Ryan Holiday's Recommended Reading Email ~ 22 March 2020
Wow, a lot has happened in the six weeks since I sent this last email. Our busy, normal lives have been suddenly and irrevocably changed by a global pandemic. More directly, most of us are now trapped inside. What should we be doing in a time like this? Certainly, there are worse things than reading. We should be reading history that teaches us, we should be reading fiction that distracts us, we should be reading books that will give us skills and habits to help us recover. We should probably not read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which I had, coincidentally, planned to re-read this month before it became dreadfully too close to real life.
Before I get into this month's recommendations, I have two things to bring your attention to:
1) This piece I wrote about leadership during the plague in ancient Rome. When things get bad, good people have to stand up. That means all of us. The best way to reduce anxiety in times like this is to start thinking about what you can do for other people.
2) My book The Obstacle is The Way is $1.99 on Amazon in the US and £1.89 in the UK. Now is a time of real adversity and I think the message of the book is more relevant than ever: We need to steady our nerves. Focus on the good we can create out of this situation. Embrace the obstacle life has thrown at us. And most of all, learn from what happened.
Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Absolutely incredible book. I think I marked up nearly every page. The book is a study of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR and Lyndon Johnson, and it is so clearly the culmination of a lifetime of research… and yet somehow not overwhelming or boring. Distillation at its best! I have read extensively on each of those figures and I got a ton out of it. Even stuff I already knew, I benefited from Goodwin's perspective. This is the perfect book to read right now.
Hillel: If Not Now, When? by Joesph Telushkin
I've been wanting to read a biography of Hillel for some time as he is the source of three of my favorite quotes. He famously said that the Torah could be summarized as "Love thy neighbor as thyself, all the rest is commentary." He said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" And he was a formulator of the "Golden Rule," saying, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." I thought this book was well done, considering the sparseness of the source material, and I took many, many notes on it.
Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower and a Dangerous World by William Lee Miller
Last month I read David McCullough's epic biography of Truman and found myself fascinated with the man. This biography is shorter but equally interesting because it tracks Truman and Eisenhower's parallel lives from obscure Midwest origins to the heights of power and influence. It shows the greatness of both men and the flaws of both men, and is written with Miller's brilliant eye for applicable lessons. His two other books, Lincoln's Virtues and President Lincoln, are all time-favorites, and I highly recommend everything he has written, including this book.
Most books about writing are not good and most of the people who try to teach writing have had little success with which to back up their theories. Palahniuk is one of the best novelists of our time and this book is quite good. I wish I had read it when I was writing Perennial Seller, as I would have used many of the stories. I am a fan of his novels Fight Club (very good) and Choke (also good). Thanks to James Altucher for the recommendation!
Last month I recommended another book from this series, How to Be A Leader by Plutarch (which again, I cannot praise highly enough). This book is essentially the opposite. It's a look at some of the worst emperors from history and how they failed. I am a big believer in learning from cautionary tales, and while of course many of the stories from ancient Rome are extreme, there is plenty to take note of here.
I also read Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein and How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well by Catherine Wilson. I liked the former better than the latter, but both were good. For my son, I bought the complete eight-volume set of Great Men and Famous Women by Charles F. Horne, and we are slowly going through these miniature (inspiring) biographies of leaders from history. My dear friend Hristo gave me a copy of Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke, which I enjoyed as it combines two of my favorite topics (history and weird stories about humans and animals).
This month's email is sponsored by ButcherBox (which is timely if you're stuck at home, and running low on supplies). Their next shipment mails out 4/13 so if you want high quality, grass fed and antibiotic free meat without having to brave a trip to the store, you should order today. We are big fans of ButcherBox at my house—strongly recommend becoming a customer.
Also Magic Spoon Cereal. I am addicted to this stuff. It's basically the cereal you loved as a kid… but with none of the bad stuff. They ship directly, and I've heard nothing by rave reviews from the people I have told about it. Another good way to stock up without leaving the house. If you use the code RYANHOLIDAY, shipping is free.
Also, if you're looking to be a better reader—and now is a great time to invest in your reading habit—check out my Read to Lead Challenge. It will give you a new way of tackling the books I recommend here, along with enough book suggestions to last you through however long this quarantine lasts. We're discounting it right now for anyone who signs up in the next 48 hours. Just use code STAYHOME.
With that, I hope that you'll get around to reading whichever of these books catch your eye and that you'll learn as much as I did. Whether you buy them on Amazon today, or at an independent bookstore six months from now makes no difference to me. I just hope you read!
You're welcome to email me questions or raise issues for discussion. Better yet, if you know of a good book on a related topic, please pass it along. And as always, if one of these books comes to mean something to you, recommend it to someone else.
I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I'd never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it. This means that I treat reading with a certain amount of respect. All I ask, if you decide to email me back, is that you're not just thinking aloud.
Enjoy these books, treat your education like the job that it is, and let me know if you ever need anything.
All the best,