Welcome to the Monthly Reading List Email for November! Each month I 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 The Sunday Email where each week we will explore ideas in a short email to help you become a better leader.
Now, I’d like to highlight some great books I’ve read this month.
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The Reading List
Gavin at War: The World War II Diary of Lieutenant General James M. Gavin edited and annotated by Lewis Sorley. This collection of Gavin’s personal journal entries is fascinating. It contains his thoughts and observations on his unit, his fellow leaders, and his personal struggles throughout a critical period of his life and our collective history. Gavin began keeping his journal upon being alerted for a potential deployment in April of 1943 at Fort Bragg and maintained it throughout the war as he commanded the 82nd Airborne Division.
Gavin’s observations on leadership are particularly poignant because he led from the front. He was always the first man out the door on all his combat jumps (even as a division commander). Here’s an excerpt I highlighted from January 24, 1945, in Belgium:
The life of a major general is not much fun. Rather solitary. If one is too tough, just an SOB, it soon reflects itself in the division. There is bitching and griping about everything, with little cooperation. If one is too easy, things stay in order just so long and not a bit longer…one must know everything that goes on and learn the business from the ground up. There is where I believe most of them make a mistake. They do not spend enough time in their front positions. Soon they lose touch, lose confidence, make bad decisions, and generally do not get the performance out of their troops that one would normally expect. But to command a division for a long period of time in constant combat is difficult and trying. The mental problem is greater than the physical.
One final note. Gavin believed that for an Army to be an effective fighting force it needed to continue to push the envelope of what is possible and accept that leaders will fail along the way. In November of 1943 he wrote:
Working with a new weapon [parachutes and gliders], as we are, we are certain to make mistakes, and many of them. When the time comes in this airborne effort that we are not making mistakes, then the time has come when we are ceasing to improve and grow. We should always be overreaching and extending, probing into the future, groping in the black uncertain beyond. Only so do we grow. Mistakes are to be our lot despite every effort to avoid them. Soon, I suppose, we will have newcomers in our ranks who will be satisfied with things as they are, content to polish our present technique and to hell with the future. Then it should be time to look to greener fields.
The Bhagavad Gita, introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran. The Gita is one of the best known Indian spiritual texts. The book is set on the eve of a great battle in which two large forces fight for control of an ancient kingdom. The main character, Prince Arjuna who leads one of the armies, seeks counsel from his wise charioteer Krishna, who is actually the god Vishnu in human form.
His advice should inspire leaders serving today. I recommend this book for history buffs and aspiring leaders.
The advice Krishna gives Arjuna isn’t about how to fight the physical battle, it’s about how to win a much tougher fight. As Easwarn writes in the introduction, “The battlefield is the perfect backdrop, but the Gita’s subject is the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every human must wage if he or she is to emerge victorious from life.”
Krishna discusses several topics that would be recognizable to modern readers. He advises Arjuna on the importance of following his own path in life and not someone else’s; he tells Arjuna he will come to learn his true self through both action and meditation; Krishna also reminds him that he is never entitled to the fruits of his labor because those are outside of his control.
The message of the Gita is powerful. Our destiny is in our hands. Easwarn concludes this introduction with, “The world is not deterministic, but neither is it an expression of blind chance: we shape ourselves and our world by what we believe and think and act on, whether for good or for ill.”
I recommend this book for anyone who finds themselves in Arjuna’s fight: the battle for self-mastery.
Soul in the Game: The Art of a Meaningful Life by Vitaliy Katsenelson. This author is a Russian immigrant who came to the United States in the early 90s, learned English, and by 2012 was the CEO of the Denver-based investment firm that had taken a chance on him decades earlier. I picked up this book after Vitaliy reached out to me and I saw the endorsements for Soul in the Game, which included: Nassim Taleb, Donald Robertson, Derek Sivers, Wim Hof, and other notable figures.
This book is part autobiography, part philosophy, with a little bit of history sprinkled in. I enjoyed reading about Vitaliy’s approach to living and how he has applied Stoicism to his everyday life.
In addition to his busy day job, he’s found that writing about topics outside of investing has provided him with a mechanism to sort through his thoughts. It’s allowed him to become a student of life, which for him, has transferred into how he leads, parents, treats his spouse, and prioritizes his time and spending.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Soul in the Game and look forward to interviewing Vitaliy on a future episode of the podcast.
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All the best,
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