My favorite hobby is reading – I’ve reached more an education from books than I did in college and graduate school. Better yet, I enjoy sharing books with friends and coworkers. Three years ago, a colleague sent me my first audiobook, and I was able to read 100, 150, and 175 books per year (respectively). Without changing my life, I found all the small cracks in my day to listen to books – while brushing my teeth, while doing dishes and making lunches while running, and while taking long walks in 2020.
Until being introduced to audiobooks, my relationship was reading was rooted in shame because I didn’t take the time for it. Additionally, I was often intimidated by “small talk” in military circles because even though I could master current events from the news and Twitter, I didn’t feel like I could keep up once conversations transitioned into military history, specific battle references, or talk of famous leaders. Leonidas sounds familiar; should I watch the movie “300” or find a book on him? Antietam was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, but I should probably equip myself with more than a Wikipedia page has to offer.
Even though I would receive book recommendations and write them down, I wasn’t making the time to read. Even worse, I would buy the books and let them pile up on my nightstand. Until I declared myself an audio reader in friend circles, I’d receive books as gifts that also joined the nightstand stack. I loved to read, but couldn’t make enough time. At one point I moved a heap of over 30 books from Washington, DC to Fort Bragg, NC to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA in three years without having opened a single one.
Once I cracked the code on audiobooks, the knowledge I found helped me to “hang” in more conversations than I had previously. Was Ulysses S. Grant a drunk? Well, Chernow addresses this ad nauseum in his 2017 bestseller. Should women’s mentorship fall squarely on the shoulders of women? Not according to the two retired naval officers who wrote Athena Rising. Does the future of war include drones and robots? P.W. Singer certainly makes this argument in Ghost Fleet. Making the time to read more gave me the confidence to start and lead these conversations and not try to disappear on the sidelines. Now I could drive a meaningful conversation and not just hope it would end quickly for fear someone would ask for my opinion and I’d be woefully unprepared to give it. Now I wasn’t as nervous to be around senior leaders or try to leave events as soon as possible. Reading gave me the tools to meaningfully contribute in the workplace and at more work-related social events (before 2020 of course).
Like those who spend weekends binge-watching Netflix, reading also provides an escapism for me. Fiction, more than nonfiction, gives me an escape, a break from reality, or even puts my plight into focus. I might be doing four loads of laundry back-to-back but I’m listening to a Holocaust survivor talk about her journey. Reading helps me reduce stress – audiobooks make me want to lengthen my commute, not let traffic stress me. In a world where we often multitask – music or podcasts while working out or completing household chores – it’s easier to multi-task listening to a book and accomplishing those tasks.
As you make your new year’s resolutions and seek to read more, below are 21 books to read in 2021 – all available on audio.
Current Events and Global Issues:
- Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World by H.R. McMaster
A synopsis of current global tensions with enough history to understand them
- Disunited Nations: The Scramble for Power in an Ungoverned World by Peter Zeihan
Even better than his book Accidental Superpower in inspecting the world order
- Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall Akin to Guns, Germs, and steel in the way it studies conflict based on location
- Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria
Makes the argument that we “gain strength through chaos and crises”
Information / Misinformation:
- The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread – and Why They Stop by Adam Kucharski
Deep dive into how things (diseases, ideas) spread and how they are contained
- Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It by Richard Stengel
Discusses State Department information operations with respect to ISIS and Russia, and how it works to curtail disinformation
- The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare by Christian Brose
American technology has been uncontested… until now
- The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
Chief of Staff of the Army says it “explains why our potential is unlocked by convergence; understand transformation and the opportunities the Army has in the future”
- Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton Christensen
While the focus is on technology, process, resource allocation, and changing markets, its lessons apply to business and government alike
Leadership and Resiliency:
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
Reveals the importance of heart, determination, commitment, perseverance, hard work, and dedication over natural talent
- No Time for Spectators by Martin Dempsey
A look into leadership characteristics told through vignettes
- Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant
Chapters disclose if one is more of a “giver” or “taker” when it comes to workplace relationships
Diversity & Inclusion:
- Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women by W. Brad Johnson and David Smith
Written by two fighter pilots and recommended by the former SOCOM commander, it’s a guide for men mentoring women but also applicable to mentor/mentee relationships writ large
- Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Pérez
Comprehensive insight into gender issues and bias; extremely well researched and thought-provoking
- Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer Eberhardt
Describes how and why bias happens by examining the categories – gender, race, socioeconomic, etc.
- Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st-Century Memoir by Madeleine Albright
A completely candid and honest memoir, Albright’s final swan song shows her true personality and opinions while providing many never before told stories
- 8 Seconds of Courage: A Soldier’s Story from Immigrant to the Medal of Honor by Flo Groberg
This Medal of Honor recipient tells his tale with true humility and without an agenda
- Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester
Serves as the basis of the new movie “Greyhound” about the Navy during World War II
- Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer
Sets the intrigue for a futuristic war involving sea, land, space, and cyber
- Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
A Vietnam War memoir that is quality parts Phil Caputo (Vietnam vet turned journalist), Hampton Sides (deep dove into Chosin as this book does the Matterhorn), and Catch-22 for its frankness
- Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
Classic account of deterrence and miscalculation… many parallels for modern military history
Allie Weiskopf is an Army public affairs officer stationed at Fort Bragg, NC. When she is not reading, she is running and listening to books. You can connect with her at linkedin.com/in/allieweiskopf/