3 Books That Completely Changed My Life

Three New Leaves is about three important things: vagabonding, minimalism, and the Primal way of life. To say I’m a fan of each would be a little bit of an understatement, but to say that I created them would pretty much be a (flattering!) lie.

And so, in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I’d give credit where it’s due: to three separate authors who each inspired me, in the span of about six months, to radically change the way I was living. That’s kind of a big deal, I think.

I have a tendency to blaze through things, consuming media at way too fast a pace, but the three that follow — the Big Three, in my book — forced me to stop, breathe for just a few moments, and reevaluate my life.

For that, I’ll always be grateful.

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel (Rolf Potts)

Whew. That’s a mouthful.

Vagabonding Cover

I remember the day I first read this. I had some spare time to kill before my next class, so I plopped myself down in a hallway, cracked open the cover, and didn’t look up until I had that weird sensation that someone was watching.

Some dude was drawing me. He had a sketchpad and a pencil and was studying me very intently, and — though flattered and somewhat creeped out — I couldn’t figure out why until I looked up at the clock. I’d been reading for about an hour straight, unmoving all the while. That little realization lead to two others: this is damn good book, and that I’d missed half of my class.

You won’t be surprised, then, when I say this is my favorite book of all time. It’s just good. I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs of very flowery, charming prose, but I’ll just say this: if you’ve ever had even the slightest idea to travel outside of the country, read this book. If you’ve ever had the idea to do it for months at a time, definitely read this book. Hell, if you’ve ever had the idea to do something bold and incredible with your life, read this book right now.

It isn’t very long. And I think you’ll be surprised that Rolf Potts managed to capture, in so few words, so many incredible things: the thrill of adventure, the unmatched wonder of travel, and a firm belief at what you’ll find in strange, new environments — you. A new you, maybe, or just the strongest, happiest version yet.

(That’s why I travel, after all!)

The Power of Less (Leo Babauta)

Power of Less Cover

It’s funny, I guess, that I don’t really remember this book at all. That doesn’t say much about my memory, but maybe that’s the irony: I was so overwhelmed by stress whenever I first read it that I’m pretty sure the message went in one ear and straight out the other.

Hard to be a minimalist when your life is completely overrun with stuff, isn’t it? But the book did its trick: I remembered it, months later, when the stress in my life had only ramped up further and I felt powerless to do anything about it. There, sitting in a room overflowing with crap, I remembered the Power of Less.

I, er, didn’t read it again. But I remembered Leo’s message well enough to take a very serious look at what I was doing and to consider, for the first time, what I could do differently. How I could do more, in a sense, by doing much less, by cutting the crap out of my life and focusing on the essential. I give the book all the credit because it did something very important: it introduced me to minimalism, even at a time when I couldn’t appreciate it, and the message was so simple and strong that it later came back to change me.

The Primal Blueprint (Mark Sisson)

Primal Blueprint Cover

I haven’t talked about Primal much, I’ll admit. It’s a risky subject, in a sense — people can get very defensive about their eating habits, and I’d hate to come across like some nutty fanatic trying to spread the word of a book that definitely goes counter to conventional wisdom.

But it works. I’ve been burning fat pretty steadily for about three months, now, and the lines of my abs are starting to pop up whenever I check my progress in the mirror. My family has caught on, and the word about my ‘diet’ is spreading along the grapevine as both my brother and mother see significant improvements in their health and general body composition.

I owe it all to Mark Sisson. I found his site by accident, but the muscular and fit man at the top of the page seemed like pretty compelling advertising for his unique way of life. The success stories and before/after picture threads in the forum really drove the point home, and that was all it took — I ordered the book, devoured it in about three days of steady reading (it’s a tome!), and never looked back.

I’ll be covering Primal more often from now on, as it’s a subject worth discussion, and hopefully pictures of my own progress might take the “Matt’s crazy!” card far from the table. In the meantime, I’ll just say this: if you’re unhappy with your weight, read this book. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, why not try it for a month and see what happens? What do you have to lose, really, besides a few pounds?

And that’s it!

My three favorite books, complete with all the love and gratitude I can send to their amazing authors. If I can do anything with Three New Leaves, I hope I can capture some of the inspiration they’ve given me and send it right on to you. And, well, assuming that fails, at least you know where to look to find the real deal!

But what about you? What books have inspired you and changed your life? I’d love to hear about them!

Thanks for reading. If you like what’s going on around here, then why not have free updates sent directly to your inbox or to your RSS reader? I really appreciate it!


  1. Maryline says:

    Great selection! The Primal stuff got me totally intrigued so I just spent 20 minutes on their web site and received the free ebook, can’t wait to learn more.

    Currently, I am reading about career fulfillment, entrepreneurship and things of that nature — although still in progress I highly recommend: Re-Work

    • Rework is a fantastic read! Just finished it last week; loved it!!

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Definitely check out Mark Sisson’s website, and feel free to email me any questions you have about it too. I’ve been following it for almost half a year now, which might not sound like much, but I can say that it has benefited me in two incredible ways: 1) I’m very healthy, and 2) I know a whole heck of a lot more about nutrition than I did before. :)

      Thanks for the recommendation, both of you! I’ll have to look into Rework based on these glowing reviews alone. :)

  2. Awesome books of recommendation, Matt! I plan on reading Vagabonding fairly soon. I read Leo’s book The Power of Less earlier this year, wonderfully simple and an excellent resource! And I’ve heard about The Primal Blueprint and its popularity on its transformative powers of one’s body. As you’re a living testimony, amongst hundreds of others, it obviously works! Yay!

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Thanks, Nina!

      Definitely bump Vagabonding to the top of your list. :) I’ve been donating books, bit by bit, but Vagabonding is one I’ll always keep. It has incredible significance to me, needless to say, but hopefully it’ll be similarly inspiring to you!

  3. Kimbo says:

    Love your blog. I’m currently ridding myself of five possessions a day as little baby steps have become what works for me. I figure at the end of a year I’ll have most of my stuff honed down to the bare essentials and then I’m selling my house and moving into a 16′ gypsy wagon that I’m building, and embracing the vagabond lifestyle. I wanted to throw a book that has inspired me onto the pile here. By coincidence, I just bought Vagabonding and can’t wait until I can crack it open tonight and get started on it. Another coincidence is that I’ve been following the Primal Blueprint lifestyle for a while with impressive results, some in appearance but most in the way I FEEL. I am turning 50 in a couple of months and bound out of bed each morning with the energy of a teenager which is a nice change from my carb-induced near coma mornings. I will say that I’ve met people for whom it doesn’t work at all and have come to the conclusion that there are a lot of ways to do things right and believe our challenge is getting to know ourselves and figuring it all out. Some really do well on little animal protein and lots of grains. That just about does me in! Anyway, a book that has had a most profound effect on me is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. This narrow little volume has so much useful life wisdom it is unbelievable. Maybe it appeals to me because there are only four things to remember which I always seem to be able to do when I need to. Invariably when I find a place in my life where I’m stuck; either in a personal relationship, as a parent, at work, I just have to ask myself which agreement I’m not adhering to and run down the list. Ninety-eight times out of 100 I am able to figure it out and move successfully past the problem. In fact I had an awful altercation just yesterday with my teenage son and in retrospect it is very apparent which agreement we were both stomping all over. Which we discussed later and as a result were able to have a very nice, healing experience together. Pretty powerful.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      That’s awesome!

      Vagabonding and Primal included, as it sounds like we have similar tastes in life-changing books. :) Definitely dive into Vagabonding as soon as you can, as I think it’ll really motivate you to keep downsizing and enter the gypsy wagon as soon as possible (jealous, by the way, of your minimalism and impending adventure!). I’ve just started skimming your blog, but I’ll go ahead and say this: I love the idea of what you’re planning, and I think the structure of your 5-a-day posting is pretty fascinating too. I’m really curious to dig back through the archives!

      It’s really funny, too, that you mention the Four Agreements — I just ordered it! I’d had a professor tell me about it about six months back. I’d forgotten it until about a week ago and decided to grab a copy, so your glowing recommendation comes at a great time. :) I’ve heard it contains incredible wisdom in such a small package, and your description really seems to suggest that too.

      I’m excited to read it! And really glad to hear how it helped you resolve that altercation — it sounds pretty powerful indeed!

      Thanks for stopping by, Kimbo. It’s a pleasure to meet you!

  4. Leslie Cao says:

    Wow, I really like your stories you included with the books. I’ll probably be checking out the Primal Blueprint and Vagaboding really soon. I’ve read much of Mark’s site and it taught me a lot about food! God, gluten is really hard to eliminate from your diet =( I’ve heard too much about Vagabonding, it’s definitely going to be read by me.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      It’s not just hard. It’s also not that fun. :) I love sweet things, so dumping the sugar from my diet (let alone the pasta!) proved to be a pretty big change at the start. Still, it’s something worth knowing, and reading Mark’s site is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness about what you eat. Not enough people do that, I find. :)

      Definitely read Vagabonding! That book alone has shaped my life more than anything, so I’d love to discuss it with you whenever you finish. Let me know! :)

  5. Hey Matt, Great list! I’d recommend the grandaddy of the minimalist lifestyle: Walden by Henry David Thoreau. “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” That was his motto.

  6. Angele says:

    For me, the book that changed my life was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Sure, sound like esoteric crap, but the point still came accross. I will try the Power of Less for sure.

  7. Ken Doyle says:

    1. Awareness the Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony DeMello
    2. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
    3. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

    We recommend all these reads to our clients. If you can shift someones thinking you also shift their reality! Thanks for you attention. The DeMello book will change your life.

  8. Steph ( your cousin :) ) says:

    So, I’m new to your blog but as I read through these posts I definetly am seeing some stuff I like. While the whole minimalist movement terrifies me, ( I currently have about 6 different eyeliners in my purse as we speak) I am very moved by this fitness kick. I have been working on myself since mid December, and I am getting more and more serious. I am gonna check this book out and start my own road to healthy. Hope all is good keep these coming they are very enjoyable!!!!

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Hey cousin! :) Thanks for stopping by!

      And like I said on Facebook, please don’t hesitate to call me/email me/whatever if you’d like to chat about what you read in Simpler — minimalism, health or time-wise. I’m happy to talk about it. :)

  9. Kate says:

    Hi Matt,
    If you want the science side of things, I highly recommend Gary Taubes’ “Why we get fat: and what to do about it.”. It’s the book that convinced my brain AND my gut that the starches, grains and sugars had to go. You’re obviously convinced already that Primal is gold, so this would just give you more bricks for your foundation.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Hi Kate!

      Thanks for the rec! I’ve read Good Calories, Bad Calories, but I’ve also been unsure of how to feel about some of Taubes’ ideas. The steps he recommends — eliminating grains and sugars — I agree with, but I’m not also convinced that starches are inherently evil, especially given their prevalence in many modern cultures that otherwise are the picture of health.

      The thing I try to remember, in any case, is that the insulin hypothesis is exactly that: a hypothesis. Not to say it’s wrong, and not to say it’s right, but just to remember that insulin alone probably isn’t the cause of all of our modern health problems. I’ve seen Paleo bloggers also point fingers at leptin, which makes things a little confusing, and I’m sure we’ll see some new culprit in the next few years.

      In any case, I try and keep it simple: eat whole, natural food with a minimum of processing. That usually equates to meat, fruits, vegetables and some starches, which isn’t far off what Taubes promotes. :)

  10. Kelly says:

    I love this post. Both the idea of it – listing the three books that changed your life – and the books. I think I’ll have to add mine to my blog, too. Your reviews are succinct and inspiring. They make me want to read all three. Which I will. Thanks for sharing.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Thank you so much, Kelly! Glad you liked the post, and glad you’re thinking of reading all three. Clearly, I recommend them. ;)

  11. In the past year, I have read some very inspiring books, but the three that had the most effect on me are:

    1) The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment – Deepak Chopra
    2) Screw Work, Let’s Play – John Williams
    3) A Return to Love – Marianne Williamson

    They are thought-provoking and offer a completely different way of seeing life. By putting their ‘theory’ into practice, I was able to make some amazing changes in my life.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      They all sounds fantastic! More books for my list, then. :) Thanks so much for the recommendations!

  12. Meaghann says:

    I am reading the Primal Blueprint right now and I’m loving it! I had to share a funny story with you relating to law #9 Avoid Stupid Mistakes. This particular one is going to be difficult for me, I am an extremely clumsy person and sometimes I wonder how I’ve made it these 26 years. I’m a scientist by nature and training, I should know better right? Well apparently I don’t! This morning I took something that was fiery hot and contained a molten liquid (my green tea and glass mug from the microwave) and added alot of something really cold (coconut milk and ice from the fridge) and kaboom it exploded! It looked like the green giant threw up in my breakroom at work. Bright Green coconut milk everywhere! I should know that cold things quickly added to fiery hot things are a bad situation, but sometimes I surprise myself so good I just have to laugh! I can only wonder if I lived 10,000 years ago… Would I make it to an old age or be one of those that dies at the ripe ol age of 7 from a broken ankle because I was doing cartwheels off boulders?

  13. Hello Matt! Stumbled upon your blog from another’s list of paleo blogs. I read Robb Wolf’s “The Paleo Solution” a couple weeks ago, and wow, did it open my eyes! I’ve been trying to soak up all the Paleo info I can get my hands on ;)

    Thank you for the book list! I would love to see my husband try to minimize. Even half of what he hoards would be an improvement. LOL!

    Faye @ GreenOrganicMama.com

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      Hey there, Faye! I know the feeling — Paleo is a fascinating world of information once you first sneak a peek. :) If I can help you with anything in the future, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

  14. Pingback: Looking for a Vagabond book someone on here mentioned.... | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page

  15. Andrew says:

    Very refreshing not to see the 4HWW in here, surprised not to see Walden Pond though..

    I think you’d enjoy anything by Alain de Botton or The 39 Steps by John Buchan.

    Thank you for your blog.

  16. Pingback: The Caveman Contest: A Giveaway of Roots and More! | Three New Leaves

  17. Shelley says:

    I’d like to add one more: The Protein Power Lifeplan by the Dr.s Eads, If you were ever curious about the science and biology behind why eating, and living, like a caveman works so well for us, you’ve got to check this book out!

  18. Amit Sonawane says:

    You latest post led me here. Haven’t read the Primal Blueprint. Might give it a shot soon. Love the first two books