The Best 6 Books You’ve Never Heard Of
It bothers me that some of the books that have made the biggest impact on me, nobody knows about. Maybe they didn’t have proper promotion, or weren’t positioned well, or came from little publishers, or they didn’t have a big enough audience to justify reprints or being turned into an audiobook.
Whatever the reason, it’s a shame.
So here they are, the hidden gems that didn’t make it big in the world, but that I feel are impactful and worth sharing.
I’ve listed them in priority sequence, meaning, I think you’ll get the most value out of them if you read them in the order I’ve presented them. That said, it’s a free world, so be rebellious if you’re feeling compelled.
Book 1: How To Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson
This was a book that helped me immensely when I took an eight-week parental leave from my career when my first son was born. It was in that eight weeks that I realized I was an entrepreneur and that I needed to read, learn, create, and teach way more than I was.
Being out of the rat race during that time gave me the perspective I needed to realize that I was not my role, and this was one of the key books that lead me to that knowing.
It’s written by an anarchist and offers a very unique perspective you don’t hear very often. It’s very well researched and it’s a really funny book. In fact, the chapter titles are outright hilarious. Here are a few examples: Banish Anxiety, Be Carefree, Reject Career And All Its Empty Promises, Death To Shopping Or Fleeing The Prison Of Consumer Desire, Stop Working Start Living.
The primary reason I love this book is because it’s a counterintuitive approach to life and it just challenges a lot of societal norms one-after-another. It gives you a really unique perspective and helps you challenge many commonly-held assumptions of the world. In fact, it helped me challenge a few things that I didn’t even know were challengeable.
The secondary reason I loved this book was because when I picked it up I had just read Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week, and while I wasn’t solely focused on making ‘riches’ I definitely didn’t want to fail either. After all, I had a family and needed to make sure they were taken care of. What this book showed me was that even if you fail there are other ways to get where you want to be without the money.
Said differently, freedom isn’t dependent upon money.
Reading and understanding that concept was really freeing. It gave me a kind of backup option, so that if my business didn’t make a lot of money and just barely hit my target monthly income (or even less) I now knew a lot of other ways to really get the end result I was after– which was ultimately freedom, autonomy, and a simpler minimal life.
Book 2: Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin
This book was originally written in the 1981 and talked about a lot of things that would have been written-off as super hippy back then, but now are mainstream and pop-culture. Ideas like environmentalism and going back to the land, living simpler lives and the tiny house movement.
The author actually rebranded and repositioned it for another print run recently because it is so relevant for today. The new version included a lot more talk about current issues and what has happened in the past 20 years since it was written.
I read the original, much uglier version. I actually love reading originals over reprints because if feels like getting your hands on the source code of a great idea, and it’s always more powerful to me to read ideas that are timeless in a book that’s really old. It’s kind of like reading a proverb from 2000 years ago and saying “oh my gosh that perfectly applies to what’s going on in the media right now.” You know there’s something really relevant.
This book really helped me understand two things which are high values of mine: voluntary, which is the focus on freedom, and simplicity, which for me is the focus on minimalism and not having too many moving parts. I really do believe it’s not about the quantity of things, but rather the quality of them.
My wife and I love this book. We’ve read it a number of times (probably 4 or 5 times for me) and I’m even planning to take it on our vacation.
It’s a good hard reset that helps me understand what’s important to me amidst a world of chaos and self-imposed objectives. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this book, but it challenges me in a very brash way which I need a lot of the time.
Book 3: The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost In A World Of Constant Connection by Michael Harris
Nobody seems to know this book, and I didn’t quite understand it when I was first looking at it.
That said, it’s one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. It won the Governor General’s Literary Award in Canada which is given to the top book of the year by the Canada Council for the Arts, which is a big honour to bestow on an author. It’s filled with emotionally driven prose and tons of great data to back up everything that he talked about.
Some would call this a creative nonfiction book, and so it has a little more flair and style than your typical “12 things that are wrong in the world” dry non-fiction. It’s a really interesting read and it has a lot of really great ideas in it that I’ve never heard before.
My overall pitch for the story of this book would go like this: “Many of us living right now are the only generation that have actually seen life before and after the internet. It’s challenging to quantify what’s missing in the world after the Internet, but something clearly is, and that’s what the End of Absence explores in depth. Both being in the world of technology and loving what it can do, but also having a clear understanding of what technology cannot do and what the repercussions of social media and technological growth are on our world.”
I had my doubts about the world of ‘constant connection’ promised by social media because I never felt the stronger connections it promised. I knew there was something off about that, but I could never quite put my finger on it. This book puts its finger right on it and circles it from many different angles to help the reader understand why it happened, how it happened, and how we can protect our future.
I think of the ideas in this book like a seed bank that takes all of the seeds of the world and preserves them for the future because we don’t really know what will be lost in the future. Essentially, it’s saying “hey, there’s a lot changing really rapidly in our world, so let’s slow down a minute and take a good stock of everything that could potentially get wiped out in the future because we have that opportunity down the line.”
I love a book that can take a topic everyone thinks they understand fully and adds a little bit more to the conversation. This author obviously spent an immense amount of time researching and understanding these problems and he’s come to a conclusion I had never seen before. It really helped me better inform myself on a lot of topics.
It’s a cool and unique little read that both my wife and I loved, and is definitely worth your time.
Book 4: No Such Thing As A Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy by Linsey McGoey
I’ll be straightforward. I threw this book across the room more than six times while I was reading it.
I slapped my forehead. I wished I had never read what I just read.
I did not want to believe, and I still don’t really want to believe, some of the things that are in this book, but rather than just dismissing ideas that I don’t initially agree with or don’t align with my values, I have this habit of creating panel discussions in my mind. On one side of the panel are my views and on the other side are views I assemble from the book, and then I let them debate the issue. I really try to suspend judgment and see issues from the other side. I think this is a habit that would be really powerful for more people to cultivate, because so often some of the best ideas are the ones that challenge our firmly held beliefs, and there may be nuggets of wisdom in the opposing viewpoint.
I mean, at one point we all thought the world was flat… until one guy had a different perspective.
This book is filled with contrary ideas like these. It’s a great read for a social entrepreneur or a philanthropist or anyone planning to make a lot of positive impact on the world someday.
This book holds up a candle to a lot of not-so-obvious problems that arise in the noble pursuit of giving a lot of money away to charitable causes and foundations. Like the power imbalances that giving away that money creates, or the political manipulation that is being done with that money.
It makes you think a lot deeper about your choices.
I really do believe that nimble young entrepreneurs are the best agents of social change in the world right now. That said, for someone who may get fired up about social entrepreneurship and the changes they can make for the world, this book serves as a great initial buffer.
It’ll help you to say “Okay, my end goal is X, so let’s then let’s look at all the other people who said their end goal was X and what they did when they got to X.” I think it provides a really good moral compass.
Best yet is that the author is incredibly well researched, and as we discussed before, I often find the best arguments are the ones that go against commonly held beliefs and show the dark side (or blind spots) in all the things I love.
It looks at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in a depth that I don’t think anyone ever has before. They look at one of my favorite things in the world, the TED Conference, and all the positive and negative things that go on behind the scenes and the impact those things have.
They also take an in-depth look at patriarchy. “Big Men” is a chapter that explores the Rockefellers, Andrew Carnegie, and all these famous historical figures credited with creating modern philanthropy. It looks objectively at why they did it, how they did it, and what the repercussions of their actions were. It’s interesting that today we uplift these people and look at them with such reverence, but back when these men were alive people actually revolted and refused to go into the libraries they built or support the causes they funded because of how they made the money that funded those projects.
My only problem with the book (and part of what led me to throw it across the room multiple times) is that the author offers some applications or ideas of what can be done that are really broad. I literally read chapter one, two, and three and then said “that’s it, I’m skipping to the end and reading the conclusion to see if this person actually has answers to these massive problems that they’re pointing out to me”, and from that perspective it fell short of what I was hoping for.
It’s a really critical perspective, like a good documentary. It’ll make you aware of some things that you really don’t want to be aware of, but are probably better off in the end for knowing (even if you don’t agree with all the arguments made). It’s especially relevant for anyone looking to make a big difference in the world through social entrepreneurship or philanthropy.
Book 5: In Praise of Slowness: Challenging The Cult of Speed by Carl Honoré
As a fast-paced entrepreneur who wants exponential growth within his organizations, I found this a really interesting read. I picked it up quite a number of years ago actually. It’s a written by a Canadian author that many people have never heard of. It has some really cool ideas in it and just challenges the strongly-held notion of speed being innately good in a number of different ways.
It also has some really unique chapters that explore the concept of slowing down. Just look at a few of the chapter titles: Sex: A Lover with a Slow Hand, Food: Turning the Tables on Speed, and Medicine: Doctors and Patience (yes, patience like the character trait), Children: Raising the Unhurried Child, and Cities: Blending the Old and New.
The entire book points out a series of situations where speed does not help, and actually hinders. As someone who values speed, nimbleness, momentum, and growth I appreciated the perspective shift and reminder to slow down in the areas of my life that are really important to me. It also helped me to delineate the line between the things in my world that require speed and those that benefit from slower more deliberate attention, like parenting, relationships, and quality of life.
This is a great book to help keep things in perspective in a fast-paced world.
Book 6: Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben
It’s funny how books can sometimes find you in unlikely ways. I think this one came from a yard sale somewhere. Though, after I picked it up I found out the author is actually a really well-respected expert in his field. I will warn that it’s a little on the academic side, but I quit books that I don’t find extremely interesting, important, or entertaining– and this one held my attention.
This book takes a deep look at the economy and many of its foundational principles that are deeply misunderstood by all except the financial elite.
When most people talk about the economy they jump right into strategies and tactics, and it seems everyone has their own opinion of how it should work and what needs to be done to fix it. However, very few people really understand what the objective is, mainly because it’s a very complex answer.
The mark of truly understanding something is often the ability to explain the idea simply, and this author does a really fantastic job of bringing these lofty concepts down to earth and understandable. He explains them in a way where we get a clear grasp of what the economy truly is, what it does, and how we can get closer to the world we want to see using the economy we’re in.
It’s been called “a powerful and provocative manifesto offering the biggest challenge in a generation to the prevailing view of our economy”, so there’s a very strong value from a very informed person for a very specific reason. He talks about deep ecology and the environmental aspect of all this. He talks about innovation. He talks about communities and what a real community is.
Another key concept he discusses is the “durable future” which is the sustainability of the economy. This encompasses growth and how an economy can become financially sustainable.
Knowing this came out in 2007 I’m actually interested to know if it had a spike in sales when the 2008 crash happened. It was a timely book back then and just as powerful now for anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of communities and how this financial system we all rely on every day actually works. It includes a lot of really cool case studies to support the findings so you can actually see the principles in action.
This book actually covers a pretty holistic range of topics and flipping back to the back page, I recently remembered I wrote a whole slew of ideas down that were sparked while I read this book. They’re mostly little experiments to act as pattern disrupts to how I usually operate in the world. Here are just a few examples: live as a vegan for one month, don’t use money for a month (only barter and try to live for free), live in co-housing or communal style housing for a year, walk really far every day for a week in a unique area.
So those are just some of the crazy ideas I had while reading. As you can see, this book challenged me on a number of levels. It challenged me to really look at my beliefs about my lifestyle, my assumptions on the way the world works, and the future that I believe I need. It was also particularly impactful for me because I read it during the eight-week parental leave I took from work when my first son was born. This was important because that already put me in a position of living off of 40% of my regular wage. I expected this to be challenging, but I actually found it to be really easy. It simply involved me making more deliberate decisions about my purchases and allowed me to really tailor my life.
I remember we stayed at a friend’s cottage for a few weeks with a big group of friends and family, everyone pitched in for food, and I remember it brought such awareness to me that money plays a very small role in happiness if you arrange your life in a thoughtful conscious way.
So those are my six recommendations. I have many more, but I wanted to bring these particular books into focus. Especially, for any big-hearted entrepreneurs out there who are trying to grow their businesses so they can create freedom and autonomy for themselves and ultimately social change for the future.
I think these are really great navigation tools to guide you on that path.