In May of 1985, Shep Gordon went to the Cannes Film Festival to premier his latest film. Gordon, a Jewish boy from Long Island who found success as a rock star manager, was already living a stranger-than-fiction life. But things were about to get better.
After showing his movie, Gordon left the glitz of the festival and drove to a small restaurant, Moulin de Mougins, up in the hills outside of Cannes. It was undeniably an A-list destination; Chef Roger Verge had earned the concept three Michelin stars, while international celebrities regularly docked at Moulin’s tables. That night, many of Hollywood’s greats were there—Clint Eastwood, Anthony Quinn, Kirk Douglas—even Luciano Pavarotti.
Gordon, realizing he was in the midst of greatness, decided to befriend the talented Verge. What followed was worldwide travel and a lifelong friendship.
“Before I met Roger Verge,” Gordon wrote in his wildly entertaining book, “Supermensch,” “I thought bliss was basically wealth and power. But early on in our friendship, I came to feel that true bliss was service to others and perfecting your compassion.”
Gordon later added, “What I saw in Verge was that you could be successful and happy. Verge was the first person I met who had true success. He had mastered his craft, he had earned respect from his peers, and he was happy—always happy—because his true joy came from putting the comfort of others before himself.”
Immediately after reading this passage in Gordon’s book, I realized happiness—or, as others have put it, “true bliss”—was a common theme in my favorite books from 2017.
From Charlie Chaplin to Elon Musk, these books’ protagonists are people who have achieved success without seeking glory. I admire those who focus on doing the best work they can do rather than the outcome. After all, life is about the well-executed journey of true bliss, not the glorious destination.
There’s also a second overarching theme in my favorite books of the year. Most of them look back on a lifetime of legacy-building (with Elon’s book being the exception). Each book’s “hero” had no idea they would live an extraordinary life. They just wanted to do things they loved. They just wanted to do great work.
My hope is that you take the courage and motivation you need from these books to push on through troubled times. If you are facing an obstacle, realize that in a few months from now your trials and tribulations will be a dot on the map of your life, and one that will lead to something significant in your future. Have faith, do the work, and trust that you’re on the right path.
I hope you enjoy my list! We’d love to hear the best books YOU read this year. Please post your favorites in the comments section below the article.
(Note: These are the 10 best books that I read this year. Most of them were published in the last 24 months, but there are one or two older books on the list. Still, they are all part of the theme.)
10. “Supermensch” by Shep Gordon
Fair warning: This is a wild tale of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. It’s told from the perspective of an awkward Jewish boy from Long Island who stumbles into the world of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison. Not only did he survive to tell the tale, he came out the other side with business and life lessons galore.
I have many favorite selections from this book, including how Gordon out-partied Teddy Pendergrass and made a handshake deal to be his manager; how a single concert in Toronto built Alice Cooper’s reputation; and how young Gordon managed to be so resourceful—considering he had no access to cell phones or email.
There are more prime picks in the book, of course, but you’ll have to find them for yourself. At the end of every chapter, you’ll find yourself saying, “There’s no way that really happened!”
(Oh—also be sure you watch the film, “Supermensch,” from Mike Meyers.)
9. “My Autobiography” by Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin was the Elon Musk of vaudeville, practically inventing a new industry on his own. He was also, like Musk, an excellent salesman, as well as an outstanding writer, director, and producer. In fact, he did much of the work on his own titles himself.
Particularly in the beginning, Chaplin took massive risks and nearly went broke as his ventures struggled to take off. Not only is his tenacity and work ethic admirable, but Chaplin’s deep and vulnerable stories of a trouble childhood, his penchant for music, and a peak inside the political realities of the ‘30s and ‘40s make this book an epically influential read.
It helps, of course, that Chaplin was an extravagant wordsmith who was as gifted at narrative as he was at acting (though you may find yourself constantly reaching for a dictionary).
8. “The Surrender Experiment” by Michael Singer
Many of my friends raved about this book, so I picked it up for my trip to Central America last winter. I spent hours reading it on the balcony while overlooking Panama Bay from Bonita Beach.
Imagine a man who simply wants to spend all day meditating, yet through a series of nearly incredible events becomes the CEO of a billion-dollar business.
As you might imagine, Singer is unquestionably committed to living on his own terms, but his deep integrity and generosity turn life’s opportunities into something he never could have imagined. It is Singer’s attitude and unfailing optimism that truly impressed me.
If you like this book, I also recommend Singer’s other title, “The Untethered Soul.”
7. “Warrior of the Light” by Paulo Coelho
One of my coaching clients gave me this book because I often quote the author in my presentations. Coelho eloquently describes the nature of structure in life—so eloquently, in fact, that I’ve used it to help guide business leaders in my workshops:
“Discipline and freedom are not mutually exclusive but mutually dependent, because without discipline you would sink into chaos.”
Coelho’s words, wisdom, and storytelling are equally as stirring in “Warrior of the Light.” It’s a short fable that reminds me of the “Tao Te Ching,” and one of my other favorite books, “The Art of Living” (a translation of Epictetus’ teachings by Sharon Lebell).
Each page will seem like it was written for you, as if Coelho were delivering your daily horoscope. Reading a few pages while lying in bed is a great way to end the day if you are going through troubled times.
I admire those who focus on doing the best work they can do rather than the outcome. After all, life is about the well-executed journey of true bliss, not the glorious destination.
6. “Living With a SEAL” by Jesse Itzler
If you’re ever at a conference where Jesse Itzler is one of the speakers, don’t miss him. The day I saw him speak in Las Vegas, he was nursing a hangover from too much vodka and Red Bull, but he still managed to be high-energy and hilarious.
Itzler is a masterful storyteller who can deliver business lessons with the best of them. He’s also Branson-esque—an entrepreneur happy to sell you anything and everything, while living life to the fullest, too.
For example, his bio reads: “When he is not running ultra marathons, eating vegan food, or being a dad to his three kids, Jesse can be found at the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks games, where he is an owner of the team. He is married to Spanx founder Sara Blakely.”
In this autobiographical narrative, Itzler recounts his journey from street hustler to billionaire (from the sale of his company, Marquis Jets). Through a series of adventures, Itzler ended up hiring a former Navy SEAL to live with him for 31 days. His book, “Living With a SEAL,” chronicles the extreme demands of the brutally long month, and takes you through the lessons learned and friendship formed from the true bliss of physical and mental sacrifice.
5. “Mask of Masculinity” by Lewis Howes
I’ve known Lewis Howes for nearly a decade. He’s gone from broke and sleeping on his sister’s couch to being a New York Times best-selling author and having one of the world’s most popular podcasts, “The School of Greatness.” Earlier this year, Lewis spoke at my Perfect Life Retreat, and I also had the chance to interview him at his home in Los Angeles about his new book.
In “Mask of Masculinity,” Howes explains the reasons why men hide behind masks of wealth, impassiveness, anger, and aggression. Drawing on his discussions with psychologists, doctors, and Howes’ more famous podcast guests, like Tony Robbins, the book teaches men to break through mental and emotional blockages to live a better life.
My favorite story comes not from the book, but from our interview:
“I still wear the aggression mask,” Howes admitted. “My entire life I felt like I was being attacked by bullies, teammates, teachers, and parents. I have to work on fighting this daily.”
Because of this, his outlet became aggression. While this “mask” fueled has excellence in sports and training, it has had negative consequences for his relationships. If you can’t find time for this book, listen to our conversation on ETR Radio (listen here).
4. “Simply Rich” by Rich Devos
Imagine you want to start your own airline. Now imagine that you’re launching this airline tomorrow, but there are no local airports so your planes will have to land on local lakes.
Sound crazy? It is. And this is just one of the fascinating stories from Amway Founder Rich Devos—an entrepreneur who thrived in the 1940s.
Devos grew rich in the glory days of America. While he was busy building businesses—right after WWII—the government steered clear. There were few rules or regulations. For example, Devos and his family once spent many hours in his basement filling bottles of “goop” for an early business concept. They didn’t need a certified factory. They just went to work.
This book is a heartwarming story of the American dream that will inspire you to take action, live your bliss, and build a better world for family, friends, and strangers.
3. “Relentless” by Ted Rogers
Ted Rogers is Canada’s version of what you’d get if you combined Rich Devos and Ted Turner. A rebellious and politically active teenager, Ted Rogers became a serial entrepreneur who never took no for an answer. He always found a way to get a deal done.
Some might criticize Ted Rogers for working too much, but to him, making deals wasn’t work—it was his life’s passion. He left a massive legacy in Canada, owning multiple television stations and telecoms.
But the big lesson from this book isn’t about what Rogers achieved, it’s how he achieved it—through fair-and-square deals immortalized in Rogers’ “art of the deal’ strategies. If you want to think like an empire-builder, put this Canadian success story on your wish list.
2. “Ready, Fire, Aim” by Michael Masterson (aka, Mark Ford)
This is my third time reading “Ready, Fire, Aim” (RFA). Written in 2007 by Mark Ford—the founder of Early To Rise—RFA’s lessons for small and medium-sized business owners are timeless. Mark himself has built dozens of businesses, and has helped one grow to over $1 billion (“Billion with a capital B,” as Mark often reminds me) in annual revenue.
Mark teaches you to go from zero to $1 million, and then transition to the next stages ($1 to $10 million, $10 to $50 million, and then $50 million and beyond). Keep in mind that Mark has personal experience at each of these levels, unlike most business book authors.
I know several multi-millionaires who claim RFA as their business Bible. It is the best business book that you could ever read. If you don’t believe me, digital marketing guru Ryan Deiss also considers “Ready, Fire, Aim” to be one of the five most important business books you can read.
1. “Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance
Ashelee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk is so addictive that I would rush home from the office to read it for two hours each night.
How was Musk, who seemed to be a real-life Tony Stark, able to shake up not just one industry, but multiple? Who was this character who bet every dollar he earned from his $100 million Paypal payout on incredibly risky start-ups? Who was this man who went from nearly bankrupt on Christmas Eve in 2008 to multi-billionaire today?
No doubt you’ve heard some of Musk’s inspiring stories, but my favorites include the initial rocket launch at SpaceX (and how a contract from the government essentially saved his business); how he discovered which of his employees were sharing negative information with the media; and how he willingly give up his private plane (flying Southwest instead) to keep things afloat at SpaceX.
Musk has been an inspiration to many—and his life story is definitely worth a read.
BONUS: “The Perfect Day Formula” by Craig Ballantyne
This one’s a given—not just because it’s FREE (and mine), but because I truly believe it has helped people who were floundering create routines, structure, and systems to thrive. I’m thrilled that it’s helped many of my coaching clients, but I know it can help anyone who genuinely wants to create positive change in their lives and start checking accomplishments off their list.
When this year began, I didn’t have most of these books on my reading list. Some of them were gifts. Others recommendations. A couple of them sat in my enormous pile of unread books at home and called to me.
Call it destiny, fate, karma—whatever—but I can look back and connected the dots of each of these books. Together, they were reassurance that I’m moving in the right direction. That I’m pursuing bliss, following my passions, and creating a compassionate business here at Early To Rise.
Thanks for reading. (Oh—and you can get all of these titles on Amazon.com.)
If you want to listen to my more in-depth review of all 10 of these books, featuring more stories and big takeaways from the books—plus the unique locations where I read each of these books AND two bonus books that nearly made the list—then please listen to episode 34 of Early To Rise Radio.