The Lifelong Impact of a Book

Feb 14, 2024 | Book Reviews

Books change lives. This is the story of one book and how it changed my life.

I was a 19-year-old Marine when I responded to an ad offering three books for $1 from the Walter J Black Classics Club. One of the club’s selections was The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

The autobiography was a delightful read. It also included one chapter which I found fascinating. The chapter was entitled “The Bold and Arduous Project of Arriving at Moral Perfection.” It affected my daily life more than any other book I’ve read.

I encountered many ideas for the first time in Franklin’s Autobiography. That’s where I learned about the importance of planning your day. I learned that having a morning and evening routine or ritual was a good idea. And I learned about tracking performance.

Franklin identified 13 virtues that he wanted to acquire. They were temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He proposed to do that by monitoring his performance every day. Each day, he recorded his offenses against each virtue. Each week, he concentrated on a single virtue. This let him get through four cycles a year of concentrating on a single virtue for one week.

That got me started on tracking my daily performance. It’s been almost 60 years, and the performance I tracked and the systems I used have changed dramatically. My system is more complex than Franklin’s. It measures more things.

Neither Franklin nor I have come close to moral perfection. But I can tell you for certain that tracking my performance has made an enormous difference in my life.

The very best books are like that. They plant a seed that grows into a behavior or a habit and affects your life. If you’re a reader, you crave books like that. If you want to be an author, you aspire to write a book like that.

Now it’s your turn. What book has had a significant influence on your life?

Thanks to my friend, Terry Moore. A discussion with Terry about perfection and excellence started the thinking that led to this post.