The Greatest Business Book I’ve Ever Read

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When I was in my teens and early 20s, I read a lot of business books, biographies, and magazines (such as Forbes). I believed – – quite incorrectly – – that by reading the wisdom, lessons, and teachings of various luminaries and success stories, I would learn the rules of business and increase my chances of success.

In retrospect, I am pretty sure that 99% of that effort was a waste. Indeed, I got a business degree in college, and that was a waste as well. It would be far better, for those who elect to go to college, to either (a) learn how to think creatively; or (b) learn the mechanics of something concrete that one cannot simply intuit their way through. If you’re going to design a bridge or perform heart surgery, yeah, you’d better go to school.

So I stopped reading all that stuff a long, long time ago. I did buy and read the Steve Jobs biography (which I pre-ordered long before the man died) just because he’s Steve Jobs. But the idea that some people seem to have that they can emulate someone’s success by reading about their success is horribly misplaced and unsupported by facts.

I was reminded of this because I just finished reading, for the second time, George Carlin’s final book called, fittingly, Last Words. Most of you know that Mr. Carlin is the patron saint of the Slope of Hope for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that his rantings beautiful capture the zeitgeist of what I have created.

I had bought Last Words a couple of years ago and loved it, and I stuck it on a bookshelf. I saw it again a few days ago, and for no particular reason, I decided to read it again……..and I couldn’t put it down. The book is as sharp, clever, and captivating as any of Carlin’s performances from the 1990s or 2000s. He has an amazing career arc, including terrible problems with drug use (as did as his wife and, not surprisingly, his daughter), poverty so severe he was living out of his car, tax woes that took decades to overcome, and more than a couple close calls with death.

The most important thread in the whole tale is his development as a creative force. This didn’t really begin to take root until the early 1980s, and it picked up pace in the early 1990s and started to make exponential gains. I have long admired both the quality of the material he wrote, some of which borders on genius, as well as his delivery, which was honed by decades of artistry over the course of thousands and thousands of live shows for millions of people.

So why do I refer to this as a “business” book? Isn’t it just a biography about a really great comedian? Well, in my own opinion, reading this book yielded more for me in terms of business insights than any of the dozens of books I went through from Harvard Business Press. To understand deeply Carlin’s challenges, false starts, the dollars-and-cents cost of him ignoring the accounting side of what he was doing with his life – – it all adds up to a magnificent canvas representing nearly half a century of what was, in the end, not just a marvelous creative gift but a complex venture as well.

I passionately recommend this book (here is a link), and I offer you below one of his greatest routines. I regret not being able to find footage of him actually performing this piece, since his inimitable delivery and even the stage lighting are a vital part of the presentation, but the audio still delivers 85% of the wonderfulness. Rest In Peace, George……..