Book List

By Dwight Jaeggi

Over the last few years, as I have started shuffling toward the side of life’s stage – keeping an eye out for the hook – my thoughts have turned toward getting more directly involved with giving the next generation a boost toward success. Doing so conflicts with my default setting which is: “What the Sam Hill do I have to offer some kids who are arguably much smarter than I ever was?”

Getting involved in a supporting role with an organization that attracts great mentors and coaches seems like a good way to avoid answering that question. Writing a blog for BRDG puts me right back into the soup.

So to gain some time to possibly gain in wisdom, I’ll start by listing some books that contain lots of helpful lessons.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin leads the list. Born into the middle of large family, virtually self-educated, introspective in the best possible way, always looking for ways to make things better, Franklin writes simply, clearly, and modestly. And if you don’t believe him, then read someone else’s biography of his life (e.g. The First American, by H.W. Brands)

I just finished The Alchemist, by Paolo Cohelo and now wonder why I waited so long to read this book. It doesn’t deal much with alchemy, but does offer advice on getting on
with life.

I hesitate to list, The Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss, for fear that readers will think that life is there to be hacked and that Ferriss’ idea of successful (mostly male) people is the standard by which success should be measured. This is not a book to be read cover-to- cover, but rather dipped into from time to time when inspiration is needed. If nothing else one can discover how quirky and obsessed other people are.

One of the most important epiphanies I was ever graced with is that I only had to know something 30 seconds before everyone else in the room in order to appear smart. An Incomplete Education, by Judy Jones and William Wilson in the hands of a cynic could give someone an educational veneer in twelve chapters, or one can read it to help make connections across disciplines and provide the inspiration to dive into a subject never before considered.

“Excellence in statistical graphics consists of complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision, and efficiency.” This qualifies as one of the great first sentences in writing. The rest of Edward R. Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is equally clear and informative. After all, it’s not what you know, it’s what you can explain that
really matters.

Sometime shortly after we start school, most of us largely forget how to really observe our world. All it takes is a drawing course for beginners to drive this home. James Elkin’s How to Use Your Eyes explains how to look at thirty two different objects in order to derive the most information from them. Not all the subject may entice, but the larger message is that we spend our life looking without really seeing.

On a lighter note, The Official Rules, by Paul Dickson contains all you really need to know; from Abbott’s Admonitions (If you have to ask, you’re not entitled to know. If you don’t like the answer, you shouldn’t have asked the question) to Zymurgy’s Seventh Exception to Murphy’s Laws (When it rains it pours). This is a book to enjoy privately as quoting it at work will adversely affect one’s livelihood.

I’m not sure how many books Peter F. Drucker wrote on business management, but there were a lot of them between his first in 1939 and his (posthumous) last in 2008. My guess is they all gave value, so choose one at random or try The Essential Drucker.

What motivates us as people and as workers? Read Daniel Pink’s Drive and find out. Like many books of this ilk, one can read the introduction and then skim the rest, but the motivators he explores still ring true a decade after I read this book. Now we just have to wait for the corporate world to catch up.