If You Want to Learn From The Smartest Minds, Read Biographies

No good book can replace experiential learning. There is no substitute for personal experience or learning by taking action.

But the experiences and life stories of great minds can inspire, motivate and encourage us to take the right action and step towards what we want in life and career.

That’s why I invest in biography and autobiography books.

These are a few of my favourites:

Einstein: His Life and Universe and Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. A Promised Land by Barack Obama. Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! by Richard Feynman.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. And Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance.

Biographies are some of the best ways we can learn from intelligent minds. They are rich with insightful and practical lessons, personal stories, life principles, mistakes to avoid and what to do to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life or career.

“They invite us into people’s lives, allowing us to observe them as they grapple with challenges and make important decisions,” writes Nathan Tanner.

A biography (or autobiography) teaches profound life, career and business lessons. The best ones are full of practical wisdom. “Experience is a master teacher, even when it’s not our own,” says Gina Greenlee.

Biographies are templates for a better life

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” Leonardo da Vinci said.

If you haven’t learnt from experience yet, you can learn from the rich experiences of people you admire. “Learn what the rest of the world is like. The variety is worthwhile.” Richard P. Feynman said.

The insight and skill you can learn from biographies can save you years of hard work. If you can make time for authentic life experiences, your life-changing decisions and everyday actions will never be the same.

Whatever your aspirations in life, a good biography can take you on a journey that can improve, challenge or upgrade your worldview, perceptions, beliefs and mental models.

The stories and lessons great people share in books can change your life. “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” Maya Angelou said.

The smartest thinkers use many tools to make informed decisions and judgements. Most of these principles and ideas that inform their choices are hidden in their books. If you can make time to read their stories, you will discover practical and timeless lessons you can use to make your life better.

“When you write biographies, whether it’s about Ben Franklin or Einstein, you discover something amazing: They are human.” Walter Isaacson once said.

Leaning from the true stories of the smartest minds can expose you to different perspectives in life. Their unique experiences can guide you to take smarter actions.

When you read a biography, you are not just reading any book; you are reading decades of life lessons, thinking processes, success stories and work habits. You are learning how successful people dealt with the many challenges of life. It’s like having a mentor from a distance who doesn’t hold back.

The secret to success is found in biographies. If you want to achieve extraordinary success, invest in a great biography. Choose people who inspire you or personalities you admire. People who have changed your industry. Or intelligent minds who have made a massive difference in how we live or work.

“I read everything, but generally more fact than fiction — especially autobiographies and biographies. I’ve read ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ by Nelson Mandela at least twice on holiday. Every time, I’m totally awed by his vision, strength and forgiveness. I feel honoured to have got to know him and his wonderful wife Graca over the years.” Richard Branson said.

Reading a biography is an intellectual journey worth your time. You can learn more from a great personal story of a great mind than from a self-help book.

“Life is growth. You grow or you die.” Phil Knight wrote in his book, Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. There’s so much to learn from books to accelerate your growth.

Choose your next book carefully. And as you read, take time to highlight or write down experiences, lessons, habits, routines and intelligent decision-making processes you can apply to your life.

And always remember to get out there to live your life boldly. Apply the lessons that work for you and repeat what accelerates personal or career growth.