3 Bibles for Developing Clear Thinking and Problem Solving (Plus: Get an Original 4HWW Manuscript with Extra Content!)


I have this on my refrigerator

Feeling overwhelmed? Chances are that, after looking everywhere else, unclear or cluttered thinking is the root problem.

Have you defined your desired outcome and eliminated the extraneous? Removed all of the busy but non-mission-critical activities that consume attention?

Business books and consultants often skip the fundamental shift we need most often: better mental software. Cut out the bugs and upgrade your machine with these three blueprints, listed in the order I recommend reading them:

Simple & Direct

by Jacques Barzun

(288 pages)

It is hard to improve thinking. It is near impossible to remember and review after-the-fact. Practicing writing (thinking frozen in time) is the best way to refine thinking and upgrade your present awareness. Barzun’s stated goal in this book is “to resensitize the mind to words.” His refrain, which applies as much to self-talk as it does to communicating with others, is: do not use a word unless you know both its meaning and its connotations. Great advice and a great book.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

by William K. Zinsser

(336 pages)

I have read this book more than a dozen times, more often for thinking than for writing. It is a hysterical read and a great example of what it teaches: how to cut all clutter and keep your communication and thinking crystal clear. If you think you think and write well, read this book at least once. It’s like going from a tricycle to a ten-speed.

The Elements of Style

by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

(128 pages)

This is the de facto nuts-and-bolts desk reference for all writers and thinkers alike. There is a refreshing artistry to its bluntness… and brevity. I also love that the New York Times can sum it up and violate its rules at the same time with “Buy it, study it, enjoy it. It’s as timeless as a book can be in our age of volubility.” Volubility? E.B. would have slapped them.

Get the Original 4HWW Manuscript with Extra Content!

This list was in the original manuscript for The 4-Hour Workweek, but it was removed — along with bonus chapters and some awesome case studies — due to space constraints.

Would you like to have 1 of the 8 remaining original manuscripts in the world? This was an early version sent to about 15 people for advanced praise quotes, and even the cover is different.

I’m offering it on eBay now, and I’ll return the full sales price to the winner (minus eBay fees) in the form of a gift certificate to DonorsChoose, the educational non-profit I’m addicted to.

I will also write a personal note on the manuscript and give you 30 minutes on the phone to discuss or ask anything you want. Since I don’t do private coaching and my usual speaking fee is $15,000-25,000 per hour, this is a rare offer.

If you’re a fan of 4HWW, this is the ultimate collector’s item for an unbeatable cause. Check out the bidding here!

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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39 Replies to “3 Bibles for Developing Clear Thinking and Problem Solving (Plus: Get an Original 4HWW Manuscript with Extra Content!)”

  1. Thanks for the recommendations, Tim. I’m heading over to Amazon to purchase On Writing Well, and The Elements of Style. I’ve always searching for tools to develop my clarity in thinking and writing.

    My humble, single recommendation for powerful thinking to get your mind out of the trap of mediocrity is the Mensa Brain and Logic books. They help me stretch my mind to allow it to relax and expand further.

  2. Hey! I read Zinsser and Strunk & White back in college! 😀 I might as well read simple and direct because I know the other two books are the bomb. 🙂

  3. Tim,

    If I define “happy� as most of the folks in the USA do, then your choices should contain one more item.

    O About $1,000.00 more that I have right now!

    Most people do not want all the land, just the land next to theirs! I want to thank you for making me inspect my motives and really define what words mean to me. By the way I read Zinsser’s book and it was a great read!

  4. Hi Tim,

    On a very related note to the above blog entry, I roundabout find my way to the 4HWW through my involvement with David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. I am guessing there is probably a decent subset of 4HWW folks who are also big fans and disciples of Allen’s GTD methodology. Many of the principles, perspectives and day-to-day recommendations behind both the 4HWW and GTD are very complimentary.

    The rubber-hits-the-road skills I have learned in terms of “uncluttering” my mind through GTD have been nothing short of awesome, and I believe have put me in a better position than I otherwise would have been in to absorb and put into practice much of what you cover in 4HWW.

    I am greatful for discovering both your’s and David Allen’s work. I am continuing to learn to have a more empowered and full life because of what each of you have shared with the rest of us.

  5. Interesting question there at the end… I said no more, I have enough. I sat and thought about it for a while before I answered though! My inital reaction was to go for the middle value 😉

    It came down to what is it that makes me happy in the end, and the true fact is that money just can’t buy happiness. The things that make me happy are those things that money just can’t buy.

    Things that make me happy are:

    Friends & family

    Work that is enjoyable, satisfying and challenging

    The time to travel (I make time to do this)

    An outlet for innovation and design stuff

    Sports and excercise

    Improve the state of the tech industry as an industry to work in!

    I don’t really need a lot to be happy. Money would just be something that was an enabler to do more.

    Thanks for the recommended reading list 🙂 It looks good!

    BTW have you come across Larry Hendricks Motivation on the Run series… I think you would find some of the content of the podcasts quite interesting.



  6. Three more bibles:

    1. “Awaken the Giant Within” by Anthony Robbins

    2. “Getting Things Done” by David Allen

    3. “Life 101” by Peter McWilliams



  7. I think your book is awesome. I recommend it to everyone, and I am about to go thru it again myself.

    How much money is enough? enough to take care of the basics and start some “mini retirements”.

    Thanks as always for your recommendations and advice.

  8. Tim,

    I am a huge fan of the 4hww, your blog and the NR lifestyle. I have to say though, this post is by far my favorite. You don’t bother with books that try and improve you, these are books from which you learn how to think.

    Far too many “GTD” books are filled with lots of neat tips and interesting facts, but nothing beats learning how to think. If more people read Sophocles than read “7 Highly Effective Habits,” we’d be a lot further along.


  9. I don’t think the purpose of this post was to discuss life goals and motivational techniques. Tim was giving recommendations for clear thinking and problem solving books (bibles), thank you for them Tim!

  10. Thought provoking poll. Money alone doesn’t bring excitement, contentment, peace, joy, or the time to pursue them.. “Happy” no longer being in my vocabulary :0)

  11. Quick mention, there is a 4HWW for writers groups on Ning, as well as other 4HWW groups and many popular self publishing groups. just go to ning.com and do a keyword search.

    I’m tempted by the manuscript auction on ebay. Would love to own that piece of current history and have 30 minute consult!

  12. Dear Tim,

    statistics is a little bit difficult do understand.

    Do you ask for the money you need or the money you need in addition to the money you already have. The first question indicates the latter.

    But…. money you already have tend to vanish when you it it up, so it’s the money you need for your lifestyle?

    Man, doesn’t really matter, but…

    Kindest regards and have a wonderful weekend.


  13. Hi All!

    Thanks for the wonderful new recommendations and observations.

    There will be much more coming on the ever nebulous concept of “happiness” and the fascinating field of comparative economics… how do we get past “keeping up with the Joneses”? It’s coming!

    In the meantime, have a kick-ass weekend!


  14. Kick-ass weekend is definitly on the adjenda seeing as its a holiday Monday up here in Canada 🙂

    Keep updating Tim!

  15. Hey Tim–

    Wanted to appreciate you for your work and the clarity with which you have expressed a concept that has been simmering in , what appears to be, a whole bunch of people…

    The fact that you have given the basic recipe and then invited a community of interested folks to add to it is phenomenal and rare, in the self-improvement business.

    To show our appreciation, my partners and I at http://www.nakedsoma.com have made you our FIRST ever SomaStar, (don’t worry, there are no naked people at NakedSoma, 😉

    Strunk and White, man that brings back memories…my dad was always pulling that book off the shelf, whenever there was a question about diction or grammar, great stuff.

    Thanks for being the “rebellious teenager” who was willing to point out to the rest of us that there really is, a better way.

    With Gratitude,

    Jeb Thurmond

  16. The Master does nothing,

    Yet leaves nothing undone.

    The Student always does,

    But with much more to do.

    My interpretation of …

    Chapter 38, Tao Te Ching

    Dear reader: are you a student or a master?

  17. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the recommendations. This is the second time this week I heard the book “On Writing Well” is being recommended. Will check it out.

    I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for writing the 4HWW. Started reading it this morning and it’s simply awesome. It happens that I’m quitting my job for feeling that there should be a better way to live apart from being locked to the desk for the best years of our lives. Your book therefore comes at the right time. And, BTW, I can’t help laughing reading it – esp. on “your story”. Let me get back to you with the good results applying your “rules”.

    One minor thing: Your book is not available at the local bookstores here yet (I’m from HK), so I got it from Amazon. Look forward to see it on the shelves here!

  18. Tim,

    Great stuff as always. I have 2 questions for you. I don’t think I read it in your book or have seen it on your site.

    1. How do you handle your book keeping for your businesses? I am sure its outsourced…but how?

    2. Do you use something like Neat Receipts to scan in any papers/documents/important printed items to get rid of paper and keep it on your computer?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Keep up the great work!


  19. I’m down with de-cluttering, but please do not ask us to give up our coffee–unless you’re offering up some real connections in Sri Lanka to outsource childcare.

    As for the poll,I’m happy now. I might be marginally happier if I were able to help others on a larger scale, and to do so often requires serious bank, but from a purely personal standpoint, I’m fine and I’m not interested in chasing dollars for dollars sake.

  20. Hey Tim,

    As an editor (newspapers, magazines, books – and scripts [Hollywood]), I have some suggestions from personally working with numerous writers. Just a few:

    1 Think Outside the Box by Mike Vance & Diane Deacon

    2 Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

    3 On Writing by Stephen King

    4 The Art of Clear Thinking by Rudolf Flesch

    I think these are also some of the best. Ciao!

    – Chris

  21. ez mensas –

    after the last post and now this one… (and i’m a huge fan of the man)

    i’d caution all you hyper analytical, logical and “smart” people. just know, logic can be a very dangerous crutch. the only place logic takes you – ultimately, is to the illogical and the unknown.

    trippy to see sophia ref – the tao te ching. which is precisely where i was going…

    this is what i’d reference…

    the greatest perfection seems imperfect

    yet its usefulness is endless

    the greatest fullness seems empty

    yet its usefulneess is inexhaustible

    great straightness seems flexible

    great skill looks clumsy

    great ELOQUENCE sounds AWKWARD

    movement triumphs over cold

    stillness triumphs over heat

    clarity and tranquillity set the whole world in order

    (good luckw/ that)

    keep killing it timmy!


  22. Tim,

    I’ve got a story about a person who should be asking themselves: am I being productive, or just active?

    First, a bit of background: I took a summer job working in the basement for an Energy company, essentially going through a bunch of well files and finding out information, copying what we capture, and filling out a form for each well. The company I’m working for has actually been contracted out through the company whose building we are in, and the sheet we’re filling out is for the contracted company. The only thing we’re doing for the company that has contracted us is figuring out where all of these wells are.

    There was a little confusion at the beginning, resulting in us cutting out about half of what we filled out on the capture sheets, only to later have us filling those in. Our team lead (a geologist) arrived about three weeks into the project, and had the exact same assignment as we did. But, he doesn’t get to work on any wells, he reviews this sheet. He sees a bunch of blank spots on the sheets we fill out and he highlights EVERY SINGLE ONE. This is 800 wells by this time. He creates a new sheet to fill out information that existed on the old sheet, but in “convenient” diagram form. He creates a new sheet for sidetracked wells containing, again, all the information we normally put on sidetrack well capture sheets. He creates a new sheet for almost any new type of well, none of which contain information that would not exist on the original well capture sheet, or could be cleared up by writing a maximum of three words in the “additional comments” area.

    I thought it would stop, and that he would get to, you now, processing wells. But it doesn’t. He complains about how he’s been asked to do at least 10 well files a day (I’ve gotten it up to 20/day myself) what with that the diagrams he has to create. Then, when we find out that new people are arriving, he decides he has to create a powerpoint presentation explaining how to fill out the sheets. Then, to that presentation, he adds explanations of how wells work, the blueprints for a well, a glossary of terms we don’t use, and a five minute explanation of the three types of north. He takes up half a day showing and explaining it to the people who were already working then, spends the rest of the day fixing everything, and spends the next morning showing us his revised edition. All this time he complains about our production being somewhat low (meaning 85% of what we should be doing- can you guess how much he should be contributing?) and that we are falling behind.

    He’s done with the powerpoint, and has shown it to the new hires. He then does 3 well files, and in his third, runs across what he believes could be a major sand that should have been produced, but never was. He spends the rest of the day looking at that, and telling us all how “Oh, the geologist musta woken up on the wrong side of the bed to have missed that” and “now here’s what they hired us for, to find these.” I casually pointed out that, no, they hired us to find out where these wells exactly were, he stared at me blankly, said “well, yes, but they’ll be happy with this” and continued lauding his find. He finally makes a call to a manager upstairs who he tells to bring a geologist down into the basement so they can discuss this potential find, which he claims would produce 100 barrels a day. I had kept track of how long he was taking on bragging about this find, and he was up to five hours, including the bragging he did at lunch to the waitresses. The manager brought a geologist down, they looked over the file for an hour, and discovered- shockingly- that no, in fact this probably wasn’t a producing sand. The manager then reminded him that our job wasn’t to find prospective sands to produce from, but to find the surface and bottom hole locations of these wells.

    Is this all? No. There’s the database of questionable well files he’s created, the chart of wells/ day that our team has done, the easel he built for the whiteboard we don’t use, the stamps he made for files we don’t have, the transferral process for documents we don’t ship anywhere, and so much more. He justifies it all when I call him out saying, “I’m an old man, I have my things that I need to do,” or “Well, these will be easier to understand for this company,” about things we don’t do for this company and my favorite, “I’m a visual learner,” well you’re not learning anything, you’re creating busywork!

    This was more to vent than anything else, but I really am glad I found your book. I’m so afraid I’ll end up like him, and that’s a fate I won’t accept.

  23. Game for Latin scholars: Spot the synchysis in the post.

    I hope I’m not the only one thrilled to notice it.

  24. [from a reader and fan:]

    Hey Tim, here’s a useful link for any friends of yours (or even yourself), who want to learn Brazilian Porto. It has a large list of the most frequently spoken and written words in Brazil. I think it may actually be the only (properly-researched) one of its kind:


    [Please write me if you find a better one!]

  25. Good recommendtions Tim! I am also 29 and born in 1977….we could have easily been separated at birth. Lookin forward to crossing speaking paths some day! Or if you want to train for a triathlon, I can help!

  26. Tim,

    I just got the book and love it. I am dead set on improving my current situation. I am 26 and work in a family business. There’s a lot of pride in being part of a family business, but i’m not going to wake up everyday just to bust my butt, so that someday i can get what i want. I want it now! I recently got married to a great girl, and we live in a small apartment. We both are trying to finish school, and we have nothing but debt. Things need to change. I know i’m capable of creating the life that my wife and i deserve. But i need some direction. I don’t know anyboby that i can talk to that could help me get on the right track. I was hoping someone would. I need help getting started. Thanks


    Hi Jonathan!

    I highly recommend you use the book to get into the reader-only forums on the site. People are great at helping if you ask specific questions. Welcome!

    All the best,


  27. Hi,

    I live your book and I am telling everyone I know about it . I have a bookclub and would like to do a seminar to highlight some great insights that are in the book. I have a small problem . I signed up for the newsletter amd have not recieved it . I appreciate your help




    Hi Karmen!

    Thanks for the comment. If you’re referring to the Tips & Tricks newsletter that I used to do from my old blog, that content is now just being posted on this blog. If you mean the e-mail sign-up field on http://www.fourhourworkweek.com, I haven’t yet mailed anything! The direct marketers in my midst think I’m an idiot, but I don’t want to e-mail anyone unless I have something interesting and valuable to send.

    Hope that helps!


  28. I would strongly recommend Barbara Minto’s ‘Pyramid Principle’ as a guide to clear thinking and writing. It was developed through her work as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co. and I’ve found it v. useful.

  29. I *met* William Zissner several years ago. I took a writing class that he offered at the New School, he writes very much the way he speaks, and he’s motivated by nothing more than the pleasure he gets from writing and curiosity, not at all by money. He wouldn’t talk at all about how to get things published, because a. he said he wasn’t overly qualified on that because he sort of stumbled into writing as a career and b. that it would take our attention away from quality writing (this was a non-fiction writing class). He’s a really nice really gentle old man.

  30. Tim,

    I am amazed at not just the quality but the character of the books that you recommend. You don’t list a bunch of get-rich-quick books, or other contemporary mass-market books, you list *the classic* texts in how to communicate by some of the most important intellectuals in modern times (Jaques Barzun).

    I have to say, I am floored — and extremely impressed


    Thank you for the kind words, John! Being selective with books is just as important as being selective with nutrition. One is food for the brain, and the other is food for the body. I’m also a big fan of Wittgenstein and Ben Franklin.

    All the best,


  31. Contentment is a pearl of great price, and whoever procures it at the expense of ten thousand desires makes a wise and a happy purchase. -John Balguy

    Just got this quote in my AWAD email (a word a day), and, though it can be interpreted many ways, it made me think of Tim’s focus on stripping out the junk in your life (and the desire to just accumulate more)… The focus on the WHY in Tim’s book is even more valuable than the HOW (and that’s sayin’ something!!)

    Thanks Tim.

  32. Hi Tim,

    I decided to circle back to this old post, cuz I’m intrigued and I hope you’re still checking on this one. Before I buy these, I want to make sure they will give me an “actionable” experience. Do each of these books have exercises for improving writing or is it a kind of read it and figure it out on your own?

    All the best,


  33. Hi Tim,

    I love your style and thought of your blog when I was struggling with this issue.

    “if only the 4HWW blog had something on HANDWRITING!”

    mine sucks! any tips?


    Joel, Australia

  34. Thank you for the kind words, John! Being selective with books is just as important as being selective with nutrition.

    Love ur book and enjoy it!

  35. Thanks for the recommendations, Tim. I’m heading over to Amazon to purchase On Writing Well, and The Elements of Style. I’ve always searching for tools to develop my clarity in thinking and writing.

    My humble, single recommendation for powerful thinking to get your mind out of the trap of mediocrity is the Agen Bola site. They help me stretch my mind to allow it to relax and expand further.