As soon as the magnitude of this crisis became clear, my reading interests seemed to change. There were books that I had read (or started to read in one case), that I thought could help shed some light on what we’re going through. Because as much as we think of this time as unique, crisis and pandemic have been a constant throughout history.
I also think that there’s a healthy limit to how much news one can consume before it becomes detrimental. Rather than refreshing the NY Times app 100x daily, I decided to revisit some books. For convenience, I’m primarily reading these in the Kindle app on my phone, but I have physical copies of three of them, with the other two on the way.
- The Obstacle Is the Way and Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday – both of these books are light reads that had a profound impact on me. “Obstacle” can help to reframe your situation and focus on what you can control, while “Stillness” asserts the value of finding even a little bit of peace and quiet during tough times to relax, recharge, and think.
- The End Is Always Near by Dan Carlin – released in October of 2019, this theorizes that the end of the world as we know it is never quite as far off as it seems by drawing from examples throughout history. I devoured it immediately, as I’m a huge fan of Dan’s Hardcore History podcast. The book is in many ways a compilation of the best stories and themes from the podcast. I plan on rereading “Chapter 6: A Pandemic Prologue?”, as I recall it being eerily predictive of the situation we’re going through right now.
- Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin – I’m a big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin from reading Team of Rivals and watching her in the Ken Burns documentary Baseball. After listening to an interview with her on The Tim Ferriss Show, I immediately bought this book. I lost interest pretty quickly though. I recall thinking to myself “I don’t consider myself a leader, and we’re not really living in turbulent times, so this doesn’t apply to me”. Well, now we’re living in turbulent times and we’re all leaders – of our families, our businesses, our communities. I picked it back up and now I’m devouring it
- The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant – they spent their entire lives writing The Story of Civilization, an 11-volume book of history, and then distilled the lessons into this short summary book in 1968. 50+ years later, it still reads like it was written yesterday. It contains this timeless quote “Since we have admitted no substantial change in man’s nature during historic times, all technological advances will have to be written off as merely new means of achieving old ends”
- Bonus: 1918 Spanish Flu Wikipedia page – not a book, but well worth the 30 minutes to read. I came away shocked at just how similar this was to our current pandemic. History, unfortunately, did repeat itself in many ways.