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Must-Read's For Creative Builders: 10 Books That'll Change Your Life

I read an asininely large number of books. I probably open or start 300 to 500 books a year, finish 50, read substantial parts of 50 more, and listen to another 30 to 70 on audio. I tend to "fast read" books - which is where I skim until I hit a particularly good part, and then slow down for comprehension. When I read a book that's highly tactical, I try to go through it slowly over a couple months while implementing and testing the tactics.

The following isn't my list of favorite books, nor the best books written, nor even the most important to me. Instead, it's my picks of "must reads" if you're doing "creative building."

That's where you're simultaneously trying to invent/innovate while growing and diffusing your inventions and innovations. It's what entrepreneurs do, but not entrepreneurs only. The following list would be useful to someone trying to proliferate their writing, become prominent in fields ranging from music or journalism, and possibly even governance and politics.

There'll be a mix of philosophical, strategic, and tactical books on the list. Let's begin:

1. Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa - If you're talented and get frustrated with stupid people, you have to read "Musashi" by Eiji Yoshikawa. I mean, you have to. Musashi was one of the greatest swordsmen in Japanese history, invented a new Japanese longblade/shortblade mixed style of swordsmanship, and at one point fought himself out of an ambush when he was attacked by over 30 men. He was undefeated in over 60 duels, including defeating arguably the second best swordsman in Japan at the time while fighting with a wooden oar he carved into a rough swordlike shape. Yoshikawa writes his story about getting into conflict with mainstream society and all of the friction before finally finding a way to hone his craft without unnecessary conflict - and thus reach an even higher level of perfection. A brilliant philosophical read, but also a hell of a swashbuckling story. If you only read one book on this list, read this one.

A Good Translation for the Tao Te Ching

Hearkening back a couple thousand years, Lao Tzu's text offers immense amounts of guidance and clarity about thinking.

Here's the problem: the ancient Chinese leads immense amounts of room for interpretation in translation, and I still haven't found an excellent translation. The challenge is that the original text is very short and pithy in Chinese, and can be looked at from different angles poetically. In English, thus, you're forced to either drop the poetry and write a long and in-depth explanation analyzing all the word choices, or to write something mysterious and abstract. Frankly, neither is satisfying.

I disliked the Tao Te Ching the first 3 or 4 times I tried to read it. I decided to make a serious effort and looked at over a dozen translations recently. Here's three that, while not entirely satisfying by themselves, offer pretty good results together.

This link [pdf] goes to a modern version that's intensely casual and uses lots of slang. Upsides: very readable and understandable. Downsides: the profanity used at times can be jarring; occasionally breaks the flow by interjecting a modern political issue; often doesn't even try to address the beautiful subtly in a passage and just takes a straightforward translation that leaves a lot on the table. I recommend you start with his one, because you'll understand what's going on.

This link [pdf] goes to a side-by-side comparison of six different older versions. This lets you compare how different versions were interpreted. Compare the different first sentence of chapter 13: "Welcome disgrace as a pleasant surprise." "Be apprehensive when receiving favor or disgrace." "Regard favor and disgrace with alarm." "Accept disgrace willingly." As you can see, the translation varies from welcoming adversity, to caution at the implications and continuing-on-thinking from external events, to nonresistance and acceptance. All on the same theme, but very different. I recommend you read this translation simultaneous with the one linked above, the casual modern one. Go into passages you love the most to see different variants, and go into ones you think were poorly translated or potentially important and see how other authors covered it.

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