Reading has been the primary source of education for hundreds of years. Lifetimes worth of experience, learning and problem solving by the worlds greatest minds would have been lost without these people documenting their thoughts in books.

Before books there was word of mouth, which generally took the form of stories told from generation to generation. These stories were a great way to make lessons memorable, but over the years they change, condense or expand as each storyteller adds their own opinions, interpretations and dramatic flair. A book on the other hand has a greater chance of staying true to its original form (subject to translations).


Fiction Vs. Non-Fiction:

Fans of reading come in two basic forms: those who read for entertainment or escapism and those who read to learn. Although the stated merit of fiction is an extended vocabulary and ability to invigorate your imagination, my focus here is on the benefits of reading non-fiction.  Non-fiction can give you the opportunity to learn directly from history’s most extraordinary people and follow the thoughts of ground breaking modern minds.

“The difference between where you are today and where you’ll be five years from now will be found in the quality of books you’ve read.” Jim Rohn

The knowledge from a book makes it possible for almost any man or woman to have leadership advice whispered in their ear by Theodore Roosevelt, or mankind’s full knowledge of our universe delivered directly from the mind of Stephen Hawking.


The Reading Lists of Great People:

In almost all cases, the great high achievers that we look up to are also great followers: followers of those that went before them. They have learnt from others that laid the foundation for their great work, and they attribute areas of their success and development to books. For example, the books that influenced:

Tony Robbins – Performance coach to both celebrities and millions of regular people (Source)

  • As a Man Thinketh – James Allen
  • Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E.Frankl
  • The Fourth Turning – William Strauss

Bill Gates – Founder of Microsoft and one of the richest men in the world

  • Business Adventures – John Brooks (Source)

Warren Buffett – Billionaire investor and regularly in the top 3 richest in the world

  • The Intelligent Investor – Benjamin Graham (Source)
  • The Outsiders” – William Thorndike, Jr.
  • The Clash of the Cultures – John Bogle
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie (Source)

Ryan Holiday – Author and PR guru (Source)

  • Meditations: A New Translation – Marcus Aurelius
  • Antifragile – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Benjamin Franklin – Walter Isaacson

What I take from a book is not necessarily the same thing everyone else takes. The information that I most needed when I read it may not be your need. Books are subject to our interpretation and what we find often reflects our current situation.

The great thing about books is that they cause us to think, to explore what has been laid out in front of us: to question it and to interpret it. One small paragraph or even sentence can be all it takes to change the way we think.


Follow a Path:

Read a variety of topics and authors, but at any one time try to follow trains of thought or subjects.. This will help you to truly absorb the content and to get a deep understanding of a subject from different angles. To memorise quotes from a book is not enough: form an opinion of your own.

I am currently reading philosophy and more specifically the great works in Stoicism. Here is how I found my current learning path –

After reading ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ by Ryan Holiday, I started to find a similarity in style and message to that of Robert Greene (Ryan’s mentor) and also a number of references to philosophy. By doing some research into Ryan, I found a reading list that outlined a number of books that have had a great influence on him. These books also appeared on other reading lists of authors or people I learn from, so it was clear that I had to read these books for myself:

  • The Enchiridion – Epictetus
  • Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
  • Letters From a Stoic – Seneca


Drain it for all its worth:

A book is not an ornament. It is not in your life to look good on your bookshelf. A book should be a bursting fresh fruit of information that is sucked dry of all its nutrients.

The best books on my shelf often stand out due to the amount of wear and tear on them. They have been opened again and again and are covered in highlighted sentences, notes curving around the margins and ‘dog eared’ pages denoting key sections.

Write all over your books; never read without a pen nearby. You are not just reading the words – you are absorbing the good, skimming the fluff and applying what you learn to your own situation.

A good book will keep you coming back to refresh your memory. When this happens, you will be thankful for your notes and highlighting as you can quickly and efficiently draw out the best parts again without having to read the book in full (unless you want to!).


The Best Book Money Can Buy:

The best book you can buy is one that does not have any words yet. It is the book that you fill with the ideas, principles and lessons that you have come across in the above literature: a notebook.

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson

Reading a book is one thing – but reading a book and extracting from it concentrated, carefully curated and relevant information, is a whole other level.

What you put into your notebook is entirely up to you.

Here are some ideas of how to create your golden resource:

  • Write notes on all books you read, this can be while reading, at the end of each chapter or after each reading session.
  • Keep it next to your bed at night and in an easy to find location during the day so that you can note ideas down whenever they come to you
  • Sketches and doodles are a great way to help you remember and to illustrate ideas

I also take notes on my phone or iPad during talks or events (Evernote is a good tool for this). But for crafting your personal manual and capturing ideas you still can’t yet beat the potential of a blank page and a pen.


Start a Reading List:

So the main action point now is to start building your reading list. Look at the books that your mentors rave about: who influenced them? What books affected them the most?

Don’t worry about buying them all straight away. Just make your list:

  • Highlight books you have read in green
  • Bold the books you own but have not yet read
  • Highlight the most important to read next in yellow
  • The rest are you’re list to buy or hunt down at a later date

Finally get yourself a notebook (and ‘Evernote’ for your phone or tablet) and start keeping track of ideas, lists and key learning points from your self imposed curriculum.

To further crystalize your learning you need to start sharing your newfound knowledge: and the best way to learn is to teach.  Either formally or informally, explain what you know to friends or colleagues or even write a blog on your chosen field.

“Assume authority yourself and utter something that may be handed down to posterity. Produce something from your own resources” – Seneca


If you would like a list to get you started, you can see some suggestions HERE


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