Autodidact Polymath Reading List: 8 Must-Read Books for the Self-Learner

At a glance - key points to consider

Title Author Description
“Tao Te Ching” Lao Tzu An ancient Chinese philosophical text that explores the concept of Tao (the Way) and offers insights on living a balanced and harmonious life.
“Atlas Shrugged” Ayn Rand A novel that delves into philosophical themes of individualism, capitalism, and the power of human achievement.
“Sapiens” Yuval Noah Harari Explores the history of our species, providing insights into human behavior and the development of societies.
“Siddhartha” Hermann Hesse A spiritual novel that follows the journey of Siddhartha, a young man seeking enlightenment and self-discovery.
“The Checklist Manifesto” Atul Gawande Explores the power of checklists in increasing efficiency, reducing errors, and improving outcomes in various professional fields.
“Influence” Robert Cialdini Examines the psychology of persuasion and the tactics used to influence others.
“Stumbling on Happiness” Daniel Gilbert Explores the science of happiness and the cognitive biases that impact our perception of happiness.
“Superintelligence” Nick Bostrom Discusses the potential risks and benefits of artificial intelligence and its impact on society and humanity’s future.

Polymathic person

A polymathic person, also known as a polymath, is an individual who possesses expertise and knowledge in multiple fields of study. They are characterized by their ability to excel in diverse domains, integrating knowledge and skills from various disciplines.

A polymath embraces the spirit of lifelong learning and intellectual curiosity, constantly seeking new knowledge and engaging in interdisciplinary thinking.

Here are ten ways to cultivate your polymathic abilities and unlock your full intellectual potential:

Embrace Curiosity: Foster a deep sense of curiosity about the world around you. Explore various fields, ask questions, and seek knowledge in diverse subjects.

Pursue Lifelong Learning: Cultivate a love for learning and make it a lifelong habit. Seek out new information, challenge yourself with complex ideas, and continuously expand your knowledge base.

Develop a Growth Mindset: Adopt a growth mindset that embraces challenges and values the process of learning. Embrace setbacks as opportunities for growth and see failures as stepping stones towards success.

Practice Interdisciplinary Thinking: Cultivate the ability to connect ideas across different disciplines. Look for commonalities and patterns that can help you gain insights and make innovative connections.

Read Widely: Delve into books, articles, and resources from various domains. Explore literature, philosophy, science, history, art, and more. Broad reading exposes you to different perspectives and fosters a well-rounded intellect.

Engage in Creative Pursuits: Explore creative outlets such as writing, painting, or playing a musical instrument. Creative activities stimulate your imagination, enhance problem-solving skills, and foster a multidimensional approach to learning.

Build a Diverse Network: Surround yourself with people from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Engage in meaningful conversations, exchange ideas, and learn from diverse perspectives.

Embrace Complexity: Challenge yourself with complex problems that require interdisciplinary thinking. Tackle big challenges, break them down into manageable parts, and connect different fields of knowledge to find innovative solutions.

Emphasize Practical Application: Apply your knowledge to real-world scenarios. Seek opportunities to put your skills into practice, whether through projects, internships, or personal initiatives. Practical experience deepens your understanding and enhances your abilities.

Embrace Continuous Growth: Never stop learning and evolving. Embrace change, stay adaptable, and embrace new technologies, methodologies, and discoveries. Embrace the idea that learning is a lifelong journey.

The Polymath Book Recommendations

If you’re a self-learner on the quest to become a polymath, expanding your knowledge across multiple disciplines is key. And what better way to do that than through reading? Here are eight must-read books that will not only feed your curiosity but also help you in your journey as an autodidact.

First up, we have “Tao Te Ching” by Lao Tzu. This ancient Chinese text offers profound insights into philosophy and spirituality. Its poetic verses will inspire deep contemplation and guide you towards finding harmony within yourself and the world around you.

Next on the list is “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. This epic novel explores themes of individualism, capitalism, and the pursuit of excellence. It challenges conventional thinking and encourages critical analysis of societal norms.

For those interested in understanding human history from a broad perspective, “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari is a must-read. It takes us on a captivating journey through time, exploring how Homo sapiens became the dominant species on Earth.

If you’re looking for spiritual enlightenment, Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” is an excellent choice. This timeless classic tells the story of Siddhartha’s search for meaning and truth in life – a journey that resonates with many seekers today.

In our increasingly complex world, managing complexity becomes crucial. That’s where “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande comes in handy. This book reveals how checklists can be powerful tools for organizing our thoughts and actions to achieve better results.

Understanding human behavior is essential when seeking personal growth or influencing others effectively. Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” explores six principles that drive human behavior – invaluable knowledge for any polymath-in-training!

What makes us truly happy? Daniel Gilbert tackles this question in his book “Stumbling on Happiness.” Through fascinating insights from psychology and neuroscience, Gilbert challenges our assumptions about what

Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu, is a profound and timeless philosophical text that offers invaluable insights into the nature of existence and the art of living. With its poetic verses and enigmatic wisdom, this book has captivated readers for centuries.

The essence of Tao Te Ching lies in its exploration of the concept of Tao, which can be loosely translated as “the way.” It teaches us to flow with the natural rhythms of life rather than resisting or trying to control them. Through simplicity and humility, we can align ourselves with the subtle forces at work in the universe.

One of the central themes in Tao Te Ching is non-action or wu-wei. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t promote laziness or passivity but encourages acting effortlessly and spontaneously without forcing outcomes. By relinquishing our attachments to desires and expectations, we can find true freedom.

Lao Tzu also discusses the idea of harmony between opposites – yin and yang. He emphasizes that embracing both light and darkness leads to balance and wholeness. This notion challenges conventional thinking but encourages us to embrace paradoxes instead of seeking absolutes.

Reading Tao Te Ching requires an open mind and willingness to contemplate deep truths about human nature, society, power dynamics, and personal growth. Its teachings are universal yet elusive; they invite introspection rather than providing concrete answers.

Whether you’re a philosopher seeking intellectual stimulation or simply someone interested in exploring alternative perspectives on life’s mysteries, Tao Te Ching is an essential addition to your reading list. Dive into its ancient wisdom with curiosity and allow yourself to be transformed by its profound insights.

Autodidact Polymath Reading List: 8 Must-Read Books for the Self-Learner

Atlas Shrugged

“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand is a thought-provoking and controversial novel that challenges traditional societal norms. Set in a dystopian future, the story revolves around the struggle of individuals against an oppressive government and collective mentality.

The book explores themes such as individualism, capitalism, and the power of free will. Through compelling characters like Dagny Taggart and John Galt, Rand presents her philosophy of Objectivism, which emphasizes rational self-interest and personal achievement.

One cannot help but be captivated by the intricate plotline and philosophical debates that unfold throughout “Atlas Shrugged.” Rand’s writing style is both intellectual and engaging, making it difficult to put the book down once you start reading.

While some may argue that the novel is lengthy or overly ideological, there is no denying its impact on readers who appreciate its examination of human nature, morality, and economic principles. It challenges us to question our own values and consider alternative perspectives.

Whether you agree with Rand’s philosophies or not, “Atlas Shrugged” remains a significant piece of literature that stimulates critical thinking. It serves as a reminder to embrace individuality while questioning authority—a valuable lesson for any self-learner seeking intellectual stimulation.


“Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari is a thought-provoking exploration of the history and future of humankind. Through a captivating blend of anthropology, biology, and sociology, Harari takes readers on a journey spanning thousands of years.

In this book, Harari challenges conventional wisdom about our species’ origins and development. He delves into topics such as the Cognitive Revolution, which marked a turning point in human evolution with the emergence of language and abstract thinking. He also examines the Agricultural Revolution, which brought about significant changes to our societies and way of life.

Harari doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects either. He tackles religion, politics, capitalism, and more with an open mind that encourages critical thinking. The author’s ability to present complex ideas in an accessible manner makes “Sapiens” a must-read for self-learners seeking to expand their knowledge across various disciplines.

Through his engaging storytelling style, Harari prompts us to question our beliefs and consider different perspectives on what it means to be human. Whether you’re interested in history or simply curious about humanity’s past and future trajectory, “Sapiens” offers valuable insights that will challenge your understanding of the world we inhabit.

By exploring the interplay between biology and culture throughout history, Harari forces us to confront uncomfortable truths while encouraging curiosity-driven learning. With its bold assertions backed by meticulous research and analysis,“Sapiens” invites readers into a rich tapestry of ideas that will leave them pondering long after they finish reading.


Siddhartha is a profound and thought-provoking novel written by Hermann Hesse. Set in ancient India, it follows the spiritual journey of its titular character as he seeks enlightenment and self-discovery.

The book delves into themes of spirituality, desire, and the search for meaning in life. Through Siddhartha’s encounters with various teachers and experiences, readers are taken on a introspective exploration of human existence.

Hesse’s writing style is poetic yet accessible, immersing readers in vivid descriptions of landscapes and emotions. The narrative flows seamlessly, guiding us through Siddhartha’s evolution from an ambitious young man to a wise sage.

What sets this book apart is its universal appeal. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs or personal philosophy, Siddhartha offers valuable insights into the human condition and our constant yearning for fulfillment.

As you delve into this literary masterpiece, be prepared to question your own values and beliefs. Let yourself be swept away by Hesse’s lyrical prose as you accompany Siddhartha on his quest for truth.

Incorporating elements from Buddhism and Hinduism, Siddhartha invites readers to reflect upon their own spiritual journeys without preaching or imposing any specific ideology.

Immerse yourself in this timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers across generations. Allow its timeless wisdom to inspire your own pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

The Checklist Manifesto

“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande is a game-changer for anyone looking to improve their productivity and efficiency. In this book, Gawande explores the power of checklists in various fields, from aviation to surgery and even the construction industry.

Gawande delves into the concept of “the paradox of knowledge,” where despite having access to vast amounts of information, we still make mistakes. He argues that checklists can help bridge this gap by providing a simple yet effective tool for ensuring tasks are completed accurately and thoroughly.

Through captivating anecdotes and real-life examples, Gawande shows how checklists have saved lives in operating rooms and prevented costly errors in complex projects. He emphasizes that checklists are not meant to replace expertise or critical thinking but rather enhance them.

The beauty of “The Checklist Manifesto” lies in its ability to transcend industries and be applicable to all aspects of life. Whether you’re a student managing multiple assignments or an entrepreneur juggling numerous responsibilities, implementing checklists can significantly boost your productivity.

Gawande’s writing style is engaging and accessible, making it easy for readers from all backgrounds to grasp the importance of using checklists effectively. So if you’re looking for a practical guide on how to become more organized and achieve better results, “The Checklist Manifesto” is a must-read book that will revolutionize your approach to work and daily tasks.


“Influence” by Robert Cialdini is a fascinating exploration of the science behind persuasion and why people say yes. This book delves into the tactics that individuals and organizations use to influence others, from social proof and reciprocity to scarcity and authority.

Cialdini draws on extensive research in psychology, sociology, and marketing to uncover the powerful principles that shape our decisions. Through captivating real-life examples and experiments, he reveals how these principles can be applied ethically for personal or professional gain.

One particularly intriguing aspect of “Influence” is its examination of compliance techniques used by salespeople, advertisers, and even cult leaders. We are shown how subtle cues can trigger automatic responses in our brains, leading us to make choices we might not have otherwise made.

But “Influence” isn’t just about manipulation; it also offers valuable insights into how we can protect ourselves against unwarranted influence. By understanding the psychological triggers at play, we become better equipped to recognize when someone is attempting to exploit them.

Overall, “Influence” provides a thought-provoking look at human behavior through the lens of persuasion. Whether you’re interested in marketing strategies or simply want to understand why people behave the way they do, this book is an essential read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of influence.

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Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness is a thought-provoking book that delves into the complex nature of human happiness. Written by Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard University, this book challenges our assumptions about what truly makes us happy.

Gilbert explores the concept of “affective forecasting,” which refers to our ability (or lack thereof) to predict how future events will make us feel. He argues that we are often terrible at predicting what will bring us happiness and examines the cognitive biases that lead us astray.

One fascinating aspect of Stumbling on Happiness is its exploration of memory and how it shapes our perception of past experiences. Gilbert highlights how our memories can be flawed and subjective, leading to inaccurate assessments of what made us happy in the past.

The author also tackles important topics like adaptation and comparison. He explains why we tend to adapt quickly to positive life changes and why comparing ourselves with others can impact our happiness levels.

Stumbling on Happiness offers valuable insights into human psychology and challenges conventional wisdom about finding happiness. It prompts readers to question their own beliefs about what brings true satisfaction in life, making it an essential read for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of human emotions.

Autodidact Polymath Reading List: 8 Must-Read Books for the Self-Learner


“Superintelligence” by Nick Bostrom is a thought-provoking book that delves into the potential risks and benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) surpassing human intelligence. Bostrom explores the concept of an “intelligence explosion,” where AI becomes exponentially more intelligent than humans, leading to immense changes in society.

In this fascinating read, Bostrom discusses various scenarios and challenges posed by superintelligent machines. He highlights the importance of aligning AI’s goals with human values to ensure a positive outcome for humanity. The book raises crucial questions about control, ethics, and the impact on global governance when faced with such advanced artificial intelligence.

Bostrom’s writing style is accessible yet highly informative, making complex concepts understandable even for readers without a technical background. As you delve deeper into “Superintelligence,” prepare yourself for mind-bending ideas that will make you question our very place in the world.

This book serves as a wake-up call for humanity to actively engage in discussions surrounding AI development and its implications. Whether you are already interested in artificial intelligence or just beginning to explore the topic, “Superintelligence” offers valuable insights that will leave you pondering long after you’ve turned the last page.


In this Autodidact Polymath Reading List, we have explored eight must-read books for the self-learner. These books span a range of topics and disciplines, providing you with a comprehensive foundation for cultivating your polymathic curiosity.

From the ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching to the thought-provoking exploration of human potential in Superintelligence, each book on this list offers unique insights and perspectives that can expand your knowledge and understanding.

As an autodidact polymath, reading is not just about acquiring information; it’s about delving into new worlds, challenging assumptions, and embracing intellectual growth. These books will ignite your passion for learning and inspire you to become a lifelong student.

So grab these titles from your local bookstore or library, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea (or both!), find a cozy spot to curl up with these captivating reads. Prepare to embark on an exciting journey of self-discovery as you dive into these transformative pages.

Being a self-learner means taking charge of your own education and constantly seeking opportunities to expand your knowledge. Embrace the power of reading as you explore diverse subjects that feed your intellectual hunger.

Now go forth, fellow autodidact polymaths! Let these books be guides on your path towards becoming well-rounded individuals who are passionate about continuous learning. Happy reading!

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Frequently asked questions

Check some common questions. Answered.

What is a polymath?

A polymath is an individual who possesses knowledge and expertise in a wide range of subjects or fields. They are often characterized by their ability to excel in multiple disciplines.

Why is self-learning important for becoming a polymath?

Self-learning is important for becoming a polymath because it allows individuals to explore diverse subjects at their own pace, delve into areas of interest, and acquire knowledge outside the confines of a traditional education system.

What are the benefits of being a polymath?

Being a polymath offers several benefits, including the ability to make connections across different disciplines, a broader perspective on various topics, enhanced problem-solving skills, and the potential for interdisciplinary innovation.

Recommended books for self-learners aiming to become polymaths include “The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had” by Susan Wise Bauer, “The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” by Josh Waitzkin, and “The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business” by Josh Kaufman.

Are there any books that can help develop a growth mindset and a love for learning?

Yes, there are books that can help develop a growth mindset and a love for learning. Some notable titles include “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck, “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover, and “The Joy of Learning: Unlock Your Brain’s Potential” by Carrie Rose.

Are there books that provide guidance on effective self-study techniques?

Yes, there are books that provide guidance on effective self-study techniques. Examples include “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” by Peter C. Brown, “Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career” by Scott H. Young, and “How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less” by Cal Newport.

Are there books that cover a wide range of subjects for a comprehensive self-learning experience?

Yes, there are books that cover a wide range of subjects for a comprehensive self-learning experience. “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World” by A.J. Jacobs and “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson are examples of books that provide an overview of various topics.

Can reading fiction contribute to becoming a polymath?

Yes, reading fiction can contribute to becoming a polymath. Fiction exposes readers to different cultures, perspectives, and human experiences, fostering empathy and expanding one’s understanding of the world. It can also stimulate creativity and imagination, which are valuable qualities for polymaths.

Are there any biographies or memoirs of notable polymaths that are worth reading?

Yes, there are biographies and memoirs of notable polymaths that are worth reading. Examples include “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” by Benjamin Franklin, and “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank.

Can self-learning lead to expertise in multiple fields and the development of a polymathic mindset?

Yes, self-learning can lead to expertise in multiple fields and the development of a polymathic mindset. By actively engaging in self-study and continuously seeking knowledge, individuals can cultivate a diverse range of skills and knowledge that contribute to their polymathic journey.