My All-Time Most Influential Books

James Altucher once said, “Read every book, blog, website, whatever about what you want to be an expert in.”

I’ve wanted to be an expert in a lot of things, and been interested in a lot of things.   So I’ve read a lot over the years.

Books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and even encyclopedias – from back in the day when encyclopedias were a primary source of information.  RIP Encyclopedia Britanica, you had a great run.

Books have traveled with me on a lot of road trips, airplanes, and hotel rooms over the years.  They counseled me, taught me, and encouraged me.

Books have been some of my best friends.  Constant and reliable companions when no one else was available.

So over a lifetime of voracious reading, curating the most influential books is a challenge.

But these books stand out from all that I’ve read as having a significant influence on me.

If you’re looking for a fresh source of inspiration or education, consider checking these out. (Note: these are my Amazon Associate affiliate links where I earn from any qualifying purchases you make if you use these links.)

Boundaries, by Dr.  Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

This book is foundational for personal growth and maturing as a human being.  It presents timeless principles for self-awareness, interpersonal relationships, and navigating the trials and transitions in life.

This quote sums up why boundaries are so important:

“Individuals with mature boundaries aren’t frantic, in a hurry, or out of control. They have a direction in their lives, a steady moving toward their personal goals.  They plan ahead.”  p. 291

I don’t think you can truly thrive as a healthy being until you understand and apply the concepts of Boundaries.  It should be required reading for everyone.

There’s a complete collection of Boundaries books targeted towards specific relationships: kids, marriage, leadership, etc.  But start with this one.

I have given away so many copies of this book that I don’t even have a well-worn, highlighted, and marked-up copy of my own any more.

If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.

Henry Cloud Bonus: a couple of his other books have also been highly influential to me:

  • Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality

This is a must-read if you care about the impact you are making in any role of influence or leadership.

One of my biggest takeaways from this book is the discussion of “the wake.”

“When a person travels through an organization, partnership, or any other kind of working relationship, he leaves a “wake” behind in two areas, task and relationship: what did he accomplish and how did he deal with people?  We can tell a lot about that person from the nature of the wake.”  p. 17

Get it on Amazon here.

  • Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships that All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward

This book has been especially helpful when I’ve been in seasons of transition.  The concepts are broad and applicable to both professional and personal situations, where a “necessary ending” may be the best decision in order to move forward.

“Our personal and professional lives can only improve to the degree that we can see endings as a necessary and strategic step to something better.”

Get it on Amazon here.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey

I read this book in early adulthood when it was still “newish,” and it deeply impacted the foundations of my professional life.  My book is so old, all the highlights have faded!

I can’t recite all 7 habits today, but a couple of them stand out that are permanently ingrained in my vernacular:

  • Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind.
  • Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.

Another valuable concept from this book is “The Time Management Matrix” (p. 151). In fact, using it may be even more relevant and critical today.

I consider this book a classic with timeless principles that everyone should read as a rite of passage into adulthood.  In fact, you’ll probably recognize many of these habits and think to yourself “so, that’s where that came from!”

If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Gerald Sittser

This book was given to me during a season of a painful loss.

I devoured the pages in my first reading.

I plodded through the second reading, sometimes just a paragraph at a time, because it evoked overwhelming waves of grief, and tears of deep sadness that I could only process in short doses.

What I appreciate about this book is that while the author narrates his very specific loss, he presents his reflections on loss and grief in broad terms that are easy to identify and connect with, regardless of your specific situation.

I have extensive highlights of the many valuable excerpts and quotes from this book.  Here are just a couple, which do not do justice in conveying the significant depth of insights on grief and loss that this book offers:

“In the experience of loss, we come to the end of ourselves. In coming to the end of ourselves, we have come to the beginning of our true and deepest selves.” p. 78

“Our own tragedies can be a very bad chapter in a very good book.” p 104.

This book gave me words to describe what I was experiencing when I didn’t have them.  It gave me hope when I doubted hope would ever return.  And it gave me permission to process my season of loss when I was ready, in a helpful, healthy framework.

As I transitioned beyond my acute grief stage, I encountered people going through all manner of grief and loss.  This book gave me courage to step into their stories and have something more helpful to say than the worn out and misguided platitudes we tend to rely on.  I started keeping this book on hand, and have given away many copies.

The author has written an expanded edition of this book that you can get from Amazon here.

The author has also written a follow up book: A Grace Revealed.  I have not read it, but will add it to my list.

Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn

I went through this book with a small group many years ago, and the impact of that study formed a valuable foundation of self-awareness.

Based on the teachings of St. Ignatius from “The Spiritual Exercises,” this book presents a daily reflection process called the “examen.”

The authors provide various options of reflection questions to help identify your desolations and consolations – terms that are largely self-explanatory, but the authors define more fully.

“The examen makes us aware of the moments that at first we might easily pass by as insignificant, moments that ultimately can give direction for our lives.” p. 17

I have my favorite reflection questions that I use in certain situations, depending on what I’m trying to resolve.  In fact, I have small, laminated cards with all the questions tucked in my journal and other spaces as a reminder to pause and reflect.

If you’ve seen the 1999 movie “The Story of Us,” starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer, the family does a version of the examen around the dinner table when they invite the kids to reflect on their day with the simple “high/low” question.

Don’t let the size of this book fool you (less than 80 pages): the principles are profound, and implementing them can be powerful.  I return to this short treasure of a book whenever I’m facing a decision, want help sorting through options, or need clarity in processing why a situation either is, or is not, going well.

If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.

It’s Your Turn

What about you?  Have you read any of these?

What are some of the books that have most influenced you?  I’d love to hear them — just leave a comment below!