15 Books That Changed The Way I Think

Brian Armstrong
3 min readJul 19, 2016


I enjoy seeing book lists from other people, so I thought I’d create one of my own.

These books changed the way I think by giving me a new mental model to understand the world.

I don’t agree (or disagree) with all the ideas in these books. But they did change the way I think.

  1. The Inmates Are Running The Asylum
    The vast majority of products in the world cause frustration, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Products fail by trying to be all things to all people.
  2. Good To Great
    The scientific method can be applied to business. This book draws powerful lessons from data.
  3. The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing
    Most brands try to do and be too much, but the customer can only remember you for one thing. Each brand should do one thing, and be the best in that category.
  4. Sperm Wars
    Many human behaviors and feelings can be explained by evolutionary psychology. We are vehicles for our genes to survive and replicate, with a really cool neocortex bolted on top that sometimes defies those genes.
  5. The Dip
    Disproportionate success comes to the top 1% of people in any field, but getting there takes 10+ years. If you don’t love something enough to stick with it for 10+ years (even if you see no success during that time) then you should probably quit. This book made me move to Silicon Valley and double down on being a tech entrepreneur. I sometimes recommend it to people who are trying to decide what to do with their life.
  6. Free To Choose
    I’ve only seen the YouTube series (haven’t read the book). It expresses many of Milton Friedman’s ideas on free markets via a documentary from the 1980s.
  7. Chris Dixon’s ebook
    A collection of insights about startups strategies. Marc Andreessen’s blog post archive is also excellent.
  8. Paul Graham’s writing
    Probably the greatest number of insights per paragraph on this list, and a master of metaphors. For example, he discusses how generating wealth doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, and allowing people who generate wealth to keep it, may be a necessary (if not sufficient) condition for human progress. See Hackers and Painters for a printed version of some of his essays.
  9. Don’t Make Me Think
    A framework to simulate how customers experience your product, especially the moments of confusion. Each customer comes to your product with a reservoir of trust, and every interaction adds or depletes a bit of trust from that reservoir.
  10. The Singularity Is Near
    Change is accelerating, humans are bad at predicting it, and A.I. will likely transform the world by the late 2030’s. Many major problems, like education and disease, will be totally transformed by this in our lifetimes (even the very definition of “human”). Artificial intelligence may be the successor to biological evolution.
  11. The Psychology Of Achievement
    You can create any life you want, and are not at the effect of your circumstances.
  12. Atlas Shrugged
    Celebrate the creators in the world (even when they struggle). They may be more valuable than we think.
  13. Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman
    A way to have a happy life. Remain curious and enjoy the journey.
  14. The God Delusion
    Many people believe simply based on how they grew up, without ever questioning.
  15. When I Say No I Feel Guilty
    Life is better when you only agree do the things you really want to do.

Final note: If you struggle to read more, I’d suggest trying audiobooks. Something like 30% of the population are primarily auditory learners. By listening to books while driving or exercising, I can get through 25 books a year without trying very hard, whereas reading in print books feels like work. As one friend remarked, “this is the 21st century, books should read themselves to me!”

Thanks to Fred Ehrsam, Nathalie McGrath, and Dan Romero for reading drafts of this post.



Brian Armstrong

Co-Founder and CEO at @Coinbase. Increasing economic freedom in the world. Join us: https://www.coinbase.com/careers