What I’m Reading: Hooked Edition

Welcome to another edition of my reading list!

Each week, I try to write useful articles on topics like psychology and habit formation, medicine and health, and science and entrepreneurship. Where do I get many of these ideas? By reading books written by people who are smarter than me.

Because of that, I love to share some of the better books I’ve been reading — and get suggestions from you, of course!

And with that said, here’s what I’ve been reading recently.

Hooked by Nir Eyal

Nir Eyal is a successful entrepreneur and has spent years studying how businesses use behavioral techniques to form habits in their customers. In this book, he covers practical ideas for “building products people love” and “creating user habits that stick.”

As an entrepreneur, I found the book fascinating and had multiple notes written within the first few pages. But — and this is why I added it to my reading list — I think it’s just as useful for the everyday person. What Eyal really covers is how our environment shapes our behavior (in the case of this book, he often references the digital environment). I’ve written about the power of environment design and choice architecture before, so it’s no secret that I think environment changes can be a powerful way to shape behavior.

I also believe that any interested reader who reads this book — entrepreneur or otherwise — would discover multiple ideas for sticking to better habits and applying Eyal’s “hook model” to their everyday life. Obviously, entrepreneurs and business people will find it particularly useful. (Full disclosure: Nir Eyal is a friend of mine and he is also running a Habits Summit in San Francisco on March 25th.)

Amazon link: Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum

As I mentioned in my 2013 Annual Review, photography is a renewed focus for me this year. I’ve already completed my first photo trip to Morocco (see here and here).

And because of my renewed focus, I’ve been searching for fantastic photography books, mentors, and resources. The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum is one of the best I’ve found. (Another popular photographer said that Barnbaum’s book is “the best ever written on photography.” I haven’t read them all, so I won’t make that claim, but it is excellent.)

In particular, Barnbaum’s points on simplicity resonated deeply with me and I think it certainly improved my photography in Morocco. More generally, Barnbaum does an excellent job of demystifying the magic behind a beautiful photo. So often you’ll hear photographers say things like, “You just need to have the eye for it” or “Some people can see it and some people can’t.” I never enjoyed these answers because it makes photography seem like a mysterious talent that you’re born with rather than a skill you can improve and master. Barnbaum breaks down the skill in a way that makes it seem much more achievable without eliminating the magical feel of a great image.

This is a great book to start with if you’re interested in taking photography seriously.

Amazon link: The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Earlier this month, I shared a series of quotes and lessons from the famous Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Those quotes came from his book, which is filled with brilliant life philosophies, interesting insights on difficult questions, and practical strategies for dealing with the challenges that we all face along the path of life.

As far as we know, Aurelius wrote these ideas down for himself and had no intention of publishing the book. In a way, Meditations offers an inside look at the mind of the man who was both governing the Roman empire and struggling with the same issues that you and I do on a daily basis.

The book doesn’t follow any formal chapter structure and doesn’t flow well in parts, but I’m continually impressed by how applicable the advice is to my day-to-day life. Many of the ideas are just as applicable today as they were centuries ago.

Meditations was written almost 2,000 years ago — in Greek — so there have been many translations and different versions over the years. I prefer the translation by Gregory Hays, which I linked to below. That said, there are also many wonderful free versions online, which I also shared below.

Amazon link: Meditations (Hays Translation)

Free link: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

What Have You Been Reading?

I hope you’ll find those books as interesting and useful as I have.

But more importantly, what have you been reading recently?

Click here to leave a comment and share.


  1. I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity….James have you read that book? I am currently going through this beautiful stuff. Try this…Thanks for your post

  2. I have just finished reading “Choose Yourself” by James Altucher. A great book for entrepreneurs or actually just anyone at all. Love, love, loved this book.

  3. James,

    You might be familiar with him already, but if you’re not, Galen Rowell was an amazing photographer, and the book “Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape” is excellent.

  4. I’m currently reading Power vs Force by David R Hawkins … I think you would love this book James. Would love to hear what you think of it.

  5. “The Last Best Cure – My quest to awaken the healing parts of my brain and get back my body, my joy, and my life” By Donna Jackson Nakazawa – excellent read.

    “The Happiness Project” By Gretchen Rubin – fun and funny, inspiring.

  6. You found some great books! I like how you were able to apply Nir Eyal’s book to your everyday life. I love when a business, psychology, marketing or investing book teaches skills to become better at the trade (I hope so!), but those skills are actually excellent skills to possess while simply living every day to its fullest. They’re multipurpose books in all sense of the word. Most people will read and see and hear the exact same things, but they will all definitely read, see, and hear something completely different. I love your blog posts and you’ve got me very very close to starting a blog of my own. I have lots to say and lots to share, but I have no patience for negative nancies. Your recent blog post about deciding to write regardless of those critics really hit me. Stay tuned ;)

  7. Been listening to Dr. Henry Cloud’s latest: Necessary Endings. Love how sometimes I pick up just the book I need to read. Plus there’s something really enjoyable about Dr. Cloud’s sense of humor and his Tennessee accent, ha ha!

  8. “I Am Ozzy”, by Ozzy Ozbourne. It’s quite a split from Marcus Aurelius, but no less relevant to entrepreneurs. Ozzy’s story is proof-positive that guts, a good sense of humor and sheer ignorance of the failure rate can also go a very long way. In short, it gives those of us with weaknesses hope for success.

  9. I was so excited about your post that I forgot to tell you what I am reading. I always have a few on the go. I’m currently reading The Thrive Diet by Brendan Brazier. Although I’m pro lifestyle eating and anti-diet, this book is actually about healthy lifestyle eating….I think he just chose a poor title. His focus is plant based with emphasis on high alkaline foods. He’s a champion ultra marathoner and former elite triathlete. He wanted to prove that it was possible to develop the strength and endurance required to perform at a high level with plant based “diet”. The logic is quite convincing and he is a good example of what he preaches. You may find it interesting since you are into weightlifting. Brendan ate these foods that allowed his body to naturally recover faster and therefore he was able to train harder and longer, which overall gave him great results. I’m also reading Be a People Person by John C Maxwell, and The Art of Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie. Although I’m not necessarily training to be a public speaker, the skills in this book are teaching me how to become a better communicator with people I run into every day.

  10. I’m reading Tell to Win by Peter Guber. This is a great book if you are a writer or entrepreneur. Peter Guber has had a successful career as a producer, studio CEO and businessman. The book gives insights on the power of story and how it can persuade, inspire and produce positive results, no matter what your endeavor.

  11. I am reading Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi. It follows the life and career of brilliant strategist Chanakya born in 340 BC and how he avenges the murder of his father and succeeds in making a common lad into a ruler of the Mauryan Empire in India. Simultaneously, through character of Gangasagar Mishra, Sanghi successfully spins a tale on today’s politics and brings to life strategy and wit of Chanakya’s mind. The comparison and similarity of events of the two eras captures the readers mind.

    I have just finished reading Kaneko’s Story. It’s a conversation with Mrs. Ikeda, wife of Dr. Daisaku Ikeda (president of Soka Gakkai international and a spiritual leader). The book encapsulates the life and accomplishments of Mrs. Ikeda as a child who faced the terror of World War in Japan, as a youth determined to dedicate her life toward creating value, and as a wife and mother of three sons. The experiences and thoughts shared in the book can reach important lessons to everyone.

  12. Will I Ever Be Good Enough by Dr Karyl Mc Bride – healing daughters of narcissistic mothers.
    An incredible eye opening book about the trail of destruction that blazes on for decades without help.

    An impressive work that deals with causations , cultural and familial, the desruction and ways to heal yourself and support others, an important read.

    • I am currently reading Winter of the World by Ken Follett. This is the 2nd book in the Century Trilogy. Fall of Giants was the first book and, as with Follett’s previous two books: The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, following the fictional characters through generational changes while experiencing real historical events is absolutely fascinating. Not only is the character development outstanding, reading historical novels always helps me to understand what it was like to experience actual history so long ago. His books are massive (usually around 1000 pages) but if you want a reading challenge I highly recommend his novels.

    • Hi, Jade. Thanks for sharing that book with us.

      A few years ago a read a book on destructive narcissism in parents called, Children of the Self-Absorbed by Nina Brown and found it very helpful to finally have a label to attach to the dysfunctional dynamic my father had with all of his children. I am in my early 40’s and my business coach and I continue to unwind how much that dynamic influences me. Thanks for adding another great book to the list and for re-kindling my interest in investigating this topic.

  13. I know there are a number of currency traders who read this blog. So for them, if you haven’t done so already, read the blogs by Shonn Campbell and Matt LaCoco. Brilliant stuff on the psychology of trading. That’s what I’m reading right now.

  14. Hi James, I am going through this wonderful book What to Say When you Talk To Yourself by Shad Helmstetter.This book talks about the kind of negative programming that we have been going through from the day we are born and explains us how to erase and reprogram our brain with the positive self talk. I am putting this techniques into action and clearly could feel the difference in me because, “What you put in, you get out” and “It’s not the pen, but the writer” that makes the difference.

  15. James told me in an email once that I should read Mastery by Robert Greene and I just finished it. I don’t read much, but I’ve never encountered a book that was so chock full of ideas and strategies. And to read something that details the accounts of how dozens of history’s greatest masters of their domains reached that level of eminence was inspiring. I’m glad James recommended it to me, and I recommend it to everyone who’s interested in not being mediocre, but in excelling in their domain, or as Robert Greene puts it, your Life’s Task.

  16. Nir’s book is great.

    Just finished Stephen King’s On Writing and it’s the best book about the craft of writing I’ve ever read.

    Now I’m reading Rework by Jason Fried … must-read for any aspiring entrepreneur.

  17. Thanks for sharing what’s on your reading list, always love to hear about a great new book to put in my queue. Right now, I’m really enjoying Contagious by Jonah Berger.

    Quick summary: 6 STEPPS of why things catch on.

    1. Social currency — what makes you look cool, smart or with the “in” crowd
    2. Triggers — why Cheerios is tweeted more than Disney World, we eat breakfast daily while going to the Magic Kingdom rarely
    3. Emotions — emotions that arouse an activated state, i.e. anger, awe, laughter get people to take action. while emotions like sadness, depression stifle action

    That’s as far as I am in the book right now, but the other factors are:

    4. Public
    5. Practical Value
    6. Stories

  18. I am currently reading Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Time for me to include some financial changes as part of the new me!

  19. Thanks for giving us a forum to celebrate excellent books.

    I have just finished The ONE Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. This was an excellent read and a great tool to help me gain FOCUS! Loved it and I am about to read it again for savour and for real application.

    In my book club we are about to wrap up Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell which gives great insight into common sense leadership strategies from a Disney perspective but certainly applicable to other organizations that strive to be GREAT!

    Thanks for the info on the photography book. Buying it today!

  20. Mind Lines by Michael Hall. Super geeky, but incredibly powerful book. It talks about how we create our reality through perceptions, how our language can show us how we (and others) create our reality, and how to go in and reframe things linguistically. Game changer.

  21. Hi James,

    I loved your new format of writing about the books. I am passionate about reading as I had to spend time alone mostly in my life. I have been reading Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I love reading about behavioral economics as well: such as prospect theory or behavioral economics and habit formation. As I am a social anthropologist I also read Helen Fisher’s research on love and relationships and read Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson.

    Success and thank you for the post!

  22. Thanks for sharing Some great suggestions. I am currently reading Society of Timid Souls or How to be brave., By Polly Morland. It explores some interesting concepts while simultaneously beIng entertaining- because who doesn’t like reading about acts of bravery and courage. It reinforces many of the ideas James promotes around habits, routines and community.

  23. James, nice post, I read “Meditations” a few years back and refer to it on a fairly regular basis. It is a great resource for life. I am listening to “The Outpost” by Jake Tapper. It is a compelling, inspiring and heart-breaking tale of the American Soldier in Afghanistan 2006-2009. Notwithstanding how one feels about the war, this is a tale about service, leadership, sacrifice and resolve. I highly recommend it.

  24. Hay James,

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I like reading your blog posts.

    As for me, I am currently reading Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. He is a brilliant marketer, author and entrepreneur. He shares about how it is important to get people permission first before we share our ideas with them.

    I think that’s what exactly you are doing. You have earned my permission and I do truly anticipate your ideas.

    Thanks again, James.

  25. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek — I’ve found this to give me clarity and simplicity in working to become a better leader for my team at work and at home. It’s also a fascinating look at leadership and teams from anthropological and biological perspective: how your leadership (or lack thereof) affects your people physically.

  26. This might be very interesting for you as well. The book is called: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. There is huge research behind it, lots of experiments and experience with huge possible usage. Its not just useful for get to know your daily bases decision making system, but also shocking in way how people can be primed by outer impulses.

    And thanks for Meditations, looking forward to reading them.

  27. Just got done reading the classic Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and was inspired by his amazing ability to stay positive in the toughest of circumstances. My suit, dress shoes, and guitar were just recently stolen and this book helped me stay positive in a seemingly very negative situation. But who knows how this could eventually benefit me down the road!

  28. I just finished Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero and Emotinally Healthy Woman by Gina Scazzero. Currently finishing When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up. For some reason, conflict resolution has been on my radar this past year and I keep finding myself in the role of peace maker and empathetic truth teller. These books came into my life at the right time.

    I am a third through The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte and Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields. But I am really enjoying having my brain jolted by Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. Yes, I really do read several books simultaneously. So much fun learning great ideas and how to live them!

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