A Midsummer Reading List

  Biblioteca delfini interno dallalto

[image library Delfini, Modena*]

    We can find more reading lists than time to read. And many of those lists include the same books. Unlike my experience growing up  among the 5,000 books in my house were so many books I hardly ever hear talked about, timeless classics across domains from theater to politics, science and art.

    My father's library was my antilibrary. Often, when we talk about reading a classic book in some cases we are doing it for the first time, but we say we're re-reading. Italo Calvino wrote some thoughts as to why read the classics rather than what other people have written about them.

“Schools and universities ought to help us to understand that no book that talks about a book says more than the book in question, but instead they do their level best to make us think the opposite.”

    That has been my experience as well. Eventually I made my way to most of them thanks to classical studies; though sometimes trading evenings translating Homer, Aristotle, Virgil, Ovid, Tacitus over going out with friends was difficult. I was lucky. Students from all over the world came to Italy and learned Italian to read Dante Alighieri in the original, a tall task. I did the same for the likes of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Rilke, Hesse, and Voltaire.

    There's a time for every purpose, and summer reads tend to be lighter, especially for the beach.

    It's now become fashionable again to have home libraries, and that is good. Children who grow up in environments filled with opportunities to learn tend to fare better in life. Subjecting what we read to inquiry remains an important aspect of reading. Contrary to belief or assumption, reading critically does the opposite of detracting from the enjoyment it enhances it.

My midsummer reading list is short, but it punches above its weight:


A conversation about purpose, virtues, and deciding what to pack for our journey. The book's structure is a series of letters from a Navy SEAL with a Ph.D. from Oxford University and and his former SEAL comrade he had not seen in a decade.

The conversational aspect and the depth of references from philosophy, psychology, and history the author uses make it an easy read. I love the definition of resilience borrowed from physics: elasticity, the ability to find healthy ways to integrate struggle in life.

As a quality, resilience is often endurance with direction.

See also what makes teams resilient.

The Evolution of Imagination

The book examines the engine of imagination using a cross-disciplinary approach of neuroscience, animal behavior, evolution, philosophy, and psychology. Key questions it tackles are: How is it that a story can evoke a whole world inside of us? How are we able to rehearse a skill, a speech, or even an entire scenario simply by thinking about it? How does creativity go beyond experience and help us make something completely new? And how does our moral imagination help us sculpt a better society?

Asma writes:

Books about creativity have tended to fall into one of three genres. On the one hand, there have been the breathless and overreaching feel-good paeans to famous entrepreneurs and successful CEO creatives. This kind of book is crammed with amusing but shallow factoids and over-interpreted fMRI studies, all wrapped in a vaguely inspirational glaze.

Next, we have the how-to books that give artists a series of exercises to unblock their creative flow. These books are either therapeutic or instructive, or both, and seek to nurture the joy of our inner prodigy. The third genre is the impenetrable academic baffler, chock-full of erudite and cryptic references to Foucault and the hegemonic phallocentric horizon of being, but otherwise devoid of illumination.

For other views on imagination see the role of imagination and creativity have in our lives and imagination's role in the new culture of learning.

Thanks for the Feedback

Is for those of us who want to learn how to receive feedback and take control of our experience. Giving and receiving feedback is a part of everyone's life, but something many of us have given very little thought to and something that many people do poorly.

I have been aware of the poor feedback I have received, but never really thought about how that feedback failed me. Too often we focus on giving effective feedback (something lacking in most organizations) as the key to building performance. Of course, we can also say we don't want the feedback and set boundaries by saying things “I may not take your advice,” “not right now,” or warn someone our relationship is in jeopardy. But why create boundaries? When someone attacks our character vs. just the behavior, the demands keep coming even after we change, we're dealing with a constant critic. Some of the scenarios can help us with family dynamics.

This book provides a different approach that can be very effective when working with clients.

Explore with how to complain effectively.


Books can expand our mind and we can learn to read comparatively and competitively.

Many a work of fiction can teach us a lot about human nature, history, and writing well. Fiction writer Rebecca Stead says, “one of the most important things that books do: not to teach you anything, but to help you teach yourself, by just being in the world of the book and having your own thoughts and reactions and noticing your own reactions and thoughts and learning about yourself that way.”


More reading lists:

Summer Reading List

Another summer reading list

3 Books on Business Culture

Bill Gates summer reading list

Fall reading list

21 books worth reading

What books would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their effectiveness in conversation?

A reading list on human achievement

Susan Cain's reading list for people who draw energy from discussing ideas

Brian Eno's reading list for the manual of civilization

What rational optimist Matt Ridley is reading

Balance reading and doing with Kathy Sierra

Persuasion master Rory Sutherland's reading list

Elon Musk's reading list holds the keys to his success, but only if we look closely

David Bowie's top must-read books


Find a more complete list of what I'm reading here.


* The first library in Modena was inaugurated in 1966 and held 3,000 books#. Today, the system holds 308,000 books, 21,000 of which in another language, 10,000 CDs and a little over 9,000 DVDs. The image above is from the central library, housed in a beautiful building with access through an internal courtyard.