Books are a timeless source of knowledge. However, too few of us read enough, or have a reading habit altogether.
People have been writing for centuries, there is a wealth of knowledge that can be tapped in books that you cannot find elsewhere. Knowledge is timeless, it doesn’t if it was written 2000 years ago, or yesterday if it is useful, it will remain useful.
Numerous books are famous the world over and you should read them, but many books are lesser-known but no less beneficial.
Below are a few of my favourite books that I have read over the last few years that have benefitted me in one way or another.
Some of them are obscure, others are more well-known, but they not known as widely as they should be. They cover a diverse range of topics and interests, but there are lessons to be gleaned from all of them.
Lessons that we can apply to our lives today.
Twelve Against The Gods
Twelve Against The Gods, written by William Bolitho is one of the most obscure on the list. It surged in popularity recently when Elon Musk said he was reading it, causing it to sell out on Amazon! It tells the stories of twelve famous adventurers from history, who pushed the boundaries of exploration.
It explores the lives of these 12 famous men and women and their hubris-driven failures. The main theme of the book is that even the most adventurous and courageous of people are not immune from failure.
Bolitho weaves his way through the list, describing how their egos got the better of them. The book teaches us that the only cure to ego is humility. No matter how clever, strong or bold we think we are, nature will find a way of bringing us down a peg or two.
This is not to say you should avoid being adventurous, on the contrary, you should be as adventurous as possible. However, pride comes before the fall and we should all practice humility or face the consequences.
The Jungle is another of the more obscure books on this list. Written by Upton Sinclair in 1904, it details the harsh conditions and exploitation immigrants in Chicago suffered during the early 20th century.
The book was hugely popular when it was released and its detail of the health violations and unsanitary conditions many workers suffered in the meat industry shocked most Americans.
Sinclair’s novel resulted in a public outcry, which led to the implementation of the Meat Inspection Act and greater protection for workers. He said of the reaction to his book, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident, I hit it in the stomach.”
The importance of the book is that it shines a light on how industries can get out of hand if it is not properly regulated. With conditions much better today than they were in the past, it’s a reminder that we must heed the lessons of the past, or we are doomed to repeat them.
Outliers may be one of the more well-known books on this list, but it is still not as well-known as it could be. Written by Malcolm Gladwell, it examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success.
One of the fundamental points I took away from the book was just how many hours you need to put in to be successful in any field. Gladwell details how Bill Gates, The Beatles among others were able to achieve their success by following the 10,000-hour rule.
Gladwell suggests that the key to their success was that they were able to practice their craft for 10,000 hours in the correct way, which allowed to reach a world-class level of expertise in their respective fields.
The book delves into other areas surrounding success, but the 10,000-hour rule is an important point to consider. to be successful in anything, you need to put in the hours. Circumstance does play a part, but without the practice and dedication to your craft, you won’t be successful.
Inverting The Pyramid
Inverting The Pyramid may be a book about football tactics, but it has a lot of little nuggets that can be applied to everyday life. The book details the evolution of tactics in football from its beginnings to the present day.
The author, Jonathan Wilson, weaves an excellent tale of how different systems were countered and developed throughout the game’s history.
A lesson I picked up from Inverting the Pyramid was that concepts are fluid and not rigid. There is always more than one way to skin a cat. Just because something works for someone, does not mean it will work for someone else.
Change is a constant in life and just like in football, trends come and go. It is important not to be beholden to one ideology or dogma. Instead, it is better to adapt to the times, of the times adapting to us.
On The Shortness of Life
On The Shortness of Life is a book that changed my life. The profound message of the book is that every day we are running out of the one resource we cannot accumulate more of, time.
One of the most profound quotes I took from the book was this:
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.
In one sentence, Seneca has summed up the dilemma facing a lot of us in society today. We are prone to wasting our time and going through the motions. It’s easier to relax in front of the TV, instead of challenging yourself to be better.
Life is long enough to make us think it will last forever but short enough to be over in a flash. Seneca’s states that we should not put off our enjoyment until tomorrow, because one day, tomorrow will never come.
Airframe is one of Michael Crichton’s lesser-known novels, but it is one of his most relevant, especially in today’s day and age. I’m a huge fan of Crichton, and I will admit it took me a while to get into this book, but when I did, I was hooked!
It is a corporate thriller about coverups in the aviation industry. The plot takes a while to develop, but once it does, the momentum which builds culminates in a crescendo as the press and a PR firm compete for control over the narrative! Sound familiar?
The main point Crichton is making in the book is that colleges and universities are producing business leaders who are high on hubris but do not back it up with personal experience.
The book explores the fallacy of placing these people in charge of complex systems and the consequences that follow. In our day and age, Airframe is more relevant than ever.
Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness is a difficult book to read, I’m not going to lie. I struggled through this book at times, despite its small size. The novella takes a while to get going and the narrative does ramble on, but it’s a fascinating book nonetheless.
Written by Joseph Conrad in 1899, the book tells the story of a sailor and his voyage up the Congo River, into the Congo Free State and the Heart of Africa. All of this is narrated by the sailor to a fellow group of sailors in the River Thames.
One of the main themes in the book is that there is little difference between so-called civilised people and those described as savages. Conrad creates a parallel between a supposedly civilised place in London, and one full of savages, Africa, and posits that instead of the differences commonly thought to exist, they are thin on the ground.
The importance of this book is its themes of racism and imperialism which lead people to develop a sense of superiority that may be misplaced.
While Meditations is becoming more and more well-known, it is still not as popular as it should be. It is a unique book that is unlike any other written.
Meditations was the personal diary of the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. It was written as a journal and not intended for publication. As a result, we are presented with an incredible book, one which presents a window into the mind of the most powerful man in the world at the time.
The book is full of lessons that Marcus picked up during his life and wrote down to remind himself of how he should conduct his business. It is the definitive text on self-improvement, humility and personal ethics.
The fact that you have access to this book today is a miracle. It is one of the most profound books I have ever read, and I pick it up now and again to digest the lessons once more.
I Will Teach You To Be Rich
I Will Teach You To Be Rich is one of the most important books I have read in the past year. I’m not the most financially literate person, but reading this book has gone a long way fixing this.
The book teaches you how to take control of your finances in six weeks, following a step-by-step guide. It is written in an engaging and easy to understand, which makes digesting the more difficult parts of the book that much easier.
I learnt so much from this book, and it showed me that the adage you don’t know, what you don’t know is very true! I feel like my understanding of financial systems and how to leverage them has increased tenfold since reading the book.
If you’re looking to take control of your finances, and want a quick introduction into the industry, this is the book for you!
The Dirtiest Race In History
The Dirtiest Race In History details the final of the men’s 100m at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. The race was famously won by Canadian Ben Johnson in a world record time until he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
What gets lost among the focus on Johnson is that only one of the athletes who finished in the top five remains untainted by accusations of doping! Carl Lewis, who took the gold medal following Johnson’s disqualification, failed a test in Seoul, which was explained away, while Linford Christie also failed a test in Seoul.
The book details the lead up to the race and its subsequent aftermath and the impact upon the sport it had. It’s a powerful story of how cheating will always come back to hurt you, no matter how much you think you can get away with it.
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