- Rob Houghton
The Very Best of Books and Booze
As many of you know, I am an “avid reader, lousy surfer,” so I am going to put out my annual list of books read during the past year, both fiction and non-fiction, that I enjoyed the most…and that have relevance to the world of insurance and business. As enjoyable and as important as these books are, these writers are some of the best you’ll ever read. Here is my Dirty Dozen:
1. The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: This s a 1926 novel about a group of American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to Pamplona, Spain to watch the running of the bulls. Some say this is his greatest work. The characters are based on real people of Hemingway's circle, and the action is based on real Post WWI events in Paris. Hemingway investigates the themes of love, death, renewal in nature, and the nature of masculinity. It is one of the most thought-provoking and well-written books I have read in a long time.
2. Lives by Plutarch: this book is a series of short biographical essays of great men in the Greek and Roman times, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, probably written at the beginning of the second century AD. Plutarch does a great job at exploring the influence of character, good or bad, on the lives and destinies of famous men. This has many applications to the modern business and political world. The section on Alexander the Great is well worth the read itself. You will be informed and inspired.
3. Letters from a Stoic by Seneca: I tore this book to pieces…tabbed pages, underlined sentences, comments in the margins. This is one my favorites of the year as I find myself going back to it every morning for daily wisdom and inspiration. Seneca was one of the great Stoic philosophers of his time and “muse” for many of the great early Roman emperors from Nero to Aurelius. He expertly passes along this wisdom to the reader in a very entertaining manner.
4. Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose: What can I say about this. Trust me, read this book. It will inform, inspire, and entertain you. And you thought the TV mini-series was great, this is ten times better. Tons of moral dilemmas and inner conflict.
5. Agincourt by Bernard Cornell: Most military men will recognize this for its military applications as this famous early 14th century battle between the English Longbowman and French Knights is still being studied at war colleges around the world. And for those literature buffs out there…this is the where the real Shakespearean Henry V takes center stage. Cornwell weaves fictional characters into the story to add some romance and drama to already amazing actual events.
6. Secretariat: Making of a Champion by William Nace: Having some first-hand knowledge of the thoroughbred racing business, I am partial to this book, but this story is one that will inspire you to the clouds. This is an elegant and exhilarating story of speed and power as well as the eclectic trainers and owners behind the scenes. This horse is simply the greatest horse that ever lived. There are many parallels to being successful in our daily lives. If you’re not inspired by this story, well, you probably don’t have a heart.
7. Team of Teams by General Stanley McCrystal: Don’t think of this as a military book…far from it. This is some of the best “how to be a productive citizen” advice I have read since Steven Covey in the 1980s. This is the story about an amazing man and an amazing journey. If you run a company or just want to get to the next level, read this book. Trust me. Like the Seneca book discussed above, the pages are painted with margin notes and underlined sentences. I loved this book.
8. 11/22/63 by Stephen King: This book is 849 pages. I could not put it down. This is easily the best book Stephen King has ever written. And, no, Stephen King is not just a commercial writer of paperback best sellers. Stephen King is actually one of the best contemporary writers of our generation. If you like time-travel, history, and JFK conspiracy theories, you’ll love this.
9. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury: I read this as a kid, but I recently read this while on a long road trip and I could not get it out of my mind. These science fictional short stories about strange people in strange lands and strange times will haunt you. I could not get these stories out of my head for weeks and some are still rattling around. If you like inner conflicts and moral dilemmas in your fiction, you’ll love this classic.
10. Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield: At Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood 300 strong against more than a million Persian soldiers. It was a suicide mission, but something happened on that battlefield that is still being studied today in boardrooms and military headquarters. This is a great (true) story told by one of the great storytellers of our time, Stephen Pressfield.
11. Lonesome Dove by Larry McNurtry: Similar to Band of Brothers mentioned above, this book towers above the TV mini-series - and Lonesome Dove is considered to be one of the great mini-series of all time. If you have a best friend, you will appreciate the interaction between Gus & Captain Woodrow Call. I enjoyed this book so much I have just started reading the prequel, Dead Man’s Walk.
12. Yebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne: I read this book this past summer in preparation for an extensive tour of Civil War battlefields in Virginia. It was recommended as the very best book ever written about Civil War General Stonewall Jackson. I was not disappointed. The details are so intimate, you feel like you’re right there, in the battle. I swear I can still smell the smoke of cannon in my library! Stonewall Jackson was a true, ‘Man’s Man.’ And when he was in command, he commanded. This is a great book for any aspiring young leader in business or politics. And a very entertaining and inspiring one too.
So what about the Booze…? Let me finish opening my Holiday gifts first (which will, no doubt, include some fine whiskies) and I will report back to you on this topic in January. I will give you my Dirty Dozen of my favorite whiskies of 2016.