The Top 10 Fiction Books for Non-Fiction Addicts


The dunes that inspired Dune: Agate beach sand dunes. (Photo: Kevin McNeal)

For a mere 20 years or so, I refused to read fiction. Read something that someone just made up? I can do that myself, thanks.

That was the attitude at least.

My time of reckoning came when I needed to fix insomnia, and non-fiction business books before bed just compounded the problem. I began reading fiction to “turn off” and instead saw breakthroughs in creativity and quality of life as a side-effect.

Now, if people ask me, for instance, “Which books should I read on leadership?”, I might reply: “Dune and Ender’s Game.” I’ve come to look for practical solutions in both fiction and non-fiction.

For those of you who are stuck in the business or how-to sections, as I was for decades, I offer you 10 fiction books that might change how you view the world… and how you perform.

The Top 10

Listed in no particular order…

1. Zorba the Greek

I have recommended this outstanding book before. It pits the instinctive against the intellectual, the simpleton (brilliant at times) against the over-thinker. Finding myself with my head frequently stuck up my own ass, this book is a constant companion and reminder to step outside of my brain.

Zorba himself would have you believe that words are wasteful and books a frivolous use of time (better spent dancing barefoot on the beach), but Zorba the Greek is stuffed like a grape leaf full of life-altering wisdom. For those looking to release the inner wild man, live each day in passionate awe, and reconnect with nature, Zorba reminds us how to live fully, love lasciviously and appreciate a life in the present tense.

2. Musashi

I bought this book at Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It is as thick as a Harry Potter book, probably thicker, but the pages are as thin as onion skin. It’s a serious tome. I never expected to finish it, and I tore through it in less than two weeks.

If you’re like me and enjoy a good Samurai story – the wandering ronin, epic battle scenes with lots of penetrating (wisdom), then you’ll love Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi. It’s sold more than 100 million copies in Japanese. Musashi’s transformation from talented yet conflicted young warrior to one of the greatest (perhaps the greatest) swordsman of all time teaches you about critical thinking, strategizing, and ultimately, that there is more to life than merely surviving. Musashi re-created himself from nothing and rose from destitution to legend.

Why not you?

3. Stranger in a Strange Land

Ever feel like you don’t quite fit in? Don’t want to follow society’s silly rules?

Then you can probably relate to human-born and Martian-raised Valentine Michael Smith. In this controversial 1960’s cult classic, Heinlein questions long held assumptions on religion, government, and sexuality (free Martian love for all!).

It’s also where the term “grok” originated.

4. Ender’s Game

At one point, this was the only book listed on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. If it’s good enough to be the sole selection of the founder of Facebook, maybe there’s something to it.

The plot: In anticipation of another attack from a hostile alien race, the search for a brilliant military strategist has led to Ender Wiggin.

In space combat school, Ender stands out, demonstrating exceptional leadership and unconventional strategy. But it is lonely at the top for Ender, as he struggles with relentless pressure from his instructors. Through Ender’s journey, you’ll learn how to capitalize on your strengths and those of your teammates, as well as exploit your adversaries’ weaknesses. Ender is a futuristic Level 5 Leader we can all learn from.

Teaser: Drop kicks in zero gravity are the bomb. Trust me.

5. Dune

To check the power of a fast-rising duke, a space emperor executes a convoluted plan to gain control of the all-important planet that has a monopoly of The Spice (a super drug-cum-jet fuel). But wait! The duke’s son is actually the messianic result of a breeding program run by space witches. Oh, and the Mentats? The coolest. If that all sounds like gibberish, don’t despair. Dune presents, despite my synopsis, perhaps the most incredibly detailed and oddly believable fictional landscape I’ve ever encountered.

Also, to add to any confusion: walk without rhythm, and you won’t attract the worm.

Completely unnecessary YouTube reference — Christopher Walken has rhythm:

6. High Fidelity

After his girlfriend leaves him for another man, Rob embarks on a journey of self-discovery and evaluation by contacting ex-girlfriends to see what went wrong in each relationship. High Fidelity teaches us that eventually we all have to grow up, get past adolescent self-importance, and take responsibility for our own lives.

Who says I only like books with killing, aliens, and Greeks? I’m a sensitive guy .

7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Raised in a culture where men are powerful, sexual, and dominant, the Klingon-speaking, D&D-playing chubby boy thinks he’ll never find true love or physical affection. Oscar struggles as a young immigrant from the Dominican Republic living with his older sister and mother in Paterson, New Jersey. A fun read with lots of geek culture, great history, and oh, it also won the Pulitzer Prize.

May the half-elves inherit the earth. Grey or Drow? Tough choice.

8. Fahrenheit 451

This classic work on state censorship remains as relevant in today’s world of digital delights as it was when published in the black-and-white world of 1953.

In a futuristic American city, firefighter Guy Montag does not put out blazes; instead, he extinguishes knowledge and promotes ignorance by conducting state decreed book burnings. After an elderly woman chooses a fiery death with her books rather than a life without the written word, he begins questioning not only his profession, but also a society that allows itself to be lulled into complacency by constant exposure to state-controlled, mind-numbing television shows.

If you wonder why some people take censorship so seriously, this book will give you the answer. It’s also a fantastically inspiring story of a one-versus-a-million fight that’s worth fighting. Who knows when your turn will come?

9. A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

If Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Star Wars had a love-child, it would read something like this.

This colorful novel by Douglas Adams begins with Arthur Dent narrowly escaping the Earth’s destruction as it is bulldozed to make room for a hyperspace bypass. Beyond the bizarre characters and plot twists, Adams proves that despite how bleak ones situation might be, there’s always something to laugh about. Adam’s Total Perspective Vortex is also considered to be a great Zen teaching tool, so if you’re looking for the meaning of life, you might not be far from the answer here.

If you need humor to make the jump to fiction, this might be your gateway drug.

10. Motherless Brooklyn

My mother and brother are, thankfully, book snobs. I mean this in the best way possible. Books take a lot of time, after all, and life is short. So when both my mom and broha simultaneously insisted that I read this book, I had to investigate.

A thriller about a detective with Tourette Syndrome? Sign me up. It’s a hysterical romp through high-stakes problem-solving and old-fashioned crime fighting, all told through deliciously mind-tickling prose. One of my absolute favorites.

Zen school and cop tapping? Check and check.


Which one fiction book would you choose to convert a non-fiction devotee to the world of imagination?

Posted on: February 24, 2012.

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289 comments on “The Top 10 Fiction Books for Non-Fiction Addicts

  1. This is awesome!
    This solves two problems for me!

    1. I need some new literature to sink my teeth into for 2012

    2. I *rarely* read fiction! I could probably count on one hand how much fiction I’ve read – so I’m really happy to have some great suggestions from one of my favorite non-fiction authors!

    So Tim…….. do you have a novel you’ll be springing on us at some point in the future??

    Could be cool!



    • For people who like things Japanese, with a dash of time travel and Studio Ghibli, try The Potter’s Notebook by Frank Giovinazzi.

      It’s a long book, more manageable on the Kindle, and involves a pair of brothers who have to work their way through the challenges and intrigues of a 17th century Japanese pottery making village.


  2. as a general rule of thumb science fiction tends to be more of a disguised observation about society then made up plots
    for example “war of the worlds” was a description of what imperial colonization must have looked like to the invaded natives of the time
    Fantasy fiction is more “excitement” oriented and has less subtext


    • I felt a chill of realization reading this comment. Thank you for helping this non-fiction addict see why i should give sci-fi a try. Ps: if u want to give a mystery thriller a try, Steven King called Lee Child’s mass-market tough guy/thinking man Jack Reacher “The coolest continuing series character currently on offer” (quote from memory).


      • We are HOOKED on the Lee child Jack Reacher series. He’s very much more minimalist than we are; it’s good food for thought. Also, Ender’s Game is simply extraodinary, as are most things by Robert Heinlein.


  3. Already read half the list. So I’m in good company. I would maybe have added a Salinger book but this is your list. It may be a good exercise for folks to go through their own top ten in the comments and we can compare notes.


  4. I’d like to recommend Siddhartha by Herman Hesse to anyone who enjoys reading about personal/spiritual journey and enlightenment! First time posting on the Ferriss blog! Hello everyone!


    • Daves/Davys must think alike. My choice would be another book by Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund. It’s a story of the tension – and reconciliation – between art and science. The world needs the best of both.


    • Siddhartha was good, although I liked Steppenwolfe better. It could just be the different stages of life. At the time I read it I was feeling more stuck in a rut than on the way to something new.


    • Excellent suggestion!!!! I just read Siddhartha and it led me to change the way I think about many aspects of life. Very refreshing read!!!


  5. Hey!

    I absolutely LOVED Zorba the Greek- I read it earlier this year when my friend told me that it reminded him of me.

    Of all the books I’ve read, that has to be the best one- It sits on my desk and I have a couple go-to pages when I need inspiration. I especially like it when Zorba talks about cutting off his finger because it got in the way! :) So much passion for so many things…

    Everybody can learn some important lessons from that book.

    Plus- it’s fun as hell to read.


  6. Though this doesn’t directly relate to this post, I’m presently using The Four Hour Body for my body transformation. I’ve never been so consistently eager about eating well and excercising! I must confess to sleeping at odd hours though. :)


    • I second Atlas Shrugged! My mentor gave it to me to read last summer, very awesome, great character development with many underlying parallels to capitalism and entrepreneurship. Plus the mystery/suspense was fantastic too


  7. This is an awesome list. Thank you!

    If you haven’t already, I would suggest looking at other works of Orson Scott Card such as Ender’s Shadow or Shadow of the Hegemon, which are about the same ordeal, but from another character’s perspective and then the same character’s stunning life after the war.

    The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas, is also an amazing book about friendship, betrayal, and revenge.

    Pirate Latitudes, posthumously published by Michael Crichton, is also very entertaining–something like Pirates of the Caribbean mixed with the Count of Monte Cristo.


  8. Hell yes! I’m a non-fiction addict and of the dozen fictional books I’ve read two are on this list. No idea what this means in the grand scheme of life, but I somehow feel more badass.

    P.S. Met Travis Kalanick today at Stanford. That dude has skills. Uber is killing it.


  9. That’s a great list, thanks! Thumbs up for Guide to the Galaxy, it is indeed very funny!

    I would also recommend The Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf & Evgeny Petrov which is a Russian classic novel about a con man which is hilarious at times but in addition can also teach a couple of things about leadership and meaning of life.
    Anyway, I thought that’s not a recommendation you come across very often, so why not to give it a try? However, I’m not sure whether much is lost in translation to English.


  10. OW MEN…

    Nice serie, will have to delay the 4hourWW re-read again by 10 books right now Tim ;-)

    However I personally loved:

    1. Shamtaram, a fiction book based on true story, but everything is in India and described so fantastic, it feels like a non-fiction book for everyone from ‘the west’ !!

    2. Game of Thrones: the HBO serie is based on a serious great series of books guys!

    3. Heroes of Ages (written by Brandon Sanderson): really easy reading, fantasy world with kingdoms, superpowers, heroes and myths. Maybe not the best one ever, but reads like a train, so great for holidays ;-)

    Enjoy, hasta la vista baby!