Reading list: October 2020

October was a good month for reading for me. A mix of business and personal interest, and I finished my first book on Churchill! I find that I’m getting too distracted by books that I haven’t planned to read and I’ve also been buying a lot of books recently. I wanted to get to the end of the year having read a number of books on Churchill along with Einstein and DaVinci…but I haven’t made much progress in that area. I don’t want to set myself up to fail, but I’d like to make sure that between now and the end of 2020 I put some serious time into the lives of these interesting people.

Here’s what I read in October 2020 along with a short review…

No More Champagne: Churchill And His Money by David Lough

When I was planning my reading for 2020 I wanted to read about Churchill, so I picked up a few books including this one. On the face of it, it sounds a little boring – a chronological account of how he made and spent his money. However, the author intertwines the work and his spending with all the major events that took place throughout his life, which helps the reader to join the dots through history.  What was interesting for me was just how his whole life was controlled and dictated by his lifestyle, which he refused to give up, and how badly he managed his money. Churchill produced A LOT of work, especially his writing, but most of it was produced due to the need for money. He was always a few steps behind and scrambling around to make money so he could pay his bills, especially his tax bills. There were a number of dealings that probably would be illegal today, and if not, very much frowned upon for a political leader to be involved in. Later in his life his main conflict was finding opportunities to make money that wouldn’t be taken by HMRC, and he refused work due to the nature of it, and he found other tax loopholes so he could be paid tax-free for certain types of work. A politician trying not to pay taxes…who knew?! Although he had a lot of luxuries, it felt like a very stressful and high pressure life to lead.

How To Be A Friend: An Ancient Guide To True Friendship by Marcus Tullius Cicero

[Re-Read]

This is one of my ty top ten re-reads each year and it reminds me about the importance of friendship and helps recalibrate myself in terms of how I’m keeping I’m touch with friends. There’s so much in this short essay, and one of my favourite quotes that I keep coming back to is “Among friends, always listen to the counsel of your wise companions. True friends should give failthfil advice to each other, not only with frankness but with sternness if necessary. And that advice should be heeded.” Perhaps there’s no better time than the end of 2020 to read about how to choose friends, maintain great friendships, and figure out what true friendship really is.

A Life On Our Planet: My Witness Statement And A Vision For The Future by David Attenborough 

As soon as this book was available I knew it would be smart to read it. Here’s this guy who’s now in his 90s who has, with his own eyes, witnessed the destruction of our planet over this lifetime. The population has almost quadrupled over the course of his life…and here’s his account of what he’s seen, and what he believes will happen if we do not begin to minimise the destructive nature of our lifestyle. One thing seems certain though – nature isn’t worried about it, because it isn’t nature that will die out, it’s the human race that should be worried. Nature will come back and thrive without humans.

The Family Board Meeting: You Have 18 Summers To Create A Lasting Connection With Your Children  by Jim Sheils

[Re-Read]

I’m going to keep reading this until I feel like I’m doing everything in this short guidance book. Realising that you only have 18 summers with your children should kick you into action to build your relationship with them proactively and deliberately. What we’re seeing, especially in the past 20 years, is a lot of busy parents that spend very little to zero focused time with their children. The title of the books is slightly misleading – it’s not about setting up meetings around the table with your whole family, it’s about spending quality time with each of your children individually (think about it like going on a date with your kids). You’ll probably immediately have a reason why this isn’t possible for your family or how to include all your children, and Jim addresses these concerns in the book. It’s less than 100 pages and it’ll take you an hour to read. If you’re a parent, don’t miss this one. 

The Gift: 12 Lessons To Save Your Life by Edith Eger

Edith was a young teenager, experiencing her first love and dreams to become a dancer when she was captured in Hungary and sent to Auschwitz. Her parents murdered on arrival and Edith and her sister placed in camp. After a torturous year, Edith was rescued from a pile of dead bodies with a broken back. Later in life, Edith went on to become a qualified psychotherapist, and now at 92 years of age she shares what she has learned from working through her own demons and treating her patients over the decades. I find the writing interesting because she shares so much of her experience of treating other people. In her most recent book, The Gift, she goes into detail on how to deal with the many ‘prisons’ we hold ourselves in. As much as I am personally benefiting from applying what I have learned to my own dark thoughts, I can apply a lot of her guidance to my professional coaching and consulting work. 

No Rule Rules: Netflix And The Culture Of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

Everyone at work is reading this book just now and I was hesitant about it, just as much as I am when reading books about the culture at massive organisations – for example, I worry about leaders reading about Steve Jobs and immediately start behaving and acting like him. So, before I started reading it I changed my mindset to be – I’m a Netflix customer, they have built something amazing, and it’ll be interesting to understand a little more about how they did it. And it was interesting. There’s some really great insights into managing culture and communication across a global organisation. There’s some radical ideas about how to communicate with your peers internally, and how to negotiate your value with your boss. I enjoyed the insights into getting, keeping, managing, and leading the best talent in the world. I also thought it was interesting to understand how they push decision making and responsibility ‘down the ranks’ to allow people who are smart and talented to do their job to the best of their ability. Finally, the discussions about how to deal with failure was insightful and I think many organisations and individuals could learn directly from this – ultimately, people can’t do their best work if they are afraid to fail – and Netflix celebrates their failures and understands how important they are for organisational wide learning.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

[Re-Read]

Cara and I took a long drive out to the west coast in October so we picked The Midnight Library to listen to on Audible. 

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey 

When I was reading the book I realised that some people will think he’s the ‘Rom-Com’ actor and have a perspective about how much value any of his writing could bring (very little). I see him as the actor from Dallas Buyers Club, Dazed and Confused, Interstellar and The Gentleman…I really enjoyed reading it – didn’t put it down over a weekend in October. Some great writing and some insights that made me think about my life and the choices I have and will have to make. He also reminded me ab the importance of my personal values and principles and staying true to yourself. The other thing that strikes me – I should spend a little more time looking at and learning from the lives of people that are doing good things that are alive during my time, instead of always defaulting to the characters who are long gone. 

Is This Anything by Jerry Seinfeld

When Seinfeld was on the TV, that was more something my dad would have watched, but in the past 5 years or so I’ve found myself getting into Jerry’s work. First, it was Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and I love that show. Then I watched a lot of his standup and I really enjoy it. The process is fascinating to me, and the fact that he manages to ‘work clean’ in an age where 99% of comedians don’t, or can’t because of the ‘shock’ culture we live in. So, to get a book of Jerry’s best jokes, most of which I’ve heard before, was really cool. I can totally appreciate the work and the whole process of creating a funny story or observation. Think about all the jokes that didn’t make it, the daily practice of writing over decades…to end up with this book full of his best and well known jokes…for me, that’s the value – to read through the result of someone’s dedication and commitment to their work over a career that spans decades.

Yes To Life In Spite Of Everything by Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning is a book that I will continue to return to over the years, and so when I saw this book on the shelf at my local bookstore I didn’t hesitate to pick it up. The content of this book pre-dates Man’s Search for Meaning and is a series of three lectures that took place shortly after he was liberated from the Nazi’s. I often wonder how I will respond to lives greatest challenges and if I will be able to take the guidance from Frankl and put it to good use. 

The Fearless Organisation by Amy C. Edmondson

This is one of those books that cropped up in several places at the same time, and psychological safety is something that is critical for me to understand and create in order to be great at what I do for a living. The first time I really understood the importance of psychological safety was from reading Brenè Brown – that was when I was able to put a name to something I was already doing naturally as part of my work. Knowing what it was called then helped me to tune into the research behind it, and other people who are writing about it. Amy’s research has now motivated me to focus even more on how I can deliberately and consciously shape psychological safety in teams and how important it is if we want to create high performance and attract and keep great talent in our organisations. 

In Praise of Wasting Time by Alan Lightman

[Re-read]

I often feel resentful about time and how certain activities take my time away from things I feel are more important for me. As ever, it’s about trying to, as much as possible, feel as though we are saying yes to more of the right things and no to less of the wrong things and focus on the things that align more with who we want to be. I agree with Alan Lightman, in that we do have a problem with being too busy, too distracted, and in 2020 we no longer see the value in ‘wasting time’ – every minute needs to be accounted for, and as our work becomes more profitable, we reduce the amount of time we spend on activities that are purely for fun. Lightman reminds us that we need time for free thinking, that some of the smartest minds of the past 100 years spent a lot of time on their own seemingly ‘doing nothing’. “We often lack the time and space for personal reflection. We lack the metal quiet and privacy to create a necessary inner stability…without downtime, we might not physically die, but we will die psychologically, emotionally, spiritually.” Here’s a thought  – we don’t really know anything anymore because we don’t make the time to understand how we feel about what we know. In other words, we do not value thinking time. That’s everything from staring out of the window, day dreaming, going for a walk, to sitting on a park bench with your thoughts. 

Lowborn by Kerry Hudson

I picked this up mainly because Cara just read it, but also because of the current state of things here in the UK. Recently there’s been a lot of uproar about how we’re looking after our poorest children as a nation, and that upsets me. The kids don’t have a choice and we must look after them. Kerry Hudson brings us along on her investigation and research into her own past as someone who grew up in the poorest towns and cities across the UK. She shifts between her memories as a child and the feelings she has as she walks the same streets over thirty years later. It’s sad knowing that Kerry’s experiences are being lived out by many other children right now, many of which will have even tougher and harder upbringings. It leaves me with a few thoughts – 1) what’s changed about how we help the poorest families and children in the past 30+ years? 2) what can I do right now to help children in poverty? 3) how many families are shifting into poverty due to the impacts of a global pandemic? 4) and what, as a collective nation, do we need to do to break the cycle of poverty through generations?