Reflecting back on 2018 on all the books I read, I felt that I needed to write about a few that really stood out to me. I started more books this year than I finished, an admission that I am not at all ashamed of. If I find a book not worth my time, I simply put it down and start reading another one. I did finish in total 41 books. I did read the Lord of the Rings (which I count as one) and Lonesome Dove, my two favorite novels, but most of what I read is in the non-fiction category. I usually am drawn to History, Business/Economics, and Psychology or Philosophy. So with that, here is the list of my top books that I read in 2018. I have narrowed it down to five.
The First book on this list is probably the most influential book of the year for me personally. I have struggled with letting go of what I can’t control and focussing only on what I can control. I also have narrowed my focus to what my purpose in this life is after reading this book. Man’s search for meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl is one the most important books of the 20th century. It was written by a Jewish Psychologist who distilled his ideas on Logo-therapy down while in three different Nazi concentration camps. The first part of the book tells of the horrid conditions of the Nazi concentration camps. This is where he came to the realization that there is always one thing that can never be taken away from us, our mind. Our thoughts and reactions to what happens to us. It’s the one thing that no one has power over but ourselves.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This is no small discovery. It’s what the stoics have taught for over two thousand years, and it’s what keeps humans going through the worst atrocities that could possibly be committed against us. Remember that the next time someone hurts you, or a business deal goes bad you have control over your reactions.
“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
The second book that I read this year that really had a profound and lasting impact on the way I think and act, is the now infamous Dr. Jordon B. Petersons, 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos.
This is a book that once opened can’t be put down easily. Each page turns like a novel, yet it’s a book on how best to live your life. As Dr. Peterson does so eloquently with everything he speaks on, so he does with this instant classic, he turns ordinary advice into a mantra on how to live your best life. “Clean your room Bucko” he shouts from the pages as he inspires a generation to aim for “truth and responsibility” in this age of hedonism and entitlement. I love the organization of his twelve rules. They each build off of each-other until finally you reach the end of the book, and you feel that you have a real battle plan for a better, and more fulfilling life. Rule number 6 was particularly a hard a pill for me to swallow. “Set your house in order before you criticize the world.” This is far more difficult than it seems on its face. It’s always easier to see the faults in others, and then proceed to criticize and critique them. What’s far more difficult is to be self-aware and correct ourselves. To conquer our own demons, and become better men and women. You can start by stopping. Stop doing things that you will regret. Sometimes it’s much easier (and effective) to let go of bad habits then taking on new ones.
“So, simply stop, when you apprehend, however dimly, that you should stop. Stop acting in that particular, despicable manner. Stop saying those things that make you weak and ashamed. Say only those things that make your strong. Do only those things that you could speak of with honour.”
This next book has really changed the way I think about myself. It has helped me to realize that too much confidence usually turns into Ego. And though it may seem like some of the most successful people are Egotistical, it’s not really the case at all. They are just the loudest, so naturally that’s why we see them. Some of the most successful people are the most humble, quiet, and diligent people. They keep themselves busy working on personal and professional growth and don’t boast. Then one day, they make it, and some people are surprised and others who know Ego is the enemy, are vindicated. Ryan Holiday is one of the greatest writers and thinkers of our day. I’ve read much of his works, and plan on reading every book that he writes. His insights are clearly guided by the amount of books he has read (look at his library), the amazing mentors that he has been privy to, and his life experiences. That makes for an amazing writer. Ego is the Enemy is one of those rare books that causes the honest reader to look deep into the darkest parts of their nature, and take stock of the destruction they have done to themself, and then, with even more vigor than ever before, strive to be better every day. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be wealthy, or even famous, but when that comes before striving to be a better, happier, balanced, and more content person, it leads to massive imbalances in your life. However, if when the latter is approached first, the former is sure to follow. Read this book this year and change your life!
“All great men and women went through difficulties to get to where they are, all of them made mistakes. They found within those experiences some benefit—even if it was simply the realization that they were not infallible and that things would not always go their way. They found that self-awareness was the way out and through—if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t have gotten better and they wouldn’t have been able to rise again.”
It’s easy to look at the people we admire in life, whether they are successful entrepreneurs, political leaders, or great athletes and think that they were born special. That they are smarter or genetically gifted, or just born with the right connections. Sure, there are people who born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouthes, and their whole life is one success after another. But for all those people, there are far more stories of people who were born into the worst possible conditions, and they went on to make a difference and become successful. What is it that drives them through all those lean and tough times? The author Angela Duckworth would answer Grit. And after reading her book, I would too. Grit is the force that keeps the successful people going. It’s what gets them through all the obstacles that pop up along the road of life. In her book, GRIT, The power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth thoroughly shows how much persistence and grit make the difference between success and failure at almost everything. It is character and perseverance that come into play more than luck and raw talent. This is proven time and time again.
“In my view, the biggest reason for preoccupations with talent can be harmful is simple: By shining our spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors—including grit— don’t matter as much as they really do.”
This next book is a one that I have read three times now. I’ve read it once a year since 2016. It’s a must read for the young man or woman just starting out in life, and also for the middle aged person who needs perspective in this life. It’s written for the business owner and the student alike. Marcus Aurelius was once the most powerful man in the world. He could have done anything that he wanted. His appetite was tempered by a philosophy that has corrected and perfected many of the great men and women of history, and his daily writings to himself, has proven to be the best distillation of that philosophy. The Philosophy is stoicism and the book is Meditations. It reads so beautifully and speaks to you as if it was written just last year instead of almost two thousand years ago. His advice is timeless. “At dawn when you have trouble getting out of bed, tel yourself: “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”” Who can seriously say that they didn’t need to hear that from time to time? I think the reason Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations has always been so appealing to me is the power that it places in yourself. There are plenty of things in this life that we have no control over and we never will, instead of dwelling on that, focus on what you can control. Think of how much happier and successful you will be when your precious time is focused on what’s actually your control.
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
In 2019 my plan is to read at least one book a week. Some of what I read may take longer than a week, like Shelby Foote’s colossal work on the Civil War that I’m currently working on, and some books I might read in a single day, but I will keep and count and work hard to get 52 books read this year. Most of what I read is non-fiction, although from time to time I will read a good novel. I’ve found many life lessons to be learned from great novels. I hope that you will also pick up the great habit of reading in 2019, and if you already read, well then keep it up!
A MAN WHO DOES NOT READ, HAS NO APPRECIABLE ADVANTAGE OVER THE MAN WHO CAN’T.