In a recent post, I asked the question “What Are You Reading?” and offered tips on how you should read to improve your skills and knowledge. Today, I am going to explain further why I think you should be reading biographies.
Mark Twain wrote “The man who does not read good books is no better than the man who can’t.”
Walt Disney said “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”
And Theodore Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) taught us “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
I share these quotations with you for two reasons. First, I believe and agree with each of them. Second, having read biographies about each of these men, I know they practiced what they preach. I firmly believe that reading biographies has helped me become a stronger leader and person, and that’s why I strongly encourage you to pick up one soon. Here’s why:
They allow you to stand on the shoulders of giants
In the 1670’s Sir Isaac Newton wrote in a letter to his friend Robert Hooke “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is exactly what reading biographies can do for you. The practice allows you to see further because of what the subject of the book has achieved.
Admittedly not every biography is about a “giant” but most are (and you can certainly pick from that list). However, even if the person you’re reading about is despicable and not worthy of praise or admiration, you will likely still learn something, even if it’s just “things you don’t want to do.”
They remind you that history repeats itself
George Santayana wrote in 1905 “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It was true long before then, it was true then and it hasn’t changed today. Reading about the real experiences of others provides context for the decisions and consequences that we all will face. History (recent or distant) will repeat itself because those who are making history were, and are, human beings. One of the best ways to take advantage of the experience of others is by reading biographies of historical figures.
They promote self discovery
A good self help or professional development book will outline specific steps, tools, techniques and approaches you can try, adapt or adopt. They can be valuable and successful shortcuts to help you make improvements and get results in most any area of your life.
A biography, on the other hand, won’t be as direct. You will discover ideas and approaches on your own through the stories and experiences of others. The discovery process is often far more satisfying, and most always more lasting, than reading a list of steps.
They let you to see the world in new ways
Rather than being solely focused on your professional discipline and perspective, reading about someone from a different era, a different background or a totally different set of life experiences will offer you new perspective. In truth, most great innovations come from taking an idea from one situation, discipline or industry and adapting it to another.
They give you mentors at a distance
If you have read about the life of Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Churchill or anyone else you select, you have had a glimpse into their minds and now have the advantage or “knowing” them. Those people can become your mentors at a distance, if you allow yourself the chance to think about what advice they might give you, or what they might do in a the situation or choice you are facing.
Now, think of a person you have always found interesting or intriguing, even if you aren’t quite sure why. Then, find a book about them (or written by them) and read it! You will be glad you did. You also will likely find more reasons to add to your personal list of why reading biographies is enjoyable and profitable for you.
Ready any great biographies that I and the rest of the Bud to Boss Community should read? List them in the comments section!
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