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The power of books to change lives

bookHere are the true stories of some young people, all of them still under the age of 35. For the sake of anonymity, we will call the young people Lisa and Mike, Kevin and Laura, Patrick and Emily, and Michael (unmarried).


After Lisa, age 21, married Mike, husband and wife began listening to Dave Ramsey’s radio show on personal finance. Ramsey’s ideas led them to purchase a copy of his The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. Having determined that his advice made a great deal of sense, they put into practice some of his precepts. By working hard and spending little, they paid off all their debts, including a student loan, within three years and began saving money for a house. By the time Lisa was 28, she and her husband were parents of five small children and were living in a two-bedroom house in Virginia paying a mortgage of less than $250 per month. They are now looking for a larger house with plans to rent out the smaller one. Looking down the road, they hope to continue to buy houses to rent to others and so add to their growing income. When asked, Lisa and Mike credit the books of Dave Ramsey for their initial inspiration and success.

While on vacation in Emerald Isle, Kevin, age 26 and two years out of law school, read Michael Gerber’s The E Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. The book did more than strike a chord with this young man; it excited his imagination to all kinds of possibilities regarding his law practice. Until then, he had worked for a year as an independent attorney sharing an office with a well-established and older colleague. Within a year of that coastal trip, and with the support of Laura, Kevin had rented a large office of his own on a busy downtown street, hired two attorneys to work with him there and a third attorney to work in an office near Charlotte, and employed nine other people in various capacities, including a capable and wise interpreter for his Hispanic clients. When asked how this expansion occurred in less than a year’s time, Kevin gives a good deal of the credit to the lessons he learned from The E-Myth.

Recently married to Emily, Patrick took on a new job in computer software just outside of Washington, D.C. Aware of the stresses of his new circumstances, and looking for a guide to his interior life, Patrick picked up a copy of Josemaria Escriva’s The Way. A Spanish priest, founder of the Catholic religious order Opus Dei, and proclaimed a saint by Pope John Paul II, Escriva constantly reminded his followers of the sanctity of work and to carry their faith into the everyday world. The Way, his best-known book, is a collection of short reflections aimed at the hearts and minds of those with little spare time. Typical of these pithy exhortations is this passage: “#4: Don’t say, ‘That’s the way I am — it’s my character.’ It’s your lack of character. Esto vir!—Be a man!” Patrick looks to this book daily for guidance and strength, and credits Escriva’s words for making him a better husband and worker.

At age 18, Michael is in his first year of college. While recently spending time on the coast with his family, he undertook to cook two meals — one for 20 visitors and another for a crew of 13. To assist him in his endeavor, he turned to Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life. At the first feast Michael delivered a three-course meal; at the second he prepared a shrimp and feta cheese tomato soup that drew high praise from all the guests. He has also read from Ferris’s The 4-Hour Work Week and The 4-Hour Body, and regards them as tools for building the dreams of his future. Michael credits Farris not only for his culinary success, but also for giving him a more adventurous outlook on life and its possibilities.

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Books, as Bell Hooks writes above, have the power to transform our lives. These young people connected with the vision of another human through the pages of a book. That book, that vision, spoke to them, inspired them, and brought from them the willpower to take the ideas from the book and bring them into the reality of their own lives. 

Such is the power of the book. Everyday thousands of readers take up a book and find themselves inspired, enlightened, buoyed up, consoled. Whether in print or electronic, books can teach us how to repair a fan, buy a home, set up a business, cook fine meals, find comfort in the face of sickness or death, survive a bout with cancer. To understand this transformative power, to grasp the idea that a collection of symbols printed by one human being on a white page can speak to the heart and mind of another, is to understand the power of language and the magic of the human imagination. 

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