Interested in personal development and self improvement?
If so, there are hundreds, even thousands of books to choose from.
That's why we've boiled down the options to 27 of the best personal development books.
For the sake of simplicity, my choices for this section all revolve around books that are more about igniting passion and giving ideas rather than a step-by-step action plan.
This list includes the grandfathers of all self-help books, and it also has some of the modern masters of inspiration, education, and self-empowerment.
In the following list, you will discover a quick synopsis of our favorite personal development books with a brief synopsis for each one.
If any title piques your interest, then I recommend clicking the link and checking it out on Amazon where you can read the reviews and purchase it.
Let's get to it…
21 Best Personal Development and Self-Improvement Books
1. The Only Skill That Matters by Jonathan A. Levi
The sheer amount of information bombarding us every day is overwhelming. How do we stay on top of everything in order to keep our jobs or adapt to the new demands of modern life?
This book equips you with what you need to take on the challenges of the future – whether in your professional or personal life. And it’s offered for free. All you need to pay for is shipping and handling.
In The Only Skill That Matters, Jonathan Levi shares an approach that promises to help you become a super learner. This approach is anchored in neuroscience. Athletes and top performers have used the techniques to propel them to success.
Within the pages, you’ll learn the techniques for reading faster and improving your ability to recall information.
People who have already read this book call it a game changer. If you’re ready to unlock your potential greatness, get the free book.
Want to build a new habit that will stick for the rest of your lifetime? In this video, you will discover a simple 9-step process about building habits that you can immediately implement.
2. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield
Any avid reader of self-help books will recognize Jack Canfield. Creator of the popular motivational “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, Jack has been inspiring people for years.
In “The Success Principles”, Jack gives 65 methods for transforming your life. If you are looking for a single self-help book that gives you a ton of great ideas on how to improve your life and your success, this would be the one.
However, die-hard personal development fans may find some of these ideas to be rehashed versions of ideas they have heard before, not fresh new ideas. The principles are repeated here due to the simple fact that they work!
Even if you know all 65 principles before buying the book, I believe it can be an excellent refresher on things you need to do to achieve the success you desire.
If you want to learn more about this book, here is a brief review of my favorite Success Principles that are covered in this book.
3. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
It could be very easy to think that a book about achieving success written 80 years ago and based on the success principles of men like Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford would be stale and out of date, like a dry history lesson.
This simply is not true. While there are admittedly parts where you have to substitute modern methods of execution for old fashioned counterparts, the basic principles themselves are based on human nature and just as true today as they were 80 years ago.
The book “Think and Grow Rich“ is a classic and for good reason. Over the past 80 years many successful people have read this book and gained from it knowledge and insight that have helped them to achieve their own success.
When a self-improvement book sticks around for as long as this one has, there has to be a reason for its longevity and success.
[Are you a woman looking for some personal development books geared toward helping women succeed in life? Check out this list of self-help books for women.]
4. The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Most people who achieve any degree of success will tell you that attitude is a big part of the success equation.
Positive thinking will not magically make success happen, as this book's “successor” The Secret, would have you believe, but positive thinking can put you into a position to make the most of it when it happens.
So skip “The Secret” and go write to the first (and best) book on getting your mind right for success.
One slight negative is that many people complain because of some of the religious overtones of the book. While Dr. Peale is clearly a faithful Christian, I believe this book “The Power of Positive Thinking” has merit for you regardless of personal faith. Just listen to good advice.
Note: some of you may like The Secret. I mean no offense to you in this review. The positivity aspect of the book is fine, I simply have a problem with the idea that the “universe will deliver” success. I believe the only way you get success is to go out and work for it. Let’s agree to disagree.
5. Outliers The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers The Story of Success take a scientific look at what it actually takes to achieve success in life. Unlike some of the other books on this list, it does not give a specific list of the things you need to do to achieve success.
It looks at very interesting anecdotes that support the main point of the book, that success is not achieved by luck, attitude or even skill, but that the only real measurement is the time we put into our skills.
People who achieve higher degrees of success almost always have more time building the skills they use for their success.
This book is quite interesting with some really good stories and anecdotes. It is an enjoyable read.
6. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen
I am not by nature an organized person. Due to this fact, I would say that reading GTD for the first time was a life-changing experience. Allen gives solid advice on how to plan all the aspects of a hectic life (both business and personal).
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity comes with a solution to all the chaos life throws your way. It can help you stay organized and on top of everything. I do not currently follow all the tenants of GTD.
I have incorporated a more web-based approach as I discuss in my book on Evernote. But I still feel Getting Things Done is a must-read, even if you discard his specific approaches, the core ideas will still shed light on many ways to be more productive.
7. The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Leohr and Tony Schwartz
Everyone thinks time is the enemy. I can’t count how many times I have heard, “I don’t have time for that” or “I wish I had the time”. The central idea of this book is that people have it backward. Loehr and Schwartz state that energy is the key, not time.
Success is about creating a series of “life-sprints”, not a marathon.
By laser focusing on tasks, then completely resting, you actually can get a lot more done in less time and live a happier and more fulfilling life at the same time.
The book “The Power of Full Engagement” makes some excellent points. The next time you hear yourself saying, “I don’t have time” to do something important, you should reach for a copy of this book. Unless you don’t have time for that… then I can’t help you
8. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Just like the previous entry, “Think and Grow Rich” Carnegie's book is another classic from the 1930s that still packs a ton of truth bombs in it’s nearly 90-year-old pages.
In How to Win Friends & Influence People, Carnegie discusses the personal habits that lead to success. Included are the twelve ways to convert people to your way of thinking, six ways to make people like you, and the nine ways to change people’s opinions without arousing resentment.
Regardless of what you intend to do with your life, other people will always be there. Carnegie gives you the tools to effectively recruit others to your cause, rather than have them potentially be obstacles. A must-read classic on dealing with other people.
9. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
I have to admit, I have a few mixed feelings about The 4-Hour Workweek.
While there is some great information in this book, it might not pertain much to people who just want more from their 9-5 lifestyle, and are not really into the idea of a “digital lifestyle”.
On the other hand, however, this book does an excellent job of challenging people to rethink the status quo and evaluate how to make the most of their time.
Tim does a great job of explaining how to make the most of the digital lifestyle, how to get started with this business and does it all with a fierce energy that will get you motivated.
If the idea of making living online appeals, this book should be a must-read and is likely already on your bookshelf. If you are just looking for tidbits to develop your personal productivity, attitude or health, this might be a book you can miss.
10. Crush It! Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk
Crush It! Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion has a few problems these days. Mainly is that the core idea of the book, fresh and new when it was first released, has become a bit dated.
Most people have come to understand the revolutionary power of Social Media and the effect this can have on any and every single business.
However, a good portion of this book is also about following your dreams and turning your passion into a career. While this book no longer imparts what I would call “new” information, it is still extremely motivational.
Gary Vaynerchuk has an incredible amount of energy and reading what he has to say is sure to get you motivated to get out and conquer the world.
11. Let Go: Expanded Edition by Pat Flynn
“Let Go: Expanded Edition” is Pat Flynn’s inspiring story. If you do not know Pat, he is a normal guy, trained as an architect who began to work as an online entrepreneur when the architect business got rough.
In this inspiring story, Pat shares the challenges he faced and the keys to his success.
Much like “Crush It” the value of the specific lessons is of less value than the inspiration it can give you to achieve success. If you want specifics for achieving success through Pat’s methodology, his podcasts and website are chocked full of actionable information.
12. Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Steve Scott
Yes, that’s me. I won't give any qualitative review of this book since I am biased. But I do think it is a good one.
Habit stacking is based on a method to incorporate small habits into daily life. These small habits are easy individually but are often the sort of things that “fall through the cracks” in a hectic life.
Habit stacking makes it possible when you add DOZENS of small changes to your daily routine. Rather than trying to make dozens of individual habits part of your routine (something next to impossible) you only have to work to incorporate each “stack”.
By doing these small tasks in a block you can plan for the time to act on these tasks in your daily schedule and stick firmly to implementing these habits on a daily basis.
These habits don’t require much effort. In fact, most of these habits ONLY take five minutes or less to complete. by doing these small tasks in a block you can plan for the time to act on these tasks in your daily schedule and stick firmly to implementing these habits on a daily basis.
And if you'd like to learn more about this concept, here is a 13-step process to building a habit stacking routine.
13. Choose Yourself! Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream by James Altucher
The climate of business and personal success is changing. The times when going to college, working a job for 40 years and retiring a success are evaporating before our eyes. Altucher shows a path to creating art, make money and achieve success through non-traditional methods.
Altucher’s sense of humor and brutal honesty makes this book a great read. He doesn’t pull any punches even sharing many of his personal failures as well as successes.
Choose yourself. Choose this book.
14. Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins
Awaken the Giant Within is another book I struggled with the decision of whether to place on this list.
On one hand, Tony Robbins has always seemed to me to be as much of a salesman of change as he is someone with fresh ideas. However, there is no denying that this book covers some important ground while still being inspirational.
Robbin’s point with this book is to take charge of your life in all the important ways: emotional, physical, mental and financial.
All of these important parts dovetail together and work with each other for you to achieve greater success. Only when you are at the peak of performance in all categories can you truly be your best self.
15. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly
Have you ever felt at the top of your game? Answers and ideas flow freely. You feel energized and alert. You feel happy and content. You are in control. This is a state Dr. Csikszentmihaly refers to as “flow”.
The flow state happens to everyone from time to time, but it can be engineered to happen more frequently and when it does the happiness, content, and satisfaction it brings can have a lasting halo effect on our lives.
Part science and part philosophy this book does an exceptional job of relating to us not only how to get more done, but how to live happier and fuller lives due to having an understanding of the “Flow.”
16. 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class by Steve Siebold
177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class is great at what it is, a summary of all the current thinking in the realm of peak performance.
While not groundbreaking, it digests hundreds of self-help and personal development books and relays the important pieces succinctly and clearly.
A wonderful book that will save you time and money giving you the highlights of the best modern thinking on the subject of improving your personal performance in all aspects of life.
17. Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation by Edward L. Deci
One of the keys to success in life is self-motivation. Most people will perform when they have to work or at home. Self-motivation means going that extra mile and not needing the external commitments to get things done.
When you can become self-motivated, the achievement will follow as surely as the sun rises in the east.
But self-motivation is not something that is always as easy as it might sound. Deci showcases all the current science on the subject of motivation and explains the hows and whys in a simple to understand terms.
You likely have ideas of what motivates you already, but reading Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation will give you a clean and clear understanding of your motivation.
18. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Being an introvert I kept saying. “That’s right” and “So True” constantly while reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
Another book on this list, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” does a great job of showcasing the importance of being a “people person” and how this can lead to success.
However, this advice introverts (myself included) have a hard time following. Being the loudest and driving your ideas home to others does not necessarily make your ideas the best.
Susan Cain has a book that can make any introvert proud of their nature. She shows ways many introverts have achieved high levels of success, even in “people person” positions of authority.
This is an important read for introverts to understand why we act the way we do and an important book for extroverts to help them understand the remaining 1/3 of the population.
19. Virtual Freedom by Chris Ducker
Virtual Freedom is a personal development book for a fairly narrow niche. These days many tasks can be outsourced and delegated, specifically, if you have your own business or side hustle.
Trying to do everything yourself is not a growth mindset. This book lays out clear paths to outsourcing a significant amount of work in a methodical manner.
If you have no need for outsourcing this book is not for you. However, if you have ever thought about the possibilities of outsourcing mundane tasks, then this book should be a must-read.
20. Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini
Why do people say yes? Why do they buy things? Dr. Cialdini’s classic book “Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion” shows the science behind why people are persuaded.
This book will help you understand the importance of social proof, scarcity, authority, reciprocation and more on others and how it can help you to get the important “yes” or purchase in your business or at work.
People’s decisions are often not made by a rational argument and well laid out plans. It is important to truly understand why people really choose the way they do.
21. The Now Habit by Neil Fiore
Procrastination is a problem that plagues many people. I might even be bold enough to say that MOST people suffer from procrastination from time to time. It is human nature.
However, there are good scientific reasons why people procrastinate and just as many good science-backed methods to overcome procrastination. Dr. Neil Fiore gives an exhaustive overview of why we procrastinate and what we can do about overcoming procrastination.
22. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl’s book “Man's Search for Meaning” was first published in 1946. In it, he chronicles his personal experiences while he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. Despite the long span of time from its first publication to the present, this book is still relevant today.
Frankl’s narrative provides clues on how we can find our purpose and the will to survive when we’re in the midst of terrible moments in life, especially in today’s confusing times.
In this book, Frankl introduced his theory of logotherapy, which is based on the belief that human suffering can be eased when a person finds meaning or purpose even in the direst of situations.
Frankl tells us that things that happen to us, such as tragedies, are not within our control. What is within our control, however, is the way we react or respond to these situations.
If you want to find out more about a true account of human resilience and triumph over adversity, this book is for you.
23. The Obstacle Is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday
Published in 2014, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage is an actionable guide to transforming obstacles into opportunities for success.
It is inspired by the wisdom of the Stoics, who developed the philosophy of perseverance and resilience in the midst of suffering.
In this book, Holiday shares anecdotes about influential people throughout history who applied stoicism during difficult moments in their lives to come out on top.
Through these accounts, Holiday shows that embracing the principles of stoicism opens up our lives to more opportunities for success than good fortune, talent, and intelligence.
24. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
People these days often overcommit, overwork, and overthink. If you’re feeling overwhelmed trying to accomplish everything that’s expected of you, here’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less that introduces you to the concept of essentialism.
Essentialism is not a time-management hack promising to improve your productivity. Rather, it is discernment obtained through a disciplined pursuit of the things that really matter.
It teaches readers to enjoy the process of doing something rather than just focusing on the end goal.
The book is divided into four sections. The first section, Essence, introduces the concept of Essentialism. Meanwhile, the three remaining sections (Explore, Eliminate, and Execute) walk readers through the process of developing discernment for things that matter and eliminating those that don’t.
25. Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
In this Rising Strong, Brené Brown helps readers find wisdom and wholeheartedness amidst their struggle to overcome mistakes, rise from failure, and face the hurt brought on by painful events in their lives.
She shares a three-step process for learning more about ourselves:
This book shows us how we can own our stories so that they no longer define us, but instead open the doors to better endings and new possibilities.
26. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
What makes people successful? Is it pure talent? High IQ? Economic status?
In this eye-opening work, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth reveals that these factors are not the main drivers of success.
Instead, it is people’s grit—their passion for something they believe in and their willingness to persevere to see things through—that often sees them through and helps them reach the top.
Duckworth asserts that grit is a learned trait. Thus, it is accessible to everyone. The way to develop grit is through deliberate practice.
This book is a guide and a source of inspiration for developing grit, as well as for changing one’s mindset.
We can go from thinking that success is limited by the amount of talent we’re born with to believing that we can achieve anything as long as we are interested in seeing our goals manifest, willing to do the necessary things to achieve it, and committed to seeing things through.
27. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is your guide to developing your ability to focus, working deeply, and achieving more than you ever thought you could.
In a world filled with distractions, it is difficult to achieve a deep sense of focus in order to accomplish tasks that require intense concentration.
But with this book, you’ll be presented with a training regimen that teaches you how to cultivate “deep work,” which includes quitting social media and embracing boredom.
Carl Newport’s book gives you the opportunity to develop a rare skill that helps you achieve a sense of fulfillment in everything you do.
Looking for More Books to Read?
Also, if you'd like to discover more books that you can check out, then I suggest you check out some of the lists we've compiled:
- 9 Best Books to Read About Life
- 29 Books for Changing Habits
- 20 Motivational Books to Read in 2020
- 15 Books on Procrastination
- 27 Books on Productivity and Time Management
- 17 Best Leadership Books to Advance Your Career
- 22 Personal Finance Books
- 18 Happiness Books
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Are there books missing from this list? Are there books that shouldn't be here? Do you find this list useful? Do you have any favorites? Make sure to let me know in the comments on the main page of the 250+ Best Habit Books List