Leaders Are Readers
“A library of wisdom, is more precious than all wealth, and all things that are desirable cannot be compared to it. Whoever therefore claims to be zealous of truth, of happiness, of wisdom or knowledge, must become a lover of books.” — Plato
After the War of 1812, when the Library of Congress had been burned, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal library to the U.S. government.
Jefferson’s was the largest personal library in the country, and the 6,487 books that he sold to Congress (for $23,950) more than doubled the size of the library that was lost.
Reading was vital to Jefferson’s education and his state of mind.
“I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve.” ― Montesquieu
While I’m not as well-versed in Montesquieu as Jefferson, I do enjoy reading.
What a wondrous time in which we live, when we can carry around libraries the size of Thomas Jefferson’s in our carry-on luggage, thanks to the wonders of devices like the Kindle.
But I still opt for printed books — material I can hold in my hand — every chance I get. I likely have (or will have) more books than I can read (the Japanese call this tsundoku), but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, you should surround yourself with more books than you’ll ever read.
“The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.” — Arthur Schopenhauer, 1890
The result of such an anti-library is that it stimulates the mind and provides plenty of material for research.
Yes, of course the internet is at your fingertips as well (spoiler alert: I use it to track down quotes and excerpts for books I own, but then crack open the physical copy once I narrow it down). But when you tear yourself away from the screen — the hard-driving taskmaster keeping you tethered to video calls, emails, et al. — it can give you a fresh perspective.
As I was roaming the house, trying to track down a book earlier this week, I realized we have bookcases scattered throughout the house. Out of curiosity, I measured how much space my books take up (I didn’t include my wife’s or kids’ books). I calculated 90 linear feet.
And that still isn’t enough. I have some bookcases on which books are double-shelved, with one row hiding behind another.
And if you think that’s already too much shelf space, allow me to introduce my friend Otto Penzler, who had nearly 60,000 books — mostly mystery first editions — in his home library before he sold it.
Take a look at this thing of beauty: