Book Summaries: Popular Books Summarized in 3 Sentences or Less
This page shares a full list of book summaries I have compiled during my reading and research. I have tried to summarize each book on this page in just three sentences, which I think is a fun way to distill the main ideas of the book. If a particular book sounds interesting to you, click on the full book summary and you can browse all of my notes on it.
These book summaries are not organized by category, so you might find a self-help book followed by a business book followed by a psychology book. If you would like to browse my book suggestions for a particular category, then check out my reading list instead.
Book Summaries by Title
This is a complete list of my book summaries in alphabetical order by title.
The Book in Three Sentences: Practicing meditation and mindfulness will make you at least 10 percent happier. Being mindful doesn’t change the problems in your life, but mindfulness does help you respond to your problems rather than react to them. Mindfulness helps you realize that striving for success is fine as long as you accept that the outcome is outside your control.
The Book in Three Sentences: The 10X Rule says that 1) you should set targets for yourself that are 10X greater than what you believe you can achieve and 2) you should take actions that are 10X greater than what you believe are necessary to achieve your goals. The biggest mistake most people make in life is not setting goals high enough. Taking massive action is the only way to fulfill your true potential.
The Book in Three Sentences: The only thing you have that nobody else has is control of your life. The hardest thing of all is to learn to love the journey, not the destination. Get a real life rather than frantically chasing the next level of success.
The Book in Three Sentences: An idea occurs when you develop a new combination of old elements. The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on your ability to see relationships. All ideas follow a five-step process of 1) gathering material, 2) intensely working over the material in your mind, 3) stepping away from the problem, 4) allowing the idea to come back to you naturally, and 5) testing your idea in the real world and adjusting it based on feedback.
The Book in Three Sentences: Seek out new ideas and try new things. When trying something new, do it on a scale where failure is survivable. Seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes as you go along.
The Book in Three Sentences: Too many people spend their life pursuing things that don’t actually make them happy. When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you create all the laws. Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers.
The Book in Three Sentences: There are three keys to being fully charged each day: doing work that provides meaning to your life, having positive social interactions with others, and taking care of yourself so you have the energy you need to do the first two things. Trying to maximize your own happiness can actually make you feel self-absorbed and lonely, but giving more can drive meaning and happiness in your life. People who spend money on experiences are happier than those who spend on material things.
The Book in Three Sentences: Everything in life is an invention. If you choose to look at your life in a new way, then suddenly your problems fade away. One of the best ways to do this is to focus on the possibilities surrounding you in any situation rather than slipping into the default mode of measuring and comparing your life to others.
The Book in Three Sentences: There are many ways to make profit and it is unlikely that your business does all of them. People will pay different prices for the same thing in different situations (think: Coke in the grocery store vs. Coke in a nice restaurant). Good profit models are easy to brainstorm and hard to execute.
The Book in Three Sentences: Know when to fight and when not to fight: avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak. Know how to deceive the enemy: appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak. Know your strengths and weaknesses: if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
The Book in Three Sentences: To become a better writer, you have to write more. Writing reveals the story because you have to write to figure out what you’re writing about. Don’t judge your initial work too harshly because every writer has terrible first drafts.
The Book in Three Sentences: Steve Martin was one of the most successful comedians of his generation. In his words, his career involved “10 years spent learning, 4 years spent refining, and 4 years spent in wild success.” This fantastic book provided beautiful insights not only into the details of his comedy act, but also into his early life and career development.
The Book in Three Sentences: The compound effect is the strategy of reaping huge rewards from small, seemingly insignificant actions. You cannot improve something until you measure it. Always take 100 percent responsibility for everything that happens to you.
The Book in Three Sentences: The United States is engaging in a modern form of slavery by using the World Bank and other international organizations to offer huge loans to developing nations for construction projects and oil production. On the surface this appears to be generous, but the money is only awarded to a country if it agrees to hire US construction firms, which ensures a select few people get rich. Furthermore, the loans are intentionally too big for any developing nation to repay and this debt burden virtually guarantees the developing nation will support the political interests of the United States.
The Book in Three Sentences: Ultimately, profit is the only valid metric for guiding a company, and there are only three ways to influence profit: price, volume, and cost. Of these three factors, prices get the least attention, but have the greatest impact. The price a customer is willing to pay, and therefore the price a company can achieve, is always a reflection of the perceived value of the product or service in the customer’s eyes.
The Book in Three Sentences: Randomness, chance, and luck influence our lives and our work more than we realize. Because of hindsight bias and survivorship bias, in particular, we tend to forget the many who fail, remember the few who succeed, and then create reasons and patterns for their success even though it was largely random. Mild success can be explainable by skills and hard work, but wild success is usually attributable to variance and luck.
The Book in Three Sentences: We do not have the freedom and free will that we think we do. Yes, you can make conscious choices, but everything that makes up those conscious choices (your thoughts, your wants, your desires) is determined by prior causes outside your control. Just because you can do what you want does not mean you have free will because you are not choosing what you want in the first place.
The Book in Three Sentences: Doing work and making money are not the same thing. Simplify your problem to the point where you understand the true goal of your organization. With your goal in mind, identify the constraints within your system (i.e. bottlenecks) and focus on improving the output of that constraint without worrying about the productivity of all related processes.
The Book in Three Sentences: Some environments provide more starting materials and more favorable conditions for utilizing inventions and building societies than other environments. This is particularly notable in the rise of European peoples, which occurred because of environmental differences and not because of biological differences in the people themselves. There are four primary reasons Europeans rose to power and conquered the natives of North and South America, and not the other way around: 1) the continental differences in the plants and animals available for domestication, which led to more food and larger populations in Europe and Asia, 2) the rate of diffusion of agriculture, technology and innovation due to the geographic orientation of Europe and Asia (east-west) compared to the Americas (north-south), 3) the ease of intercontinental diffusion between Europe, Asia, and Africa, and 4) the differences in continental size, which led to differences in total population size and technology diffusion.
The Book in Three Sentences: Nobody knows the best way to deliver your unique idea, no matter how smart they seem. Every artist has to find a way to make a living and share their work, preferably in a way that doesn’t ruin both. Finding your own voice and sharing that voice with the world is the most important thing.
The Book in Three Sentences: Many of our behaviors are driven by our desire to achieve a particular level of status relative to those around us. People are continually raising and lowering their status in conversation through body language and words. Say yes to more and stop blocking the opportunities that come your way.
The Book in Three Sentences: Conscious thought has a surprisingly small impact on your life and most of your behaviors are driven by the unconscious mind. There are competing beliefs within your unconscious mind that are all battling for the single output of your conscious behavior. The complex interactions between your genetics and your environment determine the trajectory of your life.
The Book in Three Sentences: A book of 73 photos by master landscape photographer Christopher Burkett.
The Book in Three Sentences: The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. Simply punishing the broken only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.
The Book in Three Sentences: Over the course of history, human behavior has changed, but not human nature. No matter who is in power, the rewards gradually accrue to the most clever and talented individuals. Ideas are the strongest things of all in history because they can be passed down and change the behavior of future generations—even a gun was originally an idea.
The Book in Three Sentences: This book is a series of letters written by a successful entrepreneur, John Graham, to his son offering various pieces of advice throughout the boy’s college years and early career. For example, 1) It isn’t so much knowing a whole lot, as knowing a little and how to use it that counts. 2) Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible. 3) A good wife doubles a man’s expenses and doubles his happiness, and that’s a pretty good investment if a fellow’s got the money to invest. And many other insights.
The Book in Three Sentences: Everyone has a truth that they need to live and share. For the author, that truth was committing to the daily practice of repeating the phrase “I love myself.” When you love yourself, life loves you back.
The Book in Three Sentences: Some things are in your power and some are not—do not confuse the two and do not desire the things that are not in your power. It is our opinion of things that determines how we feel about a particular event, not the event itself. Think carefully about how you spend your life because people often spend their lives chasing things that are neither as desirable nor as important as they seem.
The Book in Three Sentences: This book is a collection of transcriptions from a series of interviews between writer Calvin Tomkins and artist Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp believed strongly in doing work that was free from tradition and starting with as much of a blank slate as possible. He was also quite playful, worked slowly, and saw laziness as a good thing.
The Book in Three Sentences: Avoiding loss should be the primary goal of every investor. The way to avoid loss is by investing with a significant margin of safety. A margin of safety is necessary because valuation is an imprecise art, the future is unpredictable, and investors are human and make mistakes.
The Book in Three Sentences: Hosting dinners with like-minded people is one of the most powerful way to build fantastic relationships in business and in life. You should think carefully about who you invite to these meals and look for uncommon commonalities that make it more likely the guests will resonate with one another. Be the gatekeeper of your network and assume responsibility for the people you surround yourself with in life.
The Book in Three Sentences: The most successful path to mastering anything is to practice for the sake of the practice itself, not for the result. All significant learning is composed of brief spurts of progress followed by long periods of work where if feels as if you are stuck on a plateau. There are no experts–only learners.
The Book in Three Sentences: You can’t do the same things others do and expect to outperform. The most dependable way to outperform the market is to buy something for less than its value. It is price, not quality that determines value: high-quality assets can be risky, and low-quality assets can be safe.
The Book in Three Sentences: It is more important to live fully than to live in a straight line. The surest gauge of the impact a life makes is how many other lives it touches. Nothing in life looks the same once you truly understand that you are not exempt from death.
The Book in Three Sentences: The two classic drivers of human development are nature (genes) and nurture (environment). Many people mistakenly believe nurture only refers to how parents raise their children. Although children do learn things from their parents, they learn far more from their peers. The world that children share with their peer group is what shapes their behavior, modifies the characteristics they were born with, and determines the sort of people they will be when they grow up.
The Book in Three Sentences: Oliver Sacks was a brilliant physician and a fantastic writer. He lived a full life that included dealing with criticism over being gay, attending medical school at Oxford University, experimenting with heavy drug use, traveling the United States and Canada by motorcycle, suffering life-threatening injuries, squatting a California state record of 600 pounds, and being honored by the Queen of England for his many books and storied career as a physician. Sacks is a symbol of the importance of writing, the power of exploration and inquisitiveness, and the need for empathy.
The Book in Three Sentences: We all fear death, but life is long if you know how to use it. Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future: live immediately. In any situation in life you will find delights and relaxations and pleasures if you are prepared to make light of your troubles and not let them distress you.
The Book in Three Sentences: The human brain is wired for inattention and inertia. As a result, many people already have good intentions, but don’t follow through due to forgetfulness, procrastination, or a general lack of awareness. We can bridge the gap between our intentions and our behavior by using strategies to lock in our future behavior like active choice, pre-commitment, good design, reframing, and simplicity.
The Book in Three Sentences: All of life is practice in one form or another. Actively practicing something is very different from passively learning. You will never reach a level of performance that feels complete, so learn to love the art of practicing your skill.
The Book in Three Sentences: Before you pay your expenses, take your profit first. Run your business based on what you can afford to do today, not what you hope to be able to afford someday. When profit comes first, it is the focus, and it is never forgotten.
The Book in Three Sentences: This book is an autobiography written by a 13-year-old boy from Japan about what it is like to live with autism. The way autistic people view the world is very different than the way we may perceive them to view the world. This disconnect between how we view and treat people with autism and how they actually view the world makes living with autism even more difficult.
The Book in Three Sentences: A book of 68 photos by master landscape photographer Christopher Burkett.
The Book in Three Sentences: Save at least 10 percent of everything you earn and do not confuse your necessary expenses with your desires. Work hard to improve your skills and ensure a future income because wealth is the result of a reliable income stream. You cannot arrive at the fullest measure of success until you crush the spirit of procrastination within you.
The Book in Three Sentences: This book contains a number of “rules for a knight,” which are lessons on how to live better. For example, 1) never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one and 2) the only intelligent response to the ongoing gift of life is gratitude, and 3) how a knight lives is what is important, not on which particular afternoon he was born or on which specific morning he might die. Along with many other insights.
The Book in Three Sentences: Human history has been shaped by three major revolutions: the Cognitive Revolution (70,000 years ago), the Agricultural Revolution (10,000 years ago), and the Scientific Revolution (500 years ago). These revolutions have empowered humans to do something no other form of life has done, which is to create and connect around ideas that do not physically exist (think religion, capitalism, and politics). These shared “myths” have enabled humans to take over the globe and have put humankind on the verge of overcoming the forces of natural selection.
The Book in Three Sentences: What if we measured our lives based on “distance” traveled rather than time elapsed? If we measure life by distance rather than time, then it becomes very clear that you can hack time by figuring out how to jump further along the timeline of life. This enables you to live many lives in one lifetime. For example, someone who retires at age 30 will free up an extra 40+ years of life compared to their peers, which means they can live an entire second life that many people will never get to experience.
The Book in Three Sentences: We do not realize how much the non-conscious mind impacts our behavior and personality. In many cases, the non-conscious mind influences our behavior more than our conscious thoughts do and the two minds will often conflict with one another, which can make it difficult to keep our desires and our actions in alignment. The first step to bringing our non-conscious inclinations into alignment with our conscious desires is to act more like the person we want to be.
The Book in Three Sentences: What makes humans different from every other animal is that we think about the future. However, our brains fall victim to a wide range of biases that cause our predictions of the future (and our memories of the past) to be inaccurate. Because of these mental errors it is remarkably difficult to predict what will make us feel happy.
The Book in Three Sentences: Finding something important and meaningful in your life is the most productive use of your time and energy. This is true because every life has problems associated with it and finding meaning in your life will help you sustain the effort needed to overcome the particular problems you face. Thus, we can say that the key to living a good life is not giving a fuck about more things, but rather, giving a fuck only about the things that align with your personal values.
The Book in Three Sentences: You can do just about anything if you break down the task into habits. You are more likely to stick with good habits over the long run if you start with tiny habits that are incredibly easy in the beginning. When you miss a habit once, getting back on track and sticking with the next occurrence of that habit should become the top priority in your life.
The Book in Three Sentences: Humans are unique among the animal kingdom because of their brain. The human brain evolved through two methods: biological evolution, which takes a long time and cultural evolution, which is incredibly fast by comparison. These evolutionary processes have resulted in the development of mirror neurons, which contribute to our remarkable levels of creativity, ambition, communication.
The Book in Three Sentences: Learning “how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It can be easy to spend our entire lives accepting our natural default ways of thinking rather than choosing to look differently at life. The only thing that is capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see life and how you construct meaning from experience.
The Book in Three Sentences: Behavioral problems, not technical skills, are what separate the great from the near great. Incredible results can come from practicing basic behaviors like saying thank you, listening well, thinking before you speak, and apologizing for your mistakes. The first step to change is wanting to change.
The Book in Three Sentences: The memoir of Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon at Stanford University, who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in his mid-thirties. Kalanithi uses the pages in this book to not only tell his story, but also share his ideas on how to approach death with grace and what it means to be fully alive.
The Book in Three Sentences: Letting go of what we know is hard, but essential for growth and improvement. The quicker you let go of old things, the sooner you can learn new skills and create a better future. When you change what you believe, you can change what you do.
Enjoy this list of book summaries? Check out my popular reading lists to find more good books to read.