Rowland Carlson

Books That Changed My Life


There are many books that have affected me on my path through life. These, in particular, were books that had an outstanding effect on how I live my life or how I see the world. I divide these books into two categories: Paradigm Shifts and Solid Bedrock.

Paradigm Shifts

I remember taking a history class in college that introduced the concept of Paradigm Shifts. A change in perspective so fundamental that it alters everything about how a person, group, or culture sees the world. Each of these books had that kind of fundamental shift, for one reason or another.

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss gets special mention for being the book that taught me how to love reading. Between fiction putting me to sleep and textbooks, I had convinced myself that I hated to read. Tim's introduction teaches that books are yours to explore, you don't have to read them in order, and you can skip parts you don't like. This unlocked a world of possibilities for me that I will forever be grateful for.

Tools of Titans serves as a condensation and concentration of the first 150ish guests on the Tim Ferriss show. The recurring themes in the book are what finally taught me how to take ideas beyond their current context and apply them wherever they seemed appropriate. This is perhaps the most valuable skill I have developed.

Mindset by Carol Dweck reads almost as an indictment of the “gifted” idea. I had heard of her research before picking up the book, but I was not prepared for the pervasiveness of the idea it contained. We’ve all heard people claim “I’m bad at remembering names” or “I’m no good at math”. Dweck explains that this phrasing, framing talent as inborn, limits the perspective and actions of the person in question. By framing things in terms of effort, I can separate the limitation from the myself allowing me to take action to rectify the issue. This concept can be applied to careers, relationships, and, of course, education. I have found that framing things in a “growth” mindset, as she refers to it, allows me to tackle the hardest challenges and even have fun while doing it.

The Goal by Eli Goldrat is a business novel about the Theory of Constraints. Every system has a bottleneck, and optimizing anything besides that rate-limiting aspect of the system is not only a waste of time, but actively harmful to the smooth operation of the system. This concept can be applied from anything from making a sandwich to running a multinational corporation, and has given me insight into many problems.

Solid Bedrock

These are books that speak in a perennial way. These books serve as a basis upon which to permanently improve my life and thinking. Further, I'm convinced that these books will still hold more wisdom even if I reread them in 5, 10, or 25 years.

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin chronicles Josh’s journey from young chess success to World Champion in Tai Chi Push Hands. He posits that the art associated with learning one skill can be applied to learning any skill. The framework he provides in this book gives me a scaffolding for nearly every skill I’ve developed after reading it, and continues to guide me as I seek mastery each and every day.

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday describes the quality and importance of clarity of thought, and how it can be obtained by bringing stillness to your mind, soul, and body. How does one become still in a world that buzzes with notifications and pings? How does the wisdom of nearly every world philosophy help guide this journey? I found Ryan’s writing in this third book of a trilogy to be timely in its delivery, yet timeless in its wisdom. (Honorable mention to Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy, the other two books of the trilogy).

48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is an amoral look at how power works between human beings. Robert Greene does not pull any punches in his description of how the world is, not how we pretend it could be. I particularly enjoyed Greene’s use of historical anecdotes to serve as foils for each concept he presents. This book allowed me to start thinking of power as a game, and separating my wishes from the realities of that game has served me well.

Clean Coder by Robert C. Martin is ostensibly a guide to becoming a professional programmer, but I found that it serves as a model to become a professional, period. No matter the field, the skills Bob brings to light in this book are of the utmost importance to anyone seeking to become respected as someone who gets things done.

Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine was my first full introduction to Stoicism. This ancient philosophy, has served me as the most effective tool for reducing stress and anxiety. With it, I gained the understanding that I can only truly control my thoughts. That while I cannot control my emotions, I can control my reaction to those same emotions. These are just a few of the lessons that are held in the timeless wisdom in these pages.