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. Ender’s Game author, Orson Scott Card, also put out a series of American Fantasy called The Tales of Alvin Maker. I am a huge fan of him as a science fiction writer, but this truly shows a very different side of his writing. The depth, coloring, and excellence of this series are not justified by saying that they have nothing to compare to. But, in modern fiction writing there is very little American Fiction. It is just down-right hard to compare them to anything at all. Frankly I have a had a hard time explaining the world he creates to my friends and leave at “You will enjoy them” The End.

  2. I’ll reiterate Atlas Shrugged and add the Fountainhead, both by Ayn Rand.

    Also would highly recommend Fight Club by Chuck palahniuk.

    AND One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. Had me laughing out loud.

  3. The Gnoll Credo, by J. Stanton , would be my top pick. Similar lessons to Zorba the Greek, but a much quicker read, and I found it more entertaining.

  4. Feels good to know I’ve already read half of these. And seen the High Fidelity movie. Btw, are they still making Ender’s Game into a movie?

  5. I particularly love anything by Steven Pressfield although his texts blur the lines between fiction & non-fiction. “Tides of War”, “Gates of Fire” & “Virtues of War” are all great in that area, kick-ass visions of historical people/events that are highly motivational (at least to me).

    But without a doubt “The Legend of Bagger Vance” is at the top of my list. I’ve given it to numerous friends who balked at the book until I told them it wasn’t about Matt Damon and Will Smith and subsequently loved it.

    Read Farenheit 451 in high school and it absolutely changed my mindset when it comes to literature and undoubtedly fueled a desire for reading. Also think that George Orwell’s “1984” is a fantastic mind trip.

    Studying Economics as and undergrad I found “Looking Backwards” by Edward Bellamy to be, by far, the most interesting book an economics professor ever required me to read.


  6. Great list Tim! I look forward to grabbing a few of those that I haven’t already read.

    I am a big fan of The Alchemist also. Another longtime favorite in the same track would be Jonathon Livingston Seagull.

  7. Shantaram…c’mon Tim, this book is right down your alley. Please tell me you’ve read this. Awesome adventure tale (somewhat true) of a man rediscovering himself in India. A true epic. I loved every page of it.

  8. In response to badnicolez: Just wanted to say agreed…whole world of Heinlein awaiting and I thought of Mistress when I first started reading before I saw Stranger…but I will say Stranger makes a great entry point for RAH. Worked for me, anyway. 🙂

    And Number of the Beast…seconded. Jesus, that is way too much fun. (Thanks for the reminder to re-read.)

    And to John Fawkes: Yes, Ender’s Game looks like it might actually get made this time…Asa Butterfield from Hugo is Ender and Harrison Ford is in the cast as the training commander (can’t pull the character name out of my hat at the moment.)

  9. #8 and #9, yes and YES! I’ve read every book in the HHGttG series (with the exception of Young Zaphod Plays it Safe) once a year since I was 12. And Fahreheit 451 almost reads itself. In fact, Bradbury has been a major influence on my writing since day-one. Oh, and Ender’s Game and Dune are gleaming jewels in themselves.

    BUT, if I can make one suggestion: A Confederacy of Dunces must be on this list. An absolute must for any reader. Even the story about its author and how it ended up getting published (and winning the Pulitzer) is worth five minutes of anyone’s time.

    Thanks again, Tim. As always, be good or better.

  10. One book? Well, I guess I am not one to follow the rules. Since Snow Crash has already come up numerous times…

    1) Holes by Louis Sachar –

    Here’s the opening:

    “Stanley Yelnats was given a choice. The judge said, “You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake.” Stanley was from a poor family. He had never been to camp before.”

    Holes is about overcoming obstacles, mostly yourself, and more – written for “young adults and teens” but don’t let that put you off. I am a veracious reader of fiction and nonfiction and found Holes funny, engaging and thought provoking. You will enjoy it! Here’s a link:

    2) Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

    A scary possible future told in amazing detail with memorable characters – unpredictable, lots of action. About choices we make, sacrifice, victim or proactive? “The Windup Girl is a biopunk science fiction novel.” Link:

    3) East of Eden by John Steinbeck

    More accessible than Grapes of Wrath. Life, the nature of good and evil, do our circumstances of birth rule us or not? Brillliant, brilliant, brilliant! And hilarious at times.

    4) Zodiac by Neal Stephenson (also wrote Snow Crash). Short earlier work. Passion and crazy eco-adventure combined with science. Think inflatable boat, not astrological signs.

    5) The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

    NY Times says “screwball, alternative-reality, hard-boiled mystery, set, for maximum incongruity, in Alaska.”

    That said, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dune, To Kill A Mockingbird, Ender’s Game, Game of Thrones, Cryptonomicon, anything by Ursula K LeGuin – all amazing, although Dune can take some getting into.

    Thanks for the list. I clearly have some more reading to do!

  11. No WAY!!

    YOU have a mother and a brother??!

    I’m not buying it. There’s no way Tim is human- had to have been hatched.


  12. Tim-

    Interesting selection. Have you ever heard of Way of the Peaceful Warrior? More Zen stuff, and from what I gather similar to Zorba

    Also, I recently started the slow carb diet and can already see visual improvements, and an intense focus, like I have been in a haze my whole life. But dude, you need to warn people when they first start the diet. I have never shat so much in my life. (just ripped one) The biggest one being a MINIMUM of 12 Courics.

    But thank you for the recommendations, I’m picking up Stranger in a Strange Land tomorrow.

    Rock on brah

  13. I’ve been saying it for years to family and friends that the fiction books I read are not necessarily a means of escape…I don’t like to run away from things…just because a story is technically made-up doesn’t mean that you can’t pull something tangible out off it. If I were to boil it down to four authors and their books, they would be…

    Brent Weeks – Lightbringer Saga

    – a beautifully rendered tale of a savior trying to wrestle with his own inner demons while trying to fight actual “demons” in his land. The kicker, he is at once the lead protagonist and antagonist…and the brain-banging begins…

    Glen Cook – Black Company Chronicles

    – Lord of the Rings meets a gritty ‘Nam, Korea or WW II story telling from a front line grunt, except the grunt is actually the company medic and favored play-experiment of the Queen of all despotic rulers. Two words, medieval bad-ass.

    R. Scott Bakker – Prince of Nothing and Aspect-Emperor

    – deep reads that is sure to disturb you as enlighten you in the ways of human behavior and manipulation. Bakkers word play is amazing to say the least…a total mind-f*ck at times but so worth it…it is a series with a flavor unlike any other.

    OK here we go….the one that I will get the most flack on…

    R.A. Salvatore – Drizzt series

    -the tale of a dark elf going through his seemingly immortal life while he adventures with the same friends that he knows will perish along with the passage of time. I know that by writing “Salvatore” on this may discredit me but he shines in battle and action sequences. I don’t think that anyone else in this genre or any can describe a fight sequence or struggle with as much emotion and mirth as he.

    Well that’s it…there are much more amazing authors and books, but these top my list.

    I hope that someone out there will give them a shot as they are very much worth it.

    1. Brandon Sanderson as an author has a love for studying leadership. This comes through in his writing, especially Mistborn, the Stormlight saga, and Elantris.

      You’ll find hidden lessons of leadership throughout the books, if you pay attention.


  14. Movies can serve the same purpose as novels, a point frequently made by Eben Pagan. Unlike novels, I believe they can make a more visceral impression. For example, to be inspired about what it means to be a man, watch Gladiator and notice the contrast between Commodus and Maximus.

    Maximus is calm, stoic and he feels responsible not just for himself but for those around him. Commodus feels victimized, insecure and out of control.

    I can warmly recommend the dramatization of Musashi, a.k.a. The Samurai Trilogy, with Toshiro Mifune portraying Musashi Miyamoto. Once again, notice the contrast between Musashi and his childhood friend Matahachi. By their actions you can tell that they have entirely different different values and self-images. Matahachi is impulsive, cowardly and weak. Musashi is on a mission to perfect his art, he is uncompromising, resolute and always stays true to his heart.

  15. Hy Tim,

    Great post I will have to take a look at a few of these (haven’t read a single fiction book in the past 10 years other than the Harry Potter series).

    Can we still expect a “What I learned in 2011” post?



  16. Shantaram, as mentioned above, is a tremendous work.

    John D. MacDonald was a pioneer of the recurring Hero. Very light, escapist fiction. His character Travis McGee is a mix of Jimmy Buffet and Jim Rockford. Without Travis, there would be no Jason Bourne, Dirk Pitt or Mitch Rapp.

    Patrick O’Brians series of historical fiction, set in the life of the British Navy during the Napoleonic wars, is on par with Jane Austin for period fiction.

    The movie Master and Commander is based on his books.

  17. I’m about 1/3 the way through Ender’s Game and I don’t get it yet. Does it pick up or is the same all the way through?

    1. Even if you do not get it, keep going it is an easy ready, and the end is well worth it, and it may in fact recast your experience of the book.


  18. Tim,

    I workout within 30 minutes of rising after a cup of coffee. If i wait longer I get hungry. If I eat before working out I get nauseated/food comes up while I’m working out. In your research/experience is it more important to eat 30 grams protein within 30 minutes of rising or is it ok to wait until after I workout to have 30g protein? In my experience if I don’t workout upon rising I won’t do it. And eating before workout makes me feel bad during workout. But i am interested in your thoughts and suggestions for people who workout first thing in the morning. Please be specific with your guidance. Thanks.

    1. Lonesome Dove is an absolute beauty. Glad someone beat me to it. The simply magnificent talk is the best part of a book filled with incredible events in the old west.

      William Kennedy’s Ironweed is fantastic. Concerns the efforts of a man who killed two people, one completely accidentally, and one in a riot throwing a stone, and has simply bowed out of life and gone on the road, for decades, as a tramp during and after the depression. That’s the back story. He now is trying to reconnect with life itself and finds it difficult to do so. Magnificent. The movie is good, but the book is superb. Kennedy’s written three or four really good ones too.

      John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield War is another, like Zorba, that connects you to how the simple human things in life can and maybe should be some of the most important.

      I have to disagree with the Ayn Rand suggestions, though. I’m an entrepreneur and have had her work suggested to me many times. I tried it and while the ideas are interesting, she is just not a great handler of language. They aren’t written well, in my humble opinion. Maybe you’ll disagree, though.

  19. Really good list, I love both fiction and non-fiction, keeping a good balance gives me more motivation to keep reading. As far as fiction, it has to be A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. This is a seriously epic read, the history of one town and one family as it evolves is mesmerizing. Beautifully written and gripping…

  20. Tim, A Very Strong Book Recommendation:

    Romance of the Three Kingdom. (it is not a romance novel.)

    It has been THE BOOK for strategy, leadership, war, moral conduct, politics, brotherhood, weapon building, scare tactics, and empire building in practically all asian countries since it’s publication in the 14th century. And Yes it is the go-to-book for ALL of those things. Every sentient asian adult male will read it in one form or the other at least once in their lifetime. The average is 3 times. It is said, you do not know the Sun Tzu’s Art of War until you Understand this book. Based about 60% on historic fact, I know Guan Wu(one of the characters) is still worshiped as the god of war. (taoist and some buddhism) I haven’t found any epic like it since. Like all asian novels, subtly counts for a lot. Try to get a reputable translation if you can.

    Ender’s Game was a very good book. Haven’t read that in a long time.

  21. Great list developing. Though technically not fiction, I would include Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a non-business book that has nice significance for business. Rather philosophical and not a lot of action so it may not be a good read for those who are easily bored by fiction… unless your issue is insomnia.

  22. Almost forgot! Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (her philosophy is very controversial but you don’t have to agree 100% with it to enjoy the book). Imho, this one is better than Atlas Shrugged but maybe it’s only because I read it first.

  23. Great list, all of them wonderful works of fiction which can be indeed recommended to anyone.

    My personal favourites are The Foundation series by Asimov and the Hyperion Saga by Dan SImmons.

    Especially the latter which consists of four books I re-read every year or when I feel I need perspective again. The comment earlier about how sci-fi often refers to societal issues and developments is true and highly relevant in Hyperion (and especially the subsequent Endymion). If you have got a side interest in quantum mechanics/physics then you get a double scoop of your favourite icecream for free.

  24. The John Carter of Mars series, and Jules Verne- and you can look at Project Gutenburg for a bunch of old classics. I like Heinlen, too- but Aynn Rand never did much for me.

    For Westerns, I’ve always been partial to Louis L’Amour more than Zane Grey, especially the Sackett family series. And the book is always better than the movie, no matter what genre you talk about…….

  25. I haven’t read fiction in many years. Then I watched A Game of Thrones and tore through the entire five books of the “Song of Ice & Fire” series by George R.R. Martin in two months. Amazing, I couldn’t put it down.

    I think I’ll read Dune next!


  26. Thanks for the great list, the inspiration, and all the ones added by the comments. I have a number of novel favorites that invite the possible in those who read them. Several of them are not listed here. Stranger in a Strange Land is a classic. Here are my favorites:

    Illusions, Richard Bach

    Hypnotizing Maria, Richard Bach

    Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

    Old Path, White Clouds, Thich Nhat Hahn

    Siddartha, Herman Hesse

    Razor’s Edge, Somerset Maughm

    Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman

    Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins

    The Power Of One, Bryce Courtenay

    Golf in the Kingdom, Michael Murphy

    Thanks again for the inspiration,


  27. Anyone dismissive of fiction should consider the following Albert Einstein quote: “Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist, more than Gauss.” [Carl Friedrich Gauss was a German mathematician and scientist.]

  28. A huge list of only two books:

    The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon –

    A modern-day gritty detective story. Some of the most true to life and amazing characters I’ve ever read. Chabon’s prose is also phenomenal – head and shoulders above most modern writers I’ve come across.

    Takes place in an alternate history where a temporary settlement for Jewish refugees was started in Sitka, Alaska during WWII. Israel was destroyed in 1948. Now, in present-day Sitka, a Yiddish speaking city the size of Seattle, Detective Meyer Landsman gets sucked into a murder mystery involving the Jewish mob, gangsters, terrorists, and his ex-wife.

    It won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for best novel. It’s currently being adapted into a movie by the Coen brothers. Chabon also won the Pulitzer for “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” so you know he’s good. Not to mention, Tim, he’s friends with Jonathan Lethem. But my guess is you already know that.

    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke –

    19th Century Britain, around the time of the Napoleonic wars. It is assumed that magic existed at on time in England, but to perform magic now would be ungentlemanly and unpleasant. It starts being more historical fiction than fantasy, but builds to an ending that puts all other recent fantasy (and most fiction) to shame. Clarke is a meticulous writer – detailed and in-depth. Her mythology is simply amazing, not to mention the prose is written in a very Dickens/Austen style.

    Imagine a Victor Hugo novel with magic in it. A side note – the magic is a thematically used piece of the story, not a masturbatory excuse for the writer to go “look what I can do!” like a lot of modern hack fantasy.

    It won Time’s best novel of the year, along with the Hugo, World Fantasy, and Locus best novel of the year. Not to mention, Neil Gaiman said it’s the finest English novel of the fantastic in the past seventy years. I heartily agree.

  29. For me it was exactly the reverse : I read almost only fictions until, like, I was 26, even after creating my first company at 19. I was so proud of being a “self-educated entrepreneur” that I thought I didn’t need books to learn. Fool of me.

    The 4 hour workweek is actually the book that opened my eye about non-fiction book : it totally revolutionized my view of entrepreneurship and I said “If this one book can totally change the way I do something since 7 years, perhaps there are another books that can have this impact too”. And then I discovered the Personal MBA and others awesome books, and created a French blog about “great books that can change your life” that is now quite popular and help people to drop TV and read more, and all of that would not have happen if you didn’t write the 4 hour workweek. Thanks for that Tim ! 🙂

    Still I love to read fiction, so thanks for this great selection !

  30. I was going to re-read 4HWW, but now I think I’ll pick up some samurai. I love anything with ninjas or samurais. Hell yeah!

  31. Great list.

    About half are things that I’ve come to love in the last few years; the other half I need to check out. Interesting that we’re on the same wave-length on this stuff. Very cool.

  32. “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry – fantastic story of a cattle drive and some true heroes of the old west. The book “True Grit” by Charles Portis is a great short western as well – very funny.

    “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving is fantastic, I’m not sure if I prefer that or “World According to Garp”.

    “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo – I think it is better than the movies.

    Some classics – “The Grapes of Wrath” by Steinbeck, and “Great Expectations” by Dickens.

    “Lords of Discipline” and “The Great Santini” by Pat Conroy – books that are better than the movies.

    1. What a great list! I’d second every one of these except maybe the Godfather, which I very much liked but didn’t truly love.

      And I’d also second Tim’s suggestion of Musashi. Absolutely fantastic.

    1. I’m sorry to be a snob, but Hunger Games is a cheap knock off of “Battle Royale” 1999 Japanese novel written by Koushun Takami. it was turned into the a movie in 2000 and into a japanese manga in 2002.

      Somebody has to stand up sometime to stop western authors from ripping off asian material yet again.

  33. Tim

    To keep you Spanish fresh let me suggest

    La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind) – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

    set in 1920’s Barcelona – a page turner indeed.

    How about a classic…

    One flew East

    One flew West


  34. I think fiction is a great medium for learning history. Well-written historical fiction can give you a sense of things in a way that non-fiction cannot. Here’s a few I really enjoyed:

    – The Source: James Michener

    – the Aubrey/Matarin novels: Patrick O’Brian

    – Roots: Alex Haley

    – The Good Earth: Pearl S. Buck

    – Shogun: James Clavell

    – Thirteen Moons: Charles Frazier

    – My Antonia: Willa Cather

    – Pillars of the Earth: Ken Follett

    – The House of the Spirits: Isabel Allende

    Guilty pleasure: Flashman series, and also enjoyed the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell.

    1. Flashman stories are a lot of fun to read – what a great concept to put a dirtbag like Flashman in a bunch of different historical settings!

  35. Hey Tim,

    I didn’t know any other way to contact you, so I’m posting a comment on your blog. (BTW, I’m completely opposite from you — I’ve read nothing BUT fiction for the last 20 years, and am now finally perusing the business section. Check out Iain Banks’ The Player of Games.)

    I saw this on BBC news and thought you’d enjoy (if you haven’t seen this already):

    “Can three minutes of exercise a week help make you fit?”

  36. Life of Pi. Amazing and unlikely story that takes you onto the lifeboat where Pi trains the tiger not to eat him. Moving and powerful from start to finish.

    And any of the short-listed Man Booker Prize nominees of any year will generally be well worth the effort.

  37. My fiance introduced me to Eric van Lustbader, stories on ninjas, HK triads, samurais… themes of justice, adventure, out of the universe forces

    I introduced him to Adam William’s stories set in China from ages ago. intricately woven plots between generations. a bit of history learning from stories

    and to be honest, sometimes, chick lit is a good read, hearty, amusing, light, very descriptive for those who want to work on their creativity 🙂

    Noch Noch

  38. Neuromancer – William Gibson

    Written in 1984, and the first winner of the science-fiction “triple crown” — the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award.

    The story of a washed-up computer hacker Case, in the dystopian underworld of Chiba City, Japan, hired by a mysterious employer and guarded by a sexy razor girl with attitude to pull off the ultimate hack.

    This book reads as oddly prophetic of things to come, even coining the term ‘Cyberspace’

    I highly recommend this book. 🙂

  39. I first read Musashi in German when I was 13. Since then, I have reread the book 3 more times in English at various points in my life. I always knew that the book has shaped my thinking, but now at 34, I look back an realize just to what an extent it has done so.

    Tipp: Reread the book in five years and you will get somthing different out of it!

    Good recommendation!

  40. Why hasn’t anyone recommended House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski?!! It is an incredible book about a house that is larger on the inside than on the outside. It’s absolutely horrifying. I haven’t geeked out on a book like I did with this one in a long, long time.

    Other favorites would include:

    1984 by George Orwell (my all time favorite, the audio book version read by Frank Mueller is amazing)

    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead is also great)

    The Road by Cormac McCarthy (all his books are great)

    Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (hilarious)

    Lord of the Flies by William Golding (The movie ‘The Beach’ with leo DiCaprio was loosly based on this book)

    On the Beach by Nevil Shute (about nuclear fallout, terribly sad)

    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (rounding out the dystopian society trend)

    Animal Farm by George Orwell (satire of the Russian Revolution)

    1. Mark Z Danielewski’s sister “POE” released an album ‘Haunted’ which is loosely based on or inspired by “House of Leaves”.

  41. Excellent list Tim. I would also put Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett on there. A hilarious story of the apocalypse.

    I am a serious fiction addict and I am wondering if you have the other version of that, that is non-fiction for a fiction addict?

  42. Amazing list, thank you Tim.

    Recently I have been devouring countless manga series filled with dark humor, zen teachings and naked cyborg martial artists. Great for summoning my melatonin levels!

    Since I am from Quebec, I will suggest “Le petit prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery if you haven’t already read it. It’s a kids tale that is designed to be read by adults. Many lessons.

  43. I apologize if this question is off topic. I tried posting in the forum but was getting errors:

    Does anyone have any recommendations for a “4-Hour Dog Training” type book or program? Our dogs could use a refresher course in a few areas, and thanks to Tim I’m always looking for the most efficient way possible that gets the desired result. Dog training traditionally involves a lot of time and repetition, so I’m wondering if anyone has found a better way.

  44. I still don’t read much fiction, but I am glad to see that you included Dune. It is, without a doubt, the best Fiction book I’ve ever read. It’s absolutely brilliant, entertaining and insightful! I’d recommend it as well!

  45. The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Absolute classics that have changed my life. The first about pushing life’s boundaries, the second and last about hope and perseverance when the odds are against you.

  46. If you like Stranger in a strange land then you will love Methuselah’s Children (also by Heinlein). It introduces the Lazarus Long character who is developed further in the Heinlein book “Time Enough For Love”. Deals with immortality, love, space travel, civilization, human nature and many other topics.

  47. My favs are:

    1) The Alchemist

    2) The Art of Racing in the Rain

    3) I should really start reading more if I can only name 2 🙁

  48. I go totally gonzo when I need to unwind. The melodic beauty of Hunter S. Thompson’s words make my mind tranquil. Yea, I know, its journalism i.e. non-fiction, but Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is an adventure like no other!

  49. My personal favorite fictions books…

    1) To Kill A Mockingbird

    2) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

    And a shout out and RIP to Jane Berenstein who got me to love to read fiction as a little kid by reading just about every one of her and her husband’s 300 Berenstein Bears children books! She passed away at 88 this week.

  50. 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

    Also love The Drawing of the The in the Dark Tower Stores by Stephen King.

    I see a lot of recommendations for Atlas Shrugged. While it’s not awful, and the plot is pretty cool, the characters are awful. No one talks our acts like that.

  51. I plan to come out of opening night of the movie tomorrow dripping with condescention and say …”The book was better.” The Lorax!!! Still awesome.

    I book that grabbed me was August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Of course that sent me down road of reading numerous WWI non-fictions. In that group Guns of August was the page turner.

  52. Great choices! Considering I write fiction, I kind of have a love affair with it already…I would add to ‘Ender’s Shadow’ to ‘Ender’s Game’: Bean is awesome. Anything by Ray Bradbury is great and deliciously creepy. And while I did like ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ and ‘Have Spacesuit, Will Travel’ are my favorite Heinlein books. Can you tell I read a lot of scifi?

    If you’re trying to break a non-fiction habit, don’t forget the classics. Though many of them are BOR-ing (Frankenstein? Seven Gables? Blech), knowing the classic plots can really open up modern fiction.

  53. I can just see the last commentator recommended “1984” by George Orwell. I felt to leave a comment just to recommend this book.

    You can replace thousands of pages of politics, sociology books only by this one.

    On top of that, George Orwell is an extra-ordinary writer. Not a single word is extra, and see how well he uses words.

    How about The Stranger by Albert Camus. This is another great book.

    Tim, would you make a longer list? Or genre specific lists?

  54. Read Ayn Rand only if you are apolitical. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they read Ulysses, they didn’t. Only read Pynchon if you are medicated. To those who haven’t read much fiction, start below then move on to Marquez, Kundera, Rushdie and Roberto Bolano.

    – Lonesome Dove – You won’t believe how this ol west cowboy novel will poke you. Start here.

    – Count of Monte Cristo – Read this as a teen, wanted to live like the hero in this one immediately

    – David Copperfield – Life is a series of chapters, some good, some bad, some wonderful and some terrible. It’s how you act through each of them that defines who you are

    – The Stand – Good versus evil. Good is in Boulder; Bad is in Vegas. They fight.

    – Catch-22 – I never laughed so hard while thinking so much in my life

    – Lolita – The poetry of the verse will rip your heart out

    – On the Road – We all need a bit more Sal Paradise in us

    – Angle of Repose – Let Lyman Ward show you how to live then forgive.

  55. Great suggestions. I’ll second the vote for The Count of Monte Cristo in this list, and here’s why:

    – It’s very long but never boring; the book is mostly dialogue and it’s all extremely well written and engaging.

    – The massive story arc makes the eventual revenge all the more satisfying.

    – Some of the themes will definitely appeal to 4HWW readers (world travel, language learning, the value of broad knowledge/skills) and serve as a reminder that while these things required a massive fortune in the 1840’s, they’re far more easily attainable in the present day.

    – It’s in the public domain, so you can read it for free on a Kindle/iPad.

  56. Great compilation. Ender’s Game is definitely a must read. If I had to add just one more book it would Les Miserables. Yes, everyone knows the music and basic story but the book is so much better. There are several excellent abridgments at about 300 pages so you don’t have to dive into the original. If you haven’t read this one this is one to add to your reading list.

  57. Great collection of fiction books. I am much like you were when it came to fiction titles however I may have to pick one of these books and take a chance. Perhaps Musashi?

  58. I loved Ender’s Game and Dune when I read them in high school. Whenever I read good fiction (and good writing in general), I feel like I take on the traits I admire in the protagonist and other characters — I’d approach situations thinking, “What would Ender do?”

    Any tips for reading through all of your fiction recommendations (and other Top 10 / Greatest Books of All Time lists) efficiently? I used to get a lot of reading done while waiting for the subway, just a few pages at a time (but I no longer live in a public transport-friendly city).

  59. Some pretty good books on this comments above. I’m a big non-fiction and fiction lover so I’d like to add (in no particular order):

    1. (Author) James Clavell’s Asian Saga series – Shogun, Tai Pan, … Noble House, Whirlwind … Absolutely brilliant books. After each of these I couldn’t read another fiction book for a good while because I didn’t want the characters to dissolve from my mind.

    2. (Author) Con Iggulden’s historical fiction books. He has a series about the life of Julius Caesar and another about Gengis Khan. Really manages to bring to life these historical characters.

  60. Love the list. Interesting and well founded point about Dune and Ender’s Game as leadership books. Will check out the ones I haven’t read.

    One I can not recommend highly enough is “Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey (author of the better known and also superb “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”). Widely considered one of the great American novels of the 20th century. I’ve never read anyone who gets inside his characters’ heads like Kesey.

  61. I would also add:

    I, Claudius

    Claudius The God

    … by Robert Graves.

    Outstanding historical fiction. Also in the historical fiction category, I would list anything by Sharon Kay Penman, in particular ‘Lionheart’.

  62. Damn! Great list. I am addicted to non-fiction but a sucker for sci-fi! Next up? Enders Game.

    Thank you for this list, Tim. Refreshing!

  63. Tim, you have to read ‘Perfume – The Story of Murder’ by Patrick Suskind…you will read it within a week.

    18th century France, a man born with no smell of his own, but he himself has an extraordinary sense of smell…

    “A fable of crimial genius…. Remarkable.” —The New York Times

    “Mesmerizing from first page to last…. A highly sophisticated horror tale.” —The Plain Dealer

    “A supremely accomplished work of art, marvelously crafted and enjoyable and rich in historical detail.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

    “An original and astonishing novel.” —People

    “An ingenious story…about a most exotic monster…. Suspense build up steadily.” —Los Angeles Times

    “Immensely seductive…. Storytelling at its best.” —The Kansas City Star

  64. I learned to love reading fiction before I learned to love reading business, self-improvement, and similar kinds of works. For Tim, fiction is a good way to wind down after a long day. For me, and for many others, I suspect, reading fiction is a way to really let your mind go and use your imagination. With fiction, it’s not scary to open yourself to new possibilities and new identities for yourself. (Hey, it’s not really happening, right?) Fiction provides a safe framework in which the reader can allow his or her “dreams” to flow freely, and to think about things that “could be.” This is important in a world where many people are afraid to let themselves ponder their true desires too much, lest they become utterly dissatisfied with their lives. As as Tim points out, clearly envisioning one’s dreams is the first step to attaining them.

  65. Great post! I started reading trashy stuff last year like Bukowksi and James Patterson, but stopped because I didn’t want my head filled with junk.

    Just bought several of these (happy to support you work through your links)—much appreciated!

  66. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. A story of redemption, freedom and make choices, even at risk of personal danger. Also a fantastic commentary on the French Revolution and people of that setting.

  67. No book is familiar to me. C: Am I such an uninformed person? Well, I should check the books one by one and I think they are all engaging and interesting (I strongly believe in the recommendations of Tim Ferriss). I will start with Zorba the Greek. But I will search first if those books are available in our local bookstore that has very limited shelves. C:

  68. I’d have to put *Shogun* on that list, greatest book ever. Tim, I’m surprised with your love of strategy and that you are a self described japanophile that it didn’t make your list…..

    Also, *City of Thieves*, read it in a day, you’ll thank me.

  69. Great Post Tim, i’m reading motherless brooklyn right now on my kindle and its awesome!

    Reading non fiction books really does ‘calm your brain’ i found at times when i was working really hard its tempting to read more self help/business related books thinking its going to help me build my business. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and changing it up to a fiction book really helps you relax so when you start to work again, you’ll hit it harder!

  70. Tim,

    What about Mr. Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brand New World’?

    That book cracked my head open in a major way.

    You hit the nail on the head with Musashi, one of my all time faves.

    Domo domo!

  71. I do not know if I would say it would convert anyone, but some wisp of me stays ever in the folds of “Their Eyes Were Watching God”.

  72. Consider Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy. This coment from a reader in Amazon sumarizes the

    Plot: Metropole” is a story of confusion written with absolute clarity. In brief the narrative tells of the Hungarian linguist Budai’s unaccountable stranding in a strange city (he slept on the plane that brought him to his destination, and paid no attention on the bus ride to the center of the city, imagining that he was on course on the way to a professional conference in Helsinki; he soon gets a very rude awakening).


  73. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino.

    I’m a huge nonfiction fan, but this is my favorite book of all time.

  74. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. I initially grabbed this because I have a fascination with gargoyles. Turns out it is a great book (not too many gargoyles) with many different stories within the main story. It starts out a little gruesome but it is also a great adventure, the Ultimate love story and a story of redemption. Great read.

  75. Hitchhikers Guide is classic! My pick of non-fiction books would have to be Fight Club, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

    I’d have to say I prefer non-fiction and books that will improve my life or my businesses.

    If I’m not reading about business, I’ve usually got my head stuck into travel books trying to decide where I should head to next!

  76. I just wanted to second some of the earlier recommendations.

    Ender’s Shadow – I think it’s actually better than Ender’s Game.

    Catch 22 – Easily the funniest book I’ve ever read.

    Neuromancer – worth reading for the imagery alone.

    A Brave New World – A chillingly familiar story about how easily societies can be anesthetised into compliance.

  77. How about the Robin Sharma Ferrari books they are great.

    Also thanks for voting my old school chum Nick Hornby onto the list. We used to cycle home together sometimes, seems strange to think he is famous now LOL!!!

  78. As I’m reading most of these comments it seems that reading fiction is just wasting of time and only self-improvement books are worth of time.

    Don’t you feel boring yourself?. I read thousands of fiction books since my childhood and I see huge impact to my mind, fantasy, way of thinking. It’s not only way how to spend free time (Most of you are watching low-quality fiction in TV but refuse to read high-quality fiction on paper) fiction can learn you more than non-fiction.

    Non-fiction can describe just situation that already happened. Fiction can describe people in very strange situations. You need to think together with the hero what to do next.

    Sociology tries to study how people will behave in non-standard situations. Why? Writers done it already. They describe billions of non-standard situations and all possible human reactions.

    Read them, think about them, learn them and improve yourself. May be better than by non-fiction books.

  79. My one book? Catch-22. This book points out the ridiculous idea of war by being, well…ridiculous. Completely nonsensical discussions between the characters of this one will keep you coming back for more. After reading it once, you can go back and open any chapter and be completely engulfed in it again. Wonderful classic.

  80. The best book I have read in the last 10 years without a doubt is “Shantaram” by David Gregory Roberts. Enough said.

  81. Ahh you keep mentioning Zorba the Greek, I’m curious now, I’ll have to pick it up.

    Recent book that Ive read and would recommend is ” A NEW Kind of Trailer Trash” By Brad Blanton, Great autobiography and a giant slap in the face in the end, Moralism, lol.


  82. anything by Haruki Murakami, except the short stories.


    only the short stories by Yukio Mishima


    Pattern Recognition by William Gibson


    Mary and the Giant by Philip K Dick


    The Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

  83. second “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. definitely better than Garp. also, The Fourth Hand, and A Widow For One Yea, both by John Irving, are quite beautiful. he got richer and deeper as he got older.

    Tom Robbins,” Another Roadside Attraction”. even though i last read it years ago, i still remember the haiku about the swallows. still blown away.