As promised, here is a list of books that made an impact on me. It was a tough task as there are many books I have found useful, fascinating or enjoyable. This is just a top-of-the-mind, partial, unordered list of books of different categories that left a lasting impression, and, in some cases, changed me as a person. For those interested, brief notes on the books are given at the end.
-The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck
-Illusions by Richard Bach
-The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power by Vernon Howard
-Don't Say Yes When You Want to Say No by Herbert Fensterheim and Jean Baer
-The Psychology of Winning by Denis Waitley
-Bertrand Russell's Best selected by Robert E. Egner
-Working Smart by Michael LeBouef
-Serious Creativity by Edward de Bono
-The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel
-Debugging the Development Process by Steve Maguire
-Essential COM by Don Box
-Electronic Life by Michael Crichton
-Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Cziksentmihalyi
-The Universe Within: A New Science Explores the Human Mind by Morton Hunt
-The Rational Manager by Charles H. Kepner and Benjamin B. Tregoe
-The Prayer of the Frog by Anthony D'Mello
-The Laughter Prescription by Laurence J Peter and Bill Dana
-Manwatching by Desmond Morris
-Murphy's Law Complete by Arthur Bloch
-The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White
There are some authors whose writing style is so engaging that most of their books or essays are highly readable. For me, such authors include: Isaac Asimov, Bertrand Russell, Richard Bach, J Krishnamurthi, Ayn Rand, Michael Crichton, Dave Barry, Bill Cosby, Arun Shourie, Vivekananda, Kahlil Gibran and Anant Pai (Amar Chitra Katha!).
Some recently discovered (by me) are: Simon Singh, Marcus Buckingham, Marshall Goldsmith, Chinmayananda (!).
Brief about each book (based on memory)
The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck
Psychiatrist who has written about effective coping of life situations. His themes like discipline and delayed gratification are now widely accepted due to the popularity of Emotional Intelligence. This book will not appeal to those who do not like to read psychology.
Illusions by Richard Bach
Most people love his first book, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", but Illusions appealed to me more. It has killer statements like, "Members of a family are rarely born under the same roof" and "Argue for your limitations, and, sure enough, they are yours."
The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power by Vernon Howard
One of the first secular spiritual books I read that synthesizes ideas from all religions in a practical, personal manner. Light style but deep content. It was also not trying to hard-sell anything, not even the "best approach".
Don't Say Yes When You Want to Say No by Herbert Fensterheim and Jean Baer
A best-selling assertiveness book for a long time, with exercises suggested to overcome that vague hesitation.
The Psychology of Winning by Denis Waitley
Practical and sober advice from a psychologist and motivational writer on being a true winner regardless of the sphere of activity and one's position. Not heavy psychology stuff. Ranks equal for me with "Psychocybernetics" by Max Maltz.
Bertrand Russell's Best selected by Robert E. Egner
A distillation from the writings of a prolific author-philosopher. The most humbling experience of my life to see so many aspects of society, relationships, science, religion, politics and happiness analyzed in a razor-sharp manner and comprehensively treated in a satirical language. I was almost depressed thinking everything has been covered for good! Every time I dip into it and read a para I get inspired. Anyone who feels their clarity of thought and arguing skill is high should read Russell.
Working Smart by Michael LeBouef
Extremely useful snippets on communication, time management, getting organized, collaborating and stress management.
Serious Creativity by Edward de Bono
Most of de Bono's books are creative variations of his first book, "Lateral Thinking", a term he coined to avoid the value judgement attached to the phrase "creative thinking". This one is a good compendium of techniques to use different types of thinking in different situations and how to develop the habit.
The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel
Better than any book written earlier by Indians and Britishers, this one by an American captured the ethos of Srinivasa Ramanujan's times and his unbelievable life story. The flavour of mathematics and his relationship with G.H. Hardy are covered well to cater to all levels of readers. The tragedy and the beauty of the story are balanced as is the greatness and human weaknesses of the main figures. Inspiring to know such men existed (I mean both Ramanujan and Hardy).
Debugging the Development Process by Steve Maguire
Highly recommended book for software leads and managers with unconventional common sense tips along with insider stories from Microsoft.
Essential COM by Don Box
More than any of the OO books by famous authors like Grady Booch, James Rumbaugh and Ivar Jacobson, this book explained the component approach that truly made reuse and encapsulation a reality in the software industry. This was the definitive technical book of the early 90s and though it is Microsoft platform-centric, I believe all software professionals need to understand the evolution from procedural to object-orientation to components to interfaces and now services. Not for non-techies.
Electronic Life by Michael Crichton
Crichton is a medical doctor who wrote this small pocket book about computers (!) around 1987. His interesting style was evident then itself though fame came in the 90s after he wrote Jurassic Park and many blockbusters after that. The book is of no interest now but it was one of many gems I picked up cheap (maybe Rs. 11 or 19 or something like that) at King's Circle in Mumbai where piles of assorted books are sold on the street. Reinforced my interest in computers.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Cziksentmihalyi
In 1990 when I carried this book in the New York subway travelling from Queens to Wall Street, one colleague asked me what it is about. Before I answered, another chipped in, "After you read it you will know how to pronounce the author's name!" In fact, you won't. It is pronounced "Me-high Chick-sent-me-high" but the book talks about his research on the flow experience when we are fully immersed in an activity without feeling the passage of time, hunger or boredom. Brilliant research and fascinating insights. His work is being quoted widely in recent years and has relevance for happiness, stress management, motivation, creativity and goal-setting. Slightly dry style.
The Universe Within: A New Science Explores the Human Mind by Morton Hunt
One of the early books that explained the brain structure and functioning based on all the research up to that time. Many such books are now available as the past decade has seen the coming together of electrochemical research, psychology and sociology.
The Rational Manager by Charles H. Kepner and Benjamin B. Tregoe
Another very old gem (published in the 1960s) I picked up from the street at King's Circle. "Deviation Analysis" is a systematic problem-solving method explained with industry examples in the book. As part of the quality management focus starting in the late 80s, this has become quite famous as KT or Kepner-Tregoe method for debugging any tricky problem.
The Prayer of the Frog by Anthony D'Mello
One of many similar books by the author, containing small jokes and anecdotes intended to provoke laughter, thought and insights. Spirituality is not available in an easier package.
The Laughter Prescription by Laurence J Peter and Bill Dana
Peter is famous for stating the Peter Principle and other humorous management thoughts. This book talks about the importance of a sense of humour for good health in, well, a humourous manner.
Manwatching by Desmond Morris
The man who made anthropology famous with many interesting books and controversial theories. This is a large format book with many pictures and mind-blogging facts about humans and other animals. An antidote to the typical belief that humans are special and different from other lower animals.
Murphy's Law Complete by Arthur Bloch
A compilation of many witty observations about people, things, day-to-day problems and organizations presented in the form of laws and corollaries to Murphy's law ("If anything can go wrong, it will"). My favourites include, "If you wash your car it will rain" followed by, "If you wash your car intending it to rain, it won't" followed by "If Murphy's law can go wrong, it will!"
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White
An old classic (first written in 1918) -- a short reference manual for any kind of writing. Other than rules of grammar, it contains advice on concise, vigorous writing. The strongly opinionated American professor from a century ago still influences English. If you google on the title you will see hundreds of thousands of results. Taught me to re-read (and rewrite) any important matter. Always becomes shorter. And better.