Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. See our disclosure for more info.
Here are our picks for the 10 Best Personal Development Books of All Time. If you’re looking for a book to shift your perspective, look no further than this list.
Depending on how we’re introduced to reading as a child, we may grow up to develop a love-hate relationship with books. This is disappointing, because they can be an unlimited source of education and entertainment.
However, in the digital age, where everybody is looking for improvements in themselves, there’s something that’s important to understand.
In the words of Edmund Wilson: “no two persons ever read the same book.” The right book at the right time can change your life.
A book is something that is drastically different depending on the perspective of the person reading it. This means that you and your father may take completely different lessons from the exact same book. Consider also that you and you five years from now may also see something completely different. Books are therefore organic, not static, and they are full of life.
1. The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
This book by the German-born spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle is a perfect introduction to the world of non-duality and meditation. Now over 20 years old, the book remains a best-seller because of it’s easy to absorb lessons and message.
If there’s any book worthy of a re-read every few years, it’s The Power of Now. I always see something new in it after it’s been a while so it’s a useful measure of how my perspectives change, even when I think they haven’t!
2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
First published in 1989, this book is a classic of personal-development literature. Steven Covey teaches you an effective method to achieve goals that are based on your internal values. By aligning yourself to what Covey calls “true north” – your personal ethics – you greatly improve your productivity.
The book is focused on three themes; independence, interdependence and continual improvement. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone looking to improve their life. If you want to give yourself a real personal challenge and makeover, we also recommend using the Guided Journal as you read this powerful self development book.
3. The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
My personal favorite this masterpiece will resonate will artists and entrepreneurs of all sorts. The book revolves around the concept of ‘resistance.’ Resistance is a part of the human psyche that intentionally gets in the way of us producing the works of art we have to offer the world.
The War of Art has spiritual undertones and has been written from the perspective of a novelist, but anyone who wants to produce something for the world, whether that be in business, art or literature, will find this book immensely rewarding.
4. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
The oldest book on the list, this philosophical text was written by the emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was schooled in the philosophy of Stoicism.
He didn’t have an easy life by any stretch of the imagination, losing multiple children, wives, and some wars. The reflections are an example of how philosophical lessons can be applied to our everyday circumstances, even in the case of larger-than-life historical figures.
5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain
One of the more recent books on the list, this 2012 book is an essential read. Although most personal-development books encourage type-A, extroverted personalities, this work goes against the grain by highlighting the admirable traits in introverts.
The main idea is that many people are undervalued, and their talents, therefore, go wasted by a culture that is looking to celebrate and promote one type of personality. If you’re an introvert and you want to know how you can appreciate and hone your strengths, this books for you.
6. Choose Yourself! Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream – James Altucher
Podcaster and serial businessman James Altucher brings a unique and refreshing perspective with this 2013 work. In it, he highlights why traditional institutions can’t be trusted to guarantee your safety, and why investing in yourself is the most reliable way forward in a constantly changing world and economy.
Choose Yourself showcases dozens of case studies that teach you how you can develop the skills that will help you succeed in the 21st century. This excellent book was written in 2013, but feels way ahead of it’s time when you get into it. If you want to adapt to a fast-paced world, this book is a little more externally focused, but still incredibly effective.
7. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Over the last 20 years, psychologists and neuroscientists have made leaps and bounds when it comes to an understanding what we call the flow-state.
More colloquially known as ‘the zone’ this state of consciousness occurs when we find a balance between a difficult challenge and a level of aptitude. It’s characterized by a loss of sense of self, intense focus and a distortion of our sense of time.
Research has shown that people who spend more time in flow-state tend to be happy and more engaged with their lives, and this book will show you just how you can do that. This book helped me during my masters degree and when I started two businesses afterwards, and I highly recommend it.
8. Awaken the Giant Within – Tony Robbins
Tony Robbins didn’t invent the personal-development genre, but he certainly brought it to a new level. Awaken the Giant Within is probably his most well-known book. Some of the ideas may seem dated, but only because they’ve since been appropriated by so many copy-cats.
We could have made a list only of Tony Robbins books, but if you want to better understand your motivations and how you can set and achieve effective goals, this is a great book to start with.
9. As a Man Thinketh – James Allen
A short read, As a Man Thinketh is one of the oldest personal-development books written on the power of positive thinking. Although the language is somewhat antiquated, it’s a classic, and given it’s a short read, is absolutely worth your time.
Despite being originally published in 1902 and often overshadowed by books like Think and Grow Rich, we think Allen’s take is still relevant, easier to apply, and even easier to re-read when you need a refresher. I also recommend the audio version and keep it on my phone in case I ever need it.
10. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
If you love to learn messages through stories rather than facts, this is a classic personal-development novel. Paulo Coelho’s breakout novel follows the plight of a young Andalusian shepherd who embarks on a heroic journey to find a treasure he’s been dreaming about.
It uses a simple analogy, but still captures the imagination without being an explicit personal development book. That’s part of the fun, though. As you read through this journey, you may change yourself in ways you don’t even realize.
Read and Get Started
Our 10 best personal development books have the power to change your life. But remember, don’t get caught in the trap of becoming a self-help junkie.
It’s far better to read one book and spend time digesting the lessons and trying to apply them to your life, than it is to read as much as possible without any reflection.