with making our own happiness.

    And as to my blog “narrowing my focus,” with a vow to keep it light and bright over there.

    And just curious, over what time period did you read all those books?

    The book that changed how I think is Liara Covert’s “Self Disclosure.” That one made me realize there really is never anything to fear.

    And The Guiness Book Of World Records, that one made me realize there is no end to “crazy.” 🙂

  8. LOL JD – I read the Dip when I was way too far into something I shouldn’t have started. It would have saved me a fortune if I’d read it earlier.

    So many things I read, are changing the way I think all the time. I loved Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, so I think I’ll try Blink next.

  9. Hi JD – thanks for that list – I’ve heard of some and not of others and I love the succinctness of your reviews. I haven’t been able to read much recently – I read .. but gleaning information and interesting historical ideas etc I have over the years read an eclectic range and I have a whole backlog here .. now I have your list for which thank you ..

    the title that’s always stuck has been Susan Jeffers’ “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” .. so many are stuck in their ruts .. and also there are some great bloggers here with some wonderful insights – even sources of!

    I’m printing your list now – so I have it accessible to read!

    Thanks – Hilary Melton-butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  10. Hmmm, so that’s why you’re such a font of knowledge! Reading is great and I love the sound of these books but I do think that at some point you have to stop reading and start putting it into practice.

    I couldn’t take in all that info at once but one of these books is calling my name so I’ll be checking it out:) And practicing all I learn…

  11. @ Jannie

    Light and bright … I like that (of course, I always liked Light Bright.)

    Some I didn’t read all the way through, but most I read during a December “book bash.” I was sick so I missed my vacation, so instead I ravaged books. It was life changing.

    @ Cath

    The Dip’s a great mental model I check against when the going gets tough.

    Gladwell really knows how to spin data into interesting insights.

    @ Hilary

    I like how Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway became such a catch phrase. It’s sticky and viral, and fear is a cause of a lot of ruts (along the lines of learned helplessness.)

    I think an eclectic range is the spice of life.

    @ Annabel

    Too true — reading is cool, but results are king.

    I’m a fan of test-driving the books at work with my mentees, projects, and teams.

    Any of these books can be a game changer. That’s the beauty, each book is partly what the author presents, but it’s mostly what the reader inteprets, uses, and extends.

  12. @ Melissa

    Thanks for stopping by. You’ll find the War of Art to be inspiring and witty. The chapters are short, but the insight runs deep.

  13. I read about 4 books a week and about 100 blogs a week – while my eyesight is holding out….reading just changes my life with every book, I breath it in and then exhale it into my actions even if it is to reject it…My KINDLE reads aloud to me in a robotic voice while I cook – sometime it is the only voice I hear all day….

    I wish I could do your one liners and tag phrases….I seem to be too wordy…

    In 2010, I am working to actively put more people into my real time and working on talking more

    I like this post very much and I am glad you did not post so often right now, sometimes I feel pressured to keep up…

  14. @ Patricia

    Never feel pressured to keep up … “catch the next train.”

    Your KINDLE sounds great. I use a sticky method for reading books fast, which I should probably write about in a future post.

  15. @JD
    I am catching the train to SF to get my ebook published next week…I need my IT for help on this one….good words…and the KINDLE is just amazing.
    Yes, I want to know about your reading methods…I need to speed up and my eye sight is going – too many books and maybe not enough time…the Kindle does read aloud to me when my eyes are too tired or I am cooking dinner

  16. I love the one sentence clarity.

    My two personal favorites are:
    1) Jim Loehr, Tony Schwartz: “The Power of Full Engagement” – The most important resource is not time, it is energy.
    2) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: “Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience” – Achieve the state of being totally committed to the work at hand.

    + missing the train concept was very insightful 🙂

  17. @ Harald

    Thank you.

    Energy over time is a beautiful point and is a beautiful paradigm shift, especially in today’s world.

    Flow is another great concept and I find the key is to either find the job you love or love the job you’re with.

  18. I laugh when I see this title”The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You”.

    My country, one of the world’s most ancient and of wisdom one, have hundreds of tips to tell us how to be a leader. When everyone knows those, it is still hard to become a leader. All the tips become those to tell us how to be a good person, good human being. I’d rather drop this one and pick up GTD system introduced by ph.D. Allen, which just tell us how to handle the complex world.

  19. @ Jim

    Having a system for dealing with the world is a good thing.

    If you check out Maxwell, I think you’ll find his approach refreshing.

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