this is a list of good books. i hasten to define “good”. good in this case means “useful”. with one notable exception, these are not great works of literature. some of them are barely readable. if you want spiritually and mentally enriching works of great depth and beauty, there’s a whole world of those waiting for you, and they’re easy to find. these are not they.

instead, this is a list of books which i’ve found to have useful ideas for approaching practical, day-to-day issues. money. housekeeping. getting things done. learning to enjoy what you have to do and make time to do what you want, including reading better books. i hope you find them useful as well. clicking the isbn number for each will take you to a page with information on getting a copy.



by henry david thoreau
(isbn 0393959058)

the bible of american conservation is also the bible of simplicity, and the source of the mantra “simplify, simplify”. still as brilliant and relevant as ever; perhaps more relevant today, in an age in which people have become more imprisoned by their possessions, and more and more quietly desperate. the first chapter is worth regular rereading.

simplify your life (100 ways to slow down & enjoy the things that really matter)

by elaine st. james
(isbn 0786880007)

this is considered one of the cornerstones of the voluntary simplicity movement of the 1990s, and it draws the same criticism that’s drawn by the movement as a whole: it’s aimed at yuppies. it preaches the virtues of simplicity to people who can easily afford the time and effort to make a change, instead of to poor people who really need practical ideas for pulling themselves out of their situation. still, the ideas are worthwhile and generally applicable, no matter what the original target audience. see my rambling on yuppies for more thoughts about it. (note: elaine st. james went on to build a career from this with stacks of other books, recordings, calendars, newspaper articles, etc.)

clutter control

by jeff campbell
(isbn 0440503396)

a terrific guide to getting rid of what you don’t need and putting the rest of it in order. if you need to streamline your house, find a copy asap.

stop junk mail forever (telemarketing & spam, too)

by marc eisenson, nancy castleman, marcy ross, and ‘the stop junk mail-man’
(isbn 0943973228)

a booklet of guidelines for stopping the flow of garbage into your mailbox.

the 4-hour workweek

by timothy ferriss
(isbn 0307353133)

a 21st century slant on living the examined life, with a compilation of internet-age techniques for eliminating or delegating what’s unimportant to you so you can get to the important today.

reading this changed my relationship with computers, turning them into tools for automating much of my work and forgetting it for longer periods. see my article about living offline.

getting things done

by david allen
(isbn 0142000280)

terrific ideas for keeping your plate empty once you get it that way. written in sleep-inducing repetitive corporatespeak; don’t feel bad about hitting the high points and skimming the rest.


your money or your life

by joe dominguez and vicki robin
(isbn 0140286780)

just as walden is a wakeup call to thoughts about society and what we’re getting or losing from our involvement with it, your money or your life is a bucket of ice water in the face that takes us through reevaluating our relationship with money. many books will tell you how to make money. this one will you tell why, and when to stop. if you avoid managing your money and investing because it seems shallow and materialistic to worry about such things, this is especially for you. read it openly and honestly think about whether taking financial responsibility and working toward financial independence aren’t actually more in line with your beliefs and more likely to enable you to live up to them. the second chapter was a great eye opener for me back when i was semi-consciously above thinking of such things, and changed my life.

the only investment guide you’ll ever need

by andrew tobias
(isbn 0156029634)

this is the cream of the crop of general information books on investing, wonderfully informative and entertaining. everything you need to know is here. most importantly, tobias gives quick explanations of why you shouldn’t waste your time even considering much of the overpriced, underperforming junk people will try to sell you. and if you’re overwhelmed with options, he’ll give you the simple, long term, get-rich-slowly ideas that will take you slowly but surely to retirement.

believe the title. i looked at a great many other inferior volumes so you wouldn’t have to bother.

protecting your wealth in good times and bad

by richard a. ferri
(isbn 0071408177)

why add more to the list if tobias’s is the only one you need? well, while this isn’t really necessary, it’s good reinforcement of the ideas in tobias’s book in sometimes exhausting mathematical detail, if you’re into that sort of thing, and could keep the inspiration flowing. the second half is nicely broken into chapters on “here’s what you should be doing if you’re 30. here’s what you should be doing if you’re 40. here’s what you should be doing…”.

how to invest $50-$5,000

by nancy dunnan
(isbn 006008779X)

this was a great idea for a book. ferri’s book is for anyone wanting more details about sound investing practices; this is for anyone just getting started and wanting less. too many people delay getting started investing because they think they need a large amount of money to invest. actually, there are many opportunities for investing quite small amounts, which can be rolled over into higher-earning investments as they accumulate. this book gives you a list of things you can do with $50, then what to do when you have $500, then
$1,000, etc. tobias will tell you the same things, but this is good if you’re hungry to get started doing something today and will ride the high from that into reading more later.


the complete tightwad gazette

by amy dacyczyn
(isbn 0375752250)

justly famous, the complete tightwad collection is both a reference and source of inspiration for anyone who wants to live cheaply but fully. while offering practical advice on a huge variety of situations, it reinforces the message that the source of frugality is imagination. should be on every bookshelf.

diets don’t work

by bob schwartz
(isbn 0942540166)

reflections on the real causes of weight problems among americans and suggestions on turning the problem around. great advice for anyone who wants to live more mindfully, but beware that you’ll have to get past the writing style, which lies somewhere between sideshow barker and infomercial televangelist. if you can gloss over the fact that “dr. bob schwartz” is followed by “, ph.d.”, you’ll find good substance under the style.

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