Joe Lesko Game Maker

My Favorite Books

I read a lot, especially non-fiction.

Nowadays I read mostly on my Kindle app, which has about 300 books in it right now, or I listen to books on Audible while I play Tetris.

I know it sounds a bit trite to say, but here’s a list of books that changed how I view the world in one way or another.

In no particular order:

Your Money or Your Life, by Robin & Dominguez 

An antidote to the spend-everything mindset of modern consumer life, with very achievable ways for average people to reach financial independance.

This book was the key for me in becoming debt-free early in my career.

It is especially relevant nowadays when so many people have massive student loan debt and very little savings.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen 

This book helped me get on top of all my tasks — in work and life — in a stress-free way.

My biggest takeaway is to get your task lists out of your brain and recorded in a system that you trust. By doing this, you are letting your mind let go of things that you don’t need to keep stressing about.

My own system is very simple. It’s just a few to-do lists in a text file on my computer. (See How I Work.)

Growing a Business, by Paul Hawken 

The author, drawing on his experience of building two major successful businesses from scratch, talks about how to grow a small business organically.

Success doesn’t come from expensive college degrees, or taking big risks, but by providing real value in a way that stems from your own personality and first-hand experience.

It’s a refreshing counterpoint to the soulless approach to business that involves “growth hacking”, “killing it”, and “extracting value” from customers.

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron 

A thoughtful book on the creative journey that goes beyond platitudes and provides practical creativity techniques that actually work.

I've found her concept of “Morning Pages”, a kind of journaling by free association, to be extremely helpful in solving creative and personal problems.

All of Julia Cameron’s other books are worth reading, but if you only read one, this is it.

Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing, by Dave Sim 

An all-text comic book by the controversial creator of the long-running Cerebus comic book.

Written before the internet era of blogs and YouTube videos, this was a rare and raw look into the world of a successful solo creator, with tips on productivity, writing and drawing, running an “indie” business, and developing a creative vision.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,
by M. Csikszentmihalyi 

Through a series of experiments, the author found that people report their greatest happiness, not when they are indulging in good food or other passive activities, but when they are in the “flow” — being fully engaged in tasks that present the right amount of challenge for them.

Flow activities are things like rock climbing, reading an immersive novel, or playing a closely-matched chess game.

Over the years, this had led me to chose more positive, creative ways to spend my time, rather than chasing hedonism (though I like some hedonism).

Punished By Rewards, by Alfie Kohn 

A controversial book that provides evidence that, while external awards (prizes, praise, etc.) might be effective at motivating people in the short-term, they do so at the cost of our long-term motivation, happiness, and moral grounding.

These external influences actually erode our intrinsic (internal, self-driven) desire to do things because we enjoy them or believe they are important.

This is not only important for teachers and parents raising young people, but it’s especially relevant for everyone today, as so much online content is driven by the desire for Likes, Upvotes, and Followers.

This is supported by the evidence provided in Flow.

Feeling Great, by Dr. David Burns 

The seminal book by the leading proponent of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which is an evidence-based, clinically-proven approach to treating depression and anxiety.

I have found the “rational response” technique to be extremely effective in being able to control excessive negative thoughts.

Reading this book is actually clinically proven to reduce depression at a level equal to some medications.

Code Complete, by Steve McConnell 

The bible of writing code, agnostic of programming language.

I credit this book with upgrading my ability from beginner to professional when I read it early in my career.

While it’s a huge book, each chapter is self-contained and easy to read.

Positioning, by Ries & Trout 

The classic book on the psychology behind branding and marketing, and why there is usually a clear winner in any given category (Coke, Google, etc.)

It’s easy to read, but broad in its scope, especially if you’re curious about why certain products are advertised the way they are, and what mistakes companies have made in the past.

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan 

Based on the PBS mini-series by the same name, this is an accessible and inspiring book that covers all of the key topics of science (from evolution to astronomy) with such clarity and humanity that I wish everyone in the world would read it at least once.

A good follow up is The Demon Haunted World, which addresses the importance of critical thinking in a world filled with conflicting ideas and spurious claims. Incredibly relevant today.

The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins 

Evolution is still one of the most controversial and important ideas in all of science, and the perspective in this book is an exciting way to think about how it works.

The author proposes that genes are the primary vehicles of evolution — not organisms (us!), which can be thought of as just gene carriers.

This book also coined the term “meme”, which has since been diluted by internet culture, but in its original form was a ground-breaking idea — that ideas take on a life of their own.

Metamagical Themas, by Douglas Hofstadter 

A fascinating series of articles by the author of the Pulitzer prize-winning Godel, Escher, Bach.

It’s crammed with challenging ideas ranging from artificial intelligence, music, creativity, word play, and personal identity.

This book was a big influence on how I think about creativity.

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