This week, I want to discuss books which have deeply influenced me and have helped me grow as an individual.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
“Knowledge makes man unfit to be a slave.”
Frederick Douglass was a passionate man, fiercely intelligent, capable, and accomplished. He started life as a slave but escaped from slavery and lived the rest of his life as a skilled orator, gifted writer, and abolitionist.
I’m a fan of heroes. I like reading about people overcoming horrible odds by building themselves into strong, untouchable beings. Despite the brutality of the world around them, these individuals persist towards greatness. Frederick Douglass is a hero and an inspiration. His capacity to overcome slavery, persecution, slander, and abuse reminds me of the power I have to overcome my personal issues. I understand that if Frederick Douglass, a man borne a slave, can build himself into an intellectual powerhouse, then I simply have no excuse to not do the same.
Lastly, reading about the lives of those in the past reminds me to be grateful for the progressive times. Nothing is perfect, but I have infinitely more power to chose and shape my destiny than the most powerful black man of yesteryear. That alone is cause for celebration and removes any excuses I have to not give my absolute best as an individual, father, and husband.
Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
“But you don’t have to let your doubt into the cockpit! You can tolerate doubt as a backseat driver, but if you put doubt in the pilot’s seat, defeat is guaranteed.”
David Goggins is a retired United States Navy SEAL, former United States Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member, and all-around badass who has excelled at triathlons, world records, and life. His book, Can’t Hurt Me, details his life from his abusive childhood to his groundbreaking adulthood.
I respect Goggins for the same reason I respect Frederick Douglass: both men came from nothing and had to build themselves up from scratch. Goggins highlights the mental exercises he utilized to overcome barriers in his own mind. By overcoming these barriers, he rose to the top and outperformed everyone again and again.
I’m never going to be a Navy SEAL. But I’m inspired by the amount of brutality and pain they have to go through to earn that title. I am inspired by their passion and utilize that inspiration to give nothing but my best in every facet of my life.
Goggins highlights how to overcome your limitations to dominate everything from a gym workout to your school work. His book helps me narrow my focus and brush aside my excuses. By refusing to pursue my short-term comforts, I am able to tap into the strongest aspects of my character. Tapping into my inner strength helps me excel at my goals and I’ve learned how to do this from Goggins powerful book.
The 48 Laws Of Powers by Robert Greene
“When you show yourself to the world and display your talents, you naturally stir all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity… you cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others.”
Are you confused as to why you never get promoted? Or maybe you’ve always wondered why the worst among us always get elected to office? Perhaps you’re bothered by how easily you excuse terrible people’s behavior and allow them back into your life? If you want answers, then you need to read The 48 Laws of Power.
Robert Greene’s masterpiece taught me how to grow, maintain, expand, and utilize power. His insights into the power-hungry helped me understand the allure of manipulative people, the current state of politics, and my own personal failures with others. In fact, I have a whole series covering the book. I break down the best ways to use power as a means of protecting yourself, attacking evil, avoiding your own lusts after power, and how to cultivate control over your own mind.
Lastly, this book is a manual and reads as such. It’s not an endorsement of evil. The 48 Laws of Power is a blunt analysis of power as well as the evils people commit when they have it. Therefore, by reading this book, you’ll gain new insight into the power dynamics which shape our world and how to use them to your advantage.
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink
“Extreme Ownership. Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.”
In Extreme Ownership, Jocko discusses the lessons he’s learned in the SEALs and how these lessons apply to civilian life. For example, he talks about “cover and move,” a technique where SEALs keep their allies safe during firefights. These lessons, when applied to civilian life, highlights how co-workers need to work together in order to reach a common endpoint.
The book is primarily for leaders but can help everyone grow. Extreme Ownership is about taking responsibilities for life’s difficulties and struggles. You don’t pass off mistakes to other people – you see failures as a personal problem starting with you. Whether you failed to relay information to your co-workers or didn’t save enough money in the bank for an emergency, all failures rest firmly on your shoulders.
Personal responsibility is a soul-crushing mindset. I struggle every day to accept my failures as my own creations. From my weak frame to my empty drawing portfolio, I have only myself to blame for failing to achieve greatness. However, personal responsibility frees me to provide direct, productive solutions. For example, instead of blaming high taxes for my lack of disposable income, I can cut back on needless spending.
Through Extreme Ownership, you’ll be reminded why you need to accept responsibility for your life and the best ways to do so.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
“To sell your soul is the easiest thing in the world. That’s what everybody does every hour of his life. If I asked you to keep your soul – would you understand why that’s much harder?”
I read Ayn Rand’s ground-breaking book when I was in high school and it changed my perspective. After reading her tale, I saw myself as an individual capable of achieving massive success. I no longer thought of myself as a victim, so I focused on improving my wellbeing by pursuing virtue.
The Fountainhead is about Howard Roarke, a master architect, and his fight against society. The collectivists wish to destroy him and take his work. He spends the novel fighting them while building allies and creating alluring, unique buildings. He is an individualist who lives for his own sake and defines his life as he chooses.
The Fountainhead helped me understand individualism and the hatred people have towards the philosophy. Individuals wish to be free, to learn and to grow, while collectivists want resources they have not earned from other people.
Through brilliant, captivating storytelling, The Fountainhead shows the brutality of collectivism and the need for individualism. Read this book if you need to be inspired to pursue virtue and grow as an individual.
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
“Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple.”
Heroes are a dying breed. The first and biggest superhero was Superman and he’s a shell of his former self. He’s just as jaded, insincere, and edgy as every other hero. He doesn’t stand for Truth, Justice, and the American way and he’ll probably never smile again.
I am disappointed in how Superman is portrayed because he is no longer admirable or unique. He should represent what we ought to be and therein lies his power. He’s not supposed to “realistic” (read: pathetic), he’s supposed to be the most virtuous, exemplary, and noteworthy hero. Ultimately, Superman gives the reader someone to look up to.
Fortunately, All-Star Superman is Superman at his best. When Superman learns that he’s dying, he attempts to accomplish impossible tasks before he has to fly away and save a dying sun. This version of Superman is heroic, goes on exciting adventures, and deals with his abilities in mature and thoughtful ways.
I miss heroes, so I’m crafting my own. In the meantime, I love reading All-Star Superman as a reminder of what it feels like to believe a man can fly.
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
“Listen to me, Clark. Of all the things you can do… all your powers… the greatest has always been your instinctive knowledge… of right… and wrong.”
Superman is the greatest hero and in Kingdom Come, he meets his greatest challenge. I love superheroes like Superman because they help us grasp with larger ideas about what is right and wrong. On the other hand, with “realistic” heroes like Spider-Man, writers deal with more mundane and pointless issues such as paying rent and sick aunts. It’s hardly thrilling stuff.
But in Kingdom Come, Mark Waid and Alex Ross create a world where heroes kill their villains and a disgruntled Superman quits. After Kansas gets nuked, he comes back but finds his brand of heroism isn’t as effective as it should be.
What I love about Kingdom Come is that it honestly deals with the complicated issues facing the ideas of good and evil. Should we just kill criminals who are unrepentant and clearly dangerous? Should we go through traditional means of policing or is vigilante justice okay, especially for disenfranchised communities? These are important, relevant questions and Kingdom Come deals with them with grace, respect, and nuance.
I like reading this book to remind myself of the ideas I should bring forth in my own work. I’m not focused on the minutiae of daily life – I want to investigate what it means to be good, virtuous, and a hero. Kingdom Come serves as a significant and emotional inspiration to an amateur writer.
Finding True Happiness by Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ
“The loving God will always respect our freedom; He will not force or push us on the journey to faith. The taste of perfect being (home), love, truth, goodness, and beauty is an invitation, not an ultimatum, and so we must follow through with an act of belief and trust in the One who has created us for perfect fulfillment with one another in Him.”
Finding True Happiness offers a compelling answer to unhappiness. Through an easy read, Father Spitzer argues why true happiness is serving others and building a legacy of service which will outlive you.
I read this book a few years ago and I’ve tried to implement its lessons wherever I can. I and many people in the West meet the first level of happiness which is found in material goods. Additionally, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others and seeing if we’re doing better. However, better happiness is found in serving others and placing our pettier wants below the genuine needs of other people.
I always have caveats about service. I believe we need to help those who will help themselves. Furthermore, it’s important to first meet our needs, then our family’s, then expand outward. However, Father Spitzer’s premise about service as a means to true happiness ring true.
Throughout the book, you’ll learn what happiness is, investigate your own self-centered mindset, and figure out the best ways to help other people with the unique gifts you have. Finding True Happiness is an excellent book for anyone needing guidance and purpose.
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
“What justice would there be to take his life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this.”
A Lesson Before Dying is set in 1940s Louisiana and is about a young black man, Jefferson, who is falsely sentenced to death. During his trial, he is called a hog and believes himself to be less than human. Grant Wiggins, an elementary school teacher is convinced to teach Jefferson how to read so the latter may feel he is human.
The racial aspects of the book are clear. Grant and the other black characters are trapped in a white-dominated culture that sees them as inferior. What’s sad is Grant’s cynicism and Jefferson’s acceptance that he is truly less than human.
However, I love this book because it shows the painful process of becoming a better man. Grant grows as he teaches Jefferson and becomes a more optimistic individual. Jefferson ends the story seeing himself as human and faces his wrongful execution with dignity and courage.
I’ve often grappled with the realities of the past. The Civil Rights Movement was less than three generations ago and tension lingers between various racial groups. But what I saw in Jefferson was a man willing to be a man no matter what the dominant culture did to him. And in Grant, I saw an individual realizing his attitude was harmful to everyone around him and how he could only grow if he helped his community grow.
A Lesson Before Dying is about hope and keeping your head up no matter how much anyone, white, black, man, woman, whomever, wishes to beat you down. As an individual, such a lesson is important to me.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian book detailing how the government has complete and absolute control over the mind, resources, and time of the average citizen. The book follows Winston Smith, the classic every man, and his desperate desire to fight the system. Unlike The Fountainhead, Winston Smith loses to his oppressors and that has always saddened me.
Nineteen Eighty-Four exhausts me because the world Orwell described is a reality. The average person is comfortable and okay with living in a world that disrespects their individuality and ability to self-govern. Of course, one can feel despair, but I refuse. Other people may choose their shackles but I have to think of my own future and the future of those I care about.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is the perfect critique of comfort as well as collectivists ideologies. This book will remind you of the dangers of accepting the word of those in power. Additionally, Nineteen Eighty-Four will remind you to build a more sustainable life which can withstand the abuses of the state.
Supergods by Grant Morrison
“We love our superheroes because they refuse to give up on us. We can analyze them out of existence, kill them, ban them, mock them, and still they return, patiently reminding us of who we are and what we wish we could be.”
What I love about Supergods is that it gives a concise history of superhero books in Grant Morrison’s unique and engaging writing style. Grant Morrison is witty, insightful, and very intelligent. Through his book, we see comics as an impressive story of powerful heroes, meaningful change, and big dreams.
Furthermore, I love the optimism Grant Morrison brings. He believes in heroes. Morrison states how powerful and significant they can be in shaping our life. Additionally, he discusses what they can teach us about being humans as well as how their very presence inspires everyone to be more than what they are.
The Best Book List Going Forward
I make an effort to read at least a book a week. Reading is a powerful tool that enables us to explore the world and see new perspectives. Therefore, I urge you to pick up books on topics you enjoy and feel called to learn more about.
I want to continue doing these lists for a variety of medium. There are games I’d like to highlight as well as music and films. Additionally, these lists are great for pointing out amazing works I love and believe other people should consume.
- What are the books which changed your life?
- What about your life did they change? Your way of thinking? Your actions? Your beliefs?
- From a more objective standpoint, did these books change you for the better? For example, when I first read The Fountainhead, I was childish and abrasive in my display of individualism. By analyzing my actions, I could come to terms with my own trauma and better process the lessons the book offers. Although the books you selected may have helped you improve, could there be blind spots that you may be missing or bad habits that could be settling?
Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
*Image credit to Unsplash.