Welcome to the Monthly Reading List Newsletter! Each month I will share a few thoughts on 3-5 books I’m reading and why I think you should pick them up. So, if you enjoy this email, please forward it to friends and family and help us continue to grow! Also, make sure you sign-up for our new The Sunday Email where each week we will share a quote/passage from a book and a short insight.
Don't Miss Stoicon-X Military: Courage, Honor, and Stoicism on May 15th! I'll be joining NY Times Best Selling Author Ryan Holiday, Donald Robertson, LTG (Ret) H.R. McMaster, LTG (Ret) Kearney, Professor Nancy Sherman, Col. Tom Gordon, JC Glick and others for this one-day virtual conference!
A special thanks to Adyton Public Benefit Corporation for, once again, sponsoring this month's bonus book giveaway. Congrats to Michael L. who received a copy of A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 by Joseph Loconte in last month's giveaway. Several of you have already gotten in touch with the Adyton team, and for the rest, if your team is still using phone trees, text chains, and spreadsheet tracker data entry to manage people and operations, check out what Adyton is doing with their Mustr software
Let's dive into this month's email.
People love the idea of being something.They love the idea of being soldiers. Of being writers. Of being musicians. Of being in relationships. And I’ve even heard some throw around the word “passionate,” when talking about their identity.
Until it gets hard.
When it gets hard, that’s where you find out if you love doing something. I knew a lot of people who loved the idea of being a soldier. They liked wearing the uniform, being thanked for their service, and shown the respect given to service members. They liked all those things until they encountered early morning wake-ups, long deployments in inhospitable weather, and time away from family. Then they no longer wanted to be soldiers. Doing outweighed being, and they left the service as soon as their contract was up.
Success follows a similar logic. People often confuse the trappings of success with the path itself. Folks want the identity without the blood, sweat, and tears that come with it. Being is easy, because we only have to look the part or talk the part, we don’t actually have to do the work. So many of history’s greatest artists, military leaders, statesmen, and athletes spent boring and tedious hours perfecting their craft. Time and time again they encountered failure, and success was anything but assured.
I recently began reading two books about people who were innovators because that’s what they loved doing.
Thomas Edison spent decades searching for the next great invention, claiming more than 1500 patents in his lifetime. As biographer Edmund Morris points out in Edison, “He averaged one patent a week for every ten to twelve days of his adult life.”
When once asked about his genius, Edison said, “Everything on earth depends on will...There is no such thing as an idea being brain-born; everything comes from the outside...The ‘genius’ hangs around his laboratory day and night. If anything happens he’s there to catch it; if he wasn’t, it might happen just the same, only it would never be his.” In other words, he worked his ass off and suffered a lot of failures to achieve those patents.
Not every project we invest our time and energy in will end in a success story like many of Edison’s endeavors. Take modern innovator and Air Force officer, Mark Jacobsen, for example, who recently published a book titled, Eating Glass: The Inner Journey Through Failure and Renewal. Mark is on active duty, like me, and for years I’ve admired his work. He was one of the founders of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, created a non-profit that aimed to airdrop medical supplies into refugee camps in Syria, founded Rogue Squadron at DIUx, and did most of this while working on his PhD at Stanford. What I didn’t know is that many of Mark’s projects crashed and burned (literally) and this deeply personal book describes the seasons he went though as he rode a roller coaster of success, failure, and healing. I can definitely relate to the feeling of burnout and fatigue he recounted in the book.
Both of these books taught me an important lesson about identity - these guys loved what they did and their identity as innovators reflected their actions not their words. They were passionate about what they were doing, the identity came later.
It’s funny, in our modern language the word passion means to have strong emotions. However, the origin of the word comes from the latin -passio meaning “to suffer”. If we’re willing to suffer for something, then and only then, are we truly passionate about it - and that is where our real identity lies.
The Reading List
Edison by Edmund Morris. I picked this one up because Ryan Holiday featured it awhile back on his reading list and I’m familiar with Morris’ well-known trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt. I’m a little over 200 pages into this 600 page biography and it’s one of the few larger biographies I’ve read that feels manageable. Unlike most authors, he begins at the end of Edison’s life and works backwards, telling Edison’s story through vignettes instead of a traditional narrative. Each snapshot is a page or two long, so it’s almost impossible to get bored with this book.
One of my favorite aspects of this biography is how the reader is able to connect Edison’s natural curiosity and work ethic to his insane number of inventions. He spent ungodly amounts of time in his labs working. In the opening of the book, Morrison highlights a passage written by Edison’s daughter who wrote once wrote of her father,
I have been astonished at times to find the general impression that he was a sort of super human lightning rod pulling inventions down from heaven at will --a miraculous robot who never got tired --a disembodied brain whose success, bringing fabulous riches, was effortless and assured, in spite of a background of abject poverty, almost total lack of education, and no personal life at all. I may say that the picture is not quite accurate.
Morris does an excellent job of painting a realistic and complete picture of Edison. If you are looking for a good biography to read, I recommend this one.
Eating Glass: The Inner Journey Through Failure and Renewal by Mark Jacobsen. Because of this monthly email, I receive several requests a week from authors, publishers, and publicists asking me to read their books. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to get to all of them, however when Mark asked me if I was interested in checking out his book, I didn’t hesitate.
Mark is an amazing writer and this book is written in the style of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. It’s an extremely raw memoir about Mark’s struggle with a failed venture. Eating Glass is written in two parts, the first being his story and the second being a collection of short essays by Mark on various aspects of his journey such as imposter syndrome, doubt, hurt, anger, healing, and perspective. I love what he writes about failure in the rear view mirror:
Each action you take plants seeds in this wild, vibrant, evolutionary jungle. Every investment in a colleague or subordinate could shape that person’s life. Your discarded creative projects become building blocks for the next generation, or for your own future efforts.
This is an extremely powerful book and I devoured it in a matter of days. Thus far, it’s one of my favorites of 2021. So, if you’re someone who has struggled with failure in your life or are in the process of tacking a bold project, this book is worth reading.
Cyropaedia (Books 1-4) by Xenophon from Loeb Classical Library. This book was recommended to me a few months ago by Steven Pressfield because he knows I love books about history, leadership, and classical texts. This book is all three.
Originally written in 370 B.C. Xenophon recounts what is believed to be the partly fictional account of the education and development of Cyrus the Great who founded the first Persian Empire. This book is packed full of leadership wisdom. The responsibility of the leader to prepare for the next fight, the role fitness and endurance play in war, why leaders should eat last, why commanders need to weed out lazy and disruptive soldiers, and using competition to improve training outcomes are just a few of the lessons highlighted throughout the text.
Xenophon makes a keen observation about human behavior. He understands that a small group of bad actors can influence a larger group to follow them. He has Cyrus explain this when discussing the need to remove lazy and disruptive soldiers from his army:
Therefore the base oftentimes finds a larger following of congenial spirits than the noble. Since vice makes her appeal through the pleasures of the moment, she has their assistance to persuade many to accept her views; but virtue, leading up hill, is not at all clever in attracting men at first sight and without reflection; and especially is this true, when there are others who call in the opposite direction, to what is downhill and easy.
This book is short, about 200 pages and a great read. I’m looking forward to reading some of the other books in the series.
Finally, if you haven't been on our website lately, check out the following new posts!
We wrapped up our series on US Army Broadening assignments
We also released some amazing episodes on our podcast!!
One more thing: Thanks for opening my monthly reading list email, if you have any book recommendations or questions, please feel free to reply. I read every response and if I have the time, respond.
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This month's Reading List Email is sponsored by Adyton PBC, a veteran-owned technology company enabling military and civilian leaders of all levels to improve the readiness, safety, and efficiency of their teams with 21st century tools for accountability of distributed personnel and information. Adyton built their core software product, Mustr, based on their experience in the military and as tech industry leaders, and with input from hundreds of early adopters and testers across all levels of DoD. Mustr is a mobile-first accountability software system for distributed organizations that makes wide-scale accountability, information dissemination, and data collection fast, easy, and secure.
Mustr gives leaders the power to manage their personnel at scale, whether they are in the office, at a job site, or on the move. Leaders from all corners of DoD and from E-6 to O-7 have brought Mustr to their teams and not only seen massive gains in efficiency and readiness, but also in personnel safety and engagement (especially amidst the pandemic). You should be using your green notebook for writing and reflecting, not for managing your team's accountability and day-to-day operations. You can learn more, connect to the Adyton team, and see how others have started up free, no-risk market research trials at this link
All the best,
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