One book changed the way I think. One altered how I manage money. Another focussed on improving a skill I use every day. April was a good month for learning and improving.
‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ — Alain de Botton
When reading the kind of material that I do, it is likely that I will stumble across a quote from philosophy, one that so succinctly illustrates the author’s point of view. If you are like me, you probably want to learn more about what Kirkegaard, Nietzsche or Montaigne had to say. However, the problem I always run into with the original texts, or rather the translations of those texts, is I don’t find them enjoyable to read.
I believe wholeheartedly that if a book isn’t capturing your imagination or providing you value you should put it down. There are any number of other books you could be reading, ones to inspire, educate and entertain you; why bother reading one that you don’t enjoy? Montaigne himself, quoted in this book, said: “if one book wearies me I take up another”.
That being said, the reason I loved ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ is because it structured the ideas of people such as Socrates, Schopenhauer, Montaigne and Epicurus in a way that was enjoyable to read. The quotes felt very much like they were connected to how we live today and the themes and struggles are ones that humans have faced for as long as the written word has allowed them to be recorded. What Alain de Botton really does here is make otherwise scholarly texts accessible to anyone.
There is a lot of wisdom to be found in these pages. Ideas that have lasted a long time for good reason: they are relatable and can be useful in our own lives.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: “It is no less unreasonable to accept something as necessary when it isn’t as to rebel against something when it is.” On Seneca’s distinction between necessary and unnecessary, possible and impossible.
‘The Concise 48 Laws of Power’ — Robert Greene
A few years ago, possibly around five now, I read Robert Greene’s ‘The 48 Laws of Power’. I remember thinking it was interesting yet a little hard work to get through at times. When deciding to read ‘Mastery’ and ‘The Art of Seduction’ I purchased the concise versions and was very happy that they existed. After reading Ryan Holiday’s ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ I knew I wanted to refresh my memory and re-read Greene’s first book. I opted for the concise version.
As the title suggests, ‘The 48 Laws of Power’ delves into tactics that have been used throughout the ages to elicit greater influence. The historical anecdotes dotted throughout the book are entertaining and eye-opening and are what I remember most about reading the book years ago.
My real reason for reading this book again was that I believe there were some incredible insights that had nothing to do with gaining power and more to do with living a productive or fulfilled life. Law 10 ‘Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky’ I read as: surround yourself with those who are happy and fulfilled, the idea of being the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Law 25 ‘Re-create Yourself’, changing career or focus throughout your life. Law 4 ‘Always Say Less Than is Necessary’ and Law 35 ‘Master the Art of Timing’ are self-explanatory and relate to just about everything.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: ‘The 48 Laws of Power’ first introduced me to Baltasar Gracian’s idea of ‘Sprezzatura’ described as “the capacity to make the difficult seem easy”. This skill is something that the greatest in every field have mastered. Of course, what they are doing isn’t easy, it has taken time, patience and practice, this is as true for Lebron James as it is for Malcolm Gladwell.
‘Ignore Everybody’ — Hugh MacLeod
This book has been on my reading list for some time having read some of Hugh MacLeod’s other releases. The premise is similar to his other works and revolves around creative work and following a passion. The book is entertaining and can be read in one sitting when you need a kick in the ass to get doing.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: Chapter 13 is about creating with no expectations. It’s easy to get lost in chasing money, sales, recommendations, likes and notoriety. Every now and then it’s important to refocus and ask ourselves if we would still be doing this thing (writing, painting, music, creating apps) if there was no payoff.
‘On Writing Well’ — William Zinsser
Having just finished ‘On Writing Well’ I can say that this book has affected me greatly. Given that a large part of my day job involves copywriting and communicating via email, writing is exceptionally important in my day to day life. Add to that the fact that I write here on Medium, my own website and also read a lot outside of work, the written word consumes a large part of my time and energy. What Zinsser has made me realise is that I take writing for granted.
A true practitioner takes care in every word that makes it onto a page. Short sentences are okay. Clichés are unnecessary and simplicity and style are everything.
‘On Writing Well’ is split into four sections: Principles, Methods, Forms and Attitudes. If you are picking up this book for the first time, my recommendation would be to read the first, second and last sections all the way through. There are so many great lessons on structuring a piece of work, avoiding clutter and the correct usage of punctuation to be found there. Section three, ‘Forms’, takes an in-depth look at various types of non-fiction writing and discusses the merits of various examples provided. Read the chapters that are appropriate for the type of writing that you use and then maybe circle back to the others at a later time.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: My favourite quote comes in the chapter about travel writing when dealing with subjective concepts such as a place being “charming” or “attractive”. Zinsser says: “One man’s romantic sunrise is another man’s hangover”.
‘Money: Master the Game’ — Tony Robbins
A lot has already been said and written about this book so I’m not going to add to the reviews. My only recommendation is to read the book regardless of your financial position, education and goals. A greater understanding of where you put your money and what that means with regards to the taxes and fees you will pay and the volatility and returns you can expect are all so important.
600 plus pages is a lot to get through but you can comfortably skip through the interviews near the end and pick those that interest you.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: One thing that is highlighted throughout the book is the general lack of managed funds outperforming the market. It is claimed that between 1984 and 1998 only 8 out of 200 fund managers beat the Vanguard 500 index. To put that stat in perspective Robbins cites a comparison from an article by Dan and Chip Heath. They say that when playing blackjack and dealt two face cards (for a value of 20) you have an 8% chance of winning when taking another hit versus the 4% chance you have of picking the correct managed fund.
I’m not one for reading huge books but two giants arrived on Friday that I am looking forward to immensely: ‘Tools of Titans’ by Tim Ferriss and ‘The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life’ by Alice Schroeder.
Have you read either of these two books? What did you think?
What did you read this month that gave you real value?
If you got anything from this piece I would appreciate you sharing it with anyone who might benefit from a couple of new book recommendations. As always you can reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram @justfraserg