My Top 10 Favorite Books

A few readers have asked me to offer up a list of my favorite books. That’s always a tough call since typically my favorite book is the one I’ve just finished (I also typically don’t finish a book I don’t like). Nevertheless, there are a few books that are probably more relevant to MDA and my health and fitness philosophies than others. In no particular order, here are five novels and five from the “health/medicine/fitness” category that come to mind as having shaped my worldview one way or another.


The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

In sixth grade I traded Roy Lewis a 5 cent bag of M&Ms for a like-new paperback copy of this wonderful book. It not only cemented one of my first successful business negotiations, I was enthralled by this primal tale of Civil War castaways who had to make do with minimal provisions on a prehistoric island. I still have “word pictures” in my brain from that book. Grok would have been proud of those guys.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Kerouac’s fictional account of some real-life Beat Generation characters influenced many artists who followed him – like Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson and one of my favorites Tom Waits. The book also prompted my own extended road trip in 1977, and led to my leaving snowy, cold New England for the warmer training climate and the rich musical culture of the San Francisco Bay Area. (Beats and jazz, to hippies and rock, to New Wave and punk, etc.)

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

Many people regard “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” as his best work, but I submit that “Sometimes” is truly the great American novel. It’s a tale of a stubborn, quintessentially American logging family in Oregon fighting a battle against their union-based town. Kesey was also the major force behind a group called “The Merry Pranksters” that roamed the San Francisco Peninsula in the 60’s in a “magic bus” dropping acid, a time which was later chronicled in Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Years later I used to ride my bike past Kesey’s compound in La Honda and marvel at what emanated from that group.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Rand’s philosophies helped shape my own feelings on the role of government in society, in corporations and in the life of the individual. With all that’s going on in our nation today, it ought to be required reading for every elected official.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

No one else I’ve ever read writes so powerfully. Be careful. Sometimes those images will keep you up at night.


The Lore of Running by Tim Noakes

In the world of exercise physiology, Noakes is close to a god. This 900-page tome covers every aspect of how training (and the training diet) affects the human physiology – the good, the bad and the ugly. Reading between the lines here is what got me started thinking that endurance training really isn’t that healthy.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
by Robert Sapolsky

No one knows more about stress and stress hormones than this Stanford-based neuroscientist. Certainly no one writes more insightfully or entertainingly on the topic. I had always maintained that stress was probably the greatest factor in disease (dietary stress included) but Sapolsky drove the point home so convincingly that I reordered my priorities to stop endurance training and started looking at how I could better control stress through diet, supplementation and alternative exercise.

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

This book is less than two years old, but it is the definitive work on the history of nutritional science and nutrition public policy. Taubes is not a scientist, but rather a science writer and, as such, is able to objectively evaluate the “evidence” far better than most career researchers. It’s not an easy read, but if you can get through it, you will have a clear picture of just how misguided our diet advice has been – and you’ll become a confirmed low-carber. If you don’t read it, have your doctor read it, and tell him that if he doesn’t, you’ll have to find one who will.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

For lack of a better description (and lack of space) this is a history of the world post-Grok that looks at how agriculture and geography basically determined which societies would thrive (develop technology and weaponry) and dominate, and which would eventually fail or be taken over. Luck had a lot to do with it, of course, but it’s a fascinating thesis that filled in many of the gaps in my understanding of how we left Africa and populated the entire earth.

The Biology of Belief
by Bruce Lipton

Lipton takes the “genes are not destiny” assertion that I am always touting here to a whole new level. It’s the environment we present to our cells that dictates which genes are turned on or off and who or what we eventually become. No one does a finer job of explaining the concept, including the idea that our thoughts can also manifest genetic expression far more than anyone thought possible. This is the new frontier…

Those are my top ten. Share your favorites and let me know what you think of mine in the comment boards!

Further Reading:

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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61 thoughts on “My Top 10 Favorite Books”

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  1. Great list! I would add The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan to category two.

  2. Medicine:
    1. Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer – Shannon Brownlee
    2. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance – Atul Gawande

    1. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    2. The Coffeehouse Investor: How to Build Wealth, Ignore Wall Street, and Get On With Your Life – Bill Schultheis

  3. VT. So right, That’s what I get for writing on the fly. Duly noted and corrected.

  4. Cool! “Atlas Shrugged” – you have to be an independent thinker to appreciate that book or the Primal Blueprint – both are full of great and stimulating ideas for life and living.

  5. Ditto on Atlas Shrugged, but it should be required reading for everyone – elected officials and citizens alike.

    1. Atlas Shrugged is my #1 favorite book! With everything going on around us, I often referred back to it for motivation and keeping me focus. Glad to know PB loves it too!

  6. “Collapse”, also by Jared Diamond — Brilliant. And the best fitness book ever written, “The Art Of War” Sun Tzu.

  7. Interesting…this is the 2nd mention of Atlas Shrugged I’ve heard in a couple days. The fiance just got a video game called “BioShock” for a friend of ours, and its based on that book.

  8. In the Health/Fitness category, I would ditto the suggestions for Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma above, and add two books:

    Mary Enig’s Eat Fat, Lose Fat
    Nina Planck’s Real Food

  9. I have to agree with your comments on Sometimes a Great Notion. I had always hoped that Kesey had one more great novel in him. Sailor Song was not it, I don’t think. McCarthy’s Border Trilogy is on my list. I’ve read 7 0f your 10. Jared Diamond is brilliant and readable. Other great living American writers: Jim Harrison, Barry Lopez, Charles Bowden. For philosophy, see Ken Wilber. Bill McKibben sees the big picture as to environment and economy.

  10. I loved Omnivore’s Dilemma, too. Just too many books and too little space, I guess.

  11. Sorry, but I have to disagree with “Atlas Shrugged” which I regard as abysmally bad political philosophy and very possibly one of the worst things anybody could ever read. Look, if you go in for Libertarian politics, read something w/ actual intellectual weight like Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia” or A. John Simmons’ “On the Edge of Anarchy,” or even John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”.

    On a more positive note, here are some truly great reads:

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamzov.

    Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man. (Really a book of great genius; much more so than “The Origin of Species”.)

    Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy.

    Aldo Leopold, A Sound County Almanac.

    Galway Kinnell, The Book of Nightmares.

    Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct

    Brian Green, The Elegant Universe (or Fabic of the Cosmos)

  12. Out of the list I’ve only read Atlas Shrugged and I couldn’t be happier than you put that on this list! Fabulous book everyone should be required to read (like gharkness said). Since I agree with you so strongly on that one I’m definitely putting the rest of these on my reading list and moving them straight to the top. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  13. Mark, it’s customary in the blogging world to link to the books listed on Amazon so that one could add them easily to their cart. This should have been a no-brainer for such a prolific and good blogger as yourself, as now one must manually input the books to their list.

    Also, Fountainhead is better than Atlas Shrugged.

  14. Thanks for the suggestions, I need some books to put on my Christmas list 🙂

    Although I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read two (Atlas Shrugged and On the Road)- I’m excited to read the rest!

  15. In the health category, I would include:

    o The One Hundred Year Lie — about how FDA-approved chemicals damage our health. Well researched.

    o The Omnivores Dilemma — A look at the industrialization of food.


    o The World Without Us — a look at how Earth heals and recovers if all humans suddenly vanished.

  16. Tony – Many bloggers are part of Amazon Associates and link to books on to make money. I am not trying to sell these books. I’ve added the links nonetheless. Enjoy!

  17. Great books – I love Kesey and will have to pick up “Sometimes” sometime 🙂

    Another book I’d add – Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Innovative and life-changing.

  18. I’m a huge fan of “Atlas Shrugged” and Ayn Rand’s earlier novel “The Fountainhead.” Her principles of rationality, independence, individualism, egoism, and free-market capitalism are desperately needed today. Consider: If more Americans thought critically about what they eat — rather than just accepting the conventional wisdom, courtesy of government bureaucrats armed with inane food pyramids! — we’d not be in the big fat mess-o’-flab that we’re in today.

  19. Am I the first one to give mad props to your choice of Guns, Germs, and Steel?

    Great list. ‘The Road.’ Sad, beautiful stuff. One of my favorites.

    Must admit I don’t wear an ‘Ayn Rand’ club badge; but I like her stuff, I like it good.

  20. Diana, How cool that you are studying philosophy at CU! We must have overlapped a bit as I graduated in 2003, before taking a job at the University of Wyoming.

    Still, couldn’t disagree with you more about Rand!

  21. no nutrition and physical degeneration…or Homo Optimus….then good calories bad calorie.

    awesome list though!! I will have to check some of these out!!!

    good topic!

  22. treesa – I love Ishmael!!! Have you read The Story of B by Daniel Quinn? It is amazing!

    Also, I would add The Protein Power Lifeplan to the list. Has anyone read it? I am getting Good Calories, Bad Calories for Christmas. 🙂

  23. KQ – I haven’t read any of his others books, but I’d like to…. maybe that will be my solstice present to myself 🙂

  24. Hey Mark… I see several of my favorites here:

    Atlas Shrugged (I read it at my wife’s urging, and after 9 of the top 10 wealthiest men listed it as their most inspiring book).

    The Road (How can anyone go wrong with Cormac McCarthy? I was introduced to him through a literature and the environment course. The first? All The Pretty Horses.”)

    Guns, Germs, and Steel (After seeing just one PBS installment, I went right out an got this great book.).

    My current favorite (not on your list)? “Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life” by Gregg Michael Levoy. I’m on my second reading. It’s a wonderful book, beautifully written and deeply insightful.

  25. The Book of Five Rings – Miyamoto Musashi
    The Art of War – Sun Tzu
    The Day the World Came to Town – Jim Defede
    The Stand – Steven King
    The Word and the Void + Shannara series – Terry Brooks
    Olympic Weightlifting – Greg Everett

  26. Great list, Mark. Those I haven’t read will soon go on my (very long) reading list.

    One quibble, though. Saying Taubes is not a scientist, but is a science writer strikes me as dead wrong. Science is a way of thinking and learning that requires skepticism and empiricism. Published as the Diet Delusion where I live, Good Calories, Bad Calories is the quintessential example of the application of skepticism and empiricism to diet and nutrition. Being a true scientist is not dependent on having the right academic credentials – it is all about how you think and how you approach problems. As Taleb has said, “Gary Taubes is a true scientist.”

  27. What a coincidence; I have “Sometimes a Great Notion,” “Atlas Shrugged,” and On the Road” sitting on my desk as I write.

    I often wonder if Kesey and Kerouac were libertarians. Kesey was once referred to as a “psychedelic conservative,” and Kerouac was very much aligned politically with William F. Buckley jr., who once said, “I am 90% libertarian.”

    Anyway, both Kesey and Kerouac’s live and let live outlook is very much in line with mine.

  28. Great list!

    I read and followed Protein Power, the first edition, about 10 years ago,losing 30 lbs. I have managed to keep it off but still need to lose another 30. Protein Power Lifeplan has a wealth of nutritional science information and a great bit on artificial sweeteners. I found the science very understandable. I also like Neanderthin. But of course, PB is the best!

    Mark, any thoughts on Neanderthin?

  29. Russell, I agree that Taubes is more a scientist than many with the training and degree. I was deferring to his own description of himself.

    Sheri, Protein Power is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone. It certainly would have made a longer list. My limitations here were finding only 5 in that genre that were varied in their influence on my thinking.

    For sure, Neanderthin is also an interesting POV on the same topic.

  30. Atlas Shrugged… not light reading. The only thing I remember is the first sentence, which is good for trivia night! I do remember having an Ayn Rand thing when I was in high school.

    I tend to judge my favorite books by their “timeless” quality, or would I pick it up a few years from now and read it again. I loved Cormack McCarthy’s “The Road” when we read it in our creative writing class but alas I’m not sure it’s an “I’ll reread this in 10 years and still think wow this is a great book” book.

    But I do have a handful I feel that way about: Lord of the Flies, Lord of the Rings trilogy (no, I don’t have a whole “Lord of… fixation), The Color Purple, and To Kill a Mockingbird. On the less “high brow” list… Where the Red Fern Grows (ok, I CRY when the dog grieves itself to death over the other dog) and Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. These are all well done and have staying power for me.

    Nonfiction: Hands down, The Double Helix is the best. I also thought The Making of the Atomic Bomb was quite good.

    Nina Planck’s Real Food was very influential in turning my thoughts back to a natural, unprocessed diet. Only she was able to convince me that whole milk, cream, butter, and other fats were really good for me. Her argument was very compelling and made everything seem tasty. After that I was a farmers’ market girl.

    I must confess that I’m not much of a non-fiction reader. I like characters and stories.

    I’m not even gonna bring up the very best ever… Green Eggs & Ham, said Sam I am.


  31. Sorry to chime in again.

    I agree totally with Zen Frittata. The Sword of Shannara rocked. Ditto on The Stand and The Art of War.


  32. Okay, I have to pile on with two more; The Religions Of Man, by Huston Smith. Often used as a college text, 50 years after its’ initial copyright, this remains the most relevant book on comparative religions ever written, and provides the reading with a profound understanding of why religion matters, even if you are not religious.

    And, Horton Hatches The Egg. All the important lessons in life are learned here. Cheers Mark!

  33. Since we seem to be on a Seuss kick, what about “Oh, the Places you’ll Go!”?

  34. Great list Mark. On my list is also On The Road and Atlas Shrugged. Also enjoyed the entire trilogy by Jared Diamond (The Third Chimpanzee; Guns, Germs, and Steel; and Collapse).

    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

  35. I’m with kitfisk: What’s with all the Ayn Rand love? She’s just about the exact opposite of what we need at the moment. Egoistic, me-first, anti-regulation economics is what got us into this mess in the first place. What we need is large-scale investment in the common good (energy and transportation infrastructure, schools, universal health care, parks). Worshiping at the altar of free-market capitalism is as head-up-the-ass stupid as still being a diehard communist, especially right now. If you want to read about what really should be done in these desperate-looking times, try adding to your list “The Return of Depression Economics,” by Paul Krugman, who has been so right-on in recent years that it’s almost like he’s clairvoyant.

    1. I would like to comment on Atlas Shrugged. I first read it at 18 and have read it several times since then. It is one of my very favorite books, but I have never seen it as a political book, not at all. Rather I have always viewed it as a book that inspired me to live up to my highest ideals.
      I personally am bothered that it’s been usurped as the bible for the republican party, when truthfully, the people she describes with most distaste, act the way many of them in government act. That the party wants to use her book to talk about anti-government and deregulation, when yeah, we saw what that did after living through 2000-2008. Her book is a statement against communism more than it is a statement for a particular political party in the U.S.

    2. Very late to the party here, but I agree with the anti-Rand camp. If Donald Trump were a more literate and reflective person, he could have written Atlas Shrugged. There’s a great New Yorker cartoon featuring a farmer and his son out in a field of corn stalks with books in their “hands.” We know the corn is still immature, the father explains, because it’s still reading Ayn Rand.

      Love your health-related work, Mark, but we part ways on certain political/philosophical issues!

  36. Other than that, though, great list. I’d add “Waiting for the Barbarians” by JM Coetzee. Freaking brilliant.

  37. Rand had some problematic issues with her philosophy, but Atlas Shrugged is closer to what’s going on in the present than any single dystopian novel out there. Not easy reading, but worth it, in the end.

    It’s completely wrong that it was anti-regulation that got us into this mess. It was BAD regulation, or ignoring of regulations. One of thousands of examples. There were politicians (I’m not getting into x vs. y party or individual, it doesn’t matter for this discussion) who tried to get OTHER politicians to wake up to the problems of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The crooked politicians, literally weeks before the collapse of the markets, continued to say, in spite of knowing better, that there were NO PROBLEMS.

    There are hundreds of thousands of regulations out there. They didn’t stop anything.

    Rand advocated for FREE MARKETS. We do NOT have free markets, and certainly, they are less free all the time. And that’s mainly because of the unholy alliance of very big businesses and the Federal Govt, who conspire, via “laws”, to suppress true competition.

    There is a saying that no one hates capitalism more than capitalists. Rand’s books showed that, in a way. Atlas Shrugged shows how innovation and competition can be stifled, by greedy and TRULY selfish people (e.g. certain Senators, bought off for votes in Congress at 1 am this morning).

    Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead showed how fake altruism causes us immense harm, suppresses our freedom and impoverishes us. I’m sorry I’m going on so long about this, but I”m TIRED of seeing really stupid comments by know-nothings who either haven’t read the books or don’t get what they were about.

    1. maurice wrote: Atlas Shrugged shows how innovation and competition can be stifled, by greedy and TRULY selfish people

      sv: Yes and we see innovation and competition stifled more than ever in our corporate run America.

  38. Body By Science – Doug McGuff and John Little

    The Brain That Changes Itself – Norman Doidge

  39. I used to be more than happy to seek out this internet-site.I wished to thanks in your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you weblog post.

  40. How about adding Primal Body Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas. This book has gone straight to the top of my list!

  41. I think that Atlas Shrugged should be required reading for anyone, not simply politicians.

    Excellent list, Mark!

  42. Just discovering you Mark, and am on my 4th day of trying out Primal. Loving it and everything I have read on your site so far (and just ordered the book). And I am So relieved to see Atlas Shrugged on this list. If I’m going to be following your advice,I have to know your head is screwed on straight, and that recco is a good indication 🙂

  43. “The Art of Possibility” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander