Here's what I learned TOTALLY by accident. Personal story sells.

The more bold and authentic your voice, the more easily you'll attract those you're meant to work with. You've got to tell it like it is, and be wholly you. Because readers want to know if they can connect with you on an emotional, philosophical, or even spiritual level. They need to know what you fucking stand for, and the stories you choose to tell will allow them to determine that. These are some of my stories. This is my take on life, writing, and reading.

The Best Recommended Reading List EVER

July 9, 2017

Here’s a note I sent to several of my book writing clients, past and present.

I’m putting together a unique reading list: book recommendations from folks who know what a good book looks like, what beautiful/effective writing is, what inspires and impacts.
1. What are you reading now?
2. What book had an enormous impact on you, made you see the world in a whole new way, and why (in a sentence or three.)
3. What book do/did you continually look at when working on your own book? Why( in a sentence or three)?
Feel free to answer 1,2,3, or all of them. I hope you find these questions as interesting as I do.
To me, their answers to these questions are delicious. I mean, it’s as though I’ve been left alone in a study to examine their bookshelves at my leisure, without fear of being caught nosing around. (To hell with medicine cabinets, who wants to dig through those?) You can learn so much about a person by what they read, by what they clearly value, and why.
And here are just some of their answers. (I’ve put a description of their book project with their names so you can appreciate their choices all the more.)
You’ll want to grab a cup of coffee and your notebook. I guarantee you’ll want to order some of these books before you’re through.
(By the way, there’s no rhyme or reason to the order here. You just see who sent me their answers first.)

Jeff Orr

An F-16 fighter pilot and trainer takes the mindset, systems, and practices of the US Air Force and makes them relevant to the business world.  The book is for those who want to learn how to handle a lot of vital data that comes at him or her fast and furiously; develop grit; endure extreme discomfort; predict, then benefit from the obstacles and missteps along the way; and help their subordinates or team members do the same so they can accomplish an important goal or mission.


The Law by Frederick Bastiat

Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper

Actually, I read The Law on the plane trips between Phoenix and Colorado Springs last week, but I’m counting it as reading now because I finished it so recently. I’ll finish Digital Gold before I start Shackleton, but I’m counting Shackleton as reading now because it’s sitting on my nightstand in the on-deck circle.
Atlas Shrugged: My college roommate gave it to me as a graduation gift from the Air Force Academy. I read over 600 pages of it in one sitting. It was the first time I had ever really considered the impact of social philosophy on how human beings organize themselves. Previously, I had studied philosophy from a purely academic viewpoint (Plato, Kant, Hume, Locke, etc.), but until I saw an author’s philosophy told in the form of a story, I didn’t really understand what it all meant to me and the people around me.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad: I picked this up at the airport as I was flying to Seattle for a job interview. It was the first time in my life I had considered that I could do something other than working for someone else for a paycheck. It was the reason Bizzy and I got into real estate investing (and probably why I turned down the job offer in Seattle).
His Excellency: George Washington: Bizzy gave me this book for Christmas a few years ago. It was the first time I had read any American history outside of a textbook as part of a class. Like Atlas Shrugged, it framed history for me in a more story-like fashion. I loved it so much, I went on a history binge in which I burned through about one book every two weeks. I loved learning about historical figures as human beings versus the two-dimensional representations we were all taught in school.
I’m going to cheat this question by providing a list:
I reference ALL of these books regularly. Many of them, I use as citations for content. Some of them I use as inspirations for how to construct a coherent story across 200 pages.
If I had to pick one author who is my primary inspiration, I’d choose Malcolm Gladwell. If I’m forced to choose one of his books, I’d say The Tipping Point. I love how Gladwell presents his research as story and how those stories relate to and refer to one another. I also love how his books always present information in new and counter-intuitive ways. I’m drawn to the counter-intuitive, and I like to think I’m not the only one, which is why I strive to present my content in the same way.
Honorable Mention: Things to Pack When You’re Bound for Baghdad by Jason Armagost Jason (aka Brigadier General Armagost), is a dear friend, former fighter squadronmate, and USAFA Class of ’92 classmate. His son is a swim and dive teammate of Erik’s in the USAFA class of ’21.  Jason was one of the few, maybe five or six, English majors in my Academy class. He reads the classics like other people read magazines from the checkout stands, but at the same time, he can be the biggest goof you’ve ever seen and he is a consummate outdoorsman and elite athlete. The piece I linked is so beautiful, it actually brings tears to my eyes. I’m jealous that I’ll never be able to write something so artful.

Monica Tarr

Welcome to the world of customer service management. Fighting forest fires with a squirt gun, never getting ahead, no control or influence in the organization, direct reports getting abuse 24/7. Employees are on the bell curve from tears, to apathy, to slamming down the phone and stomping out in a huff. Customers are leaving in droves, flipping out on social media, damaging the brand. Bridging the gap between technology and people, armed with an understanding of operations and process, this book offers implementable solutions to the most predictable nightmares out there.
Buyer Personas by Adele Revella
What business book had an enormous impact on me? Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. His overall theme and real examples show that you can win big and get fair results without being an aggressive jerk. Even with criminals who are willing to kill hostages, it still works to treat them like humans, understand what they REALLY want, exercise a bit of humility, and still end up getting the outcome you were hoping for, which included the ultimate important thing…someone’s life. Also, I like how he shares his and other’s mistakes and how they analyzed blunders and changed things in the future for the better.
No Time for Goodbyes saved my ass once upon a time, but it’s not a business book.
My Stroke of Insight. Best biographical book I’ve read and best science-y book.
Interesting thing about the two above books is that they were incredibly short and incredibly “sticky” in terms of their impact (for me). I think that’s a good thing to take away when trying to create our own books.
How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach made a huge impact on me and my approach to business, management style, and other interpersonal interactions. Great example of using a made-up and interesting story to teach BIG lessons.
Which novel made the biggest impact is a whole different story. One for another day.
I continually look at Never Split the Difference. I like the content, but the chapter structure is a good fit for the way I think and process information for my book. (I’m sure that’s why you shared it 😀)

Josh Patrick

John Aardvark has lots of problems. Aardvark Manufacturing, the company he founded and owns, is stuck and about to go into a major crisis. That’s when he turns, albeit reluctantly, to an expert who can help him figure out how to take a real vacation, figure out what to do with that no-good son who works for him, and grow his profits. Little does he know that the real goal is to step out of the daily fray, to become operationally irrelevant.

An American Sickness by Elisabeth Rosenthal
 I’m getting ready to read The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson.
Critical Path by Buckminster Fuller – It allowed me to see the interconnectedness in the world, and between people in the world.  Allowed me to understand the power and good in mistakes.  I learned that synergy is a physical phenomenon that moves into the psychological as well.
Any fable by Patrick Lencioni
Get a Grip by Gino Wickman
The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt
All three have reasonably good stories that illustrate particular lessons that business people and managers need to learn to be successful in their business.  I find this method of writing more approachable for most private business owners because the lessons are easy to understand and are presented in story form.  Also, the writing tends to be less dry and interesting to read or listen to as an audio book.

Patricia Kelmar

 In the early 70’s, a medical missionary and his wife take their four young children to live and work in a isolated Tanzanian village. There they learn to navigate the culture, find happiness despite the sacrifices and deprivations, and commit to giving in a powerful way. A memoir, Patricia explores not only her Catholic father’s commitment to serve in a small teaching hospital as the resident doctor, but her mother’s ability to stand by his side in this strange new world.
The Sparrow. This is the first science fiction book that I read that I truly enjoyed. It made me think of my place in the universe in a very different way.

Nevan Donahue

Gandhi told us to “Be the change we wish to see in the world,” a beautifully simple statement about how everyone can embody the changes they want the world to make through their spiritual ethos and daily actions.  And the most powerful changes don’t need to be big. Conquering an addiction can start with making one’s bed. Saving the environment can start with eschewing meat. And a cynical New Yorker can become an instrument of good.
Real Love by Sharon Salzberg. She writes with such a kind and open voice. She’s wonderful
The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo. Widely read and super famous book, but no less impactful and amazing

Christine Khetarpal

Ignoring the status quo is actually a decision; and most of us learn that the hard way, particularly when contemplating divorce. This is the parable of a mermaid who must  choose between remaining human and dealing with the unknown–that’s what happens when you abdicate choice to the likes of Poseidon–or going back to an uninspiring, yet familiar existence beneath the sea.
Loving What Is by Byron Katie has had the most impact on me because she showed me how my thoughts are creating my reality, and that by questioning my thoughts, I can create a more peaceful world to live in.
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

Kyrsten Carter Barrett

An inspirational book that speaks to those who feel too much, wish to tap into and trust their intuition, and embrace their own inexplicable path.  Kyrsten recounts her strange desire to know her oneness with God, the impact of infertility diagnosis she received as a teenager, and her search for spiritual wellness at its core.  Along her journey, she comes to recognize, then accept, her innate gifts, one of them clairsentience.
I also picked up How To Sell A Crapload Of Books (at your recommendation), but haven’t started it yet.
This is a difficult one for me… so many books. I’m going to go with Conversations with God. This book resonated so deeply for me. I felt like I was remembering things I had long understood, but had never articulated. Things I didn’t know I knew, but had always known somehow.  Nothing was new and everything was new, like a part of my subconsciousness was suddenly conscious.

 A. J. Wasserstein

Author of What Matters Most: A Young Adult’s Roadmap For Life .Recognizing that a child leaving home is a transitional event for both family and child, this roadmap is a compilation of many conversations with his children and a few he wishes he’d had. Believing your young adult years, your twenties, are filled with choices and decisions that will form the foundation for the rest of your life, A. J. provides a framework to better understand the choices that will increase your chances of discovering who you are and finding enduring happiness and satisfaction.


Lead Yourself First, which is about how people need solitude to be good leaders and make good decisions.  Finding a pause and blocking out noise helps a person figure out some positive choices.


The Jim Collins books, Beyond Entrepreneurship and Good to Great, have influenced me a lot and I have read them many times.  Explicitly written as business books, there are themes in there that apply to individuals and life in general.


 Ann Peck

Author of Smiling On The Outside: Secrets, Sex, Shame And The Search For Self-LovePicking up the pieces after the emotional and financial devastation, Ann Peck revisits the hidden stories that shaped her self-concept and self-doubt. Anxiety, rape, domestic violence, a husband’s sex addiction, failed relationships, codependency, resentments, and sexual shame, they’re all there in her unblinking search for empowerment and self-love.
Living, Loving, and Learning by Leo Busgaglia. I received this book from my dad more than 25 years ago and didn’t start reading it until Father’s Day last month!
The Artist’s Way. Writing my morning pages (and this is a response to both 2. and 3.)  and even just writing in my journal allowed me to get the crap out of my head that was interfering with my ability to focus on my own book. My journal gave me a safe space to write about how I felt about what I was writing in my book, without carrying over those feelings into my book writing.
 I would often refer to Circle of Stones and the quote I have on my website (below) to get centered. I still refer to that quote. 🙂 Go to… to read what I say about the books (in 2 & 3 above as well as other books I love).

Steven Littlefield

Author of The Business of Gratitude: Abundance Through Gratitude And The Handwritten Thank You Note.  There’s no better way to amplify a first impression—or even correct it—than by showing exemplary manners, gratitude, and appreciation by following up. And when you follow up with a handwritten thank-you note, you can bet you’re going to stand apart from everyone else. Saying thank you helps you stand out, every time.
Trading in the Zone by Mark Douglas
Conscious Golf by Gay Hendricks
Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.  The information in this book, is the foundation of how to grow mentally, physically, spiritually, relationally, and financially. In whatever endeavor you chose to embark on.
I always keep 3 books with me and reference them constantly:
The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy to remind me of how to get the most out of my inner power.
Feelings Buried Alive Never Die by Karol Truman. This is a great reference tool to uncover emotions that are blocking your progress, and how to instill the opposite emotion to give you the power to move forward.
The Little Money Bible by Stuart Wilde. This is a great reminder that everything is energy.  He shares simple, implementable tools to direct your energy in a way that most serves you.
Bonus Book:
Feel It Real by Denise Coates. This book is filled with exercises to lead you wherever you choose to go.

Vicki Suiter

At first glance, a contractor’s revenue growth can look amazing on paper; but looks can be deceiving. Profits are down, the owners are working night and day, something is amiss. Little do they know that all roads don’t lead to Rome, they lead to the percentage profit margin. How do you fix that number when you’re convinced that, by raising your prices, you’ll lose each and every bid to the competition? Well, that’s what this business book is all about.
I just started listening to a podcast with Tim Grahl, Book Launch Show.  He’s amazing and it is helping me understand the mysterious formula for creating  successful book launch. He’s got a book a few books now on my reading list… Your First 1000 Copies and Book Launch Blueprint.
Good to Great by Jim Collins
The E Myth by Michael Gerber
Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni