I read 66 biographies last year Here are my top 10!

Summary Notes


In the Founders podcast, the host delves into the profound lessons learned from reading 66 biographies of entrepreneurs, culminating in a reflective top ten list. He highlights the transformative power of biographies, noting how they offer actionable insights, inspire the emulation of great ideas, and help avoid others' mistakes. Among his top recommendations are Larry Miller's cautionary tale in "Driven," Chuck Feeney's philanthropic journey in "The Billionaire Who Wasn't," and the complex life of Anthony Bourdain. He also emphasizes the enduring impact of stories like Siggy Wilzig's in "Unstoppable" and Paul Van Doren's in "Authentic." The host reflects on the changing personal resonance of these narratives over time and the importance of applying their wisdom to one's life and work.

Summary Notes

Founders Podcast and Biographies

  • The host has read 235 biographies of entrepreneurs over four years, correlating to 235 podcast episodes.
  • A top ten list was created from the 66 biographies read in 2021 to guide listeners on where to start.
  • The list is subjective and based on personal impact rather than objective ranking.
  • Biographies are chosen for their educational and actionable content, appealing to those seeking wisdom from the lives of great individuals.
  • The host's favorite biographies may change over time as their personal perspective evolves.

So, like the title says, I read 66 biographies. Last year, I did. Made 66 new episodes in 2021 of Founders podcast based on the 66 biographies I've read. And so in total, in the entire four years that I've been doing Founders podcast, I've read 235 biographies of entrepreneurs, and there's 235 episodes in the archive.

This quote explains the scope of the podcast's content and the host's commitment to reading and sharing entrepreneurial biographies.

And so I had this idea. I was like, you know what? People don't know exactly where to start. And so I was like, I'm gonna make a top ten list for the six out of the 66 biographies I read. In 2021, I'll make a top ten list with short descriptions on why I think you should listen to these episodes.

The host acknowledges the potential overwhelm of choice and provides a curated starting point for listeners with a top ten list.

The Value of Reading Biographies

  • Reading biographies is highly regarded by intelligent and productive individuals.
  • Biographies are seen as actionable and educational, providing life lessons and insights.
  • They offer a chance to understand the thoughts of great minds, copy their best ideas, and avoid their worst mistakes.
  • The host is passionate about biographies, which is evident in the podcast's focus.

And it's because reading biographies is some of the most actionable and educational reading you can do. And it's something I'm just completely obsessed with.

This quote emphasizes the host's belief in the practical and educational value of reading biographies.

So I made this top ten list right now based on how these books impacted me this year. And even though the books stay the same, you change as a person.

The host reflects on the subjectivity of the top ten list, acknowledging that personal growth can change one's perception of a biography's impact.

Autobiographies as Cautionary Tales

  • Larry Miller's autobiography, "Driven," is recommended for its unexpected ending and cautionary message.
  • Miller's life journey from dropout to wealth at the cost of health and family relationships is highlighted.
  • Autobiographies are often written at the end of a person's career or life, intended to share wisdom and warnings with future generations.
  • Entrepreneurs rarely write autobiographies mid-career; they usually document their lives when they know their time is limited.

The first recommendation is driven an autobiography by Larry Miller. This is episode number 168. This may be the single book out of every book that I did last year that I got the most feedback on.

The host introduces "Driven" as a highly impactful autobiography and a top recommendation based on listener feedback.

He wanted to warn future entrepreneurs. He said, that his story is a cautionary tale.

This quote highlights the purpose behind Larry Miller's autobiography, which is to serve as a warning to future entrepreneurs about the potential costs of success.

Learning from the Experiences of Others

  • Great minds in history have learned from biographies to gain insights into the thoughts and decisions of predecessors.
  • The desire to emulate successful strategies and avoid past mistakes is a common reason for reading biographies.
  • People often feel compelled to document their lives and share their experiences as they approach the end of their lives or face mortality.

There is something in human nature that when people get to the end of their life, they want to document that information and pass it on to future generations.

This quote discusses the human inclination to share life lessons and experiences, particularly toward the end of one's life.

Almost no entrepreneurs write autobiographies when they're still in the midst of their career. It's when they're at the end, whether they're 60, 70, 80 years old, or if they happen to know they're dying.

The host notes that autobiographies are typically written by entrepreneurs at the end of their careers or when facing imminent death, providing a perspective that encompasses a lifetime of experiences.

Episode 171: Chuck Feeney's Philanthropy

  • Chuck Feeney amassed a fortune of $8 billion and gave it all away during his lifetime.
  • He lives modestly in a small apartment in San Francisco, keeping only $2 million for himself.
  • Feeney was an entrepreneur who created a highly profitable business without raising external funds.
  • The book details his unique approach to wealth and his commitment to living life on his own terms.

"So Chuck Feeney made $8 billion in cash and gave it all away while he was still alive. He lives now in, like, a tiny apartment in San Francisco." "He was a gifted entrepreneur who secretly created a cash flow machine."

These quotes highlight Feeney's significant philanthropic efforts and his choice to live modestly despite his wealth. They also emphasize his entrepreneurial skills and success.

Episode 219: Anthony Bourdain's Oral Biography

  • Anthony Bourdain's assistant compiled interviews from about 100 people who knew him into an oral biography.
  • The book captures Bourdain's complex personality and the highs and lows of his life.
  • It presents Bourdain as a master storyteller who struggled with personal demons.
  • The biography is a tribute to Bourdain's authenticity and the impact he had on his audience.

"Anthony Bourdain, the definitive oral biography. So his longtime assistant interviewed, like, 100 people that knew and worked with Tony Bourdain." "A short life filled with euphoria and terror. A world class storyteller plagued by demons."

These quotes describe the process of creating the oral biography of Anthony Bourdain and provide insight into his multifaceted life, marked by both success and struggle.

Episode 223: Siggy Wilzig's Story

  • Siggy Wilzig's biography details his incredible journey from Auschwitz survivor to Wall Street legend.
  • The book describes Wilzig as an Auschwitz survivor, Nazi hunter, penniless immigrant, and relentless entrepreneur.
  • It serves as an inspiration, providing perspective on personal challenges and the drive to succeed against all odds.

"Unstoppable Siggy Wilzig's astonishing journey from Auschwitz survivor and penniless immigrant to Wall street legend." "Auschwitz survivor, nazi hunter, penniless immigrant, relentless entrepreneur."

These quotes encapsulate Siggy Wilzig's remarkable life story, which is characterized by overcoming extreme adversity and achieving great success in the business world.

Episode 212: Michael Jordan's Approach to His Craft

  • The biography of Michael Jordan spans 700 pages, offering detailed insights into his dedication to basketball.
  • It explores how Jordan approached his career and the daily impact his work ethic and mindset have on readers.

"Michael Jordan the life. 700 pages on how Michael Jordan approached his craft."

This quote summarizes the depth and focus of Michael Jordan's biography, emphasizing the extensive analysis of his professional life and mindset.

Paul Van Doren's Memoir

  • Paul Van Doren, founder of Vans, wrote his memoir at the age of 90.
  • His story includes starting work at age six, dropping out of school in 9th grade, and building the iconic shoe brand Vans.
  • The memoir offers readers a chance to engage with the life experiences of a nonagenarian entrepreneur.

"Authentic. A memoir by the founder of Vans." "Paul grew up with no indoor plumbing, started working at the age of six, dropped out of school in 9th grade, and created the beloved shoe brand vans."

These quotes provide a brief overview of Paul Van Doren's memoir, highlighting his humble beginnings and the journey to creating a successful and culturally significant brand.

Rereading Books and Personal Growth

  • The act of rereading books can lead to new insights as the reader's personal growth changes their perspective.
  • The speaker reread six out of the sixty-six books from the previous year and made new podcast episodes about them.
  • The speaker emphasizes that personal experiences and knowledge gained over time can alter the understanding of a book's content.

"Every time I reread a book, I make a new episode about it, because again, the book stays the same. You change as a person."

This quote highlights the dynamic relationship between the reader and the text, suggesting that as people evolve, so does their interpretation of the same material.

Impact of Biographies on Perspective

  • Reading biographies, particularly of successful individuals, can have a transformative effect on one's mindset and approach to work.
  • The speaker has read over 200 biographies, which has significantly influenced their worldview and content creation.
  • The speaker believes that learning from the successes and failures of history's greatest founders is crucial for personal development.

"Like, I've obviously learned a lot. That knowledge is compounded. That changes how I see the words on the paper..."

The speaker indicates that the accumulation of knowledge from biographies has fundamentally changed their interpretation of texts they revisit.

Michael Jordan: The Life

  • The biography "Michael Jordan: The Life" is praised for illustrating Jordan's dedication and ability to live in the moment.
  • The speaker admires Jordan's work ethic and believes his strategies for success can be emulated in various professions.
  • "Michael Jordan: The Life" is episode number 212 on the speaker's podcast.

"Michael Jordan, the Life, number 212. Absolutely love that book."

This quote conveys the speaker's enthusiasm for the biography and its impact on their understanding of success.

Book Recommendations from Entrepreneurs and Investors

  • The speaker receives book recommendations from a network of entrepreneurs and investors who are avid readers.
  • The audience of the speaker's podcast, "founders," consists largely of entrepreneurs and investors, who contribute to the speaker's reading list.
  • The recommendations lead the speaker to read books they might not have discovered otherwise.

"Every day I get messages for new book recommendations."

This quote illustrates the interactive relationship between the speaker and their audience, which enriches the speaker's reading experience.

Stephen King on Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

  • Stephen King's autobiography is highly regarded by the speaker for its emphasis on practice and persistence in creative work.
  • The speaker believes that every founder can learn valuable lessons from Stephen King's approach to writing.
  • The autobiography is praised for its insights into work ethic and the creative process.

"This book emphasizes practice. The importance of practice. Being immune to rejection, superhuman persistence levels, blue collar work ethic applied to a creative endeavor, work that feels like play and soul in the game."

The quote summarizes the key lessons from Stephen King's autobiography that the speaker finds relevant for entrepreneurs and creative professionals.

Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder

  • The speaker has read two autobiographies by Arnold Schwarzenegger and finds them both remarkable.
  • Schwarzenegger's extreme and unapologetic approach to life is a point of study for the speaker.
  • The podcast episode 193 covers the first 113 pages of Schwarzenegger's autobiography, which is divided into two sections.

"Arnold the education of a bodybuilder by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is the second autobiography I've read of his."

This quote introduces the autobiography of Arnold Schwarzenegger as another influential book that the speaker has covered on their podcast, emphasizing the value found in Schwarzenegger's life story.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Approach to Success

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger's method for achieving success is consistent across various fields.
  • He used the same process to become a top bodybuilder, build a business empire, and become a successful actor.
  • Schwarzenegger predicted his future successes and outlined his blueprint in a book.
  • The book is less about bodybuilding and more about mental dedication to goals.
  • The speaker plans to reread the first 113 pages of Schwarzenegger's book multiple times.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger, who talks about his approach to becoming the famous, the most successful bodybuilder ever live. And at the end of the book, he lifts off. He says, it's the same process that I used to get to the top of this profession, I'm going to use to build my business empire, I'm going to use to become the most famous actor, successful actor in Hollywood."

This quote explains that Schwarzenegger attributes his success in various fields to a single, replicable process that he has detailed in his book.

Ritz and Escoffier's Partnership

  • Cesar Ritz and August Escoffier were both highly influential in their respective fields of hoteliering and culinary arts.
  • Ritz inspired future hoteliers and founded the Ritz and Carlton hotels.
  • Escoffier is recognized as the most influential chef in history.
  • Their partnership is a lesson in how similar work approaches can be applied across different professions.
  • Reading their story provides insights into their work ethic and success.

"So Cesar Ritz will go on to inspire a generation of hoteliers. You know his last name? He founded the hotel Ritz and the Carlton Hotel. Combine that, you get Carlton, right? Brand is still around to this day. And then he was partners with August Escoffier, who is the most influential chef ever."

The quote emphasizes the lasting impact of Ritz and Escoffier's work and partnership, highlighting their significant contributions to their industries and their enduring legacy.

Claude Hopkins' Influence in Advertising

  • Claude Hopkins is celebrated as the greatest copywriter, whose work is still relevant after 100 years.
  • He inspired notable figures in advertising like David Ogilvy and Albert Lasker.
  • Hopkins' teachings are crucial for entrepreneurs who need to learn how to effectively sell their products.
  • His book provides insights into advertising, sales, psychology, and his personal work approach.
  • There's an unexpected twist at the end of Hopkins' book regarding his views on following in his professional footsteps.

"This is number 170, my life in advertising by Claude Hopkins. This book is 100 years old, and it's filled with timeless wisdom from the greatest copywriter to ever live."

This quote identifies Claude Hopkins' book as a source of enduring advertising wisdom and acknowledges his status as an influential figure in the history of advertising.

"Claude teaches you how to sell, and he talks about how did he became the greatest copywriter ever lived. How did that happen? And he goes through in the book. Exactly. Not only does he give you the ideas on advertising, sales, psychology, and all this other stuff, but how he applied that to his own work."

The quote outlines that Hopkins' book is not only a theoretical guide but also a practical account of how he applied his principles to achieve success in copywriting.

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