My Top 5 Books of 2015

December 22, 2015

Russ Ewell

I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial

Winston Churchill

Destiny was my reading discovery in 2015. It was an unintended but welcome consequence of reading superb writing about people who changed the world. What follows is my top five books from my 2015 reading list with a brief reason for their selection.

Traitor To His Class

H.W. Brands has always been a dry read for me, but “Traitor To His Class,” subtitled “The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt” breaths fire. I have read a number of books about Franklin Roosevelt, but none clarified his personal courage, radical nonconformity, and visionary hopefulness quite like this volume. 

By the time I reached the end of the book, I wanted to change the world.

What I learned was it would have been far easier for Roosevelt to choose a comfortable life of privilege, but he instead embraced a radical life of service, which lead him into a destiny that gave hope to a despairing world.

Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye

This book is authored by Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers with Joe McCarthy. I actually read this book in college and remembered being inspired, so I embarked on a reread. O’Donnell and Powers were close friends and White House assistants to John F. Kennedy. 

Their story is an emotional one, filled with personal antidotes of the intimate journey they traveled with Kennedy from beginning to end. Read this book if only for the account of the hunting trip at Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch.

The lesson I learned is John F. Kennedy became president in large part because he had great friends, who recognized their destiny was inextricably tied to his. They sacrificed their individuality so that together with him they could turn the ideas of the New Frontier into a national reality.

The Georgetown Set

Lloyd James beat out my favorite historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and her book “The Bully Pulpit” as my favorite about journalism, and as a result, took second place. His book “The Georgetown Set” was riveting from beginning to end. 

Having lived in DC, and witnessed the importance of political journalism, it was inspiring to see and feel the power of relationships described in its pages. Subtitled “Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington,” I was left wishing for this type of courageous relationship journalism as contrasted with the ratings motivated media of today.

The lesson I learned is the major players in the spotlight are not always the most influential people on the ground. Whether we appear large or small in the eyes of people, we should embrace our destiny, because our potential for influence could be greater than we imagine.

The Wright Brothers

I still can’t remember what possessed me to read “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough. When it was initially published, I questioned why anyone would write a history about the discovery of air flight and the invention of the airplane.

After reading this book, which I began begrudgingly, two things became clear. David McCullough is the premier historical storyteller of our time, and the Wright Brothers story needed to be told. Their curiosity, courage, and endurance can be applied to any area of life for inspiration.

What truly moved me was the relationship between Wilbur and Orville, and that destiny is not about the individual but rather the team or in this case family!

Destiny and Power

First of all, I am a Jon Meacham fan, because he embraces political neutrality, which allows him to see deep into the soul of those whose lives he documents. I am also a political junkie, whose entire childhood was shaped by a family of democrats living in a republican stronghold. Both of these facts explain why I am a political independent…I like to see both sides. 

Reading Destiny and Power I saw both sides and came away impressed with George H.W. Bush. Meacham does a wonderful job giving voice to the elder Bush through the very honest and compelling diary accounts of the former president. I have never read anything from a president as humble, vulnerable, and authentic. No matter where you stand politically (and I don’t agree on a lot with Bush), it is impossible not to appreciate the personal life of George H.W. Bush.

The lesson I learned is you don’t have to believe you are better than everyone else to believe you have an important destiny to fulfill.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Crucible of Command by William C. Davis
  2. C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Robin Sachs
  3. Education of a Coach by David Halberstam
  4. Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender, Rick Tetzelli
  5. Brothers, Rivals, Victors by Jonathan W. Jordan
  6. Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne
  7. Wilson by A. Scott Berg