In 2020, I started to focus more on my reading. I always read what I thought to be a great deal during my life, but in 2020, I buckled down and read over fifty books. As I read more and more, I developed a greater perspective on issues that I had only seen as one-sided before. The diversity of books I read last year was more varied than ever before. I read science fiction, philosophy, biographies, books on real-life tragedies, and even a book on rocket fuels. In my reading, I found a great quote which re-affirmed the importance of the endeavor I was undertaking. Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis in his book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead writes:
“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you. Any commander who claims he is ‘too busy to read’ is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way.”
With this quote in mind, I set a goal for 2021: read at least one hundred books from a wide group of authors and a diverse set of topics. Four months into this journey, I have already read thirty-four books on my list. I made it work even while carrying eighteen credits at the Naval Academy, developing an app for the Navy, and getting prepared for my nuclear power interview. We need to find time to read; not just books we like or the newest bestseller, but the books that have shaped our civilization.
The first thing I did going into 2021 was create a reading list of one hundred books. I used the Goodreads app for my iPhone and then I just searched through Google for reading lists. I wanted to know what successful leaders read. I searched what people like Alexander Hamilton, Steve Jobs, Napoleon, and Benjamin Franklin read, among others. In addition, I browsed the most influential books in history like Wealth of Nations and Das Kapital mixing in some classic stories from the 18th Century, 19th Century, and a handful of modern books. My list includes books like Gilgamesh written over 4000 years ago and rediscovered on some stone tablets in Iraq, to modern books like Explaining Postmodernism by Dr. Stephen Hicks.
Compiling the list was probably the hardest part. Afterwards, I knew what I needed to read. So, I developed a game plan to accomplish my goal. I chose two books off my list for every week and then divided the books page length up. I might read about thirty-five pages a day for a 250-page book, which is not too much. Depending on the book, that could be thirty minutes, an hour, or a lunch break. I always found there was plenty of time in the day to read a little here and a little there.
I found myself spending less time on Instagram or LinkedIn and more time reading and growing. Creating a list and sticking to it has automatically removed the unnecessary distractions such as spending another hour on social media or another binge session on Netflix. I cannot remember the last time I have watched a movie on Netflix. My reading list has forced me to focus on the things that matter to me.
Currently, I am seven books ahead of schedule. When I find myself in an extremely busy week of exams, assignments, and military duties, I just grab a much smaller book. Usually, it will be a book with one hundred pages or less. Some books are harder to read than others; books like Plato’s Republic I spent two weeks reading. I used summaries and explanations to understand the text. Other books like Cyrano de Bergerac I read in a few hours without much research needed. When I know I will have more free time, I grab a much larger book. With this strategy, I have been able to finish massive 800-page books like On War in a week during a lull in my schedule and then switch to a much shorter read like The Bhagavad Gita during busier weeks. We must pick our battles.
You do not have to start by trying to read one hundred books a year. I started my reading journey when I was still in high school and did not take it seriously until last year. I hope you follow my journey. Gain a little inspiration to read more, from a broader range of topics, authors, and to get a better understanding of history, philosophy, and life.
Article created by Joshua Kaplowitz. He can be reached on LinkedIn here.