An author's perspective on how to find good books to read

The 5-step strategy I use to build my reading list.

Every great writer is an avid reader. It's just part of the formula. And although there are now more exceptional blogs, newsletters, and media than ever before — books remain in a league of their own.

The effort and time that goes into a well-written book create a depth that's impossible to find elsewhere. As an author, I'm obviously biased. But even with how much our world has changed over the last several thousand years, books have remained a core part of how we learn, grow, and lead — and that's no accident.

The challenge, then, is to learn how to find and read the right books. With nearly 2,000,000 new titles published each year, it can feel overwhelming trying to sort out what to read next.

Thankfully, some of us are obsessed with this space and have spent A LOT of hours figuring out precisely how to do just that. In this article, you'll learn my techniques for identifying only the most worthwhile books, why most influencer recommendations are wrong, and whether you should focus on old or newly published works.

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At the end of this article you'll find a Recommendation Library — a chart that'll point you towards the top 3-5 books in dozens of different categories.

The right way to use online reviews

Now, the elephant in the room is online review scores. Shouldn't these be the end-all-be-all of choosing which books are best? In theory, these are like crowdsourced answers — with only the cream of the crop garnering the highest rating and largest audience.

But as someone who has published 20+ books across dozens of platforms (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc.), I know how aggressively this game is played. Yes, every company bans paid reviews in some way, but that doesn't stop large publishers and deep-pocketed authors from finding loopholes.

screenshot of news article about Amazon's suit of Facebook groups

So, what should you do?

  • First, just be aware that reviews are subjective, incomplete, and often purchased.
  • Second, reviews are a popularity score, not a quality score.
  • Third, only visit reviews when you're looking for a specific answer to something. For instance, check them to see if a certain topic is covered, if the examples are relevant, or if the title is simply reusing previously published sources.

Harsh? Maybe, but reading a book is a significant time commitment, and I aim to ensure every title you choose is worth it.

5 strategies to spot a good book

great book gif

#1 Get in-person recommendations from people you trust

The internet is good for many things, but sometimes the wisdom of crowds is less helpful than the expertise of one. When I need a new book on a subject I'm unfamiliar with, here are the first few places (people!) I go to.

  • I ask my personal network. In my close circle of friends, I have access to doctors, lawyers, business owners, chefs, carpenters, and so much more (I have a habit of striking up random conversations very often, to my wife's dismay haha). The chances are you have a pretty good network, too if you ask around. A friend of a friend may be in the career field you want to explore and will know exactly which materials are best. Don't be afraid to ask!
  • Go to your local library because librarians are awesome. Much to people's surprise, Google is not the only search solution. In fact, people spend years training on how to properly find, categorize and deliver information — usually within a very specific field of study. Those are librarians, and there's likely one very close to you right now: at colleges, city libraries, and even in large organizations.
  • Finally, email your favorite author. I've written books on religion, self-help, and digital publishing. Over the past decade, I've easily answered 2,000+ emails on various questions related to my books and their subjects. Most authors love books (i.e., why they write them!) so they'll be happy to recommend which ones they deem trustworthy.

#2 Use the books you have to find your next read

What I'm talking about here are bibliographies.

Bibliographies are usually found in the back of nonfiction books (both popular and academic) that list out all of the books the author used to construct theirs. These are an absolute goldmine of information and will likely lead to some of the best books you'll ever read.

These can also take the form of appendices, footnotes, endnotes, and additional resources sections.

This is a great strategy for diving into an area you know very little about. All you need to do is find a single book on the subject, flip to the back, and peruse the long list of follow-up reads.

#3 Browse local bookstores in your area

Bookselling is a difficult business to succeed in, so when you see a locally-owned bookstore, the chances are very good that the owner loves what they do.

Indie Bookstore Finder | IndieBound.org
Here's a great tool to help you locate a bookstore near you!

And with that love likely comes a wealth of knowledge about which books are best. You'll notice that many local shops organize their shelves differently than the "big box" national chains. This is because shelf space is advertising space, and large corporations pay a premium to sit at a certain height (eye-level), area (the ends rather than the middle), and in a set quantity (more copies = more likely to get noticed).

Local shops rarely offer this service, so they organize books to serve their customers. Because a happy reader will become a life-long customer.

#4 Pick up titles that have stood the test of time

Nicknamed perennial sellers, some books are consistently recommended, decade after decade, because of their quality and timelessness.

Only a rare few of these exist in each category, such as Bird by Bird for writing, Rich Dad Poor Dad for personal finance, and American Cookery for food.

This is one of those rare occasions where I'll advise people to go with the wisdom of the crowd and pick up the titles you see appearing on every online article, Amazon result, and best of list.

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TLDR, if you're looking to learn more about a subject and see the same book recommended 10+ times AND it's at least 10-20 years old, give it a chance.

#5 See a book's value ahead of time with summaries

My last bit of advice involves a bit of work, but a few extra minutes could save you hours spent on a bad book. The solution: book summaries.

People usually use a synopsis as a replacement for reading an entire book. Instead, they should be used as a supplement to help you:

  • See if the book is really what you think is.
  • Discover the main points ahead of time so that you can focus on them.
  • Narrow down which chapters are most important and skip over the rest.

You can check out a few of the summaries I've written by searching my archive or using a tool like Blinkist. YouTube is another excellent resource to visit as many of the video summaries provide an immensely thorough review of the material.

Bonus tip: Define what "good" means to you

Before I leave you with the Recommendation Library mentioned above, I wanted to encourage you to clarify what books will help you most towards your goals. As an example, here's what I tend to look for:

  • Author credibility: Do they have an advanced degree in the field their writing about or have a big success that proves their theories?
  • Concise writing: I hate books that are just fluffed up articles. Don't spend 200 pages telling me something that could have been said in 20. For this reason, I usually gravitate towards shorter books.
  • Cited sources: I love books that point me to how they got to where they are. Show me what books, experiences, and experts you relied on and I will trust your work.
  • Action-focused: At this stage in my life, I want books that drive me towards actionable takeaways. Theory is good, but if I can't use what you're writing to improve my life, business, marriage, etc. — then what's the point.

Now, take a minute and write out 3-5 things that'll make a book good to you!

My recommendation library

I hope you found the above thoughts useful!

Now, to give you a concrete way forward, I spent a few months curating great books and organizing them in into the following lists. Just click on any of the topics below to find the best books worth reading. Also, go ahead and bookmark this resource for future reference!

My book recommendations by topic
Artificial Intelligence
Astrology
Chess
Climate Change
Coaching
Communication
Content Marketing
Cryptocurrencies
Digital Marketing
Emotional Intelligence
Financial Literacy
Greek Mythology
Grief
Hemingway
Law of Attraction
LSAT Prep
Marketing
MCAT Prep
Meditation
Negotiation
Self Help for Men
Spiritual
Startups
Stock Trading
Stoicism
Success
Twenty-somethings
Writing
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