Why Every EHS Professional Should Read Biographies

My daily reading has changed focus over the past few years. In 2012, I told a mentor that I purposely avoided biographies because I found little value in reading about other people’s lives.

I still shake my head when I remember saying that.

Here’s why I read now biographies and why every EHS professional should put a few on their reading lists this year.

1. Stories matter: When you read about a person’s life, you learn that stories (not data, statistics, or bar graphs) change the way people think. A great primer in history and the art of storytelling, and while not a biography, is Heroes of History: A Brief History of Civilization from Ancient Times to the Dawn of the Modern Age by Will Durant.

2. Decision making is an art: Biographies are simply decisions wrapped in history. I read biographies to learn how leaders made decisions. One of the best for EHS pros frustrated by the business of politics is The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Modern Library Paperbacks) by Edmund Morris.

3. They aren’t special nor perfect: This was my excuse. “They” could achieve that goal, go to that school, and earn that promotion, etc. because they were special. Then I read that John D. Rockefeller was born 10 miles from my house. Colin Powell had to work endlessly for every opportunity. And Winston Churchill had an “agonizing stutter”, a lisp, and was a proponent of sterilization for the “mentally deficient”. Biographies bring humanity to people and reality to heroes. They also bring your goals within reach. If these people can…why not you? Try Colin Powell’s It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership for insight into how hard work (in the right direction) pays off.

Can’t find time to read? Here’s how one person reads only 25 pages a day (and makes it through 8,500 pages a year)!

What is your favorite biography and why?


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