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June Reading List Email

Hi, 

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.

A special thanks to Mag Mug Equipment Company who sponsored last month's email. Dan D., Mitch M., and Theresa W. won official FTGN travel mugs! And Rachel A. received a copy of Adam Grant's Think Again

Let's dive into this month's email. 

Over the last six months, the From the Green Notebook Reading List Email has grown about 200-400 subscribers per month. It’s exciting to see so many people interested in furthering their professional growth and adding to the conversation. 

But that also means that there are a bunch of people out there who missed some of our core lessons. So, before I share some of the books I read in June, I want to share some of the practices that improved my reading habits, my retention of knowledge, and ultimately led to improvements in my overall quality of life. I recognize that last claim is a bold statement, but it’s the truth.

Reading has served me well both professionally and personally over the years, but more recently it has played an even greater role in my well-being. Within the last year, I’ve come across books that brought attention to behaviors I wanted to adopt, while helping me take steps toward stopping the ones that were preventing me from being content in life. Using a combination of reading, writing notes in the margins and in my “green notebook,” and reflecting on how these lessons applied to my own life, I was able to supercharge these changes. 

I hope you find something in this email that does the same for you.

Read more than one book (just in case one of them takes a little more effort to finish). This method completely changed my reading habits and increased the number of books I read from five a year to more than forty. When I started making an effort to read for professional growth, I only read one book at a time, but found myself starting and stopping the habit because I would hit boring parts of books and lose energy around finishing it. Sometimes I would go weeks without picking up the book again because I couldn’t stand the thought of battling those pages. Now, I read 3-4 books at once which allows me to tackle a tougher book, while concurrently reading some faster-paced titles in the process. If I get tired of one book, I pick up one of the other titles. I no longer beat myself up if it takes me six months to finish a book, because I’m able to finish a few other books in the process. 

Pay attention to what people read. I love asking people, especially other leaders, what they are reading and I even pay attention when they share pictures of their books on social media. Curating a reading list from others is a great way to learn about titles you may not hear about otherwise. It’s also great to see how these books influenced the mental models of other leaders. For instance, I chose to read Radical Candor after I saw a command sergeant major post a picture of the book on facebook along with his endorsement. One of the benefits of writing this email is that many of you reply to them with your own book recommendations, which grows my reading list even bigger.

Disregard the advice of your grade school teachers and write in your books. According to the forgetting curve, within 24-48 hours after finishing a book, we will forget 75% of what we read. However, we can take steps to mitigate memory loss and actually retain what we took the time to read. Researchers have found that writing or highlighting while reading, creates multi-sensory pathways in the brain that can increase learning and memory by up to 50%. So, when I read I always keep a highlighter and pen ready to mark those passages that I think I can apply to my life or that I find interesting. Once I started doing this, I found that I retain way more than by passively reading a book. 

Pretend like you host a podcast. I know this one sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. Ever since I started hosting From the Green Notebook and interviewing authors, I approach reading a little differently. For instance, when I interviewed Nancy Sherman, Sebastian Junger, and Steven Pressfield, I wanted to be able to speak intelligently about their work. I read their books and highlighted and marked those passages that contained some of the more important points of the books. I even wrote questions next to the paragraphs I marked. I found it helped me to get to the reason they wrote the book in the first place and increase my own understanding in the process. 

While most of you probably won’t launch a podcast, you can still approach reading in the same manner, helping you to reach a deeper level of meaning with the material 
 

Remember that a book can be a time capsule. When we read, we meet the books at our current level of life experience. For instance, a senior leader and a more junior leader can read the same book and walk away with completely different lessons and insights because they have different perspectives. By writing and highlighting in our books, we’re essentially leaving notes for our future selves. I’ve gone back and reread books that I read several years earlier and enjoyed seeing my margin notes and highlights (I even sometimes disagree with my old self).These notes help me remember where I was developmentally and see how much I’ve grown and changed since the last time I picked up the book. 

Get a green notebook. Typically when I finish a book, I return to it and transfer some of my margin notes, highlighted passages, or additional reading (footnotes and endnotes are great for this) into my notebook. This extra step takes about thirty minutes, but it’s worth it. This habit helps me retain what I read by “generating” the words myself, which increases the amount of cognitive effort, thereby increasing retention (generation effect). It also allows me to make connections across multiple books and disciplines, something I learned from Leonardo Da Vinci. Returning to the forgetting curve, everytime we make an effort to write down quotes, passages, or insights, we’re essentially etching the lessons in our brain, making it more likely that we will incorporate them into our lives --as evidenced by my experience.  

When reading books by dead people, translation matters. There are so many great books written long before the invention of the printing press that can help us live better lives. However, on more than one occasion, I’ve picked up a “classic” and felt completely lost from the beginning. It’s easy to download free versions of books written before 1925 such as Clausewitz’ On War, Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, or even the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (Because these titles are considered public domain and therefore free). However, some of these books are really hard to read because the free translations are in Victorian English; or the free version lacks an introduction that provides context or a section on ”how to read” this book, which is critical for reading complex classics . So it helps to be picky and consider quality when selecting a translation.

For instance, I’ve read the Meditations before, and honestly didn’t see what the big deal was. Then I read a book by Donald Robertson that provided historical and philosophical context, and more recently, I read a new translation by Robin Waterfield that included extensive footnotes and a great introduction. I now understand why so many leaders include that book on their reading list. The translation and the context made the difference. I learned this lesson through trial and error, and eventually figured out that it’s best to ask someone who might have more experience in a field which translation to read. I’ve emailed many authors and professors over the years with questions, and every single one has pointed me in the right direction.

The Reading List

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikzenmihalyi. Originally published in 1990, this book has been cited in countless bestsellers and you may even recognize the title. The term “flow”, which he coined, has now made it into our popular lexicon.

In this book, Csikzenmihalyi argues that rather than being driven externally, happiness stems from our interpretation of events. Over the course of his research, he found that “the optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when attention is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action.” He calls this control over one’s inner life - flow

He wrote this book for a general audience so it’s easily readable, and I filled mine with highlights, tabs, and made a lot of margin notes. He explains that if we fail to live deliberately, we become prisoners to our biological impulses and societal forces, and never achieve satisfaction with life. Therefore, he explains that we need to make a conscious effort to direct our attention towards our goals with intention.  

If you find yourself spending a lot of time mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds, or wrestling with addiction or impulse control, or just feel anxious all the time and you’re not quite sure why- read this book!

Strategic Humanism: Lessons Leadership from the Ancient Greeks by Claudia Hauer. This book is a collection of six essays by Hauer on lessons from Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Aristotle, among others. Hauer uses these ancient texts to explore how human reason, desire, and emotion interact to inform our decision-making ability.  She argues that in looking back in history to understand how humans function, we can better equip ourselves for operating in the present.

The essays are academic in nature, but I enjoy comparing and contrasting problems the Greeks faced to the ones we encounter today. For instance, she highlighted the reason Ionian island states were conquered by Cyrus of Persia, writing, “In Herodotus’ account, the Ionian islands states seem similarly to magnify their minor differences, prove unable to unite into a significant opposition to Cyrus’ growing power, and are quickly conquered by Cyrus because they are divided.” This point is a lesson the West should heed as we deal with the rise of China and the belligerent actions of Russia. 

If you enjoy history and ancient Greek literature, I encourage you to check this one out. 

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. I’ve seen this book on multiple bookshelves over the years, but unfortunately only recently picked it up. If you are a leader and therefore responsible for providing others with feedback, you have to read this book! One of the most difficult things we do at work is tell people whether they are meeting the standard. Too often, we avoid these conversations or provide feedback in unhelpful ways. 

Radical Candor is about developing a workplace culture that supports people being honest with each other, without being jerks about it. She provides practical tips for promoting the type of cultures that people want to work in. At times, this book reads like a military field manual for how to be a human being at work, so I hope a lot of military leaders pick this one up. Her insights are powerful because not only has she done the research, but she actually spent years leading teams and working in Silicon Valley before becoming an author. She was the team lead for Google’s AdSense, Youtube, and DoubleClick teams. She’s also served as the CEO coach at Twitter, Dropbox and was a member of the faculty at Apple University.

After reading this book, I realized there are so many things I would have done differently with the teams I’ve led. So, if you are in a leadership position or preparing to go into one, I highly recommend this book.     

Meditations: The Annotated Edition translated, introduced, and edited by Robin Waterfield. As I wrote in my introduction to this email, I honestly under appreciated Meditations when I read it for the first time without any background or context. But once I understood that Meditations was actually the personal journal of Roman Emperor Marcus Aureilius and he wrote these entries (not meant for others to see) while leading his armies on the front lines of a campaign, it made the text more appealing. Throughout the pages, he wrestles with ego, self-control, impatience, anger, sadness, and every other human emotion that all leaders have to work through. 

Waterfield’s book is perfect for those who are picking up Meditations for the first time or for those who want to do a deeper dive into the book. His colorful and easily-read introduction provides context and prepares the reader for the pages ahead. Also, the footnotes are excellent for explaining what Aureilius meant or who he was referring to in his passages.  

I’m getting ready to take command of an Army battalion next year and one of the passages in the introduction resonated with me as I prepare for this responsibility. It was a letter Marcus’ friend Fronto wrote him early in his reign. Fronto wrote, “Even if you succeed in attaining the wisdom of Cleanthes or Zeno, yet against your will you must put on the purple cloak, not the philosopher’s tunic of course wool.” As much as Marcus might have preferred to sit in his library and read and write, he had a job to do as the leader of Rome. And that’s exactly what he did. 

The Sacred Band: Three Hundred Theban Lovers Fighting to Save Greek Freedom by James Romm. This book covers the period prior to the rise of Alexander the Great when the city of Thebes grew to become a power player among the Greeks. Their rise was due, in part, to an Army of 300 male-lovers who fought side-by-side. As Romm writes,

Chariots pulled by two-horse teams run faster than single horses. The reason lies in the rivalry of the team. As they run side by side, the chariot horses spur on another’s thumos --the part of the soul that seeks honor, victory, and glory. Thumos, Plutarch claimed, could be spurred in paired soldiers as well as paired horses. When that happened, both men became braver and fiercer than either would be on his own.  

This book covers a wide-range of topics to include why the story of a powerful army of male lovers (who actually beat the Spartans) was erased from some histories. He also provides interesting character sketches of figures to include Xenephon, Cyrus of Persia, and Pythagorus, among others. This is the third Romm book I’ve read this year, and he knows how to make history interesting! So, if you want to learn some ancient history, check out any of his books.  

Finally, if you haven't been on our website lately, check out the following new posts!

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. 

All the best,

Joe

**This email contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This helps with the cost of running the website each year. 
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