As you probably know by now, I love reading. Lately, I have been enjoying autobiographies of various flavours. Here are 5 great recommendations. Every one of these books taught me something and made me think in profound ways- surely the hallmark of a successful read.
1. Open - Andre Agassi
This book surprised me by Agassi’s constant revelation of “I hate tennis”. It’s a deeply personal autobiography that really helped me understand his character, his personal struggles and the good and bad of being a world class athlete picked from a young age. I’m a huge tennis fan and grew up watching him play, so his detailed retelling of important matches was probably much more digestible for me than for the casual reader. But the gold in this book lies in realizing how even the elite among us are only human, how even highly successful journeys can end up being lonely, and why having a great partner is so important.
2. Total Recall - Arnold Schwarzenegger
I am self confessed Arnold fanboy. After all, I started bodybuilding at a young age and he is a hero among bodybuilders. And I have huge respect for his success in entertainment, business, and politics. Arnold’s recent memoir has not garnered the best critical reviews, but I don’t care. I loved reading this book. Arnold shares surprising facts about his humble youth in post World War II Austria, and works hard to constantly remind the reader of how it was his relentless focus, drive and ambition that propelled him from achievement to achievement. As an avid gym-goer, I appreciated how many pages he spent describing his journey in bodybuilding and deep interest in health and fitness. There were a lot of excellent business lessons here too, one of the most memorable being not to over think things (or you might quit before your start), but rather just take the leap and get stuck in when you really want to do something.
3. Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! - Richard P. Feynman
Richard P. Feynman had to have been one of the most curious characters of the 20th century. He was a Nobel prize winning physicist, safecracker, amateur artist, professional samba band musician, renowned Caltech professor and quite a Lothario as well. There were a couple of unique things in this book that totally floored me. Feynman had a deep interest in learning things with a desire to fully understand them, working from first principles or inventing his own, and doing work that was meaningful and personally rewarding. He also had plenty of side pursuits and wasn’t afraid to try new things (usually with remarkable success). This strange autobiography is filled with interesting stories and opinions from one of the most fun scientific geniuses I can imagine.
4. Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain
A close friend of mine recently adopted a career path as a high end chef, complete with studying at a prestigious school and working at fine restaurants. I was captivated by his stories of the brutal, abusive yet addictive professional kitchen culture. Bordain’s memoir really is a tell-all on the kitchen industry, and it’s brilliant. He shares plenty of tips and insights related to food, but this book is mostly about people, the relationships that make the restaurant industry work, and just how different that world is to that of regular office workers. He’s also an exceptional (if rather vulgar!) writer, and this book had me spellbound from start to finish.
5. The First Billion is the Hardest - T. Boone Pickens
Boone Pickens is a helluva interesting guy. At age 27, he started a drilling company that turned into a small oil empire, then changed the corporate takeover landscape in America, and more recently, focused on trading in energy derivatives and equities, with great success. This book chronicles the most recent chapter in his life. What I found astounding is how, in his late sixties, he got kicked out of his own company, got divorced, faced depression and generally hit rock bottom, to turn it all around in a new company and become a billionaire within 10 years. The energy, youthfulness and mental vigour that he gives off in his eighties are truly remarkable. What I enjoyed most about this read though is Boone’s wry wit and salty humour that comes through in his excellent storytelling.