THE (VERY) BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2017
I thought we might enjoy a male point of view. I #LOVE Ryan Holiday, and his philosophy on life. Next year my goal is to rank on his list!
My motto for this year: If your goals don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.
Every year, I try to narrow down the hundred plus books I have recommended and read down to just a handful of the best. The kind of books where if they were the only books I’d read that year, I’d have still have felt like I made a big leap in my education.
I know that people are busy, and we don’t always have time to read as much as we like. Nothing wrong with that (though if you want to read more—don’t look for shortcuts—make more time!). What matters is that when you do read, you pick the right books.
My reading list email is now nearly 90,000 people, and I can tell pretty quickly when a recommendation has landed well. I promise you-you can’t go wrong with any of these. (Also as an accidental confirmation of what I wrote in Perennial Seller, the newest book in this list is 5 years old and the oldest is 79 years old.)
Bodyguard of Lies: The Extraordinary True Story of D-Day Vol I & Vol II by Anthony Cave Brown and The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader by Fred I. Greenstein
I have recommended a lot of books on strategy over the years but these two books are two of the best. And I’d never even heard of them before this year. Bodyguard of Lies is in a sense about D-Day but it’s more fully the history of almost every special, covert operation of the Second World War (in fact, Vol I focuses so much on prehistory that it ends with D-Day starting). The premise here is that the Americans believed that the war could be won by overwhelming force. The British—Churchill especially—knew better. They knew how bad their position really was, how far behind they were. Thus the Churchill quote: “In war the truth is so precious it must be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.” The result was a strategic campaign of misinformation, deception, and intelligence designed to disorient and confuse the Germans and Japanese. The Allies had broken Enigma, they could read the German’s communications, but how could they act on it without giving their access away? How could the Allies hope to land in Europe without being met with overwhelming resistance? Well, they needed to keep as many German troops as possible occupied in different theaters, they needed to spread their defenses out as far as possible, they needed to make the obvious intended landing spot too obvious so that they would assume an attack would come elsewhere. And don’t even get me started about the covert agents they had working inside Germany and the conspirators working against Hitler from the inside. Anthony Brown doesn’t just tell you all this happened, he shows you how it happened, explained why it happens and makes you understand how expertly done it all was. The book is a masterclass in the art of strategy. (No wonder it was one of John Boyd’s favorites).
The Hidden-Hand which I read around the same time is equally a masterclass in leadership. It will give you not just a new appreciation of Eisenhower, but teach you how real leaders get things done: it’s not through talking, it’s not through looking tough, it’s through organization, delegation and through behind the scenes influence. I had no idea how Machiavellian Eisenhower was—and while that might seem like an insult, it isn’t. The perception of Eisenhower was that he was a sweet old guy who didn’t keep up on the day-to-day goings of politics but this was all a brilliant act. He wanted to be seen as above politics when in reality, he knew exactly how to make hard decisions and steer the country in the direction it needed to go. For instance, people think Eisenhower didn’t do enough to take down Joseph McCarthy. Eisenhower is the one who took McCarthy down—he just didn’t think the president should be seen doing such a thing (His rule was: Never engage in personalities). Eisenhower was what a leader was supposed to be—both an impressive and inspiring figurehead as well as an effective executive. Our leaders today could take a lesson from that.
I’ve already raved about both these books to a number of politicians, CEOs, and writers I know. I am also using them as a source in my next book, Conspiracy. Please read them.