Packing Up My Library

Today and tomorrow I am moving. Tomorrow I am leaving the house I have lived in since 2001 for a new—and very different–house a few miles away. I am not sentimental about houses, even the one where I raised my three children.

I am, however, sentimental about books. Yesterday I packed 300 books or one column of eight shelves of the infamous shelves in my office, the office you see in my YouTube videos. It took me a few hours, and during that time, I handled each of the books, reminding me of how much I loved some of them.

Between two books, I found the Vietnam Primer by Colonel David Hackworth. When he took command in Vietnam, he wrote down what a soldier would need to know to survive. The small, thin, paperback book is personalized and autographed to me, and last I checked it was worth $1,600. It’s worth more than that to me, and I bought it after reading Hackworth’s Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts, many years ago. These two books are about leadership, and they both helped me recognize the value of leading by teaching people the practical and tactical strategies they need to succeed.

In 1995, I was browsing new arrivals in Barnes & Noble, when I noticed a provocative title: The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History. The author was Howard Bloom, the former head of the Bloom Agency, and the publicist for Prince, ZZ Top, Heart, Aerosmith, and almost anyone whose name you know from the 70’s and 80’s. The book is about memetics or how we get infected with our ideas and beliefs. I started emailing Howard, and we have been friends since that time. I attended his 76th birthday party last Friday in New York City.

There are five books by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the options trader who predicted the recession in 2008 and a brilliant philosopher. The books are Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, Antifragile, The Bed of Procrustes, and Skin in the Game, a collection he calls Incerto. I have read or listened to Antifragile 4 times, and I will read or listen to it again, as the primary lesson about benefiting from adverse events is a crucial idea for our time. The ideas here might be called post-traumatic growth syndrome, an amazingly useful concept.

When I was thirteen years old, my father gave me a copy of G. Gordon Liddy’s autobiography Will. My copy is autographed by Liddy, who served something like 5 years for breaking into the Watergate Hotel. Liddy was afraid of everything as a child, and he systemically addressed each of his fears, one by one, willing himself to become something he was not. The books shaped my beliefs, and like many other books, it showed up in my life at the right moment.

There is Patton: A Genius for War by Carlos D’Este, one of my favorite books, and the one that caused me to buy and read Patton’s Papers, an enormous two-volume set of all of Patton’s letters and diaries. Patton’s strong bias was to always be on offense, something worth applying in sales. There is a stack of Stephen Covey, a pile of Tom Peters, and a stack of Peter Drucker, all of which I read a long time ago, and all of which left a mark.

I once wrote a post called “An Autobiography in Books.” Packing my library, to me, is like someone else looking through a photo album. So much of my beliefs and my thinking can be traced to what I have read and studied.

Now for the bad news. My new house has no bookshelves. I loved the house enough to buy it, but was stunned to walk through a house that had no books. After we move in, the first order of business is to build a wall of shelves upstairs in a cool room outside my new bedroom.

You’ll have to wait to see what we do in my office, as there is no way to build bookshelves there, but I have an idea and a vision.

What books shaped your thinking and your beliefs?

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