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I love reading about successful people.
Reading about their childhood, their education and hobbies and most of all their daily habits and work ethic is an extremely valuable insight into how they achieved success in their given field.
I learn much more about success by reading an autobiography or biography of a truly successful person than from reading a book from a self-proclaimed guru or “life coach”.
Here is a list of the best autobiographies and biographies of successful people that I have read. These are the books that have had the biggest positive impact on my life. They have been a huge inspiration to me and help keep me motivated on my own goals.
Total Recall – Autobiography of Arnold Schwarzenegger
Wow, this book is incredible! First of all, in terms of physical size, it’s a massive 2 inches (5cm) thick. It needs to be big because Arnie has packed so much into his life so far. There is no fluff in this book. It is all about what he has achieved in his life. While reading it, every 100 pages or so my reaction was something along the lines of “Are you serious?” It’s mind-boggling how much he has done in his life. Just writing the book is probably more than the average person does in a lifetime! Of course, Arnie has done much more than just write a book. He has been a huge success in many areas including bodybuilding, real estate, movies and politics.
If you struggle with procrastination due to over-analyzing, over-planning and second-guessing yourself, then you must get this book. – For every success in his life, he relates how he set the goal (always a big goal by the way), quickly researches what he needs to do in order to achieve the goal and then he gets to work on it every single day. Doh, it all sounds so obvious doesn’t it? But the key part is that he just gets on with it and refuses to feel overwhelmed or distracted by the obstacles in his way. Talking about obstacles, he had lots of very big ones to overcome – He grew up in a tiny mountain village in Austria. He didn’t speak a word of English and he had no money. But his goal was to move to the USA and become a movie star! Oh and *spoiler alert* – He achieved that goal and a lot more.
Here is one quote from the book that really resonates with me. Context: He has just completed a big business deal. There was quite a bit risk involved but the potential upside was even bigger. He is discussing taking action and not overthinking. Here is the quote:
I like to always wander in like a puppy. I walk into a problem and then figure out what the problem really is. Don’t tell me ahead of time. Often, it’s easier to make a decision when you don’t know as much because then you can’t overthink. If you know too much it can freeze you.Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnie’s process was to set big goals, believe 100% that he could achieve them and then to take massive action towards them. As an aside, the personal development book that Arnie read that helped him the most with that process was the classic “The Magic of thinking big” by David Schwartz. Someone gave Schwarzenegger the book to read when he arrived in the USA in the 1960s. His English wasn’t very good at the time, so the simplest thing for him to do was to apply the principles of the book to the letter without deviation. That’s what he did and the rest is history.
Reading Arnie’s autobiography was a massive wake-up call to me. It made me realise how lazy I had been and I learned that anything is possible with the right mindset and hard work. It’s no coincidence that this is the first book on the list. I strongly recommend it if you’re serious about success.
Humble Pie – Autobiography of Gordon Ramsay
Although I have little interest in cooking or becoming a chef myself, I find Gordon Ramsay a very interesting character. Back in the day, when I was a student in Manchester, England, I had a few jobs working in restaurant kitchens and believe me, it is very hard work. The hours are long, it’s hot and exhausting and the pay is low. Luckily for me, it was just a part-time job during my studies.
Ever since my brief experience, I have had massive respect for the men and women who work in the restaurant business fulltime as a career. My experience also left me wondering – Why is it that certain chefs like Gordon Ramsay become really successful while others seem to struggle? What was Gordon Ramsay doing that the others aren’t doing? What sets him apart? His autobiography called “Humble Pie” most definitely answers that question.
I don’t want to give away any specifics that will spoil the book for you, but you will read about his difficult upbringing in Scotland, problems with family, how he very nearly went down a completely different career path, how he got into cooking and how he worked his way up from the bottom. There are numerous tales of high-tension kitchens, business deals, betrayals, relationships and a lot more. It’s a fascinating read.
If you’re an entrepreneur looking to be inspired, then this is an excellent choice of book to read. It does not matter if you are not an aspiring chef yourself. The lessons learned from Gordon Ramsay’s tales of sheer grit and determination can be applied to any industry. Think about it, the restaurant business is probably the most competitive on the planet and he’s one of the top players.
Don’t be put off by his on-screen persona on some of his TV shows. Most of that is either scripted or set up. The title of the book “Humble Pie” is very apt. He knows exactly where he has come from.
After I finished this book, I felt really pumped. If Gordon Ramsay can get to the top tier of arguably the toughest industries after his difficult childhood and with no qualifications and, then what excuses do I have? Answer: None! All of my excuses evaporated after reading this book and yours will too.
The big takeaway: Your background does not matter. Hard work, grit and determination will get you where you want to go. Read this book and get after it.
The Snowball – Biography of Warren Buffett
At the time of writing this review, 90 year-old Warren Buffett is the 6th richest person on the planet, worth a staggering $98.5 BILLION.
This is an official biography of Buffett, written by Alice Shroeder, a former managing director at Morgan Stanley. Shroeder spent countless hours over several years interviewing and researching Warren Buffett. The result is this huge book (the paperback is 700 pages), crammed full of details about Buffett’s life. You certainly get value for money here. Buffett would call that an excellent return on investment. 😉
A few years ago, I was looking for how best to invest my money and so I decided to find out the advice of the most successful investor of all time. I watched and read a few interviews with Buffett and I got the investment advice I was looking for. But I was also intrigued to find out how this softly-spoken, humble man had created so much wealth so quickly. I was particularly interested in his early years and how he had got started. I therefore bought this biography and read it.
It’s an incredibly well-researched book. The author has left no stone unturned and she cites all her sources. The story starts with Warren’s childhood. Even back then, you could see he had the entrepreneurial spirit. He knew (and openly admitted) that he wanted to make a lot of money.
The book describes the many money-making ventures that he had going at the same time. I found that very interesting – Many people see Buffett as just someone who buys and sells shares but doesn’t really “do” anything. That is not an accurate picture. The stories in this book showed me that he is more than just an investor, he is also a very skilled businessman in his own right. He has been involved in numerous ventures where he not only owned shares in companies but also played a major part in turning the companies around.
The stories in the book are fascinating and show his special skill of sniffing out potential investment and business opportunities that nobody else has seen and then having the courage to take action by putting his money on the line.
If you’re interested in everything to do with business, investing and how money really works and flows, then you will love this book. There is also a detailed insight into his personal life including his marriages, the relationships with his children, his hobbies and his friendships with other successful people.
After reading his story, you can’t help but like Warren Buffett. There are so many dishonest, selfish and greedy people that work in finance, especially on Wall Street and so I find it very refreshing that the most successful investor of all time is a humble and honest man like Warren Buffett. Yes, he always wanted to be rich but it has never really been about earning money for the sake of it. It was more about the challenge and money was just the way to keep score. All the money he has made, he has done it honestly and with integrity.
If you’re interested in learning how Warren Buffett made his billions with honesty and integrity, you need to read this book.
Shoe Dog – Autobiography of Phil Knight
“Shoe Dog” is the story of how one man started a small company designing and selling shoes that then went on become the massive company we all know today – Nike.
A couple of friends had recommended me this book but I put off reading it because I wrongly thought it was going to be a management book about the huge corporation of Nike. I didn’t actually realise that it was the story of how the author, Phil Knight had founded the company. For some reason, I thought he was just the CEO.
What I like the most about this story is that all started from Mr Knight’s passion for running. He wasn’t a big shot businessman or entrepreneur when he started. He was simply an avid runner who wanted to design a better shoe for running. His story began with a passion and an idea. I know it’s a cliché, but this story perfectly illustrates the adage: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s so true.
Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the end of the book when Mr Knight is reflecting on the huge success of Nike:
When it came rolling in, the money affected us all. Not much and not long because none of us was ever driven by the money. But that’s the nature of money. Whether you have it or not, whether you want it or not, whether you like it or not, it will try to define your days. Our task as human beings is not to let it.Phil Knight
A lot of the book relates the many challenges that the company faced. There were numerous personnel issues, supplier issues, partner issues and lots of problems resulting from operations being spread out all over the world. It was interesting not only to get an insight into those issues but also how Mr Knight solved them and managed the stress. Nike’s story was far from plain sailing. There were lots of obstacles along the way that needed to be addressed.
This book was of particular interest to me because I actually know someone who used to be sponsored by Nike. She was the older sister of one of my best friends at school and she was a very talented amateur cross-country runner in the UK in the late 1980s. The sponsorship of up-and-coming athletes was one of Nike’s keys to success that is described in the book. The fact that they were even sponsoring amateur athletes in the UK as far back as the 1980s goes to show how forward-thinking they were.
If you enjoy reading how businesses get started and the many challenges they face along the way, then you will really enjoy “Shoe Dog”.