21 Books That Change the Way You Think

Updated January 6, 2023

Reading the right book at the right time can transform who you are and what you do with your life. That's why we've compiled a list of 21 books that change the way you think to help you on your path to the good life.

This isn’t a list of books for learning about Stoicism (you can find our list of Stoic books here) but rather a list of books that can change the way you think and are in line with Stoic thought. Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without some of the greatest Stoic texts, but you’ll also find we’ve included some books that might surprise you.

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

When you start reading Meditations, you’ll likely find line after line strikes a cord. A truly wise man, Marcus Aurelius was the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome.

What’s so amazing about this book is that it wasn’t written to be published. Instead, you get to jump into the private thoughts of the most powerful man in the world as he gives advice to himself about how to be a good man and leader.

marcus aurelius image and quote about our thougths that will change the way you think

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

– Marcus Aurelius

If you’re looking for a Stoic text that will likely blow your mind over and over again in both its profundity and beauty, this is a good place to start. There are countless lessons to learn from Meditations, including his heady notion that the universe is change, your problems are created in your mind, and that life is short, so we should focus on the present.

Here is a sample of the best quotes from Meditations:

“We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do… Sanity means tying it to your own actions.”

– Marcus Aurelius

2. The Discourses by Epictetus

Another Stoic book that has the power to change the way you think is Epictetus’ Discourses. In this text, you’ll find a lot of no-nonsense and useful advice about how Stoicism can be practically applied to your life.

epictetus image and quote about other people that will change the way you think

“Remember that if you consort with someone covered in dirt you can hardly avoid getting a little grimy yourself.”

– Epictetus

Epictetus teaches, among many other things, that the people we are around have an impact on who we are. Other valuable takeaways from the book include that education is completely meaningless if we don’t apply it to our lives, that you have to protect your progress toward a life of virtue and dignity at all costs, and, perhaps most notably, that you have to learn how to distinguish between what you can and can’t control.

This last point might be the one that has the most impact on how you think.

Once you learn what is and isn’t in your control, you can shift your focus toward only what you can control. This can be seriously revolutionary.

Of course, you aren’t going to wake up tomorrow living a good and virtuous life if you haven’t already been walking the path for quite some time. Epictetus will also teach you that it’s going to take some time to get where you’re trying to go, and patience is essential.

Here are some of the best quotes from Discourses:

epictetus image and quote about patience maturity and heroism that will change the way you think

“No bull reaches maturity in an instant, nor do men become heroes overnight.”

– Epictetus

“I must die. But must I die bawling? I must be put in chains – but moaning and groaning too? I must be exiled; but is there anything to keep me from going with a smile, calm and self-composed?”

– Epictetus

“When someone is properly grounded in life, they shouldn’t have to look outside themselves for approval.”

– Epictetus

“We should discipline ourselves in small things, and from there progress to things of greater value.”

– Epictetus

“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control.”

– Epictetus

3. Letters From a Stoic by Seneca

The wisdom of Seneca will reach across thousands of years and make you feel like he’s sitting right with you and offering brilliant thought after brilliant thought. A collection of letters that Seneca presumably sent to his friend Lucilius advising him on how he could become a better Stoic, and inside, you’ll find a number of key lessons about Stoicism.

seneca image and quote about being a different person that will change the way you think

“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.” 

– Seneca the Younger

Letters From a Stoic will teach you about the necessity of developing our inner selves and how to develop meaningful friendships. At the same time, he’ll tell you about the importance of being content with “enough.”

One of the Stoic virtues is moderation, and Seneca goes into detail about how we can navigate a world where we are tempted by excess.

Here are a handful of quotes from Letters from a Stoic to give you a sense of the type of life-changing advice you can find in this text:

seneca image and quote about being wiser by being in harmony with nature

“If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor; if you live according to what others think, you will never be rich.” 

– Seneca the Younger

“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.”

– Seneca the Younger

“You want to live-but do you know how to live? You are scared of dying-and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different from being dead?”

– Seneca the Younger

“Enjoy present pleasures in such a way as not to injure future ones.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Of this one thing make sure against your dying day - that your faults die before you do.”

– Seneca the Younger

4. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Not all of the words and thoughts of Henry David Thoreau in Walden would classify as Stoic, but the philosophy stated is truly beautiful and inspiring and glistens with some prominent Stoic ideas.

“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Walden was written in the cabin Thoreau built for himself near Walden Pond on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s land near Concord, Massachusetts. As he makes observations of the natural world he lives in and his desire to live simply and walk his own path, it’s hard for it not to echo in your mind for weeks, months, or even years.

Let's take a look at some of the types of thoughts you'll encounter when you crack open Walden:

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

– Henry David Thoreau

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

– Henry David Thoreau

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

– Henry David Thoreau

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

– Henry David Thoreau

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

– Henry David Thoreau

5. The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

One of the most vocal modern proponents of Stoicism, Tim Ferris’ first published work, The 4-Hour Work Week, can radically transform the way you think.

Even if you aren’t interested in recreating the premise he proposes– doing all of your work in just four hours a week– it’s hard not to be impacted by the overarching concept of lifestyle design.

Here are just a few of the tidbits of wisdom you'll find in this book:

“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

– Tim Ferriss

“People will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.”

– Tim Ferriss

“Focus on being productive instead of busy.”

– Tim Ferriss

“A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

– Tim Ferriss

“Most people are fast to stop you before you get started but hesitate to get in the way if you're moving.”

– Tim Ferriss

6. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The Stoics talk at great length about the importance of living in the moment rather than being caught up in the past or the future.

The premise behind Csikszentmihalyi’s book– that “it is not what happens to us that determines our happiness, but the manner in which we make sense of that reality” (as explained by the Los Angeles Times Books Review) is a very Stoic thought indeed. This now classic book will transform the way you think about work, peak performance, creativity, meaning, and true happiness in a way that won’t just change your mind– it could change your life.

“Control of consciousness determines the quality of life.”

– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act.”

– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

“A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.”

– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

7. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

This book offers a unique look into the nature of power. While many of the ideas in this book might seem to contradict some of the virtues of Stoicism, there is a lot of wisdom to glean about the ideas that have driven powerful people throughout human history.

“When you show yourself to the world and display your talents, you naturally stir all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity... you cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others.”

– Robert Greene

“Do not leave your reputation to chance or gossip; it is your life's artwork, and you must craft it, hone it, and display it with the care of an artist.”

– Robert Greene

8. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday

In this selection of Stoic meditations from the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca the Younger, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, Zeno of Citium, and others, you’ll be able to glean important lessons about life management, personal growth, and practicing mindfulness.

Anyone interested in self-improvement and Stoicism will want to check out this book if they haven’t already. Offering a quote a day with a brief snippet of writing from Holiday is an excellent way to either begin or expand your exploration of Stoicism.

One of the things that is so great about this book is the way it is organized into a meditation a day. This means that you can read just a little bit every morning (we can all find time for that, can’t we?) and have a profound quote to think about as you go through the day.

You will, of course, find many quotes from the great Stoics in Holiday's books. Here's a sample of some of the ideas Holiday discusses in this book of meditations:

"Instead of wasting even a second considering the opinions of future people—people who are not even born yet—focus every bit of yourself on being the best person you can be in the present moment. On doing the right thing, right now. The distant future is irrelevant. Be good and noble and impressive now—while it still matters."

– Ryan Holiday

"...It is you who must find the answer in your actions, in living the good life--by embodying the self-evidence principles of justice, self-control, courage, freedom, and abstaining from evil."

– Ryan Holiday

9. The Autobiography of Ben Franklin

If you want to hear what it was like to lead a truly fascinating life of a man who actively sought to live virtuously? Look no further than The Autobiography of Ben Franklin, a man who uttered and wrote many quotable quotes that could certainly be described as Stoic.

Though it might not sound like a game-changer to the modern ear, give this one a try. There is a lot to learn from this Founding Father. This is a particularly good choice if you’ve been working to be more consistently virtuous in your actions, as you can hear straight from the horse’s mouth about he kept a list he kept in a notebook when he lied, was lazy, or otherwise committed a vice.

Here are a few quotes from Franklin's autobiography:

“Never confuse Motion with Action.”

– Ben Franklin

"Only virtuous people are capable of freedom."

– Ben Franklin

“It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.”

– Ben Franklin

“Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don't have brains enough to be honest.”

– Ben Franklin

“There are no gains without pains.”

– Ben Franklin

10. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

As Aristotle famously said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” If you want to improve yourself by changing the way you think, this is a book you won’t want to miss.

We all know that we should have good habits and drop our bad habits, but that’s easier said than done.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about how we can succeed by changing our daily habits. If you want to create and experience a meaningful life, building habits is a key step that will help you get where you’re trying to go.

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”

– Charles Duhigg

“Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”

– Charles Duhigg

“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

– Charles Duhigg

11. Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

This is a fun book that lets you peek into the lives of more than 150 notable people throughout history. You’ll learn how they spent their time and what their daily habits consisted of in a way that is sure to influence the way you design your own schedule.

"A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.”

– W. H. Audin, via Daily Rituals

“It is a danger to wait around for an idea to occur to you.  You have to find the idea.”

– Gerhard Richter, via Daliy Rituals

12. River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

When Theodore Roosevelt went on his deadly excursion deep in South America in 1912, he brought Epictetus’ Encheiridion and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations along for the ride.

This book is about a wild and dangerous adventure that illustrates the Stoic ideas of overcoming hardships as a path toward growth while also being simply thrilling. Theodore Roosevelt had a fascinating and inspiring life, and this book details just one of his incredible endeavors.

This book will change the way you think for a number of reasons– it will transport you back to a time when there were still unchartered territories to explore and inspire you to imagine what it means to live an adventurous and meaningful life.

“Roosevelt wrote, “Tell Osborn I have already lived and enjoyed as much of life as any nine other men I know; I have had my full share, and if it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so.”

– Candice Millard

13. Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered by come to be a Stoic philosopher from our modern age. In Self-Reliance, you’ll learn from one of the greatest American thinkers why it’s so essential to rely on yourself and think for yourself. It’s terrifyingly easy these days to just float along with the way the majority of people are thinking, but this is no way to live.

This falls in line with the idea posited by Marcus Aurelius about the primary object in life:

“The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” 

– Marcus Aurelius

Here are some great quotes from Self-Reliance:

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

14. The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant

Marcus Tullius Cicero said that “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

It’s easy in our modern age to get swept away in the idea that we are separated from the cycles of history, but this simply isn’t the case. In this older but arguably timeless book, you’ll be able to read a series of essays that explore what humanity is capable of (for better or for worse) as evidenced by the patterns that emerged from history.

If you enjoy this one, be sure to check out The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. This is an excellent deep-dive into the lives and ideas of the greatest philosophers of history that will certainly leave you feeling forever changed.

“History reports that the men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things, and the men who can manage money manage all.”

– Will Durant

“The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding.”

– Ariel Durant

15. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

This book might not be for everyone, and individuals interested in Stoicism might find this a bit too “New-Agey” for their taste. If you’ve been struggling to overcome anxiety and actually live in the present moment, though, give The Power of Now a chance. It just might change the way you think forever for the better.

It is estimated that three million copies of this book have been sold in North America alone, and it’s been translated into 33 languages since it was first published in the late 1990s.

In this book, Tolle draws from a wide variety of spiritual traditions to get his core message across that the emotional problems that people deal with stem from their identification with their minds. Instead of getting lost in anxiety and worrying about the past or future, Tolle argues that you should focus your energy on the present moment.

“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly - you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you.”

– Eckhart Tolle

“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”

– Eckhart Tolle

16. The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

This Chinese classic text dates all the way back to around 400 BC. As you read this book, you’ll start to notice that many of the thoughts inside have a lot in common with what the Stoic philosophers were talking about when it comes to how to live a good life.

There are a number of ideas that overlap in Taoism and Stoicism, for example:

  • The importance of focusing on our own actions rather than attaching ourselves to specific outcomes
  • The idea that fear is created in the mind and not by external events
  • An understanding that fate works in mysterious ways and we are limited in our ability to understand things as good or bad
  • The importance of patience
  • The reality that hardship is how you grow, become stronger and improve yourself
  • The importance of virtue

“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

– Lao Tzu

“The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”

– Lao Tzu

“A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.”

– Lao Tzu

17. Maxims and Reflections by Goethe

In this book of aphorisms by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, you’ll find quotes that reflect Goethe’s life philosophy– one which is quite Stoic at times. You’ll find discussions on life, philosophy, creativity, writing, love, and so much more.

“We look back on our life as a thing of broken pieces, because our mistakes and failures are always the first to strike us, and outweigh in our imagination what we have accomplished and attained.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Fools and wise-folk are alike harmless. It is the half-wise, and the half-foolish, who are the most dangerous.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

18. Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war novel, but it’s a lot more than that. Perhaps I am a bit biased because this book really shook up my world when I first encountered it as a young teenager, but there are many others that have called this a truly mind-bending and life-changing book.

Though it was certainly said with a tinge of dark humor and irony, the classic phrase “so it goes” is quite Stoic in its intent and meaning. There is a sense that there are a lot of external events that occur that are outside of your control– some hilarious, some beautiful, some brutal, some tragic– so we must learn to accept them.

“Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

19. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Perhaps this seems like a strange book to have on a list of books that change the way you think. The truth is, though, that there are a lot of things that we take for granted in the modern world. If we’ve learned anything from the Stoics, it’s that it’s important to appreciate what we have rather than desiring the things we don’t.

What’s one of the things we have now that wasn’t always a certainty in the past?

Easy access to salt.

It’s amazing how this staple food we think so little about could have such a tremendous story throughout history. The reality is, though, that salt has been a major part of the human story in a way that has significantly shaped civilization.

This book is about so much more than salt– it’s about history, politics, war, empire, chemistry, revolution, and the story of humankind. It's also guaranteed to change the way you think.

20. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

This 1922 novel by Hermann Hesse is quick to read but not nearly as quick to leave your mind. The story of a man's spiritual journey of self-discovery is simple and beautiful. If you're like many people that list this among their favorite books of all time, it will stick with you for years even if you never pick it up again.

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else ... Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

– Hermann Hesse

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”

– Hermann Hesse

21. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

We finish off our list with a short and sweet story about a seagull. It might sound silly, but give it a try. Hidden inside are eternal truths about the strength of the individual and going your own way that might be exactly what you need.

“You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.”

– Richard Bach

“The only true law is one which leads to freedom. There is no other.”

– Richard Bach

Still on a quest to expand your mind? Be sure to check out our Stoic quotes blog.

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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