You Are What You Read: 14 Thought Leaders Share Their Bookshelves


Photo: Ozyman

The following is a guest post by Shane Snow, a frequent contributor to Wired and Fast Company. It includes photographs of some fun bookshelves, including yours truly (Tim Ferriss). CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

Enter Shane

They say a person’s eyes are “the window to the soul.”

I am not very good at pupil-based soul-reading, but I’ve found that I can learn a lot about a person by the books on his or her shelf. When I go to someone’s house or office for the first time, my favorite thing to do is check out the bookshelf.

Here’s what’s on mine:

(click to enlarge any and all photos in this post)

Storytelling is a powerful force, as I’m a fan of reminding people. Stories—fiction and non—make ideas stick; they change minds and shape us in often subconscious ways. I believe the mind of a well-read person is heavily influenced by the books of her past.

A few weeks ago, I decided to conduct a little experiment.

I emailed a few friends and people I admired and asked them if I could see photographs of their bookshelves (or book stacks or Kindle screens). Just about everybody said, “yes.” The experiment soon metastasized, and I started pestering thought leaders in spaces I followed–tech, advertising, philanthropy–to see what books the innovators cared enough about to allot real estate.

Soon, I had more photos than I knew what to do with. Here are some of my favorites:


Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at and one of the smartest women in American tech


Fred Wilson, Partner at Union Square Ventures and the man responsible for investments in Tumblr, Etsy, CodeAcademy, KickStarter, Meetup, Soundcloud, Twitter, Behance, and StackExchange… Read More

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Why (and How) Creative People Need to Say "No"


The following is a guest post by Kevin Ashton, the co-founder of the MIT Auto-ID Center, which created a global standard system for RFID and other sensors.

He also created the Internet of Things.

Enter Kevin

A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. One of the most interesting things about his project was how many people said “no.”

Management writer Peter Drucker: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours–productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”

Secretary to novelist Saul Bellow: “Mr. Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.'”

Photographer Richard Avedon: “Sorry–too little time left.”

Secretary to composer György Ligeti: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the Fall…” Read More

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The Fantastic Mr. Feynman


[If the above video has been disabled, please click here to see it.]

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
– Richard P. Feynman

This is my favorite documentary of one of my favorite people, Richard Feynman.

His lectures and books — such as Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) — have greatly inspired many of my best decisions in life. He also inspired me to teach.

I hope you enjoy the film as much as I did. Whether you like bongo drums, safe cracking, go-go dancers, or physics, there’s something for everyone.


Question of the day: If you had to pick your favorite documentary, which would it be and why? Let me know in the comments!

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The Magic of DonorsChoose — Join Me and Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian for Dinner

62 Comments is the first charity named to Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.

I dislike most non-profits because — good intentions aside — they get little or no results.

DonorsChoose, on the other hand, is incredibly effective. In this month’s Vanity Fair, Melinda Gates describes them as “Kickstarter for classrooms.” Here’s her short article, which includes a photo spread by Annie Leibovitz. I make a guest appearance, which was a dream come true.

Here’s why I’m on their advisory board: To me, poor education is the root cause of most of our problems. DonorsChoose (DC) is helping to fix education.

This post launches a competition. If you’ve ever benefited from anything I’ve written, I’d kindly ask you to participate.

The four winners will get flown to dinner with me, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and DonorsChoose’s founder, Charles Best. Roundtrip economy airfare to/from NYC is covered for all four winners.

Ready? Here are the details… Read More

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The Dangers of Hero Worship: An Open Letter from Ryan Hall


Ryan Hall

At first glance, this post appear to be about martial arts, as it’s written by Ryan Hall.

Ryan is a new friend and a phenom.  He’s IBJJF Mundial (world) and No-Gi Mundial champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), with more than 300 career victories and 275+ submissions to his credit.  Looking past his fight record, this letter and post is about the dangers of hero worship.  Whether you aim to lead others or follow the best leaders, there are important lessons here.

Even if you skip the martial arts-specific references, this is worth reading.  No time now?  Bookmark it and make time later.

Enter Ryan Hall


1- Table of Contents

2- Foreword

 3- An Open Letter to the Martial Arts Community

 5- My Story

 8- Hero Worship and The Martial Arts

 9- You May Think You Know Your Coach, But You Probably Don’t

 12- Innocence and Trust Capitalized on for Manipulation

 15- Martial Arts as a Means of Generating a Cult Following

 19- Final Thoughts… Read More

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The Magic of Apprenticeship — A How-To Guide


In 1902, Einstein (far right) formed “The Olympia Academy” with two friends, who met to discuss books about science and philosophy. Three years later, Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis papers vaulted him to international fame.

I’m asked “How do I find a mentor?” all the time.

I’ve never had a good answer. The sad fact is this: people you want as mentors don’t want to view themselves as pro-bono life coaches. So what to do?

First, change the question. Perhaps it’s a cliche to say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears, but it’s a prescription in disguise. Here, the better question is “How do I become an ideal apprentice?”

The best treatment of apprenticeship I’ve ever found is in Mastery, the latest book by Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power. His writing on apprenticeship, mentor cultivation, and in-depth mastery of skills makes Mastery the perfect companion book to The 4-Hour Chef, in my opinion. It’s one of the few books I made time to read cover-to-cover in the last few months.

The below article explores examples of world-class apprentices and how you can emulate them. Once you do that, growth is a foregone conclusion.

Enter Robert Greene

The path to greatness is simple. It’s the path followed by everyone from Renaissance artists to the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley. In writing my first four books, I immersed myself in the study these types of people–some of most powerful figures in history. Over the course of many hours of thinking, researching and writing on excellence–the last four years of which were dedicated to writing my newest book–I discerned an unmistakable formula for becoming the bestRead More

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The Value of Aggression — Ode to Dan Gable


Dan Gable is a demi-god in the world of wrestling. He’s been called “Sports Figure of the Century” by Sports Illustrated. Why?

As an athlete, he had a 182-1 prep and college record. His single loss, in his final NCAA match, infuriated him. To make up for it, he out-trained the world and won the gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics…without surrendering a single point. This is like winning Wimbledon on serves alone.

Most impressive to me, as coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, he was able to replicate his success. He had a recipe. Here are a few stats from his 21-year career:

21-year record — 355-21-5 (94.4% wins)
Big Ten record — 131-2-1 (98.5% wins)
21 Big Ten Team Titles
45 National Champions
152 All-Americans

The above video clip is from Dan Gable – Competitor Supreme, which my mom bought for me when I was 15. It changed my life.

I watched it almost every day in high school, and it kept me fighting through all the various losses in life. Didn’t finish the SAT in time? Watch Dan Gable. Have a guidance counselor laugh while telling me I don’t stand a chance of getting into Princeton? More Dan Gable. Lost my first important judo match in 7 seconds? Watch the Iowa Hawkeyes…again and again and again. Then, return to the same tournament six months later and win.

In life, there are dog fights. You must learn to enjoy them. Few people look forward to banging heads (literally or metaphorically), and therein lies the golden opportunity.

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But there are factors inside your control that greatly improve the odds. Being aggressive doesn’t guarantee success, but failing to be aggressive nearly always guarantees failure. In a modern world of political correctness, glad handing, and fear of offending everyone and anyone, the art of the fight is undervalued.

Remember: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.


In Other News:

Have you read The 4-Hour Body but not put a review on Amazon? Please leave one here! It would really mean the world to me.

Have you read The 4-Hour Workweek but not put a review on Amazon? Please leave one here! I actually read them!

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