The Leader’s Bookshelf

The Leader’s Bookshelf

Adm. James Stavridis and R. Manning Ancell

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2017, 288 pages

Book Review published on: June 9, 2017

This is a book about books. Adm. James Stavridis teams up with author R. Manning Ancell to take a different approach to reading and reading lists. The authors make the case that reading is indispensable to the development of effective leadership; therefore, leaders need to devote time to reading. However, given the infinite number of books available, which ones are the most influential given the limited time people have available? To solve this problem, the authors interviewed over two hundred four-star leaders to get their thoughts and recommendations on the books that influenced their leadership. The result of this research is The Leader’s Bookshelf.

The authors believe that by “focusing on the reading patterns of the most senior officers in the U.S. military,” they could determine the key books that would “make sense for leaders in all walks of life.” The Leader’s Bookshelf covers the top fifty books from the recommendations of this distinguished group, which spans a variety of genres. What separates this list from other reading lists is the approach the authors take. For each book the authors provide a section on which senior leader recommended the book and, more importantly, why they recommended it. This gives readers insights into why the book was influential to the leader. The authors follow this with a short summary of each book and synopsis of the relevant leadership lessons. Rather than just handing the reader titles of books and little guidance, this approach provides the reader a pathway for development and some insights to focus their reading. Herein lies the value of this book and its reading list.

In addition, the authors offer tools and tips to help the reader successfully read and learn. Arguing that “a personal bookshelf can be critical to developing the ability to inspire others,” they provide chapters on topics such as the power of reading, assembling a library, writing, and publishing. They offer practical advice on how to get the most out of reading including ideas on learning to read in short spurts, taking notes, reading with a purpose, and talking to others.

The authors’ writing style is straightforward and easy to follow. They succeed in their goal of providing a useful list with practical advice to help anyone successfully approach reading and develop their leadership.

The heart of The Leader’s Bookshelf is this list of the fifty books. However, the authors also polled some young officers from varied backgrounds on the books they regarded as classics. Although they provide the list, unfortunately, the authors do not develop this list as fully as the list from the senior officers.

Evident throughout The Leader’s Bookshelf is the criticality of books in the development of the senior leaders and the importance they placed on reading. This is where the authors’ practical advice provides a valuable tool to the reader. The helpful hints coupled with the insights on the books makes this a useful book for any leader in any career. I recommend this book to all readers.

Book Review written by: Robert J. Rielly, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas