I’ve read 47 books so far on this trip, and should reach 50-55 by the end. As I approach the end of our time on the road, I decided to rank the best books I have read so far in case anyone else wanted some good travel reading, or reading, period.
- Awaken the Giant Within, Anthony Robbins. Given a single book to take with me on a trip, I’d take this one. I wish I’d read it twenty years ago. Reading it isn’t enough – the real power comes from taking action and doing the exercises. Six months of traveling will help anyone grow and develop, but the changes I experienced so far were amplified ten times by this book. I’m actually going to try to read it again before the end of the trip – which might be a bit of a stretch, since it’s like 800 pages long or something. But seriously, with no hyperbole, it is absolutely incredible. Key takeaway: action is what matters.
- The Path to Power: Lyndon B. Johnson, by Robert A. Caro. This is the first of a five-volume biography of LBJ. It isn’t just about Johnson, though; it’s about Texas, and America, and the Twentieth Century, and how power works. You read the beginning for two hours, and it is a history of Texas, with no mention of the man in the title; later, you’ll be reading for an hour before you realize that you now know more real facts about Sam Rayburn – an important figure in the House of Representatives who I’d never heard of – than about Donald Trump. After a description of the rampant corruption that existed across America in the 20th century, I had to turn off my Kindle to process how dirty the political game was…and then I had the thought that perhaps not much has actually changed. Even though it took me about 30 hours to finish it, I immediately ordered the next two volumes in paper, because this is a book to savor in hard cover. (David, I also ordered The Power Broker.). Key takeaway: in politics, everyone is dirty.
- A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. It’s readable, and funny, and there are times where you turn the page and feel as if you’re standing on an asteroid, looking at a star collapse, say, or you can feel the full weight of gravity pulling a moon toward a planet, and it is beautiful. Plus, you learn about the universe, physics, astronomy, the true nature of black holes, and you realize that someone truly brilliant will be able to explain complex concepts to you in a way anyone would understand. Key takeaway: we’re so, so infinitesimally small.
- Open, Andre Agassi. I didn’t care about tennis before reading this book. There were times, reading it, where I cheered out loud; after a few tournaments when he won, I cried; when he lost, I occasionally had to put the book down and take a moment to compose my emotions. Key takeaway: you can become great at anything, even things you don’t like; also, even world champions are never perfect.
- Endurance, Alfred Lansing. I mean, I KNEW what was going to happen: Shackleton and all his men were going to survive, and he would return to the world a hero. Still, I ended up sobbing uncontrollably in the Luang Prabang airport, across from a Thai family who stared at me, horrified. (I am now realizing that I cry a lot when I’m reading; I wonder what Alice thinks.) It’s an incredible tale told incredibly well. Key takeaway: character counts.
- First They Killed My Father, Loung Ung. Every time we went to a country, we tried to read a book about it – either fiction or non-fiction. In Cambodia, it’s impossible to escape the Khmer Rouge past; at least 1/3 of the country was massacred, and the killers are still in power in some way or another. This was the heartbreaking story of one girl’s experience, and it’s hard to emphasize how terrible people can be when they’re fighting for an ideology – and don’t face any constraints. Key takeaway: I do not have anything to complain about.
- Mindset, Carol Dweck. There are two mindsets that we all have: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. The fixed mindset says “you are how you are”; the growth mindset says “You can get better.” Key takeaway: the growth mindset should be developed whenever possible in order to reach our maximum potential.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig. I read this in a college philosophy course twenty years ago, and again about ten years ago, and at both stages I felt I understood it. And now I feel I really understand it. But probably not as much as I will understand it in 2027. Key takeaway: Quality, man.