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April 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 The Sunday Email where each week we will share a quote/passage from a book and a short insight.

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How to Get the Most Out of Books

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 past two years, I’ve come across books that shined a light on behaviors I wanted to adopt, while helping me take steps toward cutting out 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. 

Here are some tips to help your reading habit:

Read more than one book at a time (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 I found myself starting and stopping when I would hit boring parts of books, causing me to 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 three to four  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. 

Make time. People often ask how I find time to read with all my other obligations, and the answer is simple: I make it. When I’m home, I find a routine that works for me and my family. I wake up early each morning and read before the rest of the house wakes up. When my schedule is hectic or I’m traveling, I take advantage of “time confetti”. These are small pieces of free time throughout our day that most of us usually spend scrolling through our phones or checking and rechecking emails. For example, I was waiting in a long line the other day and instead of spending the 30 minutes stewing in my own anger, I started reading a book on my phone. 

Remember what you read. 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 when I passively read a 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. Every time 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.  

The Reading List 

Before You Say Anything: The Untold Stories and Fail Proof Strategies of a Very Discreet Speech Writer by Victoria Wellman. Read this book! As military officers, we give a lot of speeches. We speak at changes of command and responsibility ceremonies, promotions, retirements, and sometimes we’re asked to be the keynote speaker at important events. Here’s the problem: Nobody trains us how to do it, and many of us aren’t that great at it. 

In Before You Say Anything, Wellman shares her approach to delivering memorable speeches. She covers everything from the importance of understanding the venue and the audience to defining the central message, the tone, and the impact of a speech. I found myself nodding while reading her commentary on what not to do when giving speeches.

I’ve written a lot of speeches over the years for myself and other people, and I wish she would have published this book much earlier in my career. This book is informative, funny, and a valuable tool for anyone who might find themselves speaking in public. 

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Taleb. In this book, Taleb argues that our minds aren’t built to understand probabilities and that much of what we call success can be attributed to chance or natural variance in life and in the financial markets.

I’ve read all of Taleb’s other books, and they typically take me months to finish. Each one is packed full of historic, literary, and cultural references. Some of the material flies over my head, but all of his titles have been enjoyable. For me, his books are like sitting down for a beer with an intellectual uncle and listening to him rant for hours on a given topic. 

One of my favorite aspects of his books are the maxims he shares. Below are a few:

Mild success can be explainable by skills and labor. Wild success is attributable to variance.

History teaches us that things that never happened before do happen. It can teach us a lot outside the narrowly defined time series; the broader the look, the better the lesson. 

Unless you have confidence in the ruler’s reliability, if you use a ruler to measure a table you may also be using the table to measure the ruler.


If you are interested in learning more about the role of probability in our lives, I also recommend Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff. Her book offers many of the same lessons, and most will find it an easier read. 

How To Host a Viking Funeral: The Case for Burning Your Regrets, Chasing Your Crazy Ideas, and Becoming the Person You’re Meant to Be by Kyle Scheele. I listened to this on Audible and liked it so much that I got a physical copy of the book and invited Kyle onto an upcoming episode of the podcast (coming soon). He’s hilarious and extremely insightful.

Kyle Scheele is a talented artist who built a 16ft tall x 30 ft long viking ship out of cardboard and then asked people to send him their regrets in life because he wanted to burn them in a public “viking funeral” ceremony. In addition to sharing the story about how this all played out, Kyle examines the types of regrets we have in life: fears, experiences, identities, relationships, and beliefs. While this book is entertaining, Kyle’s exploration of each regret category helped me think through many of my own regrets and the power some of them still hold over me. Here’s a lesson he shared that I thought was extremely powerful:

This is the danger in comparing ourselves to others. When we look at the people around us, we only see a small sliver of their lives, and it’s usually on the parts they want us to see…if there’s one thing this project taught me, is that everyone around you is carrying a burden you cannot see..we should be quicker to give grace, and be more generous with how we give it. 

Again, I highly recommend this book and please look for Kyle on a future episode of our podcast. 

The Great Mental Models Volume One by Shane Parrish of Farnham Street Blog. Mental models are the lenses through which we view the world. In this book, Parrish identifies over ten models that can help us better understand situations, minimize risk in our decisions, and identify opportunities. He writes, "The more lenses on a given problem, the more reality reveals itself. The more reality we see, the more we understand. The more we understand, the more we know what to do."

I found this book extremely helpful in informing how I experience life. For example, he introduces the concept of Hanlon’s Razor which states that we should not attribute malice to that which is more easily explained by ignorance. Too often, we attribute malice to honest mistakes or ignorance and miss opportunities to develop others. Instead, we waste energy on being angry at someone. 

This is a short book (197 pgs) and a great read for anyone looking to increase the number of intellectual tools at their disposal. 

War Transformed: The Future of Twenty-First Century Great Power Competition and Conflict by Mick Ryan. This is the first “war” book I’ve picked up in a while, and I’m glad I did. Mick Ryan has been a long-time advocate for professional military education and recently retired as a two star general from the Australian Defence Force. This book is the summary of wisdom from decades of experience studying war. 

In War Transformed, Ryan explores the implications of ongoing developments in technology and society and their effects on war and competition. He writes, “Technology alone does not provide a military advantage…but it is how people combine technology with new ideas and new organizations that can provide a decisive advantage.”

I’m about halfway through this book, and thus far it’s a great refresher on concepts that I’ve forgotten from my days at the Naval War College. Ryan’s observations are also holding up against current world events. I recommend this book for all military practitioners, especially those who will be future leaders in our militaries.  

Here are some of the books I plan to highlight next month:
  • Plays Wells With Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships is (Mostly) Wrong by Eric Barker
  • Bitter Sweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make us Whole by Susan Cain
  • A Minute to Think: Reclaim Creativity, Conquer Busyness, and Do Your Best Work by Juliet Funt

If you haven't been to the website in a while, check out the following posts:

 Podcasts  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

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