Voltaire said, "Books rule the world." That was back in the world of the 1700s. Would he say the same thing in today's world? At a time when online booksellers are booming, and coffee-house bookstores have loads of customers, I wonder if books aren't at their weakest point ever. Instead of shaping our minds, they are simply occupying our minds. No education, please, just entertainment. As a CEO, you may be tempted to limit your reading to books that will either make you a better businessperson or keep you up to date on the latest in popular culture. But I say this: Go back to the classics. CEOs, among many other things, must be thinkers. What better way to improve this essential skill than to expose yourself to other great thinkers? Here are some suggestions:
- Robert R. Downs, former president of the American Library Assn., asked three literary experts to list the books published in the first 50 years of the 20th century that had the greatest influence on the American people. John Dewey, Charles Beard, and Edward Weeks took up the challenge and each prepared a list of 50 titles. Only four books appeared on all three lists: Das Kapital by Karl Marx, Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, The Golden Bough by James Frazer, and The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler.
- When Malcom Cowley and Bernard Smith polled the nation's leading educators, critics, and literati of their day (the 1930s), the following were named as "The Books That Changed Our Minds": Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, Henry Adams' The Education of Henry Adams, Frederick Jackson Turner's The Frontier in American History, William Sumner's Folkways, Thorstein Veblen's Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times: The Case of America, John Dewey's Studies in Logical Theory, Charles Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, V.L. Parrington's Main Currents in American Thought, Vladimir Lenin's State and Revolution, and Spengler's The Decline of the West.
- Now I don't know how many of you have read any of these books. I confess that I have read five and have referred on rare occasions to two others. However, when I compared my reading habits to those of the great majority of the world's readers, I did very well. I have read nine of the "Ten Best Selling Books of All Time" as reported by Russell Ash in his book The Top Ten of Everything (1994, DK Publishing Inc.).