What I read in 2019 - Part 2

I have a bit of a problem. I love books. Going to bookstores, I would pick up 2 or 3 new books each trip. Books on history, books on leadership, books on mindfulness, and fiction books. On the surface, this may not seem like a problem. Except, I was buying books faster than I was reading them. I took inventory, and found that I had over 500 books in my personal library, yet had read only 240 of them. Owning 260 books that I haven’t read, I wondered how I would ever find time to read all of those books! So much knowledge, lessons, and good stories just waiting for me to open them and enjoy them. In 2018, I read 27 books. I set out to read 36 books in 2019, or 3 books a month. At the end of the year, I had managed to complete 52 books, or over 4 books a month, or 1 book a week!

In part 1, I discussed about half of the books I read in 2019. Mid way through the year, I was clearly on a record setting pace, but I was also burning out a bit. The first half of the year was litterred with business, leadership, mindfulness, and self-help books. While all of these books helped me connect various different dots in my own life and leadership, I needed a break. In July, I made a conscious effort to read one book for fun while also reading one book on business or leadership.

One of the funnest finds in the 2nd half of the year was a new favorite author and book series. I went to my local Barnes & Noble store, looking specifically for a new book series in the fantasy fiction vein, but one where the author doesn’t sadistically kill off charecters every other chapter (I’m looking at you George R.R. Martin). I stumbled upon the third book of a series that happened to be on clearance and, from the cover, looked like it might fit the bill - Bernard Cornwell’s The Lords of the North. But, I entered the store seeking advice, so I asked an associate if this series was what I was looking for. The associate, not only confirmed that it was (though the series is historical fiction, not fantasy), but also gave me a good indication of the humor and historical accuracy I could expect. She helped me find the first book in the series The Last Kingdom, and I’ve been hooked since that weekend. I’ve read the entire 11 book series, finding it hard to put it down.

Let’s talk about what I read in the 2nd half of 2019, and what I learned from these books.

The Last Kingdom

The author, Bernard Cornwell, does a great job bringing 9th century England, with its invading Danes to life. This book, along with the other books in the series, gave me a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry that is English history. In particular, this book touched on briefly how charcoal was made by burying logs and burning them until they were charred and how the charcoal was subsequently used in metal working.

The Pale Horseman

This book imagines one of the darkest periods in English history - when Wessex, the Last Kingdom of the Anglo-Saxon’s, is on the brink of destruction when King Alfred hides with his family and the few loyal troops he has remaining in the swamps of western Wessex. While an imaginative take on a period of history we know little about, it does show how close the English came to being completely conquered by vikings.

The Lords of the North

The third book in the series, takes the story back North to Northumbria. Along the way, we get a peak at the power and influence of the church in 9th century England.

Sword Song

By the fourth book, this author has his formula down for his stories. In this installment, the author gives a tour of ancient London, covering the waterway, the bridge, the new, Saxon city, and the old, haunted city. There are repeated points made throughout the book, but this one, with the description of London, really drives home the main charecters view that after the fall of the Roman empire, humanity has fallen and will continue to slide into chaos. With decaying examples of the skills and knowledge the Romans posessed, including roads, stone bridges, city walls, bath houses, villas, tiled roofs, and art work, its easy to see how people of the time may have looked up to the Romans with awe and sadness.

The Burning Land

The fifth book touches on many places, but gives us the first, real look of Mercia, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the middle of England. With the help and influence of Wessex, it holds out against the Danelaw - lands ruled by the Danish. But, the border between the Mercians and the Danes is unclear, as this book highlights.

Death of Kings

This book covers the death of King Alfred, as well as a mysterious year in which several Danish rulers were killed in a battle - which is about all that we know of the battle. This period of history is quite enigmatic, and a series like this brings it to life, even if it is only loosely based on history.

Dare to Lead

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. It is full of great, useful exercises, but the author’s writing style is somewhat confusing. She mixes her personal story with her ‘research’, that she references constantly. While she references values, she gives examples around one of her own values, courage, but it’s not clear when she stops talking about an example to when she is saying what everyone should do what she does. She talks about shame, but then it feels like she does all in her power to shame her reader. A book on leading with courage, it ironically takes a lot of courage to make it through this book. If you choose to read this book, do so as a group or with a trusted mentor or friend.

Cooking for Geeks

As a huge fan of Alton Brown and his show Good Eats, I’m fascinated with the science of cooking. When I heard of this book, which talks about a wide range of topics from seasoning, heat transfer, sous vide cooking, and denaturing proteins, I knew I had to read it.

This book bounces between 3 different styles - a detailed discussion of the topic, recipes that showcase the item being discussed and interviews with cooking experts, with the discussion centered or related to the topic at hand. With 3 styles, odds are that you’ll find one that is less appealing than the others. That was the case with the interviews. I felt they drifted from the flow of the book and I found they added little value. As such, this took me a LONG time to read. But it did give me the confidence to try new things, like making crepes (which were delicious).

5 Steps to Professional Presence

One of my growth areas that I identified was my executive presence. As a recovering software engineer, I tend to relate to others as an engineer, and not as a leader. I picked up this book hoping it would shine a light on this part of the working world. While this book had a useful tidbit here or there, it genuinely felt dated and simplistic. Some items were obvious, such as treading carefully with personal, intimate relationships in the work place. While basic information, this advice found itself squarely in the middle of the book - past the point I would expect such obvious advice.


One of the web comics I read daily is Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, or SMBC for short. The author covers many random topics, in a Farside-esque way. There are no recurring charecters, which means the comics is about the topic at hand, not the charecters. Many times, the topic is science, either present or future technology.

The cartoonist of SMBC, Zach Weinersmith, collaborated with his wife, Kelly Weinersmith, to reasearch and present many different technological breakthroughs that could transform our world, how it’s important, and discuss current research that is ongoing in the field. It is hard to say if space elevators are coming soon, but the book does give an impression behind the challenges of this and other technologies.

The Pagan Lord

Another book from the Saxon series and a book that inspired the show “The Last Kingdom’. In this, the 7th book in the series, the tale returns to the lands in Northern England, Northumbria, and the fortress that is the main charecter’s birth rite, Bebbanburg. Here, we get a picture of the lands around Bebbanburg at the time of the early 10th century, which has changed some in the last thousand years.

The Power of a Positive Team

After starting a book club at work, we choose the topic of positivity. We landed on this book by Jon Gordon, a prolific writer on positivity. I’ve previously read 2 other books by Jon Gordon, The Energy Bus and The Power of a Positive Team.

This book reads as a greatest hits from Jon Gordon’s other books, but aimed at how a team needs positivity as a base for their culture. This book contains a number of practice advice on establishing a positive culture, such as implementing the no complaining rule - any complaint must be accompany by a potential solution. However, this book lacks a scientific approach, settling to make statements on positivity and stating that the “research is clear”, with no reference to the research in question.

The 5 Levels of Leadership

John C. Maxwell is a prolific writer. This was the 5th book I read from him, and certainly won’t be the last. But from my small sampling of his 17+ books, I would consider The 5 Levels of Leadership his magnum opus.

The 5 Levels of Leadership captures the author’s philosophy of leadership and provides a structure for moving up the levels of leadership as he defines it.

All leaders start out with Positional Leadership, the leadership our rank provides us. At this level, people follow because they have no other choice. The second level, people follow because they want to… because they have granted the leader Permission to lead. At the third level, people are attracted to the leader because of the results they have Produced and they want to follow someone who makes things happen. At the fourth level, the leader Develops People, encouraging them to follow the leader even further. Finally, at the Pinnacle, fifth level, the leader raises up other level 5 leaders and people follow because of what the leader represents.

Beyond giving practical adviceand tips for moving to the higher levels, John shared the story of his first leadership position that has stuck with me. In his tweenties, John became pastor at a small church in Hillham, Indiana. Here, he came in as the leader of the church, with positional authority, but came to learn that others had the leadership of the church because of the relationships and results they produced. Hillham was where John refined many of his thoughts on leadership where he learned a lot about it. In my darker moments, I think back to Hillham and strive to make the place where I am today my own Hillham, my own leadership learning and proving grounds.

The Empty Throne

The 8th book in the Saxon series, this formulates a fictional story around the historical fact that Mercia was ruled by Lady AEflaed, who was King Alfred’s daughter.

The Warriors of the Storm

The 9th book in the Saxon series, we finally branch out to Ireland. From this book, I learned about some of hte history and politics of Ireland in the 9th and 10th century.

The Flame Bearer

The 10th book in the Saxon series, I learned of the story of the Anglo-Saxons who originally conquered Bebbanburg around the 6th century. This book retells the myth of Ida the Flamebearer, who was feared by the natives and England and conquered the rock that Bebbanburg now stands on.

The Sayings of the Buddha: Reflections for Every Day

As part of my mindfulness practice, I’ve been making efforts to learn more about meditation. SOme of the masters of mindfulness come from the Buddhist traditions. This book was one of my daily devotionals for the year, and I would read 1 page each day before meditating. This book provided tremendous insight into the Buddhist view of the world, but also helped give me a focus for my daily meditation.


A comic book my son and wife read, this is from the artist who brought the world “Happy Bunny” (he wasn’t really happy). This book asks the question, is it better to be a good bad guy or a bad good guy? Meaning, is it better to be a bad person who’s good at being bad, or a good person who’s bad at being good, but at least tries?

Man Up!

Another daily devotional, this book covers a lot of basic and advanced skills that each man should know, such as some simple cooking recipes, how to change a tire, and how to quit your job.

The Infinite Game

There are 2 types of games in the world, finite games with a clear ending and infinite games that continue so long as there are players engaged in the game. Most of what we consider games are finite games. In games like chess, there are clear winning conditions for declaring the winner of a game, most notably when a player’s king will be taken in the next move by the opponent regardless of what move the player attempts - or check-mate.

Infinite games occur all around us. They are prevelent in every day life. You may be engaged in an infinite game as you read these words are aren’t even aware of it. What’s truly mind-boggling is that we use game terminology to describe what we do, yet we don’t consider the nature of the game we are playing.

Whether we are runing a business, being a parent, or managing a career, we engage in games where the goal is to continue to play. Yet, we treat these as if we can ‘win’ business, parenting, or our career. How many businesses have you encountered in person, or observed their marketing where it is clear they are competing against other companies to dominate and win? How many mothers or fathers have you seen on social media who show off or brag how they are ‘winning’ at parenting? Or actors who claim they are ‘winning’ at life?

The crux of ‘The Infinite Game’ is that it’s detrimental to approach infinite games with a finite mindset. By doing so, we make short-sighted decisions to win ‘now, while sacrificiing future benefits that may keep us in the game longer. Businesses do this by laying off workers or cutting Research and Development budgets to meet annual targets to ‘win’ this year, but this makes it harder for the company to compete in the future with less people, a compromised culture, or fewer new products to enter the market.

The Curse of Oak Island

In 1795, as the legend goes, 3 boys found a patch of dirt sunken in on an Island off of Nova Scotia called Oak Island. Above the circular patch was a wooden pulley. The boys decided to dig, thinking that treasure was buried at the spot. At 10 feet down, they found a platform of wooden timbers. After removing the timbers, they dug further, finding another row of timbers 10 more feet down. The trend continued until they reached a depth of around 100 feet, when a flood tunnel was triggered, filling the hole with salt water and effectively halting their efforts. Since then, numerous people have been searching for the treasure in the “Money Pit”, thinking they are smarter and better equiped than those before them. This book retells the 200+ year history of the search, many of the leading theories of who buried the treasure, and discusses the current efforts, which are captured in the History Channel show of the same name.

Dungeons & Dragons: Monsters and Creatures

This is a Schoolastic book my wife picked up for me at a book fair. It discusses various creatures within the world of Dungeons and Dragons and how to defeat them.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Living Dead

This novel, set in a Dungeons and Dragons setting, follows a typical story that one might see in a Dungeons and Dragons setting - Zombies, treasures, and engagements. This was a little read with Elves, Halflings, Wizards and Bards that helped me understand how Bards work in Dungeons and Dragons better.

The Last Jedi: Cobalt Squadron

This Star Wars canon book dives into the bakstory of everyone’s least favorite charecter from the Last Jedi, Rose Tico. In this book, we learn of her close ties to her sister, that her home world was overrun by the First Order, and we learn more about the Star Fortress bombers. An ok book leads up to a ‘meh’ moie.

Shakespeare’s guide to Parenting

Using quotes from may of William Shakespeare’s plays, this book provides tongue-in-check parenting advice, such as asking children who talk back with the quote “What have I done that thou darest wag thy tongue in noise so rude against me? - Hamlet Act 3, Scene 4.

The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History

This book covers the period of history shortly before the fall of Rome and through the middle ages, showing how borders changed and populations moved through the time period. Of interesting note is to see how some of the Germanic tribes migrated after the fall of Rome. The Angles and Saxons invaded Britain and ruled England (Angland) as “Anglo-Saxons” untill 1066 Norman Invasion. The Lombards settled in Northern Italy and give name to the Lombardy province in Italy.

Calvin and Hobbes

This Christmas, I finally completed my Calvin and Hobbes book collection. As such, I deided to start through the series from the beginning. With beautiful art work, an imaginative child, and a witty best

Something Under the Bed is Drooling

The second in the Calvin and Hobbes series, the author Bill Waterson begins to hit his stride with Calvin. The artwork is still a little off from the later years, but the spirit, wit, and philosophical subjects start to shine. Of particular note is Calvin’s experience of finding an injured little racoon. His parents put it in a shoebox to keep it warm, but it dies overnight, leaving Calvin to contemplate life and death, with his mom stating that “we don’t really understand it, but there are many things we don’t understand, and we just have to do the best we can with the knowledge we have.”

Yukon Ho!

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. My parents had every book, and I would spend every summer reading through the entire series. As an adult, I’ve bee building up my own book collection, and added this one recently.