I have a very poor record when it comes to reading books. Don’t know why this should be, as I did learn to read when I was a child, but for some reason my rather limited attention span seemed to get in the way. So as I have consumed relatively few books in my life, the ones I have read must be quite special, or so you would assume?
Anyway, at the moment, with a little time on my hands, I have taken a look at what has been special to me. A book a month and so twelve of the best.
Some of the books, particularly the ones with a business theme, may not be considered as the most recent philosophies , but they were original at the time and are just as relevant today.
If you manage to get to the end of this review then you may well qualify for an award. In any case I hope it may spark something in your mind to think about the books you have loved.
A History of the World by Andrew Marr
Now, lets start at the beginning. Once upon a time there was a funny little man, his name was Andrew Marr and his favourite pastime was pretending to be Rambo when interviewing politicians, talking over them and generally being a bit of a plonker.
But no, perhaps it is a bit unfair of me to say that – and actually, this book, which was part of a BBC series, is really outstanding. Everyone should know where we came from and how we got to where we are now.
It is a book about the great change-makers of history and their times: people such as Cleopatra, Genghis Khan, Galileo, and Mao.
But it is also a book about us – for ‘the better we understand how rulers lose touch with reality, or why revolutions produce dictators more often than they produce happiness, or why some parts of the world are richer than others, the easier its is to understand our own times’. I think Andrew could add at least a couple of new chapters about the last few years!
48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
Oh yes, its all about power. Who would not like to have the power to dominate others. This little book, takes you through the various stages of world domination. The reviews suggest, “teaches you how to cheat, dissemble, feign, fight and advance your cause in the modern world”. Wow. And also “at last a book to help you scheme your way into the upper echelons of power”.
Well, what could be better, and the path to follow is clear.
Never outshine the master
Never put too much trust in friends: learn how to use enemies.
Conceal your intentions.
Always say less than necessary.
Well I have to say I would add in one more law. Invite Dominic Cummings to help you along the way.
Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons
Now, if you think that golf is a good walk spoiled, then perhaps this book is not for you. But I love it, and from the age of six I have been trying to master the game and still remain hopeful on that score! It is one of the most challenging sports there is, but one of the most rewarding. A sport of inclusion and equality. Because of the handicap system golfers of different abilities, men, women and even those who are not too sure, can all compete on an even basis.
This book is the only one you would ever need “The golf coaching bible” and “The best instructional book on golf you will find”. And it only involves five things. So what could be simpler. You should get onto Golfbidder.co.uk or one of those other second hand golf websites, and get yourself a set of bats. I can guarantee that you wont regret it.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I suppose if you had to choose a great pioneer and influencing force Steve Jobs is as good as any. Our lives have been transformed by technology in general and by Apple as innovators in particular. This book was a good read and chronicles the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionised six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing.
Some of his views are enlightening. “Picasso had a saying – ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’ – and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas”. Pretty ruthless I guess. And when questioned if he did market research? “well no, because customers don’t know what they want until we show them”.
Mussolini. His Part in My Downfall by Spike Milligan
This could have been any one of the seven book set written by Spike about his adventures during the war, which also includes; Adolf Hitler, My Part in His Downfall and, Where Have All the Bullets Gone. His memoirs are an utterly original and outrageously subversive first hand account of the Second World War, as well as a hilarious and fascinating portrait of his early life. The term genius is often awarded liberally to somewhat less than deserving candidates but Spike is the real deal.
The books are all quite short and more laughs per square inch than is actually good for you.
There are so many Spike anecdotes its difficult to select any, better you find out for yourself. But I did come across one by him and although not in the book, it is quite topical – “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all the people some of the time, which is just long enough to be President of the United States”.
One day in the Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Now for a contrast in content and writing style. Non the less it is very readable and a classic from 1961. It is a brutal, shattering glimpse of the fate of millions of Russians under Stalin which not only shook Russia but shocked the world when it first appeared. Luckily for me it is also a short book at 143 pages.
In 1945 he was arrested and charged with making derogatory remarks about Stalin and for the next eight years he was detained in labour camps along side common criminals. The writing is profoundly personal. He was released in 1953 on the death of Stalin.
Enduring hardship is tough – “He’d had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn’t put him in cells; they hadn’t sent the team to the settlement; he’d pinched a bowl of kasha at dinner; he’d smuggled that bit of a hacksaw-blade through; he’d earned something from Tsezar and bought that tobacco. And he hadn’t fallen ill. He’d got over it. A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day. Phew, sounds a bit like life at the moment.
Who Moved My Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson
There is a theme developing here! and another short book taking less than an hour to read.
I noticed it mentioned on LinkedIn recently and it reminded me of its importance. I read it in 1999 just after it came out and was struck at how it was applicable to almost anyone; in business, families and even to children. Critics said it was so simple even a child could understand it. It is very much about how you interpret the story and apply it to your situation.
I bought copies for all my team at the time as we were going to enter a period of change.
It’s “A rare book that can be read and understood quickly”. ” A road map to use as we deal with our circumstances around change”. “A fundamentally sound and memorable way of managing change”.
I particularly liked the introductory Quote, “The best laid plans o’ mice and men often go astray”. Robert Burns 1759 – 1796.
The Christian Bible
Now this is not a short book and it’s a collection of writings from many sources. In different faiths, there are different holy books all central to those faiths and Christianity with its bible has 2.2 billion followers. The Quran, where there are 1.6 billion Muslim followers. The Vedas for the 1 billion Hindu’s, The Tripitaka for the 376 million followers of Buddhism and so on.
My bible is rather worn, not so much from my reading, but it belonged to my great grandparents Archibald and Margaret Watson and is dated 1846. There is something comforting to hold an item that was used by generations of your family.
As a child I attended Sunday school, or rather, was heavily encouraged to do so, and the bible provided the set of rules and lessons that would form the foundations for the person I was going to become.
On the inside cover there is an inscription in pencil made by my Great Grandfather: Psalm 37-5. “Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass”.
Jimi Hendrix, Electric Gypsy by Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek.
Its the word genius again. Well, I cant think of a musician who has been so influential, innovative and uniquely gifted. If he appeared on the scene today, as he was back in the 1960’S, he would be totally contemporary in fashion and music. Anyway that’s my view and I know many will have other candidates. It is quite staggering to think that in September this year it will be 50 years since he died.
If you like rock history this is an excellent book, very well researched and written – “A major book…..the benchmark by which all future rock biographies should be judged”.
Although most people will think that it was my creative genius that came up with the tag line for Watson King as “Knowledge Speaks but Wisdom Listens”, actually it was words from Jimi. I followed Steve Jobs advice and stole it.
For One More Day by Mitch Albom
This book I read in 2003 at a time when there was lots of things going on. It was a time of significant change and as good fantasy novels often do, they take you out of the present and lets your imagination place you inside the story.
I heard it being reviewed on the radio and thought it interesting enough to get a copy, and it became one book that I read all the way through without a break.
“If you had the chance, just one chance, to go back and fix what you did, would you be big enough to stand it?”.
This book was a best seller and had some mixed reviews, being a work of fiction and one could say fantasy, that is perhaps not surprising.
In a conclusion to the story Mitch says,”I also believe that parents, if they love you, will hold you up safely, above their swirling waters, and sometimes that means you’ll never know what they endured, and you may treat them unkindly, in a way otherwise you wouldn’t”.
Mr China by Tim Clissold
A Wall Street banker, an Englishman and an ex-Red Guard……..and $418,000,000 disappearing, day by day.
I read this in 2004 before I went to China on a business trip. I thought it would provide a little flavour to the excursion and perhaps provide a background to what I might find. It is actually a great story and a true one at that.
Of course times have changed and this story goes back to the early 90’s when China opened up for business, or more correctly, “lets see the colour of your money”. It is the incredible story of a Wall Street banker who went to China with four hundred million dollars to invest and learned the hard way that China does not play by western rules.
An interesting comment by Chairman Mao at the time sums things up.
“Everything under heaven is in utter chaos, the situation is excellent”
Ogilvey on Advertising by David Ogilvy
On first view this may seem like a boring old book. But no, just hang on a minute. Do you realise just how programmed we have become about the products and the brands we like. The fact that we shop at Waitrose rather than Asda or drive an Audi rather than a Ford is not a coincidence, its because we have been got at by those naughty advertising boys and girls.
I was intending to be a copywriter but changed tack as at the time I needed to attended Oxford or Cambridge to be selected to join a London agency’s graduate intake. But I did study advertising in great detail and what I found tells me that today a large part of advertising is really exceptionally poor. Yes, I know that the advertising elite are paid lots of dosh to fritter away clients money, but I know better!
If you don’t believe me then try this little test for yourself. If during the TV Ad break you don’t stop and watch the advertising, which is probably because it does not draw you attention, then that is the first problem. Next problem is you don’t remember the product name or indeed what it is for. Then, really what is the point of the advertisement? For example do you more mature readers remember, “Beans Meanz Heinz”, “a Mars a day helps you work rest and play”, Heineken Reaches the parts ………., well, can you finish this off? Of course you can. All of these great Ads linked the brand name,the product and what it does for you.
Ah yes, well lets talk about the book and not the rant. The first book I read by David Ogilvy was Confession of An Advertising Man, published in 1963, and can you really believe that the principles laid out at that time are still the same today! Ogilvy on Advertising was published in 1983, after I had finished my studies, but it is a classic and wraps up all the theory.
Love and kisses etc. Keep safe and drink plenty of good wine.