“Can you recommend a book for…?”
“What are you reading right now?”
“What are your favorite books?”
I get asked those types of questions a lot and, as an avid reader and all-around bibliophile, I’m always happy to oblige.
I also like to encourage people to read as much as possible because knowledge benefits you much like compound interest. The more you learn, the more you know; the more you know, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more opportunities you have to succeed.
On the flip side, I also believe there’s little hope for people who aren’t perpetual learners. Life is overwhelmingly complex and chaotic, and it slowly suffocates and devours the lazy and ignorant.
So, if you’re a bookworm on the lookout for good reads, or if you’d like to get into the habit of reading, this book club for you.
The idea here is simple: Every week, I’ll share a book that I’ve particularly liked, why I liked it, and several of my key takeaways from it.
I’ll also keep things short and sweet so you can quickly decide whether the book is likely to be up your alley or not.
If you’ve already read a book that I recommend or have a recommendation of your own to share, don’t be shy! Drop a comment down below and let me–and the rest of us “book clubbers”–know!
Lastly, if you want to be notified when new recommendations go live, hop on my email list and you’ll get each new installment delivered directly to your inbox.
Alright. Let’s get to this week’s book: Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose.
If you like war memoirs — and WWII memoirs in particular — then you have to read Band of Brothers.
(And then watch the HBO series!)
Hell, even if you don’t like war memoirs (or don’t know if you like them) but do like to read about how ordinary people find the courage and capability to do extraordinary things, then you should read it, because Band of Brothers is so much more than a clinical recounting of battles or analysis of soldiering.
It’s an inspiring story of how a motley crew of freewheeling young bucks became one of the most elite and effective light infantry units to fight in the European theater, and it follows them from beginning to end, from their grueling basic training to jumping into Normandy on D-Day, holding the line in the Battle of the Bulge, and, in the end, drinking Hitler’s champagne in the Bavarian Alps.
One of the things that I really like about reading stories like these is they lend a bit of perspective to the struggles that we face in our own lives.
If I’m ever feeling harried or frayed, it helps to remind myself of what real stressful situations really look like, like jumping out of a burning and bullet-riddled plane deep in enemy territory into a hail of gunfire to wage guerrilla war against one of the deadliest militaries in modern history.
Seriously though, a lot of what we experience as stress is what we make of it. Many of us don’t realize that in more ways than not, we get to decide whether the situations that we face in life are molehills or mountains (more on that in a minute).
Band of Brothers also made me #thankful365 that Hitler had to fight the GI Generation and not our current crop of spineless, self-absorbed, “safe space” Peter Pans and Pams that can’t even stomach the basic realities and responsibilities of adulthood, let alone fighting the Nazi war machine.
Methinks the latter would have rather stayed home, smoked a bowl, and spluttered a few “sieg heils”…
Anyway, Ambrose isn’t much of a stylist but whatever he lacks prosaically he makes up for in storytelling, and the only character that I really felt the chance to “connect” with was Dick Winters, but the narrative was strong enough to make up for it.
My 5 Key Takeaways from Band of Brothers
“We can’t make you do anything, but we can make you wish you had.”
This was an army saying but it’s how life seems to work, too. No person, event, or circumstance can make us do anything, but we do have to live with the consequences of our actions and inactions, and those consequences may make us wish we had chosen otherwise. We never truly escape the penalties of our transgressions against ourselves and others — they simply accrue until one day, they’re visited upon us.
As Covey said in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.”
“Almighty God, we kneel to Thee and ask to be the instrument of Thy fury in smiting the evil forces that have visited death, misery, and debasement on the people of the earth . . . Be with us, God, when we leap from our planes into the dark abyss and descend in parachutes into the midst of enemy fire. Give us iron will and stark courage as we spring from the harnesses of our parachutes to seize arms for battle. The legions of evil are many, Father; grace our arms to meet and defeat them in Thy name and in the name of the freedom and dignity of man . . . . Let our enemies who have lived by the sword turn from their violence lest they perish by the sword. Help us to serve Thee gallantly and to be humble in victory.”
What can I say. This is just badass.
In combat your reward for a good job done is that you get the next tough mission.
In sports, nobody cares what numbers you put up last season or the one before that. You’re only as good as your last at-bat.
I believe in approaching my work with the same attitude. Having done isn’t enough. We all must continue to do, continue to put points up on the board. This is how to avoid one of the most insidious pitfalls in business: complacency.
It’s easy to lose one’s appetite for more when things are going well. Self-satisfaction is like emotional junk food. It tastes great, but too much makes us soft, flabby, and lethargic. We must guard against it by putting in the work every day.
“They’ve got us surrounded— the poor bastards.”
What a perfect encapsulation of the right mindset for facing all difficulties in life, both large and small. Framing is everything.
No matter what gets in your way, nobody can force you to become a victim — only you can do that — and so long as you’re unwilling to give in, there’s always hope. (Read this and this for the most extreme examples of this that you can imagine.)
This extends to how we view stress in general. Research shows that those of us who view it as a productive challenge rather than a destructive threat experience fewer negative emotions like fear and anxiety and can, quite counterintuitively, even learn to thrive under stressful conditions.
He was an officer who got the men to perform because he expected nothing but the best, and “you liked him so much you just hated to let him down.”
You can lead by fear or by example, and the latter is far more powerful of a motivator than the former. Charisma and caring is how you create true comradeship, and that’s what you need to create a group that can pull together when times get hard and pull through.
Furthermore, anyone in a position of leadership has to constantly reflect on a tough question: “Why would anyone want to be led by me?” And they’d better have really good reasons if they want to remain in charge.