Category: Books

Not sure what to get the book worm on your list? Start here

From the library of Farnam Street

All of the 2014 reading lists together in one shareable place. Start here if you’re still searching for the perfect gift for the book lover on your list. (The curious can compare with the 2013 edition.)

Financial Times: Best Books of 2014

The Financial Times published their list of the best books in 2014. If you have a bibliophile on your list, this is the place to start.







Architecture & Design

Literary Non-Fiction







Science Fiction

Children’s Fiction

Young Adult Fiction


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The Best Nonfiction Books of 2014

Tyler Cowen is consistently one of my favorite sources of reading material. There hasn’t been a year where I don’t find something new from his recommendations and this year is no exception.

He’s out with his 2014 list of the best nonfiction books. If he had to pick three favorites out of this list he would choose Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, On the Run: Fugutive Life in an American City, and Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition. (Also revisit his selections from 2013, and 2012.)

I ended up picking up copies of Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, Stalin, vol. 1Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph and Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing.

The Surprising Books That Billionaires, Chess Prodigies, Performance Coaches, and Bestselling Authors Recommend


One question Tim Ferriss, the author of The Four Hour Workweek, asks people on his podcast is “What book have you gifted most often to others, and why?”

This is one of my favorite parts of the show.

Below are some of the answers from people like Tony Robbins that might catch your attention. Thanks to this list, I just got a lot of my Christmas shopping done.

Before we get to that though, let’s recap the books that Tim has recommended.

Ok, now it is time for Tim’s podcasts guests to take over. Here are some of the ones that caught my eye. While I’ve read a lot of these, there were some very interesting new finds. I ended up ordering several books.

Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of WIRED magazine, recommends:

Tony Robbins, performance coach to Bill Clinton, Serena Williams, Paul Tudor Jones, Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah Winfrey, and a bunch of other people you’ve heard of, recommends:

Neil Strauss has written 7 New York Times bestsellers, including The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. He offers:

Ryan Holiday is an author and the media strategist behind authors Tucker Max and Robert Greene. Ryan mentioned Farnam Street in his podcast with Tim and might be the only person I know who consistently reads more than I do. He recommends:

Ramit Sethi is a personal finance advisor and entrepreneur. Sethi is the author of the 2009 book on personal finance, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, a New York Times Bestseller. He recommends:

Not enough? See what Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Bill Gates recommend.


The book I give away most often is Peter Bevelin’s Seeking Wisdom and Robin Dreeke’s It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone.

Books for Schools That Need Them

This might surprise you but I was never a big reader as a kid. In fact, I wouldn’t be caught dead with a book. This lasted all the way to university.

While never lazy, I was ignorant to the infinite possibility that books opened up. Once I realized what I’d been missing I made a point to never make money an issue when it came to reading (time to read on the other hand is harder to come by.)

When I got a job, I offered to buy my brothers as many books as they wanted as long as they read them.

Well my brothers are all grown up now. They can afford their own books but not everyone is that fortunate.

Last year on twitter, I asked a simple question.

I wanted to know if there were any parents out there struggling to buy a book for their kids for Christmas. If so, I’d take care of the first 20.

I wasn’t sending 20 random books or trying to get rid of anything. Rather, I wanted to know what book the kids wanted — that’s the book I’d send them. Who wants to read a book they don’t want?

Once people realized I was serious, things got a bit out of control for the rest of the night. Generous Farnam Street readers, like you, chipped in offering to take the next ten or the next twenty.

All in we purchased over 170 books. I lost count at that point but I’m pretty sure we were north of 200 when it stopped. Together we did an awesome thing.

Just thinking about it makes my eyes water a little.

In addition to hearing from parents, I heard from teachers who couldn’t afford to buy books for their classrooms.

This year I want to do it again but I need your help — I want to make it easier to participate and easier for me to organize.

Here is what I need from you….
If you know of any teachers or schools struggling with budget cuts to buy the books the kids want and need to learn from, tell them to email me their Amazon wishlist today. Any that I can easily verify, will get posted below. I’ll update this page a few times today.

If you want to buy a book for a school that needs one, that’s awesome. Simply, click on a link, purchase a book, and it will go right to one of the schools that need them. I’d only ask that you send me an email with your Amazon order number and the number of books you purchased so I can keep a final tally. The first 30 are on me.

And, hey, Thanks.

(update: We’re over 300 books given away this year. I’ve been removing wishlists that were entirely fulfilled by generous Farnam Streeters.)


United States

Luke Neff’s class in Newberg, OR

Global Village Project 2014-2015 Wish List, “an absolutely amazing place for girls that either have never been to school or have had interrupted education in refugee camps before arriving in the U.S.”

Libri Foundation (The Libri Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that has donated over $6,200,000 worth of new, hardcover children’s books to more than 3,000 rural public libraries in the United States. )


Red Lake Madsen Public School Library in Red Lake, Ontario, Canada “This list contains requests from students or teachers and /or replacement copies of previously owned books.”

Midland Secondary School in Midland, Ontario, Canada

Elon Musk Recommends 12 Books that Changed his Life

The best thing about Elon Musk is that he makes us dream big again. Musk, of course, is the billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX.

Charlie Munger was asked a question about him at the 2014 Daily Journal Meeting and he replied:

I think Elon Musk is a genius, and I don’t use that word lightly. I think he’s also one of the boldest men that ever came down the pike.

Whenever anyone asks him how he learned to build rockets, he says, ‘I read books.’ Not only does he read them, according to his interview with Esquire, he devours them. After meeting Musk, people tend to walk away with the same reaction: ‘He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever met.’

Not to be outdone by his friend and co-founder, Peter Thiel, who offered some reading recommendations, Musk has a few of his own that influenced him.

In an interview with Design and Architecture, Musk said “In terms of sci-fi books, I think Isaac Asimov is really great. I like the Foundation series, probably one of the all-time best. Robert Heinlein, obviously. I like The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and I like Stranger in a Strange Land, although it kind of goes off the rails at the end.” He continues “There’s a good book on structural design called Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down. It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design.”

Here are some of his other reading recommendations.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. He told the New Yorker that as an “undersized and picked upon smart-aleck,” he turned to reading fantasy and science fiction. “The heroes of the books I read, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and the ‘Foundation’ series, always felt a duty to save the world.”

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. “He was an entrepreneur,” Musk says in an interview. “He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid.”

In that same interview, he also recommends Einstein: His Life and Universe, also by Isaacson.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel, I’ve already said this is required reading for Farnam Streeters. On this book, Musk says: “Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and (this book) shows how.”

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom. “Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” Musk tweeted. Of course I bought this.

Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele.  Recently, in an interview with CNN, he mentioned having just finished this book. Musk calls it a “cautionary tale.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Here is an excerpt from an interview where he explains why this was a key book for him:

Alison van Diggelen: I understand Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, that wonderful book by Douglas Adams, that was a key book for you. What was it about that book that fired your imagination?

Elon Musk: I guess when I was around 12 or 15 … I had an existential crisis, and I was reading various books on trying to figure out the meaning of life and what does it all mean? It all seemed quite meaningless and then we happened to have some books by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in the house, which you should not read at age 14 (laughter). It is bad, it’s really negative. So then I read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which is quite positive I think and it highlighted an important point which is that a lot of times the question is harder than the answer. And if you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part. So, to the degree that we can better understand the universe, then we can better know what questions to ask. Then whatever the question is that most approximates: what’s the meaning of life? That’s the question we can ultimately get closer to understanding. And so I thought to the degree that we can expand the scope and scale of consciousness and knowledge, then that would be a good thing.”

Finally, we get to the rocket science part.

Ignition!: An informal history of liquid rocket propellants by John D. Clark
“There is a good book on rocket stuff called ‘Ignition!’ by John Clark that’s a really fun one,” Musk said in an interview. Becoming a rocket scientist isn’t cheap. This book recommendation from Musk will set you back about 3k for a used copy (it’s also free on the web)

​​(Additional Sources: Business Insider and favobooks)