The Top 10 Fiction Books for Non-Fiction Addicts

The dunes that inspired Dune: Agate beach sand dunes. (Photo: Kevin McNeal)

For a mere 20 years or so, I refused to read fiction. Read something that someone just made up? I can do that myself, thanks.

That was the attitude at least.

My time of reckoning came when I needed to fix insomnia, and non-fiction business books before bed just compounded the problem. I began reading fiction to “turn off” and instead saw breakthroughs in creativity and quality of life as a side-effect.

Now, if people ask me, for instance, “Which books should I read on leadership?”, I might reply: “Dune and Ender’s Game.” I’ve come to look for practical solutions in both fiction and non-fiction.

For those of you who are stuck in the business or how-to sections, as I was for decades, I offer you 10 fiction books that might change how you view the world… and how you perform.

The Top 10

Listed in no particular order…

1. Zorba the Greek

I have recommended this outstanding book before. It pits the instinctive against the intellectual, the simpleton (brilliant at times) against the over-thinker. Finding myself with my head frequently stuck up my own ass, this book is a constant companion and reminder to step outside of my brain.

Zorba himself would have you believe that words are wasteful and books a frivolous use of time (better spent dancing barefoot on the beach), but Zorba the Greek is stuffed like a grape leaf full of life-altering wisdom. For those looking to release the inner wild man, live each day in passionate awe, and reconnect with nature, Zorba reminds us how to live fully, love lasciviously and appreciate a life in the present tense.

2. Musashi

I bought this book at Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It is as thick as a Harry Potter book, probably thicker, but the pages are as thin as onion skin. It’s a serious tome. I never expected to finish it, and I tore through it in less than two weeks.

If you’re like me and enjoy a good Samurai story – the wandering ronin, epic battle scenes with lots of penetrating (wisdom), then you’ll love Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi. It’s sold more than 100 million copies in Japanese. Musashi’s transformation from talented yet conflicted young warrior to one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) swordsman of all time teaches you about critical thinking, strategizing, and ultimately, that there is more to life than merely surviving. Musashi re-created himself from nothing and rose from destitution to legend.

Why not you?

3. Stranger in a Strange Land

Ever feel like you don’t quite fit in? Don’t want to follow society’s silly rules?

Then you can probably relate to human-born and Martian-raised Valentine Michael Smith. In this controversial 1960’s cult classic, Heinlein questions long held assumptions on religion, government, and sexuality (free Martian love for all!).

It’s also where the term “grok” originated.

4. Ender’s Game

At one point, this was the only book listed on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. If it’s good enough to be the sole selection of the founder of Facebook, maybe there’s something to it.

The plot: In anticipation of another attack from a hostile alien race, the search for a brilliant military strategist has led to Ender Wiggin.

In space combat school, Ender stands out, demonstrating exceptional leadership and unconventional strategy. But it is lonely at the top for Ender, as he struggles with relentless pressure from his instructors. Through Ender’s journey, you’ll learn how to capitalize on your strengths and those of your teammates, as well as exploit your adversaries’ weaknesses. Ender is a futuristic Level 5 Leader we can all learn from.

Teaser: Drop kicks in zero gravity are the bomb. Trust me.

5. Dune

To check the power of a fast-rising duke, a space emperor executes a convoluted plan to gain control of the all-important planet that has a monopoly of The Spice (a super drug-cum-jet fuel). But wait! The duke’s son is actually the messianic result of a breeding program run by space witches. Oh, and the Mentats? The coolest. If that all sounds like gibberish, don’t despair. Dune presents, despite my synopsis, perhaps the most incredibly detailed and oddly believable fictional landscape I’ve ever encountered.

Also, to add to any confusion: walk without rhythm, and you won’t attract the worm.

Completely unnecessary YouTube reference — Christopher Walken has rhythm:

6. High Fidelity

After his girlfriend leaves him for another man, Rob embarks on a journey of self-discovery and evaluation by contacting ex-girlfriends to see what went wrong in each relationship. High Fidelity teaches us that eventually we all have to grow up, get past adolescent self-importance, and take responsibility for our own lives.

Who says I only like books with killing, aliens, and Greeks? I’m a sensitive guy .

7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Raised in a culture where men are powerful, sexual, and dominant, the Klingon-speaking, D&D-playing chubby boy thinks he’ll never find true love or physical affection. Oscar struggles as a young immigrant from the Dominican Republic living with his older sister and mother in Paterson, New Jersey. A fun read with lots of geek culture, great history, and oh, it also won the Pulitzer Prize.

May the half-elves inherit the earth. Grey or Drow? Tough choice.

8. Fahrenheit 451

This classic work on state censorship remains as relevant in today’s world of digital delights as it was when published in the black-and-white world of 1953.

In a futuristic American city, firefighter Guy Montag does not put out blazes; instead, he extinguishes knowledge and promotes ignorance by conducting state decreed book burnings. After an elderly woman chooses a fiery death with her books rather than a life without the written word, he begins questioning not only his profession, but also a society that allows itself to be lulled into complacency by constant exposure to state-controlled, mind-numbing television shows.

If you wonder why some people take censorship so seriously, this book will give you the answer. It’s also a fantastically inspiring story of a one-versus-a-million fight that’s worth fighting. Who knows when your turn will come?

9. A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

If Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Star Wars had a love-child, it would read something like this.

This colorful novel by Douglas Adams begins with Arthur Dent narrowly escaping the Earth’s destruction as it is bulldozed to make room for a hyperspace bypass. Beyond the bizarre characters and plot twists, Adams proves that despite how bleak ones situation might be, there’s always something to laugh about. Adam’s Total Perspective Vortex is also considered to be a great Zen teaching tool, so if you’re looking for the meaning of life, you might not be far from the answer here.

If you need humor to make the jump to fiction, this might be your gateway drug.

10. Motherless Brooklyn

My mother and brother are, thankfully, book snobs. I mean this in the best way possible. Books take a lot of time, after all, and life is short. So when both my mom and broha simultaneously insisted that I read this book, I had to investigate.

A thriller about a detective with Tourette Syndrome? Sign me up. It’s a hysterical romp through high-stakes problem-solving and old-fashioned crime fighting, all told through deliciously mind-tickling prose. One of my absolute favorites.

Zen school and cop tapping? Check and check.


Which one fiction book would you choose to convert a non-fiction devotee to the world of imagination?

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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333 Replies to “The Top 10 Fiction Books for Non-Fiction Addicts”

  1. This is awesome!

    This solves two problems for me!

    1. I need some new literature to sink my teeth into for 2012

    2. I *rarely* read fiction! I could probably count on one hand how much fiction I’ve read – so I’m really happy to have some great suggestions from one of my favorite non-fiction authors!

    So Tim…….. do you have a novel you’ll be springing on us at some point in the future??

    Could be cool!



    1. For people who like things Japanese, with a dash of time travel and Studio Ghibli, try The Potter’s Notebook by Frank Giovinazzi.

      It’s a long book, more manageable on the Kindle, and involves a pair of brothers who have to work their way through the challenges and intrigues of a 17th century Japanese pottery making village.

  2. as a general rule of thumb science fiction tends to be more of a disguised observation about society then made up plots

    for example “war of the worlds” was a description of what imperial colonization must have looked like to the invaded natives of the time

    Fantasy fiction is more “excitement” oriented and has less subtext

    1. I felt a chill of realization reading this comment. Thank you for helping this non-fiction addict see why i should give sci-fi a try. Ps: if u want to give a mystery thriller a try, Steven King called Lee Child’s mass-market tough guy/thinking man Jack Reacher “The coolest continuing series character currently on offer” (quote from memory).

      1. We are HOOKED on the Lee child Jack Reacher series. He’s very much more minimalist than we are; it’s good food for thought. Also, Ender’s Game is simply extraodinary, as are most things by Robert Heinlein.

  3. Already read half the list. So I’m in good company. I would maybe have added a Salinger book but this is your list. It may be a good exercise for folks to go through their own top ten in the comments and we can compare notes.

  4. I’d like to recommend Siddhartha by Herman Hesse to anyone who enjoys reading about personal/spiritual journey and enlightenment! First time posting on the Ferriss blog! Hello everyone!

    1. Daves/Davys must think alike. My choice would be another book by Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund. It’s a story of the tension – and reconciliation – between art and science. The world needs the best of both.

    2. Siddhartha was good, although I liked Steppenwolfe better. It could just be the different stages of life. At the time I read it I was feeling more stuck in a rut than on the way to something new.

    3. Excellent suggestion!!!! I just read Siddhartha and it led me to change the way I think about many aspects of life. Very refreshing read!!!

  5. Hey!

    I absolutely LOVED Zorba the Greek- I read it earlier this year when my friend told me that it reminded him of me.

    Of all the books I’ve read, that has to be the best one- It sits on my desk and I have a couple go-to pages when I need inspiration. I especially like it when Zorba talks about cutting off his finger because it got in the way! 🙂 So much passion for so many things…

    Everybody can learn some important lessons from that book.

    Plus- it’s fun as hell to read.

  6. Good list! I prefer non-fiction, though I urge others like me to check out famous semi-autobiographical fiction, like that of Hemingway.

  7. Thanks for sharing, quite a mixed list and looks interesting.

    Looking forward to your Top 10 for Non Fiction, though – the choice there is much harder…

  8. Though this doesn’t directly relate to this post, I’m presently using The Four Hour Body for my body transformation. I’ve never been so consistently eager about eating well and excercising! I must confess to sleeping at odd hours though. 🙂

  9. Great list Tim!

    I don’t see parables or fables like The Alchemist in the list, do you count them as fiction reads?


  10. For laughter, pathos and the human condition in all it’s extraordinary variety, “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole

      1. Agreed. I was going to suggest “Jitterbug Perfume,” but yeah, anything and everything by Tom Robbins.

  11. Atlas Shrugged was an amazing, unexpectedly page-turning 1200 page experience. Both the adventure and plot twists, as well as the chilling message.

    1. I second Atlas Shrugged! My mentor gave it to me to read last summer, very awesome, great character development with many underlying parallels to capitalism and entrepreneurship. Plus the mystery/suspense was fantastic too

  12. This is an awesome list. Thank you!

    If you haven’t already, I would suggest looking at other works of Orson Scott Card such as Ender’s Shadow or Shadow of the Hegemon, which are about the same ordeal, but from another character’s perspective and then the same character’s stunning life after the war.

    The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas, is also an amazing book about friendship, betrayal, and revenge.

    Pirate Latitudes, posthumously published by Michael Crichton, is also very entertaining–something like Pirates of the Caribbean mixed with the Count of Monte Cristo.

  13. Hell yes! I’m a non-fiction addict and of the dozen fictional books I’ve read two are on this list. No idea what this means in the grand scheme of life, but I somehow feel more badass.

    P.S. Met Travis Kalanick today at Stanford. That dude has skills. Uber is killing it.

  14. That’s a great list, thanks! Thumbs up for Guide to the Galaxy, it is indeed very funny!

    I would also recommend The Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf & Evgeny Petrov which is a Russian classic novel about a con man which is hilarious at times but in addition can also teach a couple of things about leadership and meaning of life.

    Anyway, I thought that’s not a recommendation you come across very often, so why not to give it a try? However, I’m not sure whether much is lost in translation to English.

  15. OW MEN…

    Nice serie, will have to delay the 4hourWW re-read again by 10 books right now Tim 😉

    However I personally loved:

    1. Shamtaram, a fiction book based on true story, but everything is in India and described so fantastic, it feels like a non-fiction book for everyone from ‘the west’ !!

    2. Game of Thrones: the HBO serie is based on a serious great series of books guys!

    3. Heroes of Ages (written by Brandon Sanderson): really easy reading, fantasy world with kingdoms, superpowers, heroes and myths. Maybe not the best one ever, but reads like a train, so great for holidays 😉

    Enjoy, hasta la vista baby!

  16. I’m a huge sci-fi fan. But people consider that sci-fi equals laser guns and starships. My favorite answer is “I’m reading about psychology, sociology and s.o.”. Dune or Ender’s game are great examples. Or anything from Philip K. Dick (I mean books not action movie versions)

  17. Between this post and one Julien Smith wrote a few days ago I’m not sure how I’m going to have any time for anything BUT reading over the next few months.

    And I love it. I’m looking forward to going through some of these.

  18. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have to be in the top ten. (obviously they are quite factual thought ;o))


  19. Thank you, Tim. It’s a nice list, good stuff. Would also recommend Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan. It’s a powerful story published in 1994 of a woman’s spiritual odyssey through outback Australia.

  20. Hi Tim,

    After your recommendation I ended up reading Zorba the Greek, while staying on a fantastic beach in Malaysia (Pulau Perhentian), and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I left it behind so someone else could read it…

    Have you ever read Brave New World?


  21. Mobby Dick, Mellville: you will never learn so detailed about whale hunting, than in this book and get a feeling for the 18th and 19th century

    Khaled Hosseini A thousand splendid suns want to learn more about afghan culture and history and about the role of the women combined with a great sad emotional story ? this book is a must have

    When Nietsche wept: Great stoy by Erwin D. Yalom combined with Philsophy and Psychoanalysis and The Schopenhauer Cure Gives you great insights in Group Therapy, Philsophy and combined with an emotional great story ( I found the Schopenhauer cure even better)

    All Quiet on the Western by Erich Maria Remarque: it chronicles the war life of a German soldier, and shows the dirt the war and you get a good and depressing feeling for the horrors of world war 1

    And an other greeting from the last century Robert Antwon Wilson, Masks of the Illuminati : Before you but Den Brown on the List you should first consider Robert Anton Wilson. This is one of his more “conservative” books which covers peotry, quantum physics, psychology and occult spooky stuff combined with a gread story and a good portion of conspiracy theories. And all in a fiction novel.

    Greetings from Vienna,


  22. I love the Ender series, one of my all time favourites. Would also recommend Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series – well written, dark and unputdownable. Wish he had lived to write more.

  23. Great list Tim; I just finished reading Ender’s Game and Hitchikers Guide recently, absolutely loved both of these books. I’m in the middle of Stranger in a Strange Land and it is an interesting story!

    Of all the authors I’ve read though, I’ve found Neal Asher to be absolutely unbeatable for keeping me interested, especially in his book “The Skinner”. It was hard to put down and did a great job of removing me from reality for a while.

    I’ve also just noticed Tim that your Copywright in the footer of your site is for 2010! You might want to look into inserting a code to make it automatic? Something like this should do the trick:


  24. Technically fiction even though it’s a teaching novel, MY ISHMAEL by Daniel Quinn not only explains how to get out of our culture’s perceptual matrix, but demonstrates its point through a metanarrative that was clearly the inspiration for both the films HAPPY FEET and INCEPTION.

    Selected by a panell including Ray Bradbury*, Quinn’s breakout novel ISHMAEL — which shares an uncanny number of basic plot-points with THE MATRIX** — won the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship: a half-million dollars that representing the largest single award ever given a work of fiction.

    Since Tim asked, I personally highly recommend both (and am very grateful for the book and the materials on this site).




  25. George RR Martin’s all encompassing and genre breaking ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’

    5 volumes so far of this Machiavellian fantasy about the attempts of several disparate and realistic familial tribes attempting to regain power over the outpost of Westeros all while an ancient threat of the Others is returning and the years long devastation of Winter looms on the horizon.

    Choose your favorite characters carefully for as in life all is subject to change!

    And do not let the fact that this is now and ongoing HBO project put you off … there is a myriad of shade in the written word.

  26. The Cycle of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Full of “knowledge is power” lessons, wrapped up in a beautiful story about a talented young wizard who gets the yips after trying to show off and screwing up big time. He ends up becoming the greatest archmage of all time, righting wrongs as he sails around the world in his trusty boat.

    1. The Earthsea trilogy story is one of my favorites and it was the first I read among the fantasy genre.

      Even though the book is classified as a “young adult” book, I believe it is suitable for adults The book came to life for me and the magic felt so real, I still have the story in my mind after all these years.

      Favorite parts I can recall; when Jed is harnessing the power of the winds and then when he is learning about the power of names.

  27. Great list! Surprisingly read a few of these through school.

    Being a non-fiction addict myself, I can’t help but re-read “The Outsiders” every year. And of course, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Both books changed my outlook on life.

  28. I’m also more of a non-fiction guy and get irritated with fiction books quickly. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky is absolutely amazing though. I probably learned more about human emotion from them than in any of the many psychology books I’ve read over the years.

  29. If you enjoyed “A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”, then you’ll enjoy the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. The humor is very similar, but transposed on a fantasy world than sci-fi. There are dozens of them, but “Thief of Time” is my hands-down favorite. Highly recommended.

  30. Thanks for sharing your world. I saw Anthony Quinn as Zorba and loved the movie. Now I am going to read the book!

    As a French, I would like to add up to the list Proust’s Swann which is a great contemplative work. But we may not have the same tastes 🙂


  31. Thanks for the post. If you fancy a down right hilarious read I’m really enjoying the Flashman series at the moment.


  32. Brilliant list Tim, completely agree with Zorba and Stranger in particular.

    I’ve converted a few friends with Haruki Murakami’s works – Wild Sheep Chase will blow minds with its imagination and Sputnik Sweetheart is a more vanilla option.

    Lamb by Christopher Moore is a hilarious imagining of the life of Jesus, filling in that little gap between childhood and thirties when the bible picks up the action. Its blasphemous and yet theological sound.

    Impossible to look past Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five – fact, fiction and vivid imagination collide in a brilliant look at the horrors of war with healthy doses of comedy and science fiction.

  33. I have read 4 of the 10 so I will add the others to my reading list. I am a scifi addict however in recent years I have added some other things to the list. There are lots of straight science books, We need to talk about Kelvin by Marcus Chown which are extremely readable but let’s stick to fiction.

    I read to move my mind from work, which is all interacting with people, planning and organising, to another place and force myself to think of other things.

    To sleep I do the modern equivalent of counting sheep – prime numbers or prime number multiplication tables. However there is a British sleep expert who says count waterfalls – it depends on the kind of brain you have counting waterfalls works for some people – decorating waterfalls works for others.

    Peter F. Hamilton – The Commonwealth Saga is published in two halves, Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained. Gripping complex and intense. A view of advanced worlds.

    Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – The Mote in God’s Eye and there are more in the series. A view of aliens and what makes them tick.

    Sundiver – the uplift series David Brin Startide Rising won the nebula award. What happens when you take another species on earth and give them a hand.

    The White Dragon – Anne McCaffrey also ended up on the best seller list and there is an entire series about the land and its like.

    Ursula le Guin writes of worlds that are very different and lives around them. Social comment rather than huge story.

    Glory Season – David Brin for a low tech meets high tech society clash. A society bred to be different. Fascinating.

    I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series but the staccato writing style, particularly the first one, gives some people whiplash, or should I say brain lash.

    Twilight I have a lot of male friends who really love them too. Stephenie Meyers stories of vampires in a hidden society.

  34. Thanks for the list !

    For lovers of light-hearted, clean humor I would suggest P.G. Wodehouse’s books.

    Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett, for contemporary light fantasy books, humorous too of course.

    For more life-analysing, serious fiction: War and Peace

  35. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for the list! I’m going to read them one by one. Also, thanks for saving me from going into the non-fiction or nothing route – so happy I applied your advice when I did. Fiction is great – a lot of time even better than non fiction.

    This is off topic – but of interest to me: couples like to share their days events with each other – in detail. What’s been your experience with being on a low-information diet and in a relationship? Any models you set for yourself or each other regarding sharing or listening? I’ve found most information hinders my measurable creative output during the day – I feel my brain short circuits.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks for everything!


  36. Dune, in my opinion, is the single best work of science fiction ever written. We can debate all the sequels, but Dune stands alone at the top of a mountain of SciFi that I’ve read in my life


  37. The Scar by China Mieville. Fantasy meets subversive politics with steampunk horror in the right amount. Very imaginative.

  38. This post is PERFECT for me. Cheers Tim. A few I’d reccomend:

    – Day of the Triffids

    – I Am Legend (infinitely better than the movie)

    – His Dark Materials (Trilogy)

    – 2001: A Space Odyssey (even better than the movie)

    Enjoy! Thanks again

  39. Any Douglas Adams fan will love Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

    I see a few other Terry Pratchett references in the comments, I think I need to read more of his books.

  40. Read Ender’s Game plus the two sequels. Great series.

    Tim, if you’ve not read it, put Armor by John Stakeley on your “to read” list. It is THE most emotionally impacting scifi book I’ve ever read. I’ve never read any other where the first person narrative was so raw as to make you really feel that you are on the ground with the primary character.

    Saw you on Dr. Oz the other day. Almond butter before bedtime!

  41. As a great lover of fiction I always find it hard to believe that there are people out there who don’t read for enjoyment. Great list, though. There are a few that I need to check out.

  42. I agree with Bill about Murakami. I hadn’t touched fiction since high school, until a friend of mine recommended The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Slaughterhouse 5 by Vonnegut is also one of my favorites.

    I’m not trying to get into a political or philosophical discussion with anybody, but one of my favorite pieces of fiction is Atlas Shrugged. Whether you believe in Ayn Rands philosophy or not, it’s a very captivating story of people who follow their passions.

  43. A few more books for the transition from non-fiction. These are skewed to genre side.

    “The Last Samurai” by Helen DeWittt (and, no, it’s has nothing to do with the movie). Single, independent, eccentric, brilliant mother raises beyond-brilliant son using the Seven Samurai as her guide to being his “father.”

    If you liked “Ender’s Game,” then check out “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi or “Armor” by John Steakley.

    Also “Cryptonomicon” by Neal Stephenson. An alternate history of WWII that explores the nature of information and its ability to liberate or dominate depending on who holds it. The scenes set in the present predicted Wikileaks.

    “Hyperion” and “Fall of Hyperion” by Dan Simmons. As long as you’re reading science fiction, read some of the best.

    And to echo a previous comment, anything by China Mieville–one of the most-talented writers working today.

  44. No love for Steven Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire”? This is one of the best books I’ve read hands down. It tells the story of the battle of Thermopylae with such gripping detail and from a perspective so perfect it seems it could only have been achieved through fiction. The conversations between Spartan nobles about the nature of war and fear are full of compelling martial philosophy and Pressfield really makes you feel the depths of the Greeks’ struggle the way he presents everyday life in that epoch. Great historical fiction.

    1. Pressfield’s “The Afghan Campaign”, set during Alexander the Great’s Invasion of Afghanistan, is also very good.

      “A Soldier of the Great War” by Mark Helprin (not the conservative commentator, a different guy) is one of the best novels I’ve read. It has warfare, mountaineering, romance, and art appreciation, plus some pretty funny bits. His “Memoir from Antproof Case” is also very good.

      Virtually anything written by Kim Stanley Robinson – The Mars Trilogy is great, as is his Science in the Capitol series – “Forty Signs of Rain”, “Fifty Degrees Below”, and “Sixty Days and Counting”. Also the Three Californias Trilogy.

      1. I think that is the same guy – I believe the tag line for his columns is “novelist who wrote A Soldier in the Great War”, although maybe I’m mis-remembering. Either way, a good read.

  45. Fight Club and Steven King’s “The Gunslinger” series. Even if you don’t like Steven King, The Gunslinger is not typical “Steven King.”

    +1 for Dune as well. “God created Arrakis to train the faithful.”

  46. Interesting selection, Tim. I got to the end of the list and realized there were only two books I hadn’t read. Could be why I follow your blog. Cheers.

  47. I’m a non-fiction addict, so cool idea for the list. The one book that needs to be on here is Gates of Fire. I’ve read 4 or 5 of the 10 listed here, and Gates of Fire trumps all of them. It’s amazing and the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read.

  48. “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay is one of my favorites of all time, certainly fits the mold of the types of fiction books on your list.

  49. The Alienist – Caleb Carr

    Magical look at 1800’s Gaslamp New York through the eyes of a newly emerging science … Psychiatry

  50. The Brief Wondorous Life of Oscar Wao and The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy are two of my favorite books. So good. Can’t wait to check out the other stuff on this list

  51. Hey Tim,

    Terrific list… and I totally agree that fiction makes the best sedative… although with some of these books i think i end up LOSING sleep. Anywho, i’ve already wish-listed about 6 of them that i haven’t read, so thanks!


    P.S. Anyone who is roughly in our age bracket MUST read “READY PLAYER ONE” by Ernest Cline. Rated one of amazon’s best books of 2011, it’s a total tribute to video games and the 80’s. YOU WILL LIKE IT, Trust me!

  52. This will be interesting to look into. I don’t think I’ve read a fiction book in ten years. Similarly, I’ve never really seen them as a proper investment of time. Maybe this will change my outlook.

  53. Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead? I know, both Rand novels but great for Entrepreneurs who want to stay focused.

  54. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is a great combination of fantasy, comedy, philosophy and general awesomeness.

    I suggest newcomers start with Small Gods, or Guards! Guards!

  55. Have read most of these and agree. Also a big fan of the Speaker for the Dead – second book in Ender series. I still like The Fountainhead and Robert Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy is a fun read with some interesting insights.

  56. Ender’s Game is my favourite hands down, but second to that was Kite Runner. Amazing story and deserves a spot on this list.

  57. Great post, Tim!

    For as much as you’ve discussed Stoicism on your blog, I’m surprised to have never seen Honore’ de Balzac’s works discussed here. In my view, he was to fiction what Seneca was to practical philosophy….someone who had a keen sense for life’s triumphs and defeats, and really powerful insights for taking them in stride. Wealth and poverty…love and hate…friendship and betrayal…it’s all there, and it’s all massively entertaining, too. I personally recommend Lost Illusions and Father Goriot….as well as his short story “The Atheist’s Mass,” which can be read in under half an hour.

    Aside from that, Balzac himself was a fascinating character….and his massive caffeine-fueled output (90+ books during his 50-year lifespan) ups the ante for even the most committed 4HWW reader!

    Thanks for the book rec’s….I look forward to seeing what everyone else has to say!

  58. Musashi is fantastic. Bought it in Narita airport, got diverted to Minsk (and delayed overnight) on my way home from Japan, read nearly all of it in one sitting.

    As well as the things Tim mentions, there’s a great quote that Joe Rogan is a fan of repeating during UFCs: ‘If you know the way in one thing, you can see the way in all things.’ Basically, because Musashi is so awesome at swordfighting, he can apply the learning techniques he’s assembled to everything from flower arranging to the tea ceremony. AWESOME.

  59. Stranger was not even remotely Heinlein’s best work.

    Here are my favs (not in order, but theme is in parentheses):

    The Door into Summer (time travel)

    Starship Troopers (military and war)

    Glory Road (sword and dragon fantasy)

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (oppression and revolution)

    Job: A Comedy of Justice (satire on religion – loved his depiction of Heaven and Hell)

    These are my all-time faves, read them over and over again, should be read in this order:

    Time Enough for Love

    The Number of the Beast

    The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

    To Sail Beyond the Sunset

    1. Heinlein is the Master. I wrote him once, and his wife sent me a gracious reply. LIbertarian, with highly intelligent, hard working people who love and live to the full. There’s lots of great Heinlein out there(80 novels!) but Job and Sail were, I think, written when he was ill; I’d put them below the rest of the above list. Also strongly recommend Expanded Universe, which is a collection of some of his short stories and non-fiction essays. Half of the people working at NASA and JPL indicated that they are there, doing what they do, because they read Heinlein. Also, be advised that the movie Starship Troopers bears almost no resemblance to Heinlein’s intriguing work of the same name.

  60. Great, I too am a non-fiction snob and really am working on expanding my horizons, look forward to digging in on some of these.

  61. Oh christ, one fiction book to convert someone? Nearly impossible.

    I’m sort of backward. I refused to read non-fiction until I was 18 or so; I’ve been a fiction junkie all my life. After much deliberation, I think “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse would be number one.

  62. A fugitive who escapes prison and embraces the bombay slums, Indian mafia, gun running, fighting, love, and some of the craziest stuff ever…. SHANTARAM by Gregory David Roberts is THE BEST.

    It is all based on Gregs real life experiences in India as a fugitive, with some fictional additions for the dialogue, characters, and setting. Greg wrote the book three times (its over 1000 pages) and had it ripped up by prison guards when he was re-captured and taken back to prison.

    It is such an amazing book… I bought this on Kindle and read it in about one week. I didn’t even know it was 1000 pages untill I bought it in paperback too. I think Johnny Depp bought the movie rights and they are working on it now..

  63. I’m a recovering non-fiction addict too. Gotta make some more additions to my “to-read” list now. Thanks Tim. Great post.

  64. Another non-fiction junkie here! I think that is partly Tim’s fault to be honest, for writing such great books and then recommending others.

    It’s nice to see some fiction recommendations also, and I would second the suggestion for Motherless Brooklyn. I enjoyed that and also Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy.

  65. Niko Kazantzakis wrote Zorba the Greek to compare himself (a writer) to men who lived a less analytic but more zestful life.

    Some great Zorba the Greek Quotes:

    “Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and *look* for trouble.”

    ? Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

    “There is only one sin god will not forgive Boss, and that is to deny a woman who is in wanting ~ Zorba”

    ? Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

    Alexis Zorba: Damn it boss, I like you too much not to say it. You’ve got everthing except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness, or else…

    Basil: Or else?

    Alexis Zorba: …he never dares cut the rope and be free.

    ? Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

    “Look, one day I had gone to a little village. An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. ‘What, grandfather!’ I exclaimed. ‘Planting an almond tree?’ And he, bent as he was, turned around and said: ‘My son, I carry on as if I should never die.’ I replied: ‘And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.’

    Which of us was right, boss?”

    ? Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

    No more fooling around, not in this place. We’ll pull our pants up and make a pile of money.

    ? Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

    Zorba: Why do the young die? Why does anybody die?

    Basil: I don’t know.

    Zorba: What’s the use of all your damn books if they can’t answer that?

    Basil: They tell me about the agony of men who can’t answer questions like yours.

    Zorba: I spit on this agony!

    ? Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

    Am I not a man? And is a man not stupid? I’m a man, so I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe

    ? Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

    You think too much.That is your trouble.Clever people and grocers, they weigh everything.

    ? Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

  66. Awesome post! I listen to a lot of audio books (probably the ultimate time saving habbit and where I came across the 4hww). Fiction is generally more effective on audio as you don’t need to manually refer back to fiction like you do non fiction – much better in book format. Also, you must have read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson…Epic!

    1. +1 for Cryptonomicon. Bought a dozen and showed up at friends’ places at odd times, Jehowa-style, to give a gift of Crypto, as it is now affectionately known 🙂 Spectacular.


  67. Great list. Dune is especially excellent, I couldn’t believe how many parts of such thick science-fiction were so relevant in real life and human psychology.

    I should really nab one of these since I’ve definitely been on a non-fiction kick.

  68. I’ve read four of these and they were all amazing. I’m sure the other six will be too. Thanks for the recommendations!

  69. Nice list!

    Find some John D MacDonald…it mightseem a little, ah, ‘downmarket’, but the fella knew his craft!

    Oh, and P.G. Wodehouse was awesome too! 🙂

  70. Being the consummate list whore, may I humbly add my top 10 (in no particular order) for hardcore non-fictionites.

    Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse 5

    Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange

    Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged

    Tom Robbins – Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates

    John Irving – The World According to Garp

    George Orwell – Animal Farm

    Philip K. Dick – The Man In the High Castle

    Max Brooks – World War Z

    Cormac McCarthy – The Road

    JG Ballard – The Atrocity Exhibition

    1. Thank you for throwing in the Vonnegut reference. If we’re speaking sci-fi, he offers some great humorous yet seriously socially critical pieces of work. Check out Cat’s Cradle, Player Piano, and Slaughterhouse 5 mentioned above.

      Also, for those having a difficult time connecting to more intimate roots in a time that doesn’t necessarily lend itself best to them, “Love in a Time of Cholera” by Gabriela Garcia Marquez is a must-read. Besides being a great piece of writing, you can feel the passion exuded by the characters on every page.

      Also, unfortunate that nobody has mentioned Hemingway. If you can get past his machismo characters, he truly is one of the greatest fictional writers of the 20th century. Although many of his novels revolve around his own travels, they are fictional. “The Sun Also Rises” is absolutely recommended for anyone traveling or living far from home.

  71. Timely post! I’m looking for something new to read…. I too have been a non-fiction addict and I believe you just opened my mind. Thanks!

  72. Let me first say 42, and I know where my towel is. I’ve read about half the list, more if you count the times I have tried to read Dune. The first part is like the book in the Bible that is full of “So and so begat so and so, who begat so and so”. I’ve heard the rest is brilliant, just couldn’t get past it.

  73. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

    The Stand by Stephen King

    A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

    They may be too “pop culture” for the literary types but who cares. They kick a$$. 🙂

    I don’t know about recommending Atlas Shrugged for new fiction readers. It is an awesome book but you have to commit to that bad boy. lol

    And a public service announcement … for the love of god DO NOT read the sequels to DUNE!! 🙂

    Cool topic Tim. Thanks!

  74. Tim,

    Great List. Here’s two from mine that somewhat sit in the middle between fiction and non-fiction…the historical novel:

    Gates of Fire – Pressfield (The truly epic story of Thermopylae)

    Panther in the Sky – Thom (Historical novel of Tecumseh)

    Both books have had a profound impact on how I look at the world, business or otherwise.