My Five Most Influential Books (

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Today’s post really has nothing to do with fitness – at least not directly anyways. Call me crazy, but I don’t feel I need to be some fitness RoboCop* where all I do is write about strength curve continuums, muscular imbalances, protein to carb ratios, and/or deadlifts.

I do have a life outside of the gym. But dammit, I do love me some deadlifts!

For those who need their daily “fix” or crumb of insightful fitness knowledge, however: go lift something heavy today; eat more kale; drink more water; perform some hip mobility drills to unglue those hips; do some hill sprints.  And, for the love of god, stop “squatting” your kettlebell swings.

There you go.  You’re welcome.

* =  I’m referring the the 1987, Peter Weller version here.  Not the POS version that just came out a few weeks ago.  

It’s been stated that, on average, you’re the aggregate “sum” of the 4-5 people that you hang out with or spend the most time with the most.

As a kid growing up in middle-of-nowhere-central-New York my “posse” was my bike, a baseball, any baseball field, Luke Skywalker, my best (human) friend, Joe, and my best (overall) friend, my dog, Daisy.

Some would look at that list and say that I lived a lonely childhood.  I guess in some ways I did. My hometown was (and is) small.  To this day it still doesn’t have one traffic light, and the closest fast-food chain is about ten miles away. I lived out in the “country,” several miles outside the main village – which might as well have been an entire continent as a kid – so I didn’t have easy “access” to friends or playmates.

I spent a lot of time alone.

I spent a lot of time in my bedroom playing with my GI Joe and He-Man action figures, playing Nintendo here and there, as well as organizing my baseball card albums.

Then again, the internet didn’t exist then, and I was perfectly content going for a long bike ride, shooting some hoops, “playing army,” exploring with my dog, or hitting a baseball back and forth in the side yard.

You could literally see patches in the yard where I wore down all the grass, and if the sun beat down juuuuuuust right, an endless trek of footprints reminiscent of Bilbo Baggins.

Once I hit college, and was lucky enough to call myself a student-athlete, the people I hung out with the most were my baseball teammates.  I loved those guys.

Even then I was still sort of a loner and rather than play beer pong and head out to the dance clubs, I’d opt to spend my Friday nights at home doing endless crunches and sit-ups while watching Beverly Hills 90210 and Party of Five re-runs.

You can only imagine how much of a hit I was with the ladies back in the day!

And now, as an adult, while I’m truly lucky to have a supporting network of friends, family, and Lisa that I hold dear, in addition to the luxury of having people like Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Bret Contreras, Ben Bruno, Joe Dowdell, Nia Shanks, Jen Sinkler, and many, many other exceptional fitness professionals on speed dial, the people, or better yet, the things that I feel “mold” or define me the best are……


My friend and colleague, Mark Fisher of Mark Fisher Fitness, stated recently that “Since the summer of 2010, I’ve tried to read at least two books a week. Many weeks I’ve managed three, and of course some weeks I’ve barely been able to read. But I do keep at it. I genuinely believe consistent ongoing education is the common denominator of high achievers.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

Recently I received an email asking me what FIVE books have most influenced me throughout my life?  Like, whoa!  Talk about a daunting, mindf*** of a question!

And not just training books or books related to my field, either, of which are many….

Science and Practice of Strength Training, Facts and Fallacies of Fitness (Mel Siff), Athletic Body in Balance, Functional Training for Sport, Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, to name a few.

Note: For those interested, you can go HERE to see an extensive list of some of my favorite and most influential “fitness” reads.

But rather, which books helped shape my life or altered my way of thinking in some fashion?

I can’t say that what follows is a deep or insightful Deepak Chopra’esq commentary on why I choose these books. All I can offer is that I just like them, and they struck a chord with me for whatever reason.

Catcher in the Rye

I know, I know – this choice comes across as very cliche and borderline bourgeoisie. I might as well be rolling down my car window and asking for some Grey Poupon as I type this.

I didn’t choose this book because I somehow “connected” with JD Salinger’s protagonist hero Holden Caulfield.

Speaking candidly, the reason why I choose to read this book in the first place was because 1) I wanted to feel grown up and read something other than Sports Illustrated for a change and 2) it was skinny and didn’t look intimidating.

In other words: I knew I wanted to jump into reading some literature, but I also took one look at War and Peace and said “fuck that! I’m touching that with a ten foot pole.”

Funnily enough – well, at the time it wasn’t funny – what attracted me to this book in the first place was a break-up.  My girlfriend at the time (circa 2002) broke up with me, and in between days of  work (which was at a gym), going to the gym (to workout), and watching countless episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (hey, don’t judge!  It was a dark time.) I came across the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

I decided that summer I was going to make better use of my time and put a dent in that list.  I started with Catcher in the Rye and before I knew it, I had read like 10-15 novels off that list in less than a year.

I read in my house (when it was cold); I read outside my house, on the front steps (when it was warm); I read at the bookstore (my home away from home); and I even read on park benches.

And so, in my mid-20s (better late than never!), I became an avid reader.  It’s a trend that I still carry with me in my, ahem, late 30s.

I don’t read as much literature now as I did back then, but I do still enjoy reading fiction, and am usually juggling between that, a non-fiction book, as well as something related to my field simultaneously.  It’s not uncommon for me to be reading 2-4 books at once.

But this book is where it started.

Starting Strength

I can’t include a list of “books I love” without referencing at least one in my chosen field – strength and conditioning.

This book, written by strength coach Mark Rippetoe, is universally recognized as one of the seminal books within the fitness community.  No other book is able to equally satiate the fitness nerds out there who want to get into the nitty-gritty details of exercise physiology and read big, smart-looking words, while concurrently be “accessible” to the general public than this one.

I remember when I read the first edition it blew my mind.  What makes it so great is its simplicity.  Not so much in the topics covered – the squat, bench press, deadlift, and clean – but the fact that that’s ALL it covered.

There were no smoke-n-mirrors involved.  No bullshit.

You want to get stronger and look like a brick-shit-house (or coach people who want to get stronger and look like brick-shit-houses), you need to get really good at the squat, bench press, deadlift, and clean.

[I believe in future editions, the Military Press was added].

Simply put, what makes this book legendary is that it forces people to understand, respect! the notion that the “big rocks” matter.

Get rid of the fluff.

Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Moreover, and to follow suit with what strength coach Jim Wendler had to say on the matter, think of how long people have been writing about lifting weights.  Hint:  it’ been a long time.  It wasn’t until Starting Strength was released – back in 2005 – where people started to “get it.”

That’s saying a lot about a book.

The Kid Who Only Hit Homers

As I noted earlier, I wasn’t an avid reader until my mid-20s. But that’s not to say I didn’t immerse myself into a handful books in my younger years.  I think I read every Choose Your Own Adventure book there was.  And Encyclopedia Brown was a personal idol of mine. Too, there was one another author  – a local author!  Central New York in the house! – who’s books were a personal favorite:  Matt Christopher.

And it should come as no surprise, given I was kid obsessed with baseball, that my favorite Matt Christopher story was The Kid Who Only Hit Homers.

Outside of finding my step-dads stash of nudie mags (sorry Mom), as a twelve year old, if there was ever going to be a book who’s title would give me an instant boner, it was this one.

I mean, come on!  A book who’s sole premise was a kid who hit nothing but home runs!?!?  The only thing cooler would be a book based around a kid finding out his long-lost uncle was Han Solo.

Nevertheless, no one book stands out in my memory as something I cherished more than this one.  And that’s why it makes the list.

The Tipping Point

Anyone who’s familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s writing knows it’s infectious.  I liken it to taking crack.

Full Disclosure:  I’ve never taken crack.

While Gladwell does have his fair share of detractors, it’s hard to dismiss the notion he’s a wonderful and talented storyteller.

I picked up The Tipping Point by chance when I was living in Connecticut back in 2006.  I was in the local Borders – yes, that Borders. The one that no longer exists – hanging out in the cafe when I started paging through this book.

I started reading, and before I knew it I was on page 50.  I ended up buying the book on the spot and immediately drove home and read more.  It didn’t take me long to finish it, and by then I knew I was hooked on the topic of Behavioral Economics.

This book in particular is about why certain ideas flourish (Pet Rock anyone???), and why others fizzle.

Behavioral economics in general, though, is about people and why they do the things they do (as well as why the choose not to do certain things).

As a personal trainer and strength coach I find this sort of thing fascinating.  People know better than to go home at night and crush a bag of Doritos.  They know that that’s not healthy or going to help them lose a few inches off their waistline.

But they do it anyways.  Why?

It has nothing to do with knowledge.  Like I said, most things as it pertains to fitness isn’t rocket science and people generally know better.

In actuality, it has everything to do with behavior.

Half of my job is trying to convince, educate, and/or “trick” people into doing what I feel will get them to where they want to be.

Arming myself with a little ammunition on the psychology behind people’s actions and why they choose to do certain things is only going to help me better do my job.

Other authors which fall into this genre would be Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational), Chip and Dan Heath (Made to Stick, Switch, Decisive), and  Dr. Robert Cialdini (Yes!)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Those familiar with author Dave Eggers are very familiar with his memoir which helped make him a household name.

I can’t say with certainly why I love this book so much, why I consider it a game-changer, or why I feel it’s helped mold who I am.

I didn’t suddenly lose my parents in a car accident only to be left to put my own life on hold in order to raise my younger brother.

That’s more of less what the memoir is about.

I guess it just comes down to the writing.  It’s beautiful. And equal parts real, frustrated, humorous, engaging, angry, and entertaining.

I don’t know:  as a writer myself I’m often drawn to stupid things like how certain words are used, how sentences are structured (how the fuck did they pull that off!?!?!), and just the general cadence of good prose. It’s awesome.  And dare I say, sexy!

I find reading other’s words helps me, in some form or another, become a better writer.  And, too, there’s always a pinch of jealousy in the mix.  But I think every writer can commiserate with that.

I read certain books (like this one), or articles, or blogs, and often think to myself………man, I suck donkey balls.  I’ll never be that good.

But if I’m honest with myself, I know deep down that that feeling is normal. I think.  The more books I read on the topic of writing – Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing is a current favorite of mine – the more I accept that it’s okay to feel jealous, and that other writers feel the the exact same way. I think.

And that’s cool, because in the end it’s about finding inspiration in any way you can.


I’d love to see everyone else chime in below.  What are some books that have influenced you?

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Roland Denzel

    Um, The Notebook... There's no shame, Tony.

    March 4, 2014 at 10:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • chuck

    Dan Ariely came to speak at my college when I was in Business School there. We spent the better part of a semester recreating his experiments... they actually work! That's a book I read over and over. Have you read the War of Art?

    March 5, 2014 at 2:31 am | Reply to this comment

  • George Kalantzis

    Thanks Tony! The Way of a The Superior Man by David Deida helped me find love for the fitness industry.

    March 5, 2014 at 6:53 am | Reply to this comment

  • Mike D.

    The Omnivore's Dilemma changed the way me and my whole family eats! Halfway through Cooked now, love all of Pollan's stuff

    March 5, 2014 at 10:47 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kevin Styles

    I have to say for training, Starting Strength. I go back to that often. When I was a kid I read the majority of the Dungeons and Dragons and Choose Your Own Adventures books. I have found them in used book stores and online and purchased to read with my kids. Still love them!

    March 5, 2014 at 11:46 am | Reply to this comment

  • Christian

    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

    March 5, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Reply to this comment

  • John J Brooks

    oh boy.. So much.. I have a lit. degree and was a nerdy introvert latch key kid that read because we didn't have cable. Off the top of my head: Into thin air- Jon Krakauer (explains how quickly even experts can find themselves in deep trouble) Autobiography of Malcom X -Alex Haley (the desire to fight back, to stand up and be heard is often associated with being unintelligent. One can be articulate and intelligent and outraged) Tropic of Cancer -Henry Miller (the virtues of excess) A season on the mat: dan gable and the pursuit of perfection -Nolan Zavoral (the virtues of discipline.) And many more..

    March 5, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Reply to this comment

  • IronSkittle

    I always wanted to live on the shire while growing up. I sort of feel like I do, now that I live in the Emerald City. Anyway, just wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your blog. It has quickly become an essential part of my day . I am a triathlete and starting lifting about a year and half ago in the off season, in the hopes of getting stronger on the bike and run in my ironman distance races. I have learned so much from your blog and have made huge strength gains. I have not only learned a tremendous amount from you, but also enjoy laughing out loud whenever I read your posts. I also use Strong Curves by Bret Contreras and Kellie Davis and The New Rules of Lifting for Women by Lou Schuler as wonderful resources. Sorry to make this so long, but have been wanting to say thank you for a long time.

    March 5, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Reply to this comment

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