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Life Changing Books

Jul 31, 2021 10:33:55 AM / by Tim McCarthy

A young friend who is working on a pivot in his life asked me what books he should read during such introspection. It didn’t take long for me to share the titles of the books that have changed my life, in chronological order.


  • Dumbo, the Flying Elephant by Helen Aberson-Mayer. No, I’m not the least embarrassed to tell you that I still recall this story and how it affected me. An elephant born with massive ears (I have a massive head) was nicknamed Dumbo (I was Bubblehead) and scorned by all for not being normal. His mother goes to jail for defending him. Motherless and assigned as a clown due to his ears, he learns by accident that his ears allow him to fly, transforming his life by taking advantage of the very thing that had caused him such pain to that time.

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  • The Baltimore Catechism by Father Januarius De Concilio.   In second and third grade, the nuns and priests used this book which answered every question a kid might think of as they form their view of faith. The answer to question 16 was “we do not see God because he is pure spirit and cannot be seen with bodily eyes”. To this, Sister Ambrose added: “therefore our very purpose as Catholics is to see God in each other”. While my own faith remains catholic, I still see this theme reflected in every person I’ve encountered who loyally practices any faith tradition. The divine lives in the human spirit.


  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I took a decade or more off from reading anything that wasn’t forced on me by school. Soon after college, I slogged through this book with depth unaccustomed to me. Frankl, a psychiatrist held in Nazi concentration camps (Auschwitz and Dachau) for three years holds in this memoir three concepts that have never left me since: 1. There can be learning in suffering, 2. Defining your purpose aids in living a full life and 3. Coming to the moment to live for others creates meaning.

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  • The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. Still in my late 20s and forming a new career, Peck (another psychologist) re-formed my thinking about discipline, love, religion, and grace.   The opening paragraph assured my interest: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, perhaps the greatest truth…because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it…once accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters”. Opening my mind to the idea that a good life would require suffering and discipline changed everything.

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  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. I’ve given away hundreds of copies of this book and I still re-read it every couple of years by choosing one habit every few months to re-read. The first edition was published soon after I opened my first business. I also took a seminar to learn how to practice the habits. I believe this training played a large part in enabling me to organize and effectively build business over time.


  • On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis. By my mid-forties, I was leading people in my company so I began reading everything I could find on leadership theory and practice. This one, by a University Southern California professor and a pioneer of leadership studies had the greatest effect on me. The theme reflected by the title was my primary takeaway. That is, there “ARE” no great leaders, but instead those who are “becoming”. Felt to me like continuous improvement applied to humans instead of manufacturing.


  • Factfulness by Hans Rosling. I love facts. And despite media that cites exceptions positioned as rules, I still believe in facts. Rosling begins this 2018 book by sharing a quiz on world facts (still available at factfulnessquiz.com). Most fail, including myself and hundreds of thousands who had taken it before publication. Our ignorance is due to 10 biases we all suffer as humans. We fall prey to slanted information, particularly if it confirms our own bias. The subtitle of Rosling’s book reflects what made it an important read for me: “The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.” Since reading this book, I’ve worked to avoid loud and opinionated media and people as they are a vexation to my spirit.


Are there books that changed your life?

Please share them with me.


Tim McCarthy


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Tim McCarthy

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