Somewhere around 1989, I compiled a list of “goals” for my life. It was an eclectic mix of things I wanted to have, things I wanted to do, things I wanted to be, and things I wanted to accomplish. Near the top of the list were books. I wanted to have and read a lot of books. Mission accomplished. Books abound in my home and office. I still buy physical books and love to be able to look at them, to feel them, and flip through their pages. For my entire life, books have inspired, challenged, entertained, comforted, educated motivated, and moved me in countless ways.
The first list of meaningful books I compiled was at the request of a friend (here’s to you Bob!) in 2000 when he asked me for some recommendations. Time and distance travelled have evolved that original list a bit and now feels like a good point along the path to revisit a few books that have brought something good to my journey. Enjoy. Then, add a few of your favorites.
The Bible – I am currently listening to Fr. Mike Schmitz read on his Bible in a Year podcast. Currently on Day 199, Fr. Mike’s reading and explaining of scripture has brought so much richness, texture, and understanding of this great library of salvation history.
The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path – This intellectual, accessible, and highly spiritual book sums up the Catholic faith in an entertaining and challenging way. Bishop Robert Barron references a host of western philosophers, theologians, critics, psychologists, authors, and the Bible itself to tell the strange and compelling story of God’s quest for us. The book is built on deep reflections of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, and The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’Connor to bring richness to the Strangest Way, the Christian Path.
The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America – I first read this book by David Whyte in 1998. It was suggested to me a Corporate Coach with whom I was working at the time and has been a staple of my library ever since. In it, Whyte uses poetry and mythic traditions to characterize the human soul’s need for experience and self-compassion. The book is not religious but points to the Divine with beautiful imagery, moving insights, and a call to be wary of the busy, distracted, and connected world that has ensnared us.
Some other great ones:
- Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art – Madeline L’Engle
- Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
- Your Life is Worth Living: 50 Lessons to Deepen Your Faith – Fulton Sheen
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – This foundational book was required reading when I graduated from college in 1991. in it, Stephen Covey outlines Seven Habits he distilled from years of success literature. Classic habits like “Begin with the End in MInd” and “Seek First to Understand then to be Understood” ring true today as I still find myself mentally referencing his work through the challenges and opportunities faced daily.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos – Psychologist and Academic, Jordan Peterson draws on mythology, psychology, philosophy, and clinical experience to provide his 12 rules for coping and pushing through life’s challenges. His first rule: Stand up straight with your shoulders straight opens the book by characterizing suffering in life and challenging how we approach it. His last rule: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street…I’ll let you figure that one our for yourself. The book is fascinating and profound.
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future – One of my all-time favorite books; I have read this book at least once a year since coming across it in 2015. Peter Thiel’s insights on building businesses remain profound and relevant. The book is relatively short but covers a broad array of topics: outlooks on the future, career, startups, technology, sales/distribution, beginnings, along with many stories and anecdotes. This is a great read for anyone wanting to build a better future.
Rules for Revolutionaries: The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing New Products and Services – I first encountered Guy Kawasaki when he spoke at a Palm Computing convention in 1997. Rules for Revolutionaries is an easy-to-read journey through stories, ideas, bulleted concepts, and thought-provoking ideas on how to shake things up with new products and services. The sections of the book grab your attention: Create Like a God, Command Like A King, Work like a Slave. Then, he adds humorous chapter titles like: Don’t Worry, Be Crappy. and Eat Like a Bird, Poop Like an Elephant. Kawasaki is always interesting and entertaining.
The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? – No list would be complete without referencing Seth Godin. I’ve read all of Seth’s books and they are entertaining and enlightening every time. The Icarus Deception bridges self-help and business by challenging us to view our work as art – a theme I have continued to enjoy and use since Seth planted it in my brain. Godin elevates the joy of being human in our work and pushes us to see ourselves and what we do differently.
The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness – In my opinion, Jeffrey Gitomer has produced the best collection of sales books ever written. His books are visually interesting, easy ready, bulleted in many places, and full of practical and profound insights on the art of sales and dealing with people. My favorite Gitomer principles: “Nobody likes to be sold, but everyone loves to buy.” “Give value first.”
I have read a lot of business books. Many are good for a season and there are always nuggets you can take away. The books above are ones I continue to reference years later. Here are a few more books I’ve enjoyed, ranging from classic to more recent reads:
- Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey Moore
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
- Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets – Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Maney
Washington: A Life – Ron Chernow’s biography on George Washington inspired me to learn more about our country’s founding and sparked a love for the rich history that has formed our nation. Along the way, I discovered that we’ve not changed so much, the challenges have always been there, and that there are people worth emulating – even though they were imperfect. Washington was and remains an American Hero. This book offers his story and far more.
Alexander Hamilton – Cherow’s biography on Hamilton inspired the wildly successful broadway play and introduced this man and history to us in new ways. I have never seen the production but fell in love with Alexander Hamilton through this book. A brilliant, prideful, ambitious, and noble man, Hamilton was broken like the rest of us but was a critical architect in the country we have today as well as key navigator of its earlier years. Lessons abound in this book.
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. – Another Chernow biography that I really enjoyed. Yes, I’ve read others but these are my favorites! Rockefeller was a fascinating man, flawed and brilliant, faithful and ruthless. He lived nearly 100 years and his vision and will forged much of our industrial era with impact still echoing into today. This book provides context for his life, deals fairly with his mixed legacy, and casts a light over an era that is difficult to conceive. This richly detailed book illuminates Rockefeller and the age that defined our nation for generations to follow.
Greenlights – I don’t normally read memoirs and have little interest in Hollywood celebrities. This book was recommended to me by my sister-in-law who recently passed away. I listened to it, read by author Matthew McConaughey, and was glad I did. The book is entertaining and McConaughey is charming and compelling. It is a combination of insights, experiences, poems, and ruminations. I picked up the physical book and have enjoyed re-reading portions and love the interior design. This is contemporary autobiography that I highly recommend as thoughtful in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously and entertaining in a way that is not scandalous (though there are definite moments of crassness – they work for McConaughey).
I now realize that this post could go on for days. So many books. So many great stories. So little time. I will finish up with a cursory touch on fiction that I’ve enjoyed and challenge those who feel that it can’t be self-helpful. Fiction challenges our imaginations and always contains portion of our realities. After years focused on non-fiction books to help me grow, I’ve added fiction back in to my reading lists to…help me grow.
- The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
- Space Trilogy – C.S. Lewis
- The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
- Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
- In the Skin of a Lion – Michael Ondaatje
- Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
As I bring this post to a close, I realize how incomplete is this journey through some of the books I’ve enjoyed and think of all of the great things I’ve read over the years. Perhaps you’ll see something in the list that you’ve read and be taken back to a profound point of discovery. Or, maybe one of these books will catch your attention and a new door will open for you. If not, that’s ok too for I’m sure the list you might compile would be unique and surprising, drawing some of us in with the intrigue of discovery while losing others in our own disinterest.
Regardless, keep reading. Keep discovering. Never-ending possibilities lie within those pages unread.