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“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: Titan by Ron Chernow.
If you like biographies and outstanding research and writing, and if you want to read one of the greatest rags-to-riches stories of all time, then you want to read this book.
It is, hands down, one of the best biographies I’ve ever read.
What struck me first was how masterfully Chernow can write. His prose is tight, articulate, and vivid, and he does a wonderful job telling a compelling story (and teasing out undercurrents and meaning) as opposed to merely recounting facts.
I see why he has a Pulitzer. 🙂
And then we have Rockefeller Sr.’s life, which was fascinating in so many ways. He grabbed himself by the bootstraps and went from absolutely nothing, the son of a deadbeat grifter, to the richest — and most hated — man in the world, and there’s a lot we can learn from his journey.
What struck me first about Rockefeller was his relentless work ethic, indomitable spirit, and unwavering self-assurance. Much like history’s great military conquerors, he was ferociously competitive, hated losing, and not only thought big but did big.
I love reading about these types of people because it makes you reflect on what you’re truly capable of and willing to do and endure to realize those ambitions. I wholeheartedly believe that every one of us can be, do, and have so much more than we presently believe, and that half of the battle is just learning to get out of our own ways.
Rockefeller also believed that God had chosen him for greatness — that he was destined to rule over a vast empire — and that this end justified any means.
As he accumulated more wealth and power, those means turned darker and darker, making his tale cautionary as well, a classic illustration of the corrupting influence of money and power and the consequences of being driven to win at any cost.
I also couldn’t help but think that it’s too bad that miscreants like Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Gould, and Cooke were at the helm of America’s budding free market economy during the turn of the 20th century.
If they hadn’t been so hellbent on abusing it to overflow their coffers, American capitalism would have emerged from the Industrial Revolution as an honorable and indisputable force for social good, without the taint of radical wealth inequality.
Anyway, if you’d like to walk in the shoes of one of history’s most brilliant, powerful, and ruthless businesspeople and see what you can learn, then you want to read this book.
My 5 Key Takeaways from Titan
“Oh how blessed the young men are who have to struggle for a foundation and a beginning in life.”
Read enough about tremendously accomplished people, and you can’t help but notice how many of them had hardscrabble childhoods.
Many lived in wretched poverty, were handed nothing, and learned at a very early age a lesson eloquently summarized in Alice in Wonderland: you have to run as fast as you can to stay in place, and twice as fast if you want to go anywhere.
When he rested his head on the pillow at night, he warned himself, “Because you have got a start, you think you are quite a merchant; look out, or you will lose your head— go steady. Are you going to let this money puff you up? Keep your eyes open. Don’t lose your balance.”
It’s easy to fall in love with yourself and your creations when you get a taste of success. To swell instead of grow, and loosen your grip on the reins.
Ironically, this is exactly the opposite of what you should do to avoid falling from grace. It has been said that those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. Substitute “mad” with proud.
“I have always been contented, but I have never been satisfied.”
Maintaining a sense of urgency throughout a company is one of the most difficult challenges in business.
Bill Gates once said that in business, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all of the time, he said, you’re gone.
His employees tended to revere Rockefeller and vied to please him. As one said, “I have never heard of his equal in getting together a lot of the very best men in one team and inspiring each man to do his best for the enterprise.… He was so big, so broad, so patient; I don’t believe a man like him comes to this world oftener than once in five or six hundred years.” Rockefeller worked by subtle hints, doling out praise sparingly to employees and nudging them along. At first, he tested them exhaustively, yet once he trusted them, he bestowed enormous power upon them and didn’t intrude unless something radically misfired. “Often the best way to develop workers— when you are sure they have character and think they have ability— is to take them to a deep place, throw them in and make them sink or swim,”
A brilliant stroke of leadership that largely influenced how quickly Standard Oil was able to conquer its industry because high-performers — of which it had many — are naturally drawn to and thrive under this style of management.
Trust, autonomy, the ability to demonstrate competence and contribute to something greater than themselves, these are the things that great workplaces are made of.
“I trained myself in the school of self-control and self-denial. It was hard on [me], but I would rather be my own tyrant than have someone else tyrannize me.”
If you don’t live deliberately and spend the majority of your time in the pursuit of clear and calculated goals and objectives, you’ll sacrifice large chunks of your life to the plans and whims of others, or worse, to the chaotic unknown.