Not all books are equal. And I think there is a very big difference in the quality of books. Some can change the way you think and live forever. Some are probably just a waste of time. And most books are probably in between these two: they have some good ideas, but they may not be very important, practical or valuable to you at this moment.
If you want to read more, choosing the right books is crucial – especially until reading becomes a habit. If you read a book you enjoy, that is useful or inspiring, you are more likely to read another book. But if you don’t usually read and the book you pick is a disappointment, you may be put off by this for a while. So reading good books is a big part of reading more!
But how can you choose good books? I think that this is a skill and it takes some time to develop it. However, this article includes several tips for helping you choose great books. These are strategies that I learned and I apply them myself.
And to be honest, I am now able to choose books that I find valuable: almost all of them are informative, eye-opening and worth reading. And almost all have an impact on the way I see myself, others and the world we live in. So I think this system can help you find good books that are an investment, not just a mediocre way of spending your time.
HOW TO CHOOSE GREAT NON-FICTION BOOKS
Since I read almost exclusively non-fiction books, I’ll focus on this category more in the first part of the article. I’m sure that these tips will be very useful for you!
1. Choose the field or topic
Think of the field or topic you are interested in (such as psychology, happiness, online marketing) and see what books you find about that. You can find them by typing in a key work on Goodreads, Amazon or Google. See what you find and go from there.
2. Look for well-renowned experts in that field
Try to find the best people in the field. Learn about the main theories in that field and see who proposed them. One easy way to do this is to read the Wikipedia page for that topic and see who is referenced there.
This is how I found Martin Seligman, a psychologist and teacher who changed the psychology field. He proposed a new theory about depression and started the branch of positive psychology – the study of happiness and what makes life worth living. I’ve read four of his books so far and I learned a lot from them!
3. Look for authors with expertise
Look for authors who also have expertise in the field because they studied that field, did research in it, taught it or they helped shape it. As a rule of thumb, the books written by people who did research, studied or worked in a field will almost always be much more informative, science-based and more reliable. While there are exceptions, books written by people with expertise are a much better choice than books written by someone who only relies on personal experience.
For example, if you want to learn about human psychology, don’t read Tony Robbins (he did not formally study psychology). Read the books written by actual psychologists or psychology professors – people who actually studied the field, conducted research in it and are teaching it in universities. You may want to check out Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Daniel Gilbert among others.
Or if you want to learn about investments, learn from actual investors like Ray Dalio and Warren Buffet. Tony Robbins may know a thing or two about money, but he’s definitely not an expert in this.
4. Look for authors who stick to their field
As a rule of thumb, you are usually an expert in one field or a few fields that are usually related. Try to read the books of people who are experts in their field and only write about that. This proves that those authors only speak about the things they do know and don’t make speculations about things they don’t understand. They are aware of the limits of their knowledge/expertise and they stay in their lane.
You’ll see that there are authors who write books about several different (sometimes random) topics. Beware of those – unless they really do have experience and expertise in that field. Authors who write about many topics may write books that are not reliable or researched. There’s a chance they are only doing this for money – not because they studied 5 different fields and want to share valuable knowledge.
For example, Noam Chomsky is an intellectual giant who writes mainly about politics and linguistics.
Jaron Lanier writes mainly about technology – computers, social media and their effects on society.
Martin Seligman writes about psychology – depression, happiness, wellbeing.
You won’t see authors like them write about unrelated topics like fitness, relationships, productivity, management and online marketing. Good authors are experts in their fields and they stay in their lane.
5. Choose books that are science-based
This is probably the most important tip in the list. Look for books that are science-based (this means they rely on research studies and experiments). Why? Whenever a book is science-based, the information in it is much more likely to be true, verifiable, and therefore useful for you.
This means these books are not filled with ideas based on personal experience alone and random ideas with no logic or proof behind them. While personal experience can often be interesting, or even valuable in some cases, it’s definitely something questionable, at least. They are subjective experiences influenced by several factors (some of them are not even acknowledged) that may be inaccurate or not applicable to other people.
Books that are science-based include facts that have been tested and proven and that apply to most people (or even to all people). When you want to learn about something, it’s always better to learn the truth from science, not just biased personal opinions.
However, sometimes books seem to be or claim to be science-based when they aren’t. It will take you a while to learn how to distinguish between the two. But when you have the choice, always choose the science-based book.
6. Choose books recommended by experts
Read the books that other experts in the same field read or recommend. Since an expert knows the field they work in, they can also tell which books are good (based on verifiable information) and which aren’t.
For example, Martin Seligman, Daniel Gilbert, Sonja Lyubomirsky often recommend each other’s books. But I doubt you will ever hear a respectable scientist, researcher or professor recommend books written by gurus like Tony Robbins or others. To me, this says a lot about most self-help books out there.
Or you can also look at the bibliography of a good book. If a respectable author with expertise used ideas from other books, there’s a high chance the books he referenced are good books as well.
7. Choose books that are bestsellers
If you have no idea what to read, look at the list of the bestselling books of the year. There is a high chance that these books are also good books that millions of people enjoy. For example, the books of Yuval Noah Harari are all bestsellers and I’m not surprised by this. They are great books!
However, a caveat: even though some books are bestsellers, I would never read or recommend them. Many of them are not very informative or are not science-based. I think some of these books are great if you rarely read anything. But if you read many good books and have developed the ability to assess books better and to think critically about the information in them, you may be disappointed by some bestsellers out there.
It’s the same for movies: many movies are great for us, the larger audience, but not necessarily for critics who have seen more movies and know how to assess their quality and originality. A bestselling book is not necessarily a great book. It’s just a book that sells well.
So read some bestsellers if you want to, but don’t mistake the number of books sold for the quality of the book.
8. Get a sample of the book first
It’s a good idea to try to find a bit about an author and his claims before buying their book. To do this, you can read their Wikipedia page, read an interview of them or listen to a podcast they are a guest on.
You can also look for TED talks or videos that feature them. This will help you see if the author seems knowledgeable, what kind of theories they talk about and what their style is. I found Daniel Gilbert after seeing his TED talk and this convinced me to buy his book “Stumbling on Happiness” which is still one of the best psychology books I’ve ever read.
And you can also get a sample of the book on Amazon. If you look up a book on your Amazon account, you can read a sample of a few pages from it to see what it’s like. You can also listen to a few minutes of the audiobook version. This way, you get a sense of what the book may be like before buying it. Sometimes this can be enough to decide if a book is worth your time or not.
9. See what books are recommend by others
Many people share their book recommendations on social media: Instagram, Facebook. YouTube, Twitter. Some even have accounts that are dedicated to books alone and feature their bookstacks, recommendations and reviews.
If you want to, go to your favourite social media and look for book recommendations there. I’m sure you’ll find thousands of pieces of content about books.
However, be aware that they share their personal preferences. You may have different styles or preferences than many. But there’s a big chance you’ll also find people who recommend your kind of books.
One last caveat: just because someone shares books every single day and has a big following, it doesn’t mean they always read good books either. Some are popular because they read the books that are popular – not necessarily the ones that are the best out there.
You can also ask for recommendations on your online accounts. Chances are there’s someone in your list who reads good books!
And you can always check out the list of books recommended by influential people who are well-read. I know that Bill Gates and Barrack Obama often share the books they are reading. But I’m sure many others also have talked about the books that influenced them in the past. Do you have a role model? Try to find out what books he/she likes!
HOW TO CHOOSE GREAT FICTION BOOKS
I don’t read much fiction, so I only have a little advice on this. It may not be the best advice, but I still think it could help.
1. Try to find your genre or style
Do you prefer memoirs, historical fiction or contemporary fiction? If you already know the genre or style you prefer, see what other books fit into that category. Or look for the best authors in that field.
If you have no idea what you prefer, choose some books from different genres. When you find a book you enjoy, see what genre/style it fits in and then look for other books in the same category. For example, I prefer Sci-Fi novels and so far I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read from this category.
2. Read books by the same author
If you loved a certain book, see if the author also wrote something else. There’s a high chance that you might enjoy reading all their books (especially if they are in the same category).
And you can also take it one step further. Think about an author you like. Try to find what authors he/she read. What authors influenced their style? Try to find the information online because there’s a big chance they talked about this at one point. This may be a great way to discover new books you’ll love!
3. Read the classics
A good way to find a novel you’ll enjoy is to read one of the classics. These are books that people read and love even decades or centuries after they are published. There must a reason why they stood the test of time, right?
Make a list of renowned classics and make your way through it. You can read the works of authors who are known all over the world, or the authors famous in your own country.
So far I have read and enjoyed some books by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins to name a few. But I am sure there are hundreds or thousands of great books out there!
4. Look for bestsellers
Again, you can look at what everyone else is enjoying. I think in the case of fiction, a bestseller list may be a better indication of the quality of the book or the skill of the author. But it also depends on your personal preference too. So give this a try and see what books you think are worth the hype!
I think this is all the advice you need to always find – and read – great books. As I said, this is a skill that will develop over time. So start following these steps and watch your awesome book stack grow!
P.S. If you need some book recommendations to get started, here’s my current list!