Last week I got an email from a young man who asked me for a reading list of books about humility. Since it would have been absurdly hypocritical to answer with my own volume, Ego is the Enemy ( even if it came to point him to the bibliography I was much indebted to at the back ), I decided to put together this list.
In my reading, I’ve found that volumes on this topic fall into a few distinct categories. First are volumes of advice. These are volumes that devote us strategies and insights about how to bide balanced, clear-headed and humble. The next are what might be called cautionary tales–biographies that map the fall of egomaniac or narratives from history about the costs of letting things go to your head. Conversely, there is also inspiration of remarkably successful people who defied the tug of ego and stayed sane and sober despite it all.
This battle against ego is essential and one we find across cultures, schools and generations. In fact, it would be hard to find any wise or successful person who didn’t warn against ego. From Genghis Khan’s saying, “If you can’t swallow your dignity, you can’t lead” to Cyril Connolly’s “Ego sucks us down like the laws of gravity” to Marina Abramovic’s line,” Your ego can become an obstacle to your work. If you start believing in your greatness, it is the death of your imagination .”
So fight it. A lot depends on whether you win the battle. Hopefully these books will help.
How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life by Russ Roberts — Russ Roberts did the world an amazing service by reintroducing Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments and constructing it available to modern readers. One of the most part is “The Indifferent Spectator, ” a wonderful exert to evaluate potential behavior. It forces you to ask: What would a entirely indifferent human being should be considered what I am about to do? Would I be embarrassed? Would I try to rationalize this to them? Would they respect it? The exert will bring you a very much dosage of objectivity into your own behavior–it will be the strongest antidote you can bring in your fight with ego and dignity.
The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Makes the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker — This book from the founding editor of The Wall street Journal ’s sports part aims at answering one question: What did the most dominant athletics squads of all time have in common? The to answer questions emerges is that each had the same type of captain–a leader who led the team to historic greatness. But here’s the crazy thing about those leaders: It’s rarely the person or persons you think. For instance, the Chicago Bulls were led to success not by Jordan but by Bill Cartwright. Or the US Women’s Soccer team, which won the World Cup, was actually is presided over by Carla Overbeck( and her secret? She would unload the bus for her teammates at each stop ). There is a wonderful chapter in this book about how captains “carry water” for the team–how they are strong yet humble enough to do the things other people aren’t willing to do.
The Road To Character by David Brooks — When General Stanley McChrystal was asked on the Tim Ferriss podcast what was a recent purchase that had most positively impacted his life, he pointed to this book. I agree. It can be a bit stilted and dense at times, but it should be assigned reading to any young person today( a little challenge is a good thing ). Representing with diverse instances and stories from great men and women, from Dorothy Day to Dwight Eisenhower, Brooks reproves the reader to undertake their own expedition of character perfection. In my own book, I investigate the same topic( meeknes) from a different slant applying similar stories–I’m attacking ego, he’s to be built character. Brooks’s meditation on discrepancies between the eulogy moralities, the ones the hell is talked about at your funeral, versus the resume moralities, the skills you bring on the market, is also great.
A Fighter’s Mind by Sam Sheridan — Sam Sheridan’s work first became me onto the paradoxical meeknes of the men who practice such an aggressive and dangerous trade. Through interviews with some of the most remarkable fighters today, like champions Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, Dan Gable, Greg Jackson and others, the book illustrates how absence of ego and meeknes are the bedrocks of success in one of the most unforgiving sports. As Frank Shamrock would say in the book: “Ego is an evil thing. Confidence is important but ego is something false. Humility is the way to build confidence, and ego is hugely dangerous in this sport…It’s all garbage, the ego is garbage.”
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport — Unlike other modern advice, Cal takes a different tacking when it is necessary to your job: It’s not about marketing and promoting yourself, it’s about pouring that energy into the study. It’s not about how much you love what you’re doing, it’s about the value you create for other people. Cal’s book also does a great job at please explain why “follow your passion” is bad advice when it comes to what to do as your career.
Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership by John Dickson — This is a short book by historian John Dickson who shows how humility was the most critical virtue for the great men and women in history. The volume is an example of how humility is not low self-esteem and self-loathing but it recognizes our inherent worth and seeks to use whatever power we have at our disposal on behalf of the members of others.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F* ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson — This book has secured a foothold in every imaginable bestseller list for a good reason. Even if you merely read the “You Are Not Special” chapter, it will be well worth your fund and time. Mark writes against the grandiosity, entitlement and superiority that has come to define our times–that what we need is objectivity and humility to accept reality on reality’s words. As he writes, “The knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane universe will actually free you to accomplish what you genuinely wish to accomplish, without judgment or lofty expectations.”
Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — b> In interviewing essentially an entire generation of brilliant creative psyches from every discipline, Mihaly was able to present the most accurate and relatable picture of what it means to be an artist or a creative. As you’ll determine, it’s not ego that these people have in common but humility and a love of craft. It’s not tortured angst either, but a desire to express themselves and are now working that matters( and in many cases, to also have happy lives and families ). In a behavior, it makes it clear that the Kanye West’s or the Kurt Cobain’s of the world are the exceptions that prove the rule–not frameworks for aspiring creatives to base their careers on.
The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam/ The Winner Within by Pat Riley/ The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh — These three “coach” volumes are classics for a reason. A tutor after all is fighting multiple duels daily: How do you keep one player from becoming complacent? How do you build another one up without fanning the flames of ego? How do you keep them all humble and hardworking? Each book offers timeless lessons in one of the most challenging professions. Pat Riley’s concept of “the disease of me” is a great articulation of what happens to individuals and to teams as they begin to achieve success. Halberstam’s line that Bill Belichick is” not only in the steak business, but he has contempt for sizzle” is brilliant. It’s why the man has been able to build one of the greatest dealerships in the history of athletics. Bill Walsh’s “Standards of Excellence” are perfectly worth reading about, but most of all I was deeply inspired by the way that Walsh, decades after his Super Bowls, resisted the advocate to take credit for everything there is or to assertion that it was all part of some sweeping vision or scheme.
The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis–and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse — This is a thoughtful , non-partisan, and constructive volume written by the Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. It shows you what it means to be an adult, individual citizens, and a matured lending member of civilization. Senator Sasse’s book is a manifesto on the virtues of hard work, meeknes, compassion, and duty as well as the perils of modern entitlement and forever-childhood that have messed with the millennial generation. For anyone on the fence about the book I would suggest you at least listen to or read his conversation with Tyler Cowen. It’s just as valuable as the book.
But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About The Present As If It Were The Past by Chuck Klosterman — It’s always good to remind ourselves that almost everything we’re certain about will probably be eventually proven wrong. Klosterman’s subtitle–Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past–is a brilliant exercise for get some perspective and meeknes. Whether you think, say 2018 is going to be a year of radical change for the better or a horrible time of excesses of dangerous precedent, you’re probably incorrect. You’re probably not even in the ballpark. This volume shows you why , not with lecturings about politics, but with a bunch of awesome gues experiments about music, volumes, movies and science.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius — I would call this the greatest book further written. It is the definitive text on self-discipline, personal ethics, meeknes, self-actualization, and strength. Meditations is perhaps the only document of its kind ever induced. It is the private supposes of the world’s most powerful humankind giving advice to himself on how to make good on the obligations and the responsibilities of his positions. To remain humble and avoid the trappings of his position. Taught in Stoic philosophy, Emperor Marcus Aurelius stopped almost every night to practise a series of spiritual exercises–reminders designed to induce him humble, patient, empathetic, generous, and strong in the face of whatever he was dealing with.
Marshall: Hero for Our Times by Leonard Mosley and General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman by Ed Cray — For every Douglas MacArthur or George McClellan( learn his bio below ), brilliant but laughably convinced of their own greatness and power, there is someone like George Marshall, a general who attained far more( far more quietly) and coveted far less credit along the way. For instance, during World War II he was practically offered the command of the troops on D-Day. Yet he told President Roosevelt: “The decision is yours, Mr. President; my hopes have nothing to do with the matter.” It came to be that Eisenhower led the invasion and be carried out with excellence. Marshall put the mission and purpose above himself–an act of selflessness and deficiency of ego it is also necessary remind ourselves of. To learn more about George Marshall, read Dean Acheson’s homage to the great man as well as the lecture” A Case Study in Principled Leadership: General George C. Marshall’s Core Beliefs .” Matthew
Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball by Sadaharu Oh — Sadaharu Oh is the legendary Japanese hitter who holds the world lifetime home run record, having reached 868 home run during the course of its professional career and was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. This rare book is out of print but is an incredible autobiography and meditation on the humility necessary in reaching the elevations in one’s craftsmanship. It’s a memoir more than it is a book about baseball so even if you don’t like sports, you are able to get a lot out of it.
How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Topic and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell — The volume is spectacular. It was a bestseller in the UK and was featured in a 6 component series in The Guardian . The format of the book is a bit unusual, instead of sections it is made up of 20 Montaigne style essays that discuss the man from a variety of different perspectives. Montaigne was a man preoccupied with figuring himself out–why he guessed the route he did, how he could find happiness, his fetishes, his near-death experiences. His epistemological humility is admirable, and it is why philosopher Nassim Taleb has said that Montaigne is “worthy of respect because he’s intensely introspective, with the heroism of withstanding his own knowledge.”
Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American by B.H Liddell Hart — There is a stunningly profound quote from the author in this biography that defines Sherman’s genius, a Civil War hero who, as a quiet, unglamorous realist, has been forgotten, or worse, vilified. “Among men who has given rise to reputation and leadership two types are recognizable — those who are born with a faith in themselves and those in whom it is a slow growing dependent on actual achievement. To the men of the last type their own success is a constant astound, and its fruit the more delicious…It is poise , not pose.”
Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr . i > b > by Ron Chernow — Despite his reputation as a robber noble, Rockefeller is stoic, incredibly resilient, humble and compassionate. Most people get worse as they get successful, many more get worse as they age. In fact, Rockefeller began tithing his fund with his first undertaking and made more of it away as he became successful. He developed more open-minded the older he became, more generous, more pious, more dedicated to making a difference. In fact, Rockefeller would reprove himself daily with thinks like this one: “Because you have got a start, you think you are quite a seller; look out, or you will lose your head — go steady. Are you going to let this money puffed you up? Keep your eyes open. Don’t lose your balance.”
Personal History by Katharine Graham — After the tragic suicide of her husband, who operated The Washington Post and which they both owned, Katharine Graham, at age 46 and a mother of three, with no work experience to speak of, procured herself supervising the Post through its most tumultuous and difficult years( think Watergate and the Pentagon papers ). Eventually, she became one of the best CEOs of the 20 th century, period. It wasn’t ego that drove her success. Because it wasn’t about her . It was about preserving her family’s legacy. Protecting the paper. Doing her task. She drew through and endured with a strong sense of purpose, fortitude, and meeknes that we can all learn from.
The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader by Fred I. Greenstein — When the author began his research on leadership and how presidents actually get things done, he had a quick stop at the Eisenhower Library to confirm Ike was as hands-off as is practicable, playing golf and letting his lieutenants operate the country. In fact, this was all a brilliant act because Eisenhower was a master of behind the scenes power. Eisenhower didn’t need seem the need to go around pretending to be presidential, committing big speeches or opposing with adversaries in the other party. He preferred to work behind the scenes, avoiding open conflict and softly getting things done. This volume is a masterclass on in his technique: it’s not through talking, it’s not through looking tough, it’s through organization, delegation and through behind the scenes influence.
What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg — Sammy is the all-American heel. He’s your Ari Gold without the slightest bit of human modesty. He rises through the ranks of Hollywood without ever writing a word. He is shadows and misconceptions, and the ultimate power-player. Sadly, as Schulberg mentions in his introduction, the message has been debased. Our civilization tends to see Sammy as a hero instead of a villain–or at the least someone to pity. What Makes Sammy Run? is a novel that reminds us that even with braggarts “win,” they lose.
Ask the Dust , Dreams from Bunker Hill , Wait Until Spring, Bandini and The Road to Los Angeles by John Fante — In John Fante’s Ask the Dust ( part of a series known as The Bandini Quartet, included in this section ), the protagonist is the young Arturo Bandini who alienates every person he gratifies as he tries to become a famous novelist. The young novelist doesn’t experience “peoples lives” he is living, he insures everything there is “across a page in a typewriter, ” wondering if nearly every second of his life is a poem, a play, a narrative, a news article with him as its main character. It seems good — so much better than those seems of uncertainty and dread and normalness — and so we similarly stay stuck inside our brains instead of participating in the world around us. That’s ego, baby. Get out of your own head.
Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness by Donald L. Barlett — Howard Hughes is the archetypal instance of someone who was made worse by success–in fact, I’d argue he was probably one of the most serious tycoons of the entire 20 th century. Stripped of the marketing and the Hollywood glamour, Hughes’ tale is unbelievably sad( and worse, mostly self-inflicted ). As he said to one of his aides, as he neared demise,” If you had ever swapped places in life with me, I would be willing to bet that you would have asked them to barter back before the passage of the first week .” Which is why we ought to learn from his instance before we are now in a similar position.
The Young Napoleon: George McClellan by Stephen W. Sears — In Union General George McClellan, you have a delusional braggart who opposed poorly for a good induce. It’s interesting because McClellan was such a smart and talented human yet he nearly lost the war on several occasions( and also lost chances to win the conflict ). The name of the book comes from the name his friends gave him due to his outsized ego, and the book truly stands as its significant, cautionary tale. Pertained, I likewise recommend Tides of War by Steven Pressfield( Alcibiades’ monster ego–fictionalized here–is a similar cautionary tale ).
The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro — The 1,165 pages chronicle the rise of Robert Moses who built just about every other major modern construction project in New York City. The public couldn’t stop him, the mayor couldn’t stop him, the governor couldn’t to be stopped, and only once could the President of the United States stop him. But ultimately, you know where the cliche must take us. Robert Moses was an asshole. He may have had more brain, more drive, more strategy than other humankinds, but he did not have more tendernes. And ultimately power turned him into something monster. If you like this, read Caro’s four-part series on Lyndon Johnson which is a similar meditation on ego and power.
What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan — There are plenty of books on aspiring to something. Very little are from actual people who aspired, reached, and lost it. With each and every successful move that he made, Jim Paul, who induced it to Governor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, was convinced that he was special, different, and excluded from the rules. Once the markets became against his trades, he lost it all — his fortune, undertaking, and reputation. That’s what builds this volume a critical part in understanding how letting arrogance and pride get to your brain is the beginning of your unraveling. Discover from narratives like this instead of by your own trial and error. Envision about that next time you believe you have it all figured out.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand — Why Atlas Shrugged ? Because the entire premise of the book, “You guys don’t appreciate me so I’m taking my ball and going home, ” is an exercise in ego and petulence. There is something profoundly appealing to an egotistical teen about leaving the world behind to selfishly pursue your craftsmanship. The topic is: Would you want everybody else to do that? Of course not. At the end of the day Plato’s allegory of the cave is a far better way to live your life than Galt’s Gulch ever will be.
The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonnette — Right before he destroyed his own billion-dollar company, Ty Warner, creator of Beanie Babies, overruled the objections of one of his employees and bragged, “I could put the Ty heart on fertilizer and they’d buy it! ” This volume is a study of ego and entitlement but also fascinating from a variety of perspectives: psychology, economics, popular culture, leadership, ingenuity. It intersects all of them as the story of a financial bubble, a cultural fad, a poorly running company and an eccentric creative. It is only one of the best narrative business books out there.
Grand Delusions: The Cosmic Career of John DeLorean by Hillel Levin — Just like Ty Warner, John DeLorean, the brilliant technologist and auto decorator followed a similar trajectory. He was brilliant creatively, but no sum of magnificence could compensate for the destructiveness of his ego. It was ego and his inability to work well with others that drove him out of General Engine. His ego mired his new company in chaos and dysfunction. Ultimately, instead of being able to reflect on these failures and resolve them, he hatched a plan to save his company from insolvency with a $60 million dollar cocaine deal instead of, you are familiar with, anything but that.
Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Discover from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Times by Paul B. Carroll — Most business books are about what went right. This one isn’t. It’s about painful failures. The ones that get recurred over and over and over. This volume will humble future CEOs and keep them conservative–which is an important balance for any ambitious person.
Here are some other quicker reads I recommend:
Read Dr. Reverend Sam Wells’ speech” Outrageous Humility .” George Packer’s epic New Yorker piece on Angela Merkel,” The Quiet German ,” is fascinating. There is also a fantastic and equally epic profile on her in Vanity Fair by Maureen Orth. This piece about the autumn of Uber’s Travis Kalanick basically follows the exact plot of Ego is the Enemy and is an important cautionary tale. A great essay from the investor Paul Graham is” Keep Your Identity Small .” Cheryl Strayed’s essay,” Write Like a Motherfucker ,” is a classic. I wrote last year about how the David vs. Goliath story illustrates the difference between ego, confidence and humility. Arnold’s essay on Marcus Aurelius is a must read. You might also like this piece from me:” The Fascinating and Ego-Killing Existence of Human Wormholes .”
And of course it would be egotistical to actually belief my own headline. There’s no way this list is actually definitive, but it is a start. If you have any other recommendations or additions, let me know!
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