Military Book Reviews

Tribe of Mentors

Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World, by Timothy Ferris (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2017, 598 pages)

Timothy Ferris is a renowned author, entrepreneur, investor, and podcaster. He has authored bestselling books such as The 4-Hour WorkweekThe 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef. The focus of these books is on self-improvement, streamlining daily routines and methods on how to make the most of your time and resources. As part of Ferris’s creative and entrepreneurial journey (The Tools of Titans) he has tapped into the inner workings of society’s most successful and greatest minds, including inventors, playwrights, musicians, actors. In Tribe of Mentors, instead of focusing on actions or tactics, Ferris uncovers the guiding wisdom and bits of advice that drive his subjects. In his interactions with his mentors, he seeks to find what makes them tick and what drives them to succeed, and more importantly, how they react to and overcome failure. 

The joy of this book is that it doesn’t have to be read from cover to cover. Each chapter addresses an interviewee’s response to Ferris’s eleven questions, many crafted from his in person interviews he conducted. The chapters can be read and stand on their own. More than 130 people were interviewed for this book. The questions Ferris posed, and my some of my favorite responses follow. 

Note: Titles and accomplishments are from Ferris’s summary provided for each contributor, current as of the book’s publishing date in 2017. 

  • What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 
  • What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? 
  • How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
  • If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions—what would it say and why?

    Arianna Huffington (Author and CEO of a news/blog site): “I’d have to say, ‘Burnout is not the price you have to pay for success.’ And I hope billions truly would see it, since so much of the world is still living under the collective delusion that they have to choose between their own well-being and success. Science tells us the complete opposite—when we prioritize our well-being, our performance goes up across the board. Three-quarters of all startups fail, and entrepreneurship is about making decisions. Nothing impairs the quality of your decisions faster than running on empty.” 
  • What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
  • What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
  • In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

    Bear Grylls (British Special Forces, TV host, author): “Learning to enjoy the process, rather than always striving for the future. Sometimes in these jungles or deserts, I am desperately trying to get through it, do my best, work hard, work fast, and get back to my family. But I realized I was spending so much time dreading what was ahead, or striving to be out of where I was. Learning to embrace the moment changed a lot for me. The good, the painful—it is all a privilege. I figure that so many people never get to live beyond 30, so we are already blessed.” 
  • What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

    Andrew Ross Sorkin (Financial columnist and author): “Persistence matters more than talent. The student with straight As is irrelevant if the student sitting next to him with Bs has more passion.” 

    Jason Fried (CEO of a software firm): “Focus on your writing skills. It’s the one thing I’ve found that really helps people stand out. More and more communication is written today. Get great at presenting yourself with words, and words alone, and you’ll be far ahead of most.”
  • What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

    Mike Maples Jr (Partner at a venture capital firm): “‘This worked for me in my career, so do it may way.’ The best advice I have seen comes from people who don’t try to tell me the answer . . . instead they give me a new approach to thinking about the question so that I can solve it better on my own. Most ‘bad’ recommendations I could reduce to ‘I have been successful, so do it my way.’ The best advice is more like, ‘I can’t answer your question, but this might be a good way for you to think about it.’ Everyone has their own journey. People who offer great advice understand that their goal is to help someone on their unique journey. People who offer bad advice are trying to relive their old glories.”
  • In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to? What new realizations and/or approaches helped?
  • When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

Military members are surrounded by other people in the military. Although we may be a pilot, an intelligence officer, or a machine gunner, our career paths involve similar training and experiences. Tribe of Mentors helps the military reader break out of the standard military way of thinking and discover different ways of countering stress and failure. By gleaning advice from individuals who are at the top of their fields, we can use their experience and knowledge to become better leaders in the military and to become better mentors to those around us. 

This book review was contributed by Lt. Sam Shorts, SC USN who can be found on LinkedIn at

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