We all need a good library. My mentor, Earl Shoaff, got me started on mine. Here’s one of the books he recommended: Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill. Mr. Shoaff asked me, “Doesn’t that title intrigue you?” Think and Grow Rich. Who wouldn’t need that book?” I found it in a used book store and paid less than 50 cents for it. It’s one of my most valued treasures.
You can start this process of developing a library like I did. Here’s a mindset to guide you as you begin: Your library needs to show that you’re a serious student of life, health, spirituality, culture, uniqueness, sophistication, economics, prosperity, productivity, sales, management, skills and values of all kinds. Let your library show you’re a serious student.
Your library will become your mental food—your food for thought. It is so important to nourish the mind, not just the body. You’ve got to be educated.
A good book to start with is How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. In it, Adler gives you some good suggestions on how to not just read a book, but actually get the most information out of it. He also provides a list of the best books ever written, and I’ve used it as a centerpiece for my library.
I’m just telling you what worked for me. If it suits you, fine. If it doesn’t suit you, keep looking until you find something that does suit you. Just be sure to keep your library well balanced.
Related: 7 Books Everyone Should Read
Let me give you some examples.
No. 1: We’ve all got to have a sense of history. We need to know about American history, international history, family history and political history. This sort of knowledge will illustrate for you that the state of one’s life rarely changes for the better of its own accord. Once you realize that, the next logical step is to realize that you have to do the changing.
History helps us to understand what there is to work with: seed, soil, sunshine, rain. It also tells us what human beings have done with those resources in the past to change their lot in life. You’ll find that many of them transformed from nonproductive citizens to productive ones. That’s what history is for: to learn the lessons of our ancestors. Be a good student of history.
The next crucial topic is philosophy. You might find it a little bit difficult to comprehend some aspects of philosophy, but you can’t just read and study the easy stuff. Try to tackle the more difficult-to-comprehend stuff. That’s how you grow as a person.
Next, novels. Many times, an intriguing story is interwoven with the philosophy that the author is trying to get across. Ayn Rand was probably better at this than anyone. Atlas Shrugged is a towering novel. It kept us intrigued as Rand was feeding us her philosophy. And you don’t need to agree with an author’s perspective to benefit from a novel.
Here’s a little personal advice: Skip the trash. Sometimes you can find something valuable in a trashy novel, but I wouldn’t take the time to read something trashy just to find it. You can find a crust of bread in the garbage can, but I wouldn’t dig through it. There’s simply not enough time to read the truly brilliant stuff.
Next are biographies and autobiographies. You can read the dramatic stories of both good people and terrible people. You need to understand the balance between good and evil. Get a book on Gandhi and a book on Hitler. One will illustrate the heights a good human being can accomplish, and the other will illustrate how low and despicable a human being can become. You need to comprehend both sides of the coin.
Next, accounting. You’ve got to have a least a primary understanding of accounting. Kids have got to start learning the difference between a debit and a credit.
And next is law. You don’t have to be a lawyer, but you’ve got to know contracts, what to sign, what not to sign and how to be safe rather than sorry. All of us need a little law.
I learned this the hard way. Some time ago, a company I was affiliated with in Canada wanted to borrow some money. They needed $250,000. The bank said, “Yes, we will loan the company the money if Mr. Rohn will sign personally.” I wanted to play the hero, and I knew the company could pay it back, so I signed. Sure enough, within less than a year, they had paid the loan back in full. I was indeed seen as the hero.
About a year later, this company got in financial trouble. They went back to the bank and borrowed $250,000 again. I said to myself, I hope my phone doesn’t ring, because I won’t sign the note this time. I knew they were in trouble. I knew they were probably going to go bankrupt. My phone never rang. I was off the hook.
Sure enough, within less than a year, the company went bankrupt. They couldn’t pay, and I got a letter from the bank saying, “Dear Mr. Rohn, since the company cannot perform its obligation and pay this $250,000, and since we have here your personal guarantee, would you please send us your check for $250,000?”
I thought there must be some mistake. I signed that first note, and they paid it all back. I didn’t sign the second note. What I didn’t know was that I had originally signed a continuing guarantee. So now I know what the word continuing means.
I’m asking you to study a little law, know what to sign, know how to defend yourself. Don’t sign too quickly. Be a student. Don’t be a lazy learner.
You’ve got to build a library that shows you’re a serious student of personal development in all areas. So begin with a few books. Soon, you’ll open up a whole new world of fresh ideas.