The 10 Best Simplicity Books

When does a movement or decision strike with such force that it becomes instrumental in one’s life?

Is it a moment experienced personally, or one that another teaches?

I’ve never been good at Damascene moments. Even clear indicators often have me going the wrong way (with the clarity of retrospect).

I don’t know when I first started to simplify. What I do know is that a few key books have helped me along the way. Here are my favourites, in no particular order. Sorry for the lazy-looking list approach, but these actually take some time behind the scenes and I’ve tried to qualify my choices. Enjoy.

1. Siddharta by Herman Hesse. I remember reading this in a little shack by the crystal clear waters of Lake Malawi. It was a friend’s copy and one of her friends had written ‘I love you’ deep within the pages at a random point. There couldn’t be a more fitting book in which to write such a message. Although it is short, all of life’s mysteries lie within. I must have noted down most of the book in my diary. Although simplicity is not its central message, per se, it is very much at the core of this wonderful, wonderful book.

2. Small is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher. It’s tagline is ‘A study of Economics as if People Mattered’ which neatly encapsulates the book and my views of traditional economics. Schumacher was a brilliant mind and managed to write a paper that caught the imagination of Keynes whilst working in the fields as a war runaway. It is another small book, elegant and evidence of a sensational mind.

3. Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. Perhaps the most famous simplicity tome, just re-released. It cleverly uses other peoples’ stories cumulating in a popular yet wide-ranging guide to simplification. As much included because of it’s influence as the wonderful message it preaches. Here’s an article I wrote about it.

4. Happiness by Matthieu Ricard. Matthieu is a French-born Buddhist monk, famous for the book he wrote with his father called the Monk and the Philosopher. Although Buddhist, the book is a recipe for happiness and one of the key ingredients that Matthieu mentions often is simplicity. He’s also an exceptional photographer – have a look at his website to see some of his photos.

5. Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I’ve mentioned Thoreau and Walden in this previous post, so I won’t say too much more. This book is somewhat indigestible at times, but sits as one of the most influential and important simplicity books of all time.

6. Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge. Again, I’ve posted about this before. What struck a chord with me in this book was its majestic coverage of a culture that lived so simply, so purely and with such elegance.

7. To Have or to Be by Eric Fromm. This is quite a dense philosophical book which discusses our ‘western’ obsession with consumption, versus the idea that what we are, is more important than what we have. It is a classic, even if it’s not always easy.

8. Maverick by Ricardo Semler. I love this book. It details one man’s desire to break the typical business mode and do things differently with great effect. If I ever run a sizable business again I shall look to Maverick to set my rules. Some might not understand how this fits in with simplicity – but at its core Ricardo is talking about letting a business run itself and adhering to natural forces rather than trying to control. The result is exciting.

9. Affluenza by Oliver James. Although slightly pop-lit in its approach. This book covers one of the most important phenomena of our times – that of runaway consumption and include frightening statistics and simple solutions.

10. Let my People go Surfing. Again, not a simplicity book as such, but I love Patagonia’s approach and this wonderful recount of creating a business for the sheer love of it, rather than to make money. Other companies inspired by this approach include Howies, Sawdays and Innocent Drinks.

Watch this space for my own addition.

Although it may be a few years in the coming… so don’t go watching too hard.

Happy Reading.

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