10 Books That Shaped My Life

A young man asked me last weekend:

I’ve been following your blog for two years and I’m curious, what are some of your favorite books that have influenced you?

Whenever I’m asked this question, I think back to growing up in Brooklyn, New York, and having true disdain against books. I thought reading was a way for teachers and authority figures to offer punishment – I did not know it was a way to enhance my life. It wasn’t until high school when a teacher handed me The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley did I realize there’s some information you won’t know unless you read it. Since then, I’ve been introduced to many books that have shaped how I see the world.

For me, these books aren’t so much about literary distinction or awards they may or may not have received. They are quite simply books I’ve read over the last 10 years that have sparked something within me and challenged me view the world differently. Here’s the ones I highly recommend.

Jump in:

1. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks

I was introduced to this books and the teachings of bell hooks through my humanities professor at Clark Atlanta. This book influenced the way I think about personal agency and the power of education. Not school, per say, but the idea that we can only be freed by engaging in critical thinking and analysis.

2. The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene

In high school, I was a cashier at Shakespeare & Co. bookstore near Hunter College in New York. Often, after work I’d walk around the store and just pick books off the shelf. This was one of them! To be real, I was interested in how to impress women. But this book taught me how to impress people.

3. Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere

This book was my introduction to the idea of oppression. It made me ponder the idea of: Freedom is a decision, not a permission you have to ask for. Thank you, Dr. Georgianne Thomas, for introducing me and a class of 50+ others to this idea. I love you.

4. Start Something: You Can Make a Difference by Earl Woods

This book made me believe that my ideas were possible. Sometimes, if you don’t have the resources, your dreams will remain just that, a dream. Reading this short but powerful book helped me to realize, early on, how to get things done.

5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

This was the first time I saw myself in a book! Prior to reading this book, I was taught through schooling that Malcolm X was a rebel, an unorganized civil rights leader, a nuisance to the regime. In parts, they were right. But that was simply 10% of the totality of his character. This book helped me to understand the many parts of growing up, how our thoughts change over time and how our experiences help to shape our views on the world.

6. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Sometimes, we’ll search all over for the thing that’s right in front of our faces. This book inspired me to think deeply about why I believe what I believe. It was the first time I asked myself: Why do I see the world this way? Do things have to be this way? Are my thoughts guiding me in the right direction? The story never gets old as it’s deeply connected to our human condition.

7. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

This was my introduction to the study of human behavior! Before, I’d never thought about what makes people great leaders, how to listen or how to think about reputation. Mostly, this book is the reason I rarely have arguments. People in my life comment about how calm I am about certain things. The idea of having control over my emotions began with this book.

8. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

One of my favorite books ever! This is the one I can read every day for the rest of my life. It is simply the Godfather of all personal improvement books. Any book after this was just a remix. My favorite point in the book is about the importance of giving to others, without keeping score of the last time they gave to you. Be generous, he writes.

9. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

I discovered this book as a young voiceover actor in New York City, and it perfectly describes the pain of being a creative. This book gave a name to that feeling of ‘laziness’ that hits us, that block of motivation that occurs as we’re trying to do something great. He calls it the resistance. Once we acknowledge that the resistance is actually there, we can fight it and overcome it.

10. The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint For Life by Kevin Powell

Kevin Powell has become a friend and mentor to me over the years, through books and in my personal life. This book became the guide I needed when I needed to know how to navigate getting out of Brooklyn and into my dreams. This book inspired me to find new ways, embrace my potential and change the world.