I enjoyed writing my last reading update from back in June, so I thought I’d give an updated list. In full disclosure, I have only completed three of the five books I mentioned (the two outstanding books are Brooks’s Character and the biography of Cato), so I won’t include those on this list.
Here are five more books I’m reading at present.
Considered the father of the modern essay, Montaigne has popped up in various references during my reading, from stoicism to observational commentary and timeless meditations. I’m a sucker for biographies, and this book was recently released in English as a fairly authoritative account of Montaigne’s life, not as an extraction from his essays, but as a picture of the historical figure.
William Tecumseh Sherman: In Service of My Country: A Life by James Lee McDonough
Did I mention I’m a sucker for biographies? This was a birthday present to myself last year, but I’ve only started digging into it. Sherman is held up as an exemplar of restrained greatness. He’s considered great in equal parts from talent, study, and luck (though often it was luck that helped him out). But the reason why I picked this up was how he is often held up as a contrast to Ulysses S. Grant, another U.S. Northern Civil War General, who mismanaged his life and the U.S. Presidency after the war, whereas Sherman quietly continued his duties in the army until retirement and didn’t seek political office (or so I’ve heard, I haven’t read very far into the book). Like Washington before him who declined to be the first king of the United States, I like reading about figures who manage to avoid the hard fall from grace after they acquire fame, power, or authority. Also like Washington, I think it’s important to understand a full picture of history, warts and all.
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam
I don’t actually own this book. It was laying around my fiancee’s office for about a year, so I decided to start reading it one day and take it home. I don’t expect a lot of insight from this book, but I do like reading anecdotes of how other people manage their time so that I can glean possible tips and tricks to apply to my own life. In the last year or so, I’ve started being more mindful of my time, hence why my reading lists include a disproportionate amount of productivity and personal development books.
80,000 Hours: Finding a Fulfilling Career That Does Good by Benjamin J Todd
I’ve also been more mindful of my career recently. With losing out on a few jobs recently (before and after interviewing), I’ve been considering my options for improving my career prospects through opening up opportunities, strategic skill acquisition, and relationship building. While the content of this book is entirely online for free through the 80,000 Hours website, I purchased the book anyway to have all the information in one place.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
This book is brand new to the list as I only grabbed it from the library this past weekend. I read about George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) in Brooks’s Character book (from the last list) and I was struck by her lauding of the average person in her fiction. I, like many others, have found myself buying-in to the aspiration to greatness narrative – that to have a good life also means to be great, have impact, and cement yourself in history. Middlemarch, and many other books by Eliot/Evans, chooses to laud the quiet efforts of the average person, who does their part and is praiseworthy in their steadfastness. Brooks quoted the closing lines of Middlemarch in Road to Character that celebrated humble lives,
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who life faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.