16 Books with a Minimalist Message

One of the most common traits out of all the minimalists that I have interviewed for this site is a love of the written word.

Personally, I think I have been a bookworm basically since I was first able to read. I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years with my nose in a book. As a history major in college I generally had to read at least a book a week if not more. And then when I left college I immediately went to work at a bookstore my father opened.

To summarize – I’d spend all day reading if I could.

I have always tried to read a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction. Throughout what I have read, there have been a lot of books that dovetail with the simple living movement. All the books in this post have either helped inspire my simple living beliefs, provided motivation for my one-man business or were just plain fun reads with minimalist themes.

For books without a Wikipedia entry, I’ve included affiliate links to Amazon. However, the majority of these books should be available at your local library, used book store or via PaperbackSwap.com.

For self-improvement and business:

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. Easily one of my absolute favorite non-fiction books of all time. This book is superficially about personal finance, but really it deals more with matching our lives to our values. Not only is it inspirational in its message, the book includes specific, actionable advice about personal finance.

Small is the New Big by Seth Godin. I’m sure almost everyone who reads this blog is familiar with Seth Godin. This is my favorite of the half-dozen or so of his books that I’ve read. The book is comprised of just under 200 short, blog-sized “riffs, rants and ideas.” Reading the book is very similar to reading Godin’s blog actually, but this book picks out the best of the best from his always fantastic books and blog entries. You can open the book to almost any random entry and be inspired immediately.

Rework by Jason Fried. If I hadn’t known otherwise, this book almost reads like it was written by Seth Godin as well. Authors Fried and Hansson both run the popular web app company 37 signals and its accompanying blog, Signal vs. Noise. The book reads like a blog, with short, succinct chapters that will inspire any one-person business owner or entrepreneur.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. A big theme of Step 1 Minimalist is using the power of minimalism to help a person create more. In the Artist’s Way, Cameron lays out a series of steps to combat the things that block our creative powers. The book attacks creativity from more of a spiritual connection and the book does tend to drift in and out of practical advice. There are some great takeaways though, like the 750 words per day habit. Amazon has this book for a pretty high price, but it is widely available used for much cheaper.

For inspiration:

Into the Wild by Jon KrakauerConsider this a cautionary tale of minimalism. Expanding greatly on the narrative of the movie, Krakauer parallels McCandless’ Alaskan journey to his own youthful obsession with climbing and also with other explorers and dreamers who wandered off into nature never to be seen again. Christopher McCandless’ passion for following his dream is as inspiring as it is tragic.

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. Originally an animated documentary, this book really delves into where our Stuff-with-a-capital-S comes from and the actual costs behind it. A book with this subject matter could have easily become preachy and condescending, but Leonard keeps the tone light and adds in plenty of hope and potential solutions to go along with the more depressing parts.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron FoerA common trait among a lot of folks involved in the minimalist movement is a desire to eat less meat (or none at all). Foer’s book delves into factory farming conditions and the impact it has our on environment and our health. It is the most profound examination of a farm animal’s life I’ve ever read and impossible to read without feeling some level of empathy and emotion, if not outrage.

Walden by Henry David ThoreauI’ve already written about the minimalist lessons of Thoreau and I’m sure many of you are familiar with this book already, but you can’t have a list of minimalist books without Walden. Its easy to see the simple living movement as a recent evolution or sparked by the recent economic depression, but Walden shows that people have been longing for more meaning out of life for a very long time.

Outliers by Malcolm GladwellGladwell’s books tend to mix factual evidence with psuedo-science to justify whatever conclusion he is out to prove, but I enjoyed this book. Gladwell examines the different factors that contribute to success, in an effort to dispel the notion of natural aptitude being the overall factor. The book is a quick read and an inspiration to focus on becoming a success in one, defined skill.

Desert Solitaire by Edward AbbeyReading anything by Edward Abbey can sometimes be like hearing a grumpy grandparent talk about the “good old days,” but I love this book’s message about the beauty of nature and value of solitude. Abbey details his time as a park ranger during a season in the Southwest. It reads like a diary, embellishing where Abbey deems necessary and pointing out the flaws that he sees in almost everything around him except the natural beauty of the park. Despite his somewhat angry tone throughout the book, it is a moving tribute to the simple beauty of nature.

Ultra-Marathon Man by Dean KarnazesThis may be my running bias creeping in again, but I think this book is a great testament to the power of focus and dedication to a goal. For those unfamiliar with Karnazes, he is an ultrarunner who has completed races like 135 miles through Death Valley, a marathon at the South Pole and ran 350 miles without stopping. This book deals with his single-minded focus on achieving amazing feats of human endurance.

Fiction for fun!

Neverwhere by Neil GaimanThe protagonist of this story leads a normal, socially-acceptable life as the book opens. By making a choice to help someone everyone else was ignoring, he loses his place in the world and becomes an outcast. Eventually he realizes that his former life of 9-5 office work and a typical London flat wasn’t what he wanted anyway. Gaiman is a master of fantasy fiction interwoven with mythology and this is my favorite of his writings. (Just ignore the horrible BBC television adaptation at all costs).

Fight Club by Chuck PalahniukEven if you’ve seen the movie, I would encourage you to check out the book. Palahniuk is an inventive writer and this book showcases his sparse, minimal writing style without deviating into complete insanity like some of his other works. The disassociation with possessions and status is a common theme throughout the book.

Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. All of Lee Child’s novels in the long-running series focus on protagonist Jack Reacher, an ex-military police officer, traveling around the United States with just his tooth brush and the clothes on his back. Like a modern day Western hero, Reacher usually rides into town and gets involved trying to solve a complicated murder or criminal plot. By the end of the novel he has saved the day, gotten the girl and rode off into the sunset again – still with nothing more than what he can carry in his pockets. Every book in the series is a great page-turner.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander DumasI’ve always seen the main character, Edmond Dantes, as kind of an earlier version of Batman. Wronged as a young man, he spends countless time, money and energy battling injustice while hiding behind a fake identity. I always equate minimalism with focus, and Dantes is completely focused on his goal of vengeance. This book is a massive1300+ pages, but always manages to captivate me when I read it.

The Lorax by Dr. SuessAn absolute classic children’s book. The titular character tries to warn against the dangers of exploiting the environment for personal profit, but no one listens to him until it is far too late.

What would you add to this list?

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