#1483 Are You Functionally Illiterate?

How Many Books Have You Read?

In our last +1, we talked about Jim Mattis and his GREAT book on leadership Call Sign Chaos.

As we briefly discussed, Mattis served in three wars over his forty years of service in the US Marines. Then he served as the Secretary of Defense. In the process, he established himself as one of the most formidable strategic thinkers of the twenty-first century.

In the book, he shares many of the things he did as he learned how to lead.

One of his core practices?

He read.


Mattis tells us: “Reading is an honor and a gift from a warrior or a historian who—a decade or a thousand decades ago—set aside time to write. He distilled a lifetime of campaigning in order to have a ‘conversation’ with you.”

Mattis continues by saying: “We have been fighting on this planet for ten thousand years; it would be idiotic and unethical to not take advantage of such accumulated experiences. If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will become incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you. Any commander who claims he is ‘too busy to read’ is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way. The consequences of incompetence in battle are final. History teaches that we face nothing new under the sun. The Commandant of the Marine Corps maintains a list of required reading for every rank. All marines read a common set; in addition, sergeants read some books, and colonels read others. Even generals are assigned a new set of books that they must consume. At no rank is a Marine excused from studying. When I talked to any group of Marines, I knew from their ranks what books they had read. During planning and before going into battle, I could cite specific examples of how others had solved similar challenges. This provided my lads with a mental model as we adapted to our specific mission.”

And, he says: “Reading sheds light on the dark path ahead. By traveling into the past, I enhance my grasp of the present. I’m partial to studying Roman leaders and historians, from Marcus Aurelius and Scipio Africanus to Tacitus, whose grace under pressure and reflections on life can guide leaders today. I followed Caesar across Gaul. I marveled at how the plain prose of Grant and Sherman revealed the value of steely determination. E. B. Sledge, in With the Old Breed, wrote for generations of grunts when he described the fierce fighting on Okinawa and the bonds that bind men together in battle. Biographies of Roman generals and Native American leaders, of wartime political leaders and sergeants, and in strategic thinkers from Sun Tzu to Colin Gray have guided me through tough challenges. Eventually I collected several thousand books for my personal library. I read broadly and selected a few battles and areas where I was weak to study deeply. Asked by a fellow Marine to provide examples, I sent him a list of my favorite books.”

That’s from one of the early chapters on Direct Leadership.

I read that with my jaw dropped while shaking my head in both awe and agreement—dropping large exclamation points in the side bar while knowing I’d be pulling this out as a Big Idea and featuring as a +1.

Here’s the question for you, the Commander of YOUR life...

Are YOU functionally illiterate?

As Mattis, who NPR describes as a “warrior-monk,” tells us: “If you haven’t read HUNDREDS of books, you are functionally ILLITERATE.”

Know this: We have been waging external wars for 10,000 years. And, we have been waging internal wars for at least as long.

The wise sages across all cultures and time have blessed us with the gift of their hard-earned wisdom. It is, as Mattis puts it, simply “idiotic and unethical to not take advantage of such accumulated experiences.”


Too busy to read?

Don’t have the time in your jumbo-packed days?

As I like to joke in our Mastery at 1:01 coaching sessions, let me follow you around for a day and see if we can find 10-15-20-30-60-75 minutes of spare time you’re wasting on trivial activities— from Instagram and TikTok to Netflix and ESPN.


Let me remind you that 15 minutes a day is 5,475 minutes a year. That’s 91 hours. That’s more than TWO full-time week’s of work.

Throw 30 minutes a day at reading and you’re at over 10,000 minutes and nearly 200 hours of reading. That’s a MONTH of full-time work reading PER YEAR. If you read 40 pages an hour, that’s 8,000 (!) pages or 40 200-page books a year.


What battle are YOU waging these days and what’s the next book you’re going to read to tap into the wisdom of those who went before us so you can win that battle and give us all you’ve got in this precious life of yours, Hero?

Day 1. All in.

Let’s get reading and LET’S GO, HERO!

Unlock this Heroic +1 (and over 1,000 more)!

Create your account to get more wisdom in less time. Personal development made simple so you can flourish in energy, work, and love. Today.

Sign Up Today