Best Books on Learning: My Personal Favorites & FREE Resources

Best Books on Learning

What a fascinating experience.

Reading one of the best books on learning faster is perhaps one of the best time investments you could make for your career.

After reading one of these books, you’ll be able to read the next ones with incredible speeds and get more out of them.

And you’ll be able to master hard things quickly—even difficult subjects.

Couple that with the fact that knowledge builds upon prior knowledge, and you have an upward spiral of becoming so good they can’t ignore you!

After reading these books, you will be able to:

  • Learn difficult subjects and/or skills fast—a huge asset in this new economy
  • Stop forgetting everything you want to remember
  • Start your own learning projects that accelerate your career
  • Rapidly become more knowledgeable than everyone else

Now, if you’re a student who wants to know how the brain learns and remembers information, I highly suggest you start with Learning How to Learn first.

Otherwise, if you just have personal learning projects, then Ultralearning will be your best bet.

If you think that meets your criteria, then you can check them out in the links I provided, or you can choose if you want to read on to see what each book offers so you can decide for yourself 🙂

Here’s the table of contents for faster navigation:

My Favorite Books on Learning

Below are my personal favorites. I’ll give you a little glimpse of each book, and whom they are best for so you can make a decision on which to purchase.

Full disclosure: Whenever you make a purchase through these links, I receive a small commission without any additional cost to you. That said, I’ve personally read them, loved them, and would recommend them to you with 100% confidence.

The list isn’t in any particular order of importance, but if you’re not much of a reader, just read the first two and you’re all good.

Without further ado, let’s get to the list.

Learning How to Learn – Perhaps the most important one in this list

Just recently, I made my little sister read this. It’s specifically made for teens and adolescents, so it’s incredibly easy to understand; the concepts were really easy to visualize.

If you want an all-in-one book that covers learning, productivity, and mindset, then this is the one you should get. In fact, this book will get you really far even if you don’t get the others on this list.

Learn more

Ultralearning – Get this if you want to do personal learning projects fast (and I mean FAST)

INSANELY PRACTICAL. If you’re interested in self-learning, or more appropriately, becoming an autodidact, then you should probably get this book first.

The principles in Ultralearning are quite well-tested in the real world—Scott, the author, used it to learn a whole 4-year CS degree in just 12 months, learn how to draw realistic portraits in just 30 days, and speak different languages in record time. I sure hope I learned about Scott sooner.

It contains the 9 steps you should take to teach yourself any skill or subject you want.

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Mindset – The book that makes you realize you can become smart, too

“I’m not talented.”

“Maybe this isn’t for me.”

If you’ve ever uttered those words, then Psychologist Carol Dweck will prove you wrong.

Perhaps the best idea that I found in this book is “Effort changes the brain” and it completely turned around how I thought about talent.

It was something you could develop, not something you’re born with.

Dr. Carol Dweck will also persuade you how the smartest kids don’t end up being the smartest adults.

Everything you do is influenced by how you think. Don’t you think a growth mindset will make you grow as a person as well?

This book isn’t for you, though, if you already embrace challenges and think of failures as opportunities to grow.

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How to Become a Straight-A Student – Perhaps the most specific for excelling in school

Up to this date, I still use the principles in this book! Especially the scheduling part. (I’m already an Engineer, by the way)

It’s incredibly actionable and is filled with anecdotes from ACTUAL straight-A students from different universities.

I might be biased for recommending Cal Newport’s books because he’s one of the guys I really look up to.

Anyway, if you’re a student—whether in high school or in college, this book will give you extremely specific advice on how to learn more while spending less time studying.

Why? Because how most students usually study isn’t effective.

Cramming, trying to do everything, not knowing how to prepare for specific tests—these are some of the problems that How to Become a Straight-A Student will solve for you.

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Make it Stick – Best Book on How To Retain Information

Honestly, the whole chunk of the big ideas in this book is already summarized in the last chapter (I think it’s the last, or second from the last).

But in case you want to read it, here’s what you’ll learn from this book:

  • Why intuition fails us in making information stick to our memory
  • How you can actually retain information without spending time re-reading or highlighting
  • The reason why “Practice, Practice, Practice” is misinterpreted into learning
  • and many more.

If I’d describe this book, I’d describe it as “unconventionally mind-opening.”

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A Mind for Numbers – How to Excel in Math and Science (Even If You’ve Flunked Algebra)

A Mind for Numbers is actually the more technical version of Learning How to Learn—simply because Learning How to Learn is based on this book! It’s the OG.

It contains a more detailed explanation of the science behind learning techniques presented in Learning How to Learn, so expect it to be a much longer version.

For example, thinking too hard for a solution is actually more counterproductive because of a phenomenon called Einstellung. This isn’t directly discussed in Learning How to Learn.

But what do you know, it recommends Anki in the middle of the book!

Anki is the FREE app I personally use to learn information faster and then store them into my long term memory. If you’re interested in using that app, you can learn more about it here.

Anyway, if you think you suck at math, Dr. Barbara Oakley will transform you into a freaking genius.

She herself flunked Algebra but went on to obtain a doctorate in Engineering. How crazy is that?

Sure, it takes more mental effort, and it takes time to get better—but not as much as the ineffective methods for learning we’ve been taught at school.

Similar to Make it Stick, some parts of A Mind for Numbers will debunk the ineffective methods we’ve been told when we were a child.

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Brain Rules – This is like a Cheat Sheet for learning

As the heading says, Brain Rules by John Medina is like a cheat sheet for your learning conditions.

If you just want to know how the brain works, then it’s the book for you.

I’d argue that A Mind for Numbers or Learning How to Learn is better overall, but if you want a stop-and-go type of book, then this might be your thing.

Learn more

Deep Work – If you want to realize why you need to learn faster

Deep Work is actually the first book I’ve read on this list.

In the “new economy”, Cal Newport states that the only ones who can thrive are the ones who are able to cultivate the skill of working deeply. And it’s because doing Deep Work allows you to rapidly learn new skills and produce valuable work that is hard to replicate.

If you don’t learn how to cultivate this skill, however, you will inevitably get replaced by intelligent machines.

Crap, even the act of writing sales pages, a task that requires a lot of creativity, can now be done by machines. (though it’s not comparable to an expert-level output)

In case you didn’t know, the ones who write sales pages are one of the highest-paid writers in the world—they help companies make more money, after all.

It’s really a book on productivity, but it’s incredibly persuasive that you will fall into the rabbit hole of wanting to learn about how to learn after reading it.

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Flow – Teaches you how to make learning fun again

We can’t deny that school has made learning an incredibly tedious task.

Being forced to do homework you don’t want or memorize something that doesn’t even matter just to get those high grades simply KILLS the fun out of learning.

But with Flow, everything’s different. Most commonly, we experience Flow when playing video games. (Do you love video games, too???)

Time flies. You’re fully immersed in what you’re doing. And you seem to be experiencing a whole different kind of happiness.

That’s Flow. Now, what if you could replicate that experience into your own learning endeavors?

Wouldn’t that be a gift from the heavens? Absolutely.

Learn more

Essentialism – Made me realize you can learn anything, but not everything. And it’s a good thing.

Essentialism is another book on personal productivity that I love. As you can see, the best productivity books out there also apply to learning 🙂

Have you experienced having too much to learn but having too little time?

The way out of that mess is the way of the Essentialist.

When you’re an essentialist, you focus on the vital few—only the ones that give the highest contribution to your learning. In one way or another, I believe Ultralearning also uses this concept. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to learn fast.

Some hard-to-swallow truth pills I’ve learned from this book:

  • When you don’t use your ability to choose, then your choice is already made. In short, if you don’t live by design, you live by default. If you don’t choose what to learn, you’ll end up trying to learn everything; this brings us to the next point
  • Essentialists can do anything, but not everything. You simply can’t do it all. You’ll get stretched too thin. By the same logic, Essentialist Learners can learn anything, but not everything at once.

There are plenty more golden nuggets in the book—and that’s why I’ve already read this book at least 3 times in the last 3 months.

Learn more

The Lean Startup – Not the usual type of learning. It’s more on, well, startups

Without feedback, there’s no way to know if you’re learning or not.

This book isn’t actually for learning, though. But I found that the concepts found in The Lean Startup apply perfectly to learning.

For example, the book demonstrates why experimentation and striving to get immediate feedback is far better and leads to less waste than a plethora of business plans.

Applying this concept to learning, the importance of getting feedback on your weaknesses and then improving upon them is invaluable.

Without testing, there’s no way of telling if you’ve actually done a great job.

Just because you had an “aha!” moment does not mean it’s going to do great. That’s what this book made me realize.

And perhaps the greatest idea that I’ve learned from The Lean Startup:

Always try to shorten the time inside your feedback loops to accelerate your learning process.

Again, this isn’t for everyone. I’d say that this book is only for you if you have an entrepreneurial mindset and would want to become a founder in the future—because this book will help you start.

Learn more

Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley – If you’re interested in quick memory techniques

In the middle of your learning journey, you will often encounter interesting facts you’d want to remember.

However, because of the abstractness, they prove to be hard to remember.

What’s the solution? Memory techniques.

Kevin Horsley discusses how you can access the most practical techniques found in the memory championship world—the same techniques that normal people use to memorize incredible amounts of information at a single glance.

The Memory Palace technique—or what he calls “The Journey Method” in his book, is perhaps the most powerful thing you’re going to learn in this book.

After reading this, I think you would want a specialized, FREE course on robust memory techniques, so you could check out my friend Anthony on Magnetic Memory Method by clicking here.

It’s perhaps the most specialized course out there on memory techniques.

If you’ve already read one of the learning books above, then get Unlimited Memory next.

Learn more

Other learning books with good reviews online:

I haven’t read these books yet, but they seem to have good reviews online that I thought I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t include them.

I made sure, though, that they were really about learning; how information sticks to our brains or how we can absorb information faster.

Some books here will be for learning skills, and that totally falls in the criterion of learning faster so I included them.

Here are the rest of the popular titles on learning:

  1. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey
  2. The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin
  3. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler
  4. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath
  5. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
  6. Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It by Gabriel Wyner
  7. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson
  8. The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast by Josh Kaufman
  9. The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else by Daniel Coyle
  10. The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Timothy Ferriss
  11. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
  12. Mastery by Robert Greene
  13. Grit by Angela Duckworth

Best FREE Resources for Learning How to Learn:

This list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include some golden nuggets online, so here you are.

I personally went through all of these, and I can attest to the quality of the information in there (especially the Learning How to Learn course).

P.S. I found it great that Arthur Worsley’s blog and my share the same theme, so it’s a no-brainer to promote it here, too 🙂 His specialty is on teaching you how to get more out of what you read, and he also gives out a free productivity course when you join his newsletter.

Bottom Line: Best Books on Learning

That concludes today’s post! Overall, I’ve recommended only the books and resources that I’ve read along with some popular titles on the topic.

If you have any more recommendations or suggestions to add to this list, please let me know in the comments!

That said, I’ll make a bit of promotion here if you don’t mind.

I recently released by FREE ebook: The Lazy Man’s Guide to Hacking The Brain.

If you’re interested in zero-effort ways to learn more quickly and defeat procrastination, then you can choose to learn more about it by clicking here or the link above.

By getting the book, you’ll also get access to my exclusive newsletter. If you don’t want to receive them, then you can just unsubscribe anytime you like.

That said, if you liked this list, you can choose whether to share it with your friends by clicking the share buttons below or just keep this information secret to your own advantage…*evil laugh

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