7 Underrated, Yet Inspiring Books That Everyone Should Read


Books are awesome.

Person does stuff – someone writes it down – others read it. It’s as simple as that.

Every significant event in the history of mankind has been recorded for the benefit of those who follow. Every little detail of this planet we call Earth is contained within a book somewhere.

Standing on the shoulders of giants – the idea that we use what has come before as a shortcut to our own success. Books make this possible. We don’t have to figure out how to start a business because countless entrepreneurs have already revealed their secrets. If we’re struggling to lose weight or pack on muscle then we can just pick up a book that contains all the information we need to achieve our goal.

It’s amazing, really.

100 years ago, most of you reading this now wouldn’t have the skills to do so.

Until the internet era, most people had to rely on using a library card or had to physically go to a book store.

Now we can download a file to our smartphones or kindle and read pretty much anything we want, wherever we want, when we want.

Yet, most people still choose to watch reality television – and here’s me thinking we had zoos for that kind of thing.

Anyway, that’s enough of an introduction for now.

Here is a list of the 7 books which literally changed my life. Some gave me the confidence to quit my job. Others inspired me to try new things and one in particular is simply the most inspiring all-round self-help book I have ever laid my eyes upon.

At the end of this article I’ve also asked for your advice on an upcoming 30 day challenge – and I would be very grateful for your input.

In descending order, and starting with number 7, we have…

7. Bounce – Matthew Syed


Have you ever wondered what makes an elite athlete choke in a high pressure situation? Or whether the very best tennis players have better natural reflexes than those further down the rankings? This book will answer both and Matthew (a former British number 1 table tennis player) explores these questions and many similar with an interesting mix of science, research and anecdotal evidence.

Among the topics contained within include insight into how Laszlo Polgar and his wife had three daughters with the sole aim of creating future chess grandmasters (they succeeded), the myth of the child prodigy and the story of how Matthew played Roger Federer in a game of ‘real tennis’ which is an ancient style of the game, and noted how they were both equally useless at even hitting the ball.

I recall watching a television documentary a few years back on Jamaican sprinting success and how their elite sprinters seem to have a higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres via a specific gene (ACTN3) than the rest of the world. This definitely helps to explain why Usain Bolt has time to showboat as he crosses the finish line; however as this book explains, further research has since shown that this gene is present in Caucasians too. In fact, every person on earth has virtually the same genetic make-up and the reason why Jamaica produces so many elite sprinters is simple…

It’s their national sport – hence Jamaicans sprint more than any other nation. No talent, just hard graft.

6. Tricks of the Mind – Derren Brown

derren-brownDerren Brown is a God.

When you think of illusion or mentalism you probably conjure up an image of David Blaine but Derren is on another level completely. See what I did there… conjure… (shh)

The reason why I have chosen this book is purely down to the man himself. The amount of training and dedication that goes into being able to do the things he does, is astounding. From Jedi level cold reading, hypnotism and illusion all the way to incredible memory feats, photo-reading a book in 15 minutes and being able to win every time at the blackjack table.

Tricks of the mind explores many of his methods, philosophies and dives into a lot of the psychological thinking traps that many of us fall into in our day to day lives. Possibly the most interesting chapter concerns confirmation bias and how people unwittingly use this to reinforce their belief in the supernatural.

Derren also has a very funny and self-deprecating writing style. If you haven’t heard of him yet – YouTube will astound you.

5. Shape shifter – Geoff Thompson


This book had a huge impact on me following a challenging period in which I allowed depression to take a firm grip on my life. In essence, it is a book on personal transformation – that within all of us is the ability to change who we are for the better.

He begins by discussing the ‘us and them’ mentality and how many people use it as an excuse for failure. Using examples from the world of entertainment and sport, Geoff explains that the only difference between high achievers and the mediocre is simply how many hours they put into their craft. The following chapters can meander around a bit – dipping into many areas such as diet, false beliefs, philosophy and the odd mention of religion, but fortunately Geoff’s writing style ensures that nothing ever comes across as preachy or cliché.

This is the book that first turned me on to the idea that talent doesn’t really exist, and I’m not afraid to admit that this website probably wouldn’t exist either if I hadn’t read Shape shifter.

If you’ve ever given up on something because you’ve allowed fear to take control then this should kick your ass into shape.

4. Psycho Cybernetics – Maxwell Maltz

Psycho-CyberneticsFollowing on from my early research into NLP (which I found dodgy) and self-hypnosis, I discovered this book and was shocked to discover that the techniques I had heard so much about were actually healthy after all.

I love the concept of visualisation and how we can improve our self-perception with a little effort and determination. The practical exercises that follow the surprisingly easy to digest theory, help cement the techniques within and as a result, I often recommend this book whenever I meet people interested in personal development.

As far as scientific self-help books go – this is as good as it gets. In depth enough to cover all of the fundamentals in detail but accessible enough that even the casual reader can immediately benefit from a quick flick through.

3. Total Recall – Arnold Schwarzenegger


Oh my.

I haven’t even finished the book, but 350 pages in I can safely say my opinion of Arnie has risen considerably. To be fair, it was high already – he is my ‘hero’ after all. But what struck me is his insane work ethic. That it doesn’t matter how many projects he’s working on or how many engagements he has planned, he always finds the time to complete the next item on his ‘to-do’ list.

Perhaps more impressively, he does it with a smile.

It’s impossible not to be inspired by Arnie. I can’t think of another human being who has been as successful in as many different industries as this guy. Bodybuilding, acting, politics, real estate, business and he still found the time to earn a degree and play Mr Freeze.

What a book. What a man.

2. Watch My Back – Geoff Thompson

Watch_My_Back_FILM_RGB_small_1I credit Geoff for introducing me to the whole concept of personal development with his excellent book, ‘The elephant and the twig’. Inspired by his words, I wanted to learn a bit more about the man behind the curtain – and I wasn’t disappointed.

He was a former nightclub bouncer and a veteran of over 300 (victorious) street fights, a successful author and martial arts expert as well as a BAFTA award winning writer.

This autobiographical story details his rise from a factory floor sweeper to the dangerous Coventry night scene in which he forged his fearsome reputation as a bouncer with a legendary knockout punch. For me, the most inspiring part is how he wrote the first edition while sitting on the toilet at the job he hated.  A trick I learnt as a budding songwriter in my early twenties.

You know the book you hold in your hands rocks when a casual look on the back reveals endorsements from legendary gangsters Reggie Kray and Dave Courtney.

Oh, and Chuck Norris regularly calls him for advice.

1. Yes Man – Danny Wallace


To this day I consider this book to be the greatest ‘self-help’ book of all time. Forget the hugely forgettable Jim Carrey abomination that came out a few years ago – the original (as always), is perfect in every possible way.

The story (which is no doubt embellished), the style and humour, the overall concept and the feel-good factor it creates justifies the hype, in my opinion.

I’m in love with this book because it shows what can be achieved with positivity. Accepting every offer that came his way, Danny quickly finds himself in a whole host of crazy situations including a visit to an Amsterdam sex dungeon, presenting a television show about monks and even latching on to a date his ex-girlfriend is having with her new guy because of an innocent offer to ‘join us’.

Every time I find myself saying no, I think back to this book and ask myself, “what am I potentially missing out on here?”

To be perfectly honest, it’s changed my outlook on life.

Now it’s your turn to inspire me

Shortly, I’ll be embarking on a crazy 30 day challenge in which I plan to read 30 books in 30 days. That’s a lot of 30’s.

And no, these aren’t picture books. Thank you.

So I need your help.

I am writing up a list of the books to purchase (or acquire) for this challenge but I’m struggling for ideas. If you’ve read an inspiring or life changing book and you think that I (or anyone else) would benefit then I’m open to all suggestions.

If anyone nominates ‘writing for dummies’ then I will slap you.

Basically, anything related to personal development – including science related stuff, autobiographies, psychology, philosophy, skill acquisition, motivational or anything else that is a damn good read.

Hey, if you’re an author yourself and want your book promoted… I do like a freebie, ahem, cough.

Obviously, I will document this 30 day challenge afterwards and as an added incentive, should I read anything recommended by you, I will link back to your website (or name check if you don’t have one). I’m nice like that.

So what is the most inspiring book you have ever read? Please let me know in the comments below.

About Jamie

Jamie is a guitar teacher and writer who hates the typical 9-5 existence. After quitting his job to enter the world of guitar tuition, he created this blog to document his thoughts and struggles as he takes on societies norms armed with nothing more than his cheeky wit and undeniable charm - Give his Facebook page a like, add him on Twitter or follow his Google+ page and he will repay you with even more awesome words!


  1. Michelle Jones says:

    If you haven’t already read it, “Life 101” by Peter McWilliams changed the course of my life at age 23. I had big dreams and a family that lived happily in the comfort zone, who thought lofty goals were for other people. After reading this, and his other book “Just Do It! Let’s get off our buts”, the resulting shot of positivity sent me all the way to my dreams. In less than a year, I had moved from my small city to a major city, alone, with no job lined up and a roommate I’d never met, (that worked out, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Lots of weirdos out there.), to finding a “get by” job, to working at my life’s passion. It was amazing!

    • Thanks Michelle, I’ll look it up and see what it’s about.

      • Tina mcbey says:

        Life 101 was my first pick for you too. I was surprised to see someone else had been inspired by it and recommended as well. I too read it in my early 20’s. It’s filled with so many great ideas, lots of humor and compassion for the human condition and has quotes on opposite pages throughout. Also a very easy read. Hope you get to read it.

  2. A magician’s take on psychology? And a full chapter on confirmation bias? I would probably love that book. I have to get it. Read it. Eat it.

    I have to admit I used to have a rather low opinion of Arnold, based purely on his rather metallic acting ability and someone convincing me he used steroids. After learning about his past, his journey, and his work ethic, I have to say I respect him. I should probably read his book too.

    If you haven’t already, I would suggest reading Meditations. There’s something sobering, humbling, and amazing about reading the thoughts of someone who lived that long ago… especially when he agrees with you on some things, and has much to teach you about others.
    Ragnar recently posted..When It Feels Like The Moment Of Truth Has Come And GoneMy Profile

    • Hey, well he’s not technically a magician. He’s more a ‘mentalist’ although he hates that term.

      Arnie does have have a wooden delivery, but when you find out how much he prepares for various roles and the dedication, it’s quite inspiring. Also, yes he supplemented with a lot of testosterone, but there isn’t anyone on the planet that size who hasn’t.

      Wow, a book written by a Roman Emperor? That’s a bit different; thanks, I’ll give that some consideration!

  3. If I had to pick one to buy from your list right now, I think I would go for #7.

    I’m currently reading Coelho’s The Alchemist, you probably have read it before. I’m halfway through and it’s a great book. Loving it already. So by the way, will you be getting Pressfield’s War of Art? Heh.
    Jeremy recently posted..The Last Time You Dared To Be Vulnerable With MeMy Profile

    • I haven’t read the Alchemist actually – for some reason I’ve managed to steer away from the cliche books that everyone else reads. Although maybe it’s time to chuck a few of those into the mix. Ha, yeh I will add the War of Art to the list!

  4. Harpo Speaks by Rowland Barber

  5. Lei Lani Lucero says:

    I have a suggestion for a book to read, that might sound strange or off-topic at first: “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. Yes, I know it is a ‘children’s book’, yes, I know it is fiction, yes, I know it has illustrations by Jules Pfiefer. But, THIS book is at the top of my list of ‘books that changed my life, or had the potential to’. The story is engaging, the message is relevant to self-improvement, and play on words throughout the book is fascinating. The message that I got from the book (and the reason I give a copy to everyone I care about) is that everything boils down to perspective. How you look at life (your perspective) is how you live your life. Keep rescuing Rhyme and Reason, even if someone thinks it’s impossible.

    • Hey, I didn’t expect a piece of children’s fiction as a recommendation but I’ll go in with open eyes. I’ll give it a look on Amazon and read the sample! Thanks Lei.

  6. Thanks for the book suggestions! For your 30 day challenge I’m going to recommend The Game of Life and How to Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn
    Rebecca Beaton recently posted..What does it mean to live extraordinary?My Profile

  7. Hi Jamie, thanks for sharing this book list. I myself on the reading spree of self help or inspiring books and blogs. Yours is one of the blogs which always provided me with quality stuff. Thanks for these brilliant articles and the e-book. Each one were very helpful and I am slowly changing 🙂

    Some of the books which I liked in the past few months were:

    1. The slight edge by Jeff Olson(I started with this one initially. A complete self help book which in a way shown me how wrong I am in most aspects of life but if you have read other books this may not be much help to you).

    2. How to win at the sport of business by Mark Cuban(Brilliant book. Loved it).

    3. Anything you want by Derek Sivers (Little book but teaches us a lot in a friendly manner).

    4. So good, they can’t ignore you by Cal Newport (Wonderful book on how to make a career and how we can be good in it. But by reading your posts I think you might have already known this.

    The short synopsis of this book is available in Siver’s blog. You can check it before buying it.


    5. Awake the giant within by Anthony Robbins. (Only half way through the book. But eye opening in many sense).

    Hope this will help you in some way 🙂


    • Hey, thanks for your suggestions. I will check out every one of those and see what grabs my attention. Also, you’ve just reminded me that I have never read an Anthony Robbins book.. maybe I should change that 🙂

  8. In addition you can also go through Ludvig’s recomendations. Very interesting collection


  9. Jamie,

    #1, Yes Man’ would be the book that I’ll love to read someday. Thanks for sharing a great list. It seems interesting. Everything that motivates you and encourages you to do something you love, actually kind of thing I like…
    Hassaan Khan recently posted..7 Reasons that Make you Alone on PlanetMy Profile

  10. Total Recall wasn’t anywhere on my list, but it is now. I never thought of Arnold as having a strong work ethic, but of course he does. How could he have achieved as much as he has without one? Thanks for sharing these.
    Ryan Bonaparte recently posted..It’s Time To Come Up For AirMy Profile

    • Exactly, Ryan. Nobody is ever successful without putting in an insane amount of work behind the scenes. The fact people make it look effortless, or by accident is testament to how much preparation they put into their craft.

  11. Love Derren Brown! (and surprised at how many people call him ‘Darren’).

    Psycho Cybernetics sounds awesome. I too was very sceptical about NLP. The technique is largely thought to be manipulative but I’m sure it can be used for good.

    I guess this book answers the question?
    Razwana recently posted..Hot golden sand, chance encounters and afternoon wine. Dream with me a little …My Profile

    • NLP came out long before it was adopted as a manipulative technique and is mostly about changing your own thoughts and emotions rather than of others (which isn’t likely anyway). If you’ve been a fan of psychology and personal development for a while then the book won’t reinvent your wheel, but it’s handy to have everything in one place.

  12. Hey Jamie,

    Bounce seems interesting. I’m putting it down on my list.

    “Until the internet era, most people had to rely on using a library card or had to physically go to a book store.
    Now we can download a file to our smartphones or kindle and read pretty much anything we want, wherever we want, when we want.”

    — This is so true. It surprises me that most people don’t read more than they do.
    Ludvig Sunström recently posted..Become Someone Worth HelpingMy Profile

  13. Yes to Derren Brown, but no to Total Recall. I’ve read both and I’m fans of both people. Derren Brown has a lot of great material – especially his shows and his books are just as good. However, Total Recall was too self-serving. It felt like a propaganda piece about how awesome he wants everyone to think he is. Yes, he had an amazing life, but he’s human too, why couldn’t he show any of that side? I’d skip his book.
    Steve recently posted..Spend Less, Travel More eBook is Released!My Profile

    • Hi Steve, There was a whole chapter in Total Recall dedicated to cheating on his wife and the pain it caused his family. Also he does reveal a lot of insecurities; especially during his heart surgery and fear upon entering the States for the first time. With you on Derren though; I would love to read an autobiography from him at some point. Thanks for your thoughts.

  14. Lucy webster says:

    There are a couple of great books in that list. Tricks of the mind in particular is a fascinating read. I tend to get most inspired by business books. A well written business strategy book always gives me extra drive. Most recently I read a wonderful one from David Silverstein called One Dot, Two Dots, Get Some New Dots. To all those who look for inspiration from business books, I would highly recommend picking this one up and checking out Dave’s website http://www.davesdots.com/

  15. Hey Jamie,

    I’ll admit that I haven’t read any of the books you have listed here…but I have listened to #4 on audio.

    I have two suggestions for you…
    The first is called “The End of All Evil” by Jeremy Locke.
    It’s available for free on pdf, or you can read along as you listen on youtube.

    The second is my book. “A Simple Guide to Exercise Safety (What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You)”. Given that you have been in the fitness industry, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
    Dana recently posted..Manipulating the Human PerspectiveMy Profile

  16. Total Recall – Arnold Schwarzenegger is an inspiring book worth reading. Not only for bodybuilders but for anyone with a goal.
    frost recently posted..How to get a V taper – Complete guideMy Profile

  17. Hi Jamie

    Sorry I haven’t read all the comments but The Lost choice by Andy Andrews is a great book. Sorry if it’s been mentioned already! It is a empowering read 🙂

  18. YES MAN!

  19. Great list! I have read some stuff by Geoff Thompson (as I’m also into martial arts) and I’ve looked through the Arnold book. But most titles are actually new to me. I guess I already know what to read over Christmas now 😉

    Two books that I found to be very exciting (even if they are not classical self-help books) are the two essays collections by Camille Paglia: “Sex, Art and American Culture” and “Vamps and Tramps”. If you haven’t read those, you are in for a ride! The author has a really unorthodox way of looking at culture, both high and pop culture; she definitly got me to look at many things, especially art, in a different light. So, highly recommended!
    Nicholas Drillman recently posted..Learn to Appreciate ArtMy Profile

  20. Nathan van neck says:

    I know it’s well past the 30 days but I thought I would contribute with a few suggestions.
    1) Flinch- which is one of a very small amount of books that has literally changed my life.
    2) As A Man Thinketh- a true classic of the genre. It has clear Christian influence if you don’t mind that.
    3) Boundaries- the best book on relationships I’ve ever read.

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