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The Best Books I Read in 2020: Easton Training Center General Manager Shares His Favorite Reads of the Year

Jordan Shipman is the General Manager of Easton Training Center in Longmont, Colorado.

This year provided me with a lot of opportunities for reading. I’ve narrowed down all the books I read to some of my favorites. If these were the only titles I had picked up, it still would have been a damn good year of reading.

Here they are in the order I finished them:

  1. No Self No Problem by Chris Niebauer 
  2. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
  3. Endurance by Alfred Lansing
  4. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  5. Atomic Habits by James Clear
  6. The Great Influenza by John Barry
  7. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  8. Empire of The Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne
  9. The Righteous Mind by Johnathan Haidt
  10. Chop Wood Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf
  11. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
  12. Lives of The Stoics by Ryan Holiday
  13. Dune by Frank Herbert
  14. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

No Self No Problem by Chris Niebauer dives into the latest neuroscience that supports what Buddhism has been teaching for over 2,000 years: our sense of self is an illusion. 

Sometimes I find a book, and sometimes a book finds me. This recommendation from a friend and mentor came at the right time. Easton Longmont had just opened and I was transitioning into a new role as general manager. There is utility in wearing an identity but to become stuck in who we think we are is the downfall. I’ve always been the guy that did everything himself. I believed that’s who I was and why I was valuable. That’s what got me here, but it won’t get me there. I needed to let go of who I thought I was, so I could become what I can be. No Self No Problem helped me let go. 

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is the inside story of Nike’s early days as a start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic brands told by its creator.

The beginning of the pandemic lockdown was a tumultuous event. My system had been pumping cortisol for a week. I needed to recover. This book was just the ticket. I tore through it. Easily one of my most entertaining reads ever. I can tell a lot of business memoirs have ghost writers. Which isn’t bad, but this book was certainly written by Phil. You could hear his voice, his personal flair. The storytelling had style. The end result is a highly enjoyable hoot. I became such a fan (I bought two pairs of Nikes after reading and I’ve never owned any)!

Endurance by Alfred Lansing is the story of arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton on board the ship Endurance when it became locked in an island of ice in August 1914. Eventually the ship was crushed between two ice floes. He and his crew of twenty-seven men then journeyed for two years over 850 miles to safety. Stuck floating on pieces of ice the majority of the time.

It is an absolutely crazy story. Could you imagine being stuck on floating ice in the middle of the arctic for two years? And everyone survives? Me neither! Which is exactly the perspective I needed at the time. Earlier this year, no one knew what was going to happen. We knew next to nothing about the virus, the hospitals were overwhelmed with people dying and we had no idea how long the lockdown would last. Planning for tomorrow was impossible. Easton CEO Mike Tousignant recommended this book to all the general managers shortly after all the academies closed down, comparing each of us to a captain of a ship. I feared Easton Longmont would be the ship to sink because we had only been open for two months. By contrast, our circumstances were nowhere near as dire as Shackleton’s. The analogous thinking was timely and necessary.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is about a man slipping through the cracks of reality and landing in Neverwhere—a mysterious London underworld.

When I think back to coronavirus, I’ll remember it in part as the year I started reading Neil Gaiman. I also read Norse Mythology, The Ocean at The End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book, and American Gods. Neverwhere is my favorite. A wonderful fantasy story. A metaphor for the people who are forgotten by society, who have fallen through the cracks. We don’t see them right in front of us. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear–as the byline says–is about building good habits and breaking bad ones. 

It encompases all the other books I’ve ever read about establishing habits and routines. So much so, I probably won’t read another. My lasting impression is that habit creation is identity creation. The skillful way to create new habits is not by setting a goal like “read fifty books a year” but rather you should set your sights on the identity you wish to inhabit. “I am going to become a reader,” you say. Then you prove it to yourself each time you read a book that you’re a reader. This becomes who you are. In this way, an identity can be a useful target. Something to aim at and propel us forward. 

The Great Influenza by John Barry is about history’s most lethal influenza virus in 1918. 

Just over a 100 years ago and the closest event in history that’s analogous to what’s currently happening. I read this volume, which was published in 2005, right before we re-opened all the academies in June. There is so much noise out there and history has the benefit of hindsight. I wanted a 30,000 foot perspective on what was going on. As I have watched the events of this year unfold, I am convinced the book nails everything that’s happening now. The pattern is spot on. It’s a course in the history of medicine, epidemiology, World War I, politics and leadership (particularly what not to do). In fact, out of all the books I’ve read this year–this is the one that has popped up in my mind and I’ve recommended the most. Either when making important decisions or in conversations with students and staff. 

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is about the author’s own experiences in Nazi death camps and his theories on spiritual survivial, finding meaning even in the worst of circumstances.

When I found myself searching for strategies to boost staff morale and help keep our community in good spirits–I thought it would be a good time to pick up this book. It’s commonly cited as one of the most important works ever written and required reading for everyone. I took away a couple ideas: One, my circumstances are inconsequential when compared to life in a concentration camp. I’m very lucky. Two, provisional existences are difficult for everyone. When all we can see in front of us is uncertainty and we have to give up planning for the future, it can be very hard to maintain a positive outlook. It’s easy to get lost in the waters you’re swimming in but it is possible to find hope and positivity in even the worst of circumstances.

Empire of The Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne is a historical account of the forty-year battle between Comanche Indians and white settlers for control of the American West.

One of those books everyone heard about on the Joe Rogan podcast and I am no exception. It just sounded hella cool. It did not disappoint. It was an epic, perspective-quaking read. 

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Johnathan Haidt is about the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding.

Over the summer I flew home for a funeral and to visit my family. I don’t agree with them about many things. Prior to departure, I started reading this book in the airport, preparing my brain. Black Lives Matter protests, the removal of confederate monuments, etc., would be at least mentioned. I love my family but I’ve always struggled with understanding their perspective. “Why don’t they see what I see?” I’ve always asked myself. Learning about evolutionary psychology and the foundations or our morality helped me to have more empathy for my family’s point of view. Most people are basically good and coming from a sincere place. The author concludes that morality is both innate and culturally influenced. So in part, we can’t help but see things the way we do. To be human is to have a difficult time understanding people who disagree with us, but striving to do so is very important. 

Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall In Love With the Process of Becoming Great by Joshua Medcalf is a parable about a boy’s journey to achieve his life long goal of becoming a samurai warrior and comes to realize the greatest adversity on his journey will be the challenge of defeating the man in the mirror.

I love when I hear about books because they’re making the rounds among the Easton community like a viral sensation. You know it is going to be good. Chop Wood Carry Water is a short, impactful read that I think all martial artists should check out. The main character wants it all right away but ultimately has to surrender to the process of mastery and all the roller-coaster ups and downs that go along with it. Regardless of where anyone is at in their journey to master anything, this gem will illuminate valuable lessons. 

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki is about the fundamentals of Zen from details of posture and breathing in zazen to the perception of nonduality.

Meditation practice is one of my successes for the year. I’ve known for a long time that just about all the top performers in every field have some sort of mediation practice. I just didn’t want to do it. I wouldn’t do it no matter how many times all of the amazing mentors in my life would make the suggestion. It wasn’t until Mike Tousignant said to me, “I read everything you recommend to me. Every time you recommend something to me I try it.” I started meditating soon after. I picked up this book to learn more about zen practice. I anticipated a short, quick read as it is only about 120 pages but it took me over a month to finish. Simple, yet immensely profound–I couldn’t absorb more than a few pages a day. I had to marinate on it all. I thoroughly enjoyed and cherished all the lessons in this book. I will return to it often. 

Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday is about the lives of the ancient Stoics, and what they can teach us about happiness, success, resilience and virtue.

When Ryan Holiday writes a book, I buy it and read it. Although I didn’t really know what to expect, I suspected this book to be a lot like The Daily Stoic. It was so much better. Through a collection of mini biographies what you get is an overarching story about the birth of stoicism as a philosophical school and the part it played in the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. I learned a lot more about history that I was expecting and even more about stoicism. It has piqued my interest for more.

Dune by Frank Herbert. Sci-fi masterpiece. 

Chances are, you’ve heard of this one. Everyone I know who has read it recommends it as one or their favorites, if not the best book they’ve ever read. 

If I see a movie or show based on a book before reading it, then I won’t. I am perfectly willing, however, to watch a movie or show after I’ve read the book. I wanted to read Dune before the new movie came out in December 2020. So I devoured it. Then I found out the movie had been pushed back to Summer 2021. Lol. It was amazing to read. Simply awesome. I don’t see how it would be possible to faithfully adapt the book into one movie. Maybe three movies. Or an eight-hour series. 

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek is about how leaders can build top performing teams and cultures in their organizations.

I’m a big fan of history, evolutionary psychology and military strategy. This book synthesizes all those subjects into a philosophical treatise on what makes leaders great. Companies that truly care about their people and put them first–are quite rare and are what is sorely needed in the modern world. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of Easton.

What were your favorite books this year? Let us know on social media!

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