The best motivational books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about motivation and why they recommend each book.

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Human Motivation

By David C. McClelland,

Book cover of Human Motivation

To me, an important book should: (1) help us to understand and see things differently; (2) be based on careful research and empirically based; and (3) stand the test of time.

Motivating others is the primary purpose if leaders. McClelland led research into the unconscious processes that motivate people. Using projective techniques and latent coding of myths, folklore, music, prayers, literature and such, he and his colleagues unlocked the deeper messages socialized into people. In this book, McClelland reveals a rich 50 year history of rigorous research from psychology, anthropology, sociology, and history. His theory of motivation is the most liberating and useful, as well as validated through voluminous research. He compiled and updated his many books, articles and those of colleagues in this, his last magnum opus. If you wish to learn about Needs for Achievement, Affiliation and Power and how they explain everything from effectiveness to relationships to…


Who am I?

As a professor and scientist, using my Intentional Change Theory (ICT), I have studied sustained desired change of individuals, teams, organizations, communities, and countries since 1967. I have authored more than 200 articles and 9 books on leadership, competencies, emotional intelligence, competency development, coaching, neuroscience, and management education (including the international best-seller, Primal Leadership with Daniel Goleman and Annie McKee and the recent Helping People Change with Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten). I run several Coursera MOOCs, including Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence which has over a million enrolled from 215 countries.


I wrote...

Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth

By Melvin Smith, Ellen Van Oosten, Richard E. Boyatzis

Book cover of Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth

What is my book about?

Helping others is a good thing. Often, as a leader, manager, doctor, teacher, or coach, it's central to your job. But even the most well-intentioned efforts to help others can be undermined by a simple truth: We almost always focus on trying to "fix" people, correcting problems or filling the gaps between where they are and where we think they should be. Unfortunately, this doesn't work well, if at all, to inspire sustained learning or positive change.

Why We Do What We Do

By Edward L. Deci, Richard Flaste,

Book cover of Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation

Understanding ourselves starts with understanding our motivations and shifting our thoughts toward internal empowerment. Why We Do What We Do offers an exploration into acting with autonomy and understanding how to manage ourselves consciously. Our internal empowerment is achieved through reframing success where the focus is placed on creating space for outcomes, balancing motivation through experience, and managing the pressures of the external environment. I am a firm believer that you can build a plan, but your path is your path. Allowance for the personal freedom to explore your path given autonomy and competence is core to motivation. This book elicits a perspective toward making changes in a way that’s true to your choices and managing the noise that surrounds you. 


Who am I?

I have a passion for helping people realize being better through sharing my thoughts and experiences to guide them on their path. My curiosity of understanding “why people do what they do?” started when I was 13. The search for this questions evolving answer led me on an educational, career, and personal journey that authored a unique perspective to move people forward. Working with people for over 25 years through clinical therapy, personal coaching, and now through my company Rhodes Smith Consulting, I see patterns in the struggle to transform. Books offer me new perspectives or reinforce old ones in expanding my knowledge and helping people master their own intentions. Enjoy!


I wrote...

Intention: Building Capabilities to Transform Your Story

By Ian D. Brooks,

Book cover of Intention: Building Capabilities to Transform Your Story

What is my book about?

Have you ever wanted to expand who you are and move past the ‘box’ you’re in, but don’t know how? Intention provides steps to transform personal stories by focusing on your capabilities to move forward. It integrates research, experience, and fictional imagery to illuminate a path for transformation in a digestible way.

Intention contains five parts, each offering questions that elicit inner dialogue for application. On your way to solving a specific concern now, you’ll build capabilities to address any future change. Intention shows that successful transformations – from leaders influencing teams, losing weight, to just being better – start with you. In the end, you are challenged to use the book as a guide to master your intentions and create new possibilities for your story.

Carrots and Sticks

By Ian Ayres,

Book cover of Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done

Hyperbolic discounting is a term used in behavioral economics to describe our tendency to overvalue immediate gratification while undervaluing future rewards. When asked to choose between getting (A) one apple a year from now or (B) two apples a year and a day from now, people pick (B). However, if the choice is between getting (A) one apple today or (B) two apples tomorrow, people find (A) more attractive. Why is it so difficult to acquire good habits, like going to bed early or getting important work done, instead of playing with our smartphone? The idea of hyperbolic discounting offers a brilliant explanation, shedding light on the troublesome natures we humans possess. Although that’s not the main focus of this book, it’s still an excellent, easy-to-read introduction to behavioral economics.


Who am I?

When I became a minimalist, I found that having less made my household chores so much easier. Before then, I thought I was a loser who lets dirty dishes and laundry pile up. But when my environment changed, what I had believed was my personality also shifted. Once my apartment was tidy, it became a habit to do the dishes right away and vacuum the floor before going out, and my life became consistently enjoyable. But other habits were harder nuts to crack, like quitting drinking or exercising regularly. In Hello, Habits I write about my journey of acquiring these habits through a process of trial and error.


I wrote...

Hello, Habits: A Minimalist's Guide to a Better Life

By Fumio Sasaki,

Book cover of Hello, Habits: A Minimalist's Guide to a Better Life

What is my book about?

Fumio Sasaki changed his life when he became a minimalist. But before minimalism could really stick, he had to make it a habit. All of us live our lives based on the habits we’ve formed, from when we get up in the morning to what we eat and drink to how likely we are to actually make it to the gym. In Hello, Habits, Sasaki explains how we can acquire the new habits that we want―and get rid of the ones that don’t do us any good.

Drawing on leading theories and tips about the science of habit formation from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and sociology, along with examples from popular culture and tried-and-tested techniques from his own life, he unravels common misperceptions about "willpower" and "talent," and offers a step-by-step guide to success.

Altruistic Personality

By Samuel P. Oliner, Pearl M. Oliner,

Book cover of Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe

What motivated “ordinary people” to risk their lives and their families’ lives to save Jews? I was especially interested to know because my father and his labor battalion of 140 Hungarian Jews were saved by their Commanding Officer. As a therapist, I wondered what personal and family characteristics made a difference. As a mother, I wanted to raise children who care about others and take action in the face of injustice.

Based on interviews with 700 rescuers and survivors, central was the rescuers’ sense of personal obligation to others which began with close family relationships and seeing their parents model caring behavior and ethical values. I remember hearing a rescuer sum it up, “I had to do it to be able to live with myself.”


Who am I?

I am a member of a generation that wasn’t supposed to be born. My parents were Hungarian Holocaust survivors and I was born amidst the fragments of European Jewry that remained. As a psychotherapist, I have specialized in helping people navigate the multigenerational reverberations of the Holocaust. Having a witness to your own experience, in therapy and through books, provides comfort, understanding, and hope.


I wrote...

Legacy of Rescue: A Daughter's Tribute

By Marta Fuchs,

Book cover of Legacy of Rescue: A Daughter's Tribute

What is my book about?

This intergenerational memoir tells the story of my father, Morton (Miksa) Fuchs, and his rescuer, Zoltán Kubinyi, the Hungarian Army Officer who defied Nazi orders and saved 140 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. The book includes photos, Holocaust testimony, meeting the rescuer’s family, my childhood memories and escape in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and reflections by the third generation in my family.

"You may think you have read everything you ever wanted to hear about this era; but you will find this book will stir you to tears, and inspire you with courage.” (John F. Duge, PhD, MD)

The Obstacle Is the Way

By Ryan Holiday,

Book cover of The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph

This book is really for anyone trying to do anything hard in life – because life is freaking hard. I actually find this to be the single most useful (and nearly best) nonfiction title in my library (of about 2,500 volumes), and it’s useful for everything – but, given that Holiday mainly makes his living writing bestselling books, once again writers enjoy a particular embarrassment of riches here. Also N.B. – contains the secret of life.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing for 25 years, making a living at it for 10, and have ground out 29 books and counting – battling pretty much every step of the way. I not long ago completed work on a 6-year, 16-book, 1.6-million-word project – by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done… or ever will do. (I know because it nearly killed me, and I both can’t and won’t do anything like it again.) Reasonable people can disagree about life, but I’m pretty sure the Artist’s Journey is a battle, and not an idyll. YMMV.


I wrote...

ARISEN: Raiders, Volume 1 - The Collapse

By Michael Stephen Fuchs,

Book cover of ARISEN: Raiders, Volume 1 - The Collapse

What is my book about?

Two teams of pipe-hitting special-operations Marines, left to die in the fall of North America. One nuclear supercarrier strike group, humanity's last best hope for survival. And seven billion ravening dead guys, rampaging across an overrun planet.

Climb aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, the most complex and deadly warship ever built by man, along with its Marine Raider guardians, to experience two years of horrors and glories of the Zulu Alpha across the world's fallen ports and coasts. Now, after the epic 14-book ARISEN main series, the story before the story can finally be told…

Shift Your Mind

By Brian Levenson,

Book cover of Shift Your Mind: 9 Mental Shifts to Thrive in Preparation and Performance

Your mindset may be the most important factor in not only your performance, but in your happiness and fulfillment as well. It creates the foundation for your attitude and your philosophy on life. Shift Your Mind is a brilliantly written, practical guide full of useful constructs to help you heighten your current perspective and greatly enhance the quality of your life, your relationships, and your performance.


Who am I?

I’m a professional keynote speaker and author that has long been fascinated with tenants of high performance. When I began, I was curious about how high performance could lead to increased achievement and accomplishment. Now, I am fascinated by how high performance can lead to heightened happiness and fulfillment. Thus, I love reading, watching, and listening to any resource that can help improve the quality of my life… so that I can pay that forward and improve the quality of life for those I serve. I believe a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. 


I wrote...

Sustain Your Game: High Performance Keys to Manage Stress, Avoid Stagnation, and Beat Burnout

By Alan Stein Jr., Jon Sternfeld,

Book cover of Sustain Your Game: High Performance Keys to Manage Stress, Avoid Stagnation, and Beat Burnout

What is my book about?

Sustain Your Game is for anyone who is looking to improve their performance consistently year after year without feeling burned out, hyper-stressed, or overwhelmed. It is for high performers who want to learn practical strategies and actionable steps on how to maintain a high standard of excellence… while enjoying the journey!  

It examines how the highest performers across a plethora of industries have been able to create long-term success while simultaneously managing unparalleled pressure and stress.  It unpacks their standards, systems, and strategies and provides proven principles that can be implemented immediately to create unparalleled achievement… and sustainable fulfillment…  in every area of life.

Think and Grow Rich

By Napoleon Hill,

Book cover of Think and Grow Rich

After reading this book, I realized that I was actually repelling wealth. In order to transform your reality, you need to reprogram your subconscious mind. What you think becomes reality. The author teaches specific principles but it is up to the reader to apply them. You’ll need to write daily goals and affirm them aloud daily. My copy is full of highlights, notes, and annotations. There are too many nuggets of wisdom to mention. If you want to attract abundance in your life, this is the first book you need to read!


Who am I?

I am and always will be a teacher. For the past 25 years, I dedicated my life to inspiring students to achieve their goals and manifest their dreams. I finally decided to take my own advice and listen to the calling that has been ringing louder and louder over the years. I used my gifts to become a certified Law of Attraction coach, reiki practitioner, and Tarot reader. While I may have left the academic classroom, I was called to the world classroom. As an author, speaker, coach, and healer, I awaken the manifestation superpower that exists in all of us.


I wrote...

Living Your Own Aloha: 5 Steps to Manifesting Your Dreams

By Kelly Weaver,

Book cover of Living Your Own Aloha: 5 Steps to Manifesting Your Dreams

What is my book about?

The Hawaiian word "Aloha" evokes an image of white, sandy beaches and cool tropical breezes, but the significance of the word goes beyond a mere greeting and farewell. Aloha encapsulates all of the love, peace, compassion, and affection one feels when connected to the vibrational energy of the islands. The word is a definition of the force that holds together our very existence. Author and certified Law of Attraction coach, Kelly Weaver shares candid stories of her own struggles and successes through her journey of manifestation and personal growth as she learned to embrace aloha in her life.

With keen insight into the universal law that "like attracts like," she uses a mnemonic device and "Inspired Assignments", to guide readers through her process of self-reflection and discovery. 

Smarter Faster Better

By Charles Duhigg,

Book cover of Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity

While productivity and creativity might seem like strange bedfellows at first, this book taught me plenty of ways to think differently and to optimize my work with others. Since much of the best marketing is done in or by groups, effective group dynamics are key. This book also underscores how important it is to add processes, rules, and planning to seemingly unstructured work habits to make them more efficient. (I’m looking at you, nebulous “brainstorms” with no clear goal or code of conduct.)


Who am I?

You know how most young kids go through a phrase where they ask “why” about everything, and then they ask it again, and again, and again? Well, I never really outgrew that. I studied journalism because it gave me permission to be curious about new things every day, and to ask experts “why.” Marketing gave me a new way to chase my curiosity: Why are people clicking this ad, opening this email, following that social account or searching for that phrase? I’ve helped 30% of the Fortune 100 answer the questions about why their content is working, or isn’t, and my first book, The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas, was born from my introspective curiosity about how my own idea generation process worked. 


I wrote...

The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas

By Melanie Deziel,

Book cover of The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas

What is my book about?

In The Content Fuel Framework, trained journalist and award-winning content marketer Melanie Deziel shows you how to maximize your creativity by systematizing it. This simple framework catalyzes the brainstorming process, making idea generation effortless and nearly automatic. No more writer's block. No more asking "what should I post?" No more waiting for that "big idea" to show up in its own time. 

Never before have we consumed as much content, in as many forms, and in as many places as we do now. This means marketers, creators, and anyone who communicates with an audience is under more pressure than ever to deliver unique content, consistently. How can you fill all those web pages, social feeds, blogs, and newsletters, every single day?

The Soul of Battle

By Victor Davis Hanson,

Book cover of The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny

Victor Davis Hanson, a PhD classics professor and historian, puts forth a fascinating account of three military leaders who brought an end to powers who held people in bondage. Which three? 

Epaminondas broke the power of Sparta by freeing the Helots. The Spartans held the Helots in slavery to do all the farming so they could focus on military training. Epaminondas not only defeated the Spartans in battle, but he also brought an end to the slavery that empowered them.

William Tecumseh Sherman, in his famous march to the sea, broke the Confederacy. When all seemed lost for Lincoln, word came like a thunderbolt from Sherman that, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.” Shermans Army of the West proved that the South could be defeated. This bringing an end to slavery.   

George Patton, “…you will continue your victorious course to end that tyranny…” Hanson speculates that the war could have…


Who am I?

I have been interested in history and in particular military history for my entire life. Since 2006 I have been a George Washington interpreter. I portray the great man in first person live presentations and in documentary film. I have devoted a great deal of time in study of him. As a result of my studies of Washington, I felt compelled to write a book about him. I wanted to capture aspects of him not covered in most books or in film. Four of the books I reviewed involve George Washington.


I wrote...

George Washington at War - 1776

By John Koopman III,

Book cover of George Washington at War - 1776

What is my book about?

A fast paced, action packed, historical novel on the early campaigns of the American Revolution. The “Siege of Boston” and the “Battle of Harlem Heights” will be given a fresh and exciting look. Learn new insights about the character of George Washington. As horses were key to the time period, the reader will learn much about them.

Follow the exploits of three groups of Continental soldiers in Washington’s Army. The Abbot Brothers of Andover, Massachusetts, who join up to avenge the death of their older brother who was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill. Sergeant Justus Bellamy of Cheshire, Connecticut, provides bold leadership to the men of his company. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton of Ashford, Connecticut, leads his Rangers on dangerous missions.

The Journey Beyond Fear

By John Hagel III,

Book cover of The Journey Beyond Fear: Leverage the Three Pillars of Positivity to Build Your Success

The Journey Beyond Fear is an outstanding work that provides both an understanding and a framework for creating a workplace that is productive and positive. Hagel continues his lifelong research with an entrepreneurial perspective that offers strategic advice for teams and organizations. He lays out a framework that emphasizes the need for productivity and positive human emotions. He underscores that fear-based work is counterproductive, and he illustrates the importance of positive emotion by sharing applicable behaviors and outlining specific ways of creating value from narratives, passion, and platforms.


Who are we?

The three co-authors of The Smart Mission: NASA’s Lessons for Managing Knowledge, People, and Projects have been at the center of organizational and leadership transformation. Dr. Ed Hoffman was NASA’s first Chief Knowledge Officer and the founding Director of the NASA Academy of Program, Project, and Engineering Leadership (APPEL). Matthew Kohut is the managing partner of KNP Communications. He has prepared executives, elected leaders, diplomats, scientists, and public figures for events ranging from television appearances to TED talks. Laurence Prusak was the founder and executive director of the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management and one of the founding partners for the Ernst and Young Center for Business Innovation.


We wrote...

The Smart Mission: NASA’s Lessons for Managing Knowledge, People, and Projects

By Edward J. Hoffman, Matthew Kohut, Laurence Prusak

Book cover of The Smart Mission: NASA’s Lessons for Managing Knowledge, People, and Projects

What is our book about?

At NASA, people say, “You come for the mission and stay for the people.” This is the essence of a “smart mission.” It begins with understanding the importance of both the mission and the human element. 

We recognize the project as the basic unit of work in many industries and organizations. Software applications, antiviral vaccines, and spacecraft are all produced by teams and managed as projects. Project management traditionally emphasizes control, processes, and tools—but human skills and expertise, not technical tools, are the keys to project success. Projects run on knowledge. This paradigm-shifting book—by three experts with decades of experience at NASA and elsewhere—challenges the conventional wisdom on project management by focusing on intangibles: knowledge, learning, collaboration, teaming, story, and culture.

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