The best brief books on the art of living and dying

The Books I Picked & Why

The Bhagavad Gita

By Eknath Easwaran, Vyasa

Book cover of The Bhagavad Gita

Why this book?

Mohandas Gandhi once said: “When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day.”

This ancient foundational text from Hinduism had such a profound effect on one of the greatest men of peace in the twentieth century. There is so much to discover in this book about the world and the human experience.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Into the Wild

By Jon Krakauer

Book cover of Into the Wild

Why this book?

Krakauer is a fascinating man and a great writer who has created a modern classic that tells an extraordinary story of youthful exuberance, pushing it to the limit, and ultimately loss. This book fascinated me as an adventurous young man filled with desire to push the limits and feeling that I had something to prove. There is much to gain from this slender volume. Also, it is one of the few books that I have seen turned into a movie that does not disappoint.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.


By Christopher Hitchens

Book cover of Mortality

Why this book?

Hitchens was a man on a mission with a razor sharp intellect. These precious words written while Hitchens was losing a fatal battle with cancer are fascinating and he touches on some profound ideas. I was especially struck by the conviction of a man who was a staunch atheist unflinchingly prepared for a godless death. Hitchens was not only witty, but inspirational and courageous.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Tao Te Ching

By Lao Tzu, Gia-fu Geng, Jane English, Toinette Lippe

Book cover of Tao Te Ching

Why this book?

Rarely do I read a book more than once since I subscribe to the “so many books, so little time” school of thought. But this gem from ancient China is one of the most profound books of my lifetime and I have been through it countless times in numerous translations. Since discovering it as a college freshman at the age of nineteen it is hard to say if any book has had a greater impact on my life.

The book is only about 5,000 Chinese characters which translates to 9,000 words. There are those who say the Tao can be read in a day or in a lifetime. I started with a day, but now I realize that Lao Tzu’s Tao will be a mentor for life.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Becoming Enlightened

By Dalai Lama XIV

Book cover of Becoming Enlightened

Why this book?

This is the longest book on the list and the one I have read most recently. I keep coming back to this book again and again for insights and inspiration. The ageless wisdom of the Dalai Lama comes alive in a book that is not only informative but is actionable. As someone who has long been interested in Buddhism this gem not only is a deep dive into the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism but it goes into the theme of Enlightenment in a way that I have never found elsewhere.

This book is filled with insights that reveal so much about the Dalai Lama and the ancient philosophy that governs himself and his people. There is something profound here to be discovered for anyone thinking deeply about life, death, Buddhism, and enlightenment.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists