A Renaissance Man’s Guide To Reading

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it. –Oscar Wilde

We have officially begun the second half of 2016 and I have just started reading my fourteenth book of the year.

If you know me or have been following my blog then you know that reading is one of my greatest passions.

I was an avid reader as a child, but, like many people, I fell out of the habit in my early twenties.

I few years ago I made it a goal of mine to read at least two books per month as a way to spur me back into action.


Since then I haven’t looked back—in the past two years alone I’ve read over 50 books.

(You can check out some of them here, and there.)

Reading has become a daily ritual for me, and if I go more than just one day without it something feels off.

I look at training as exercise for the body and reading as such for the mind and soul. 

In my daily interactions with people and through the conversations I have with clients, I am shocked to find out that so few of us read anymore.

At the same time, I turn on the news and view what is happening around our country and across the world and I find myself deeply saddened by all of the ignorance and hate that is festering in our global community.

We are as connected as ever before; yet I feel we have grown farther apart from each other.


I will forever be an optimist at heart; and I am hopeful for our world and for all of us in it.

However, I also know that change doesn’t happen on its own.

It comes with action—action from regular folks like you and me.

And one of the main ways to take action and foster change is through self empowerment.

And the best way to empower yourself is through education.

Now I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t make much sense to me to stop learning at 22 years old.

With all of the advances in science and modern medicine, that’s barely a quarter into our life span!

And yet so many of us do just that— we stop learning the day we graduate from high-school and/or college.

According to The Statistic Brain Research Institute (1), 42% of college and 33% of high school graduates never read another book post graduation.

(And you wonder how Donald Trump is a nominee for President of the United States?)

Politics aside, these statistics are deeply troubling; and I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of the ills we face as citizens of this planet would be lessened if we brought those numbers up.

I have read some pretty amazing biographies in the past couple of years and the one thing I have found that many great men and women have in common is that they are all voracious readers with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

Whether you have aspirations of becoming President of the United States or just owning your own business some day, there isn’t a more powerful tool in assisting you along your journey than reading—and doing so often!

One of my personal aims is to be as well-rounded an individual as possible.

I want to be knowledgeable about many subjects and be able to hold my own when discussing them with anyone.

I’m also just extremely curious about the world and I plan on being here for at least another 50 years.

That’s a long time.

So I figure I might as well learn something while I’m at it.

Therefore I look to heroes of mine for guidance and inspiration:

Leonardo Da Vinci,  Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Malcolm X—all of these men were incredibly cultivated and well versed in the sciences and humanities of the world.

And, believe it or not, they were no different from you nor myself.

What made them remarkable was their appetite for knowledge and self-mastery.

They were relentless in their work ethic and study habits.

They were concerned about the state of the world in which they were living in and decided that they would be the ones to change it.

I believe that we are at a crucial stage in history, and that right now the world needs more of us to stand up and lead.

The vast power of the internet and social media, combined with a widespread lack of journalistic integrity and the total breakdown of political campaign finance regulation, have made it too easy for powerful interest groups to manipulate the uneducated and ill-informed into supporting policies and legislation that benefit the few instead of the many.

This must change.

And the more we know about the world, the more apt we’ll be to bring about that change.

Like I said earlier, I’ve easily read two books per month for the past 2 years.

That’s 6 books a quarter, 24 a year.

I understand that this might be a bit ambitious for some of you reading this, but if you spend less time on social media and watching television during the week, I do believe that reading 5 books per quarter is more than achievable for most people.

What should you read?

I’ve created a guide of subjects that I feel will keep you well-rounded, knowledgeable, and most importantly, empowered to make well-informed decisions that not only benefit yourself and your family, but that also benefit the planet and your fellow citizens of earth.

Every quarter, you’ll pick 5 books to read—1 pertaining to each category on the list.

1. Continued Education In Your Personal Area of Expertise

What do you do for a living?

Whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, police officer, or even a personal trainer like me, you should never miss an opportunity to brush up on the latest news, information, and advances in your field.

If you aren’t constantly learning about what it is that you do as your main source of income, it doesn’t really matter where you earned your degree or received your training, chances are that you’ll inevitably fall behind the times and become yesterday’s news.

You could potentially lose business down the road or, much worse, neglect the client base that has put its faith and trust in your expertise.

Have great pride in what you do and always strive to deliver the best possible service to others.

2. Health/Fitness/Sustainable Living

 Health is wealth.

If you don’t make an effort to learn about the foods you’re putting into your body; the exercises that build you up; and the practices you should undertake to make the world a more habitable place for our children, you are pretty much wasting your time doing everything else.

You can’t love and respect others if you don’t love and respect yourself.

Take great joy in nourishing, and strengthening, your body while also taking care of your surroundings.

So few of us do nowadays.

3. Sciences And Humanities

This is a broad one, but just pick a book on a subject you are interested in.

Learn about the world in which you live in all aspects.

This could range from a book on a social science like economics, to one on a Greek philosophy like Stoicism, even an historical account of the Civil Rights movement in America or just picking up a Shakespearean play, like Richard III.

Let your imagination run wild.

Leonardo Da Vinci said it best,

“To develop a complete mind: Study the science of art; Study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

4. Biography/ Auto-Biography

We all have heroes and people throughout history that we admire.

The road to success has not only been traveled, but those who came before us left road maps.

Read about your idols and learn about their trials and tribulations.

Learn how they developed their minds and forged their characters.

Use their examples as a blueprint for your success.

Some of my favorites include the autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin, Malcolm X, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, and the biography of Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow.

5. Self Improvement

Self mastery is defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as the power to control one’s actions, impulses, and/or emotions.

My definition is a bit simpler:

It’s the ability to recognize what you’re not good at, and fix it immediately.

There are thousands of books out there that can help you with your deficiencies.

Whether it’s public speaking, organizational ability, business acumen, or leadership skills, there are countless books that have been written to help make you a better version of yourself.

It’s never too late.

6. (Bonus) Fiction Or Anything Else You May Be Interested In 

If you can manage to read 5 books each quarter from the prior list and find that you still have some time on your hands before the next round, knock out a sixth book about anything else that may tickle your fancy.

I personally choose to stick with the 5 prior subjects, so I usually end up double dipping on one of the prior points of interest.

However, it’s totally up to you.

If you happen to enjoy something along the lines of a J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or John Grisham, be my guest and knock yourself out.

At this point, you have earned the opportunity to sit back and enjoy yourself.


If you haven’t read in some time, I understand that the process of selecting your first round of books could be a bit daunting.

If you’re having trouble, I’ve taken the liberty to make some suggestions, as to ease you into this incredibly beneficial and life changing habit.

The books below are numbered in the exact order of the categories listed above.

*The only one I will leave blank is the first, as that will pertain to your particular area of expertise and/or employment.

  1. *
  2. The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson 
  3. The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert
  4. The Auto Biography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley
  5. How To Win Friends And Influence People, by Dale Carnegie 
  6. (Bonus)

These are some of my personal favorites; they are books that have shaped my character and deeply affected my outlook on the world.

If you have read one or more of these books, please refer to the links back at the beginning of this post for more suggestions.


From its inception to its publishing, this post took me about 3 hours to finish.

It would have all been worth it if I inspired just one person to pick up a book and learn about our world and this journey we call life.

We are all in this together.

We can either live as brothers and sisters or parish as fools.

I choose the former.

This post is dedicated to the memories of Alton Sterling, Philando Castillo, Officer Brent Thompson, Officer Patrick Zamarripa, Officer Michael Krol, Officer Lorne Ahrens, Officer Michael Smith, and the countless others that have died at the hands of gun violence. 

May they all rest in peace, and their memories inspire us to learn about our differences, and lead lives filled with curiosity, empathy, and love. 

Author: J.J.Valdivia

I have worked in the health and fitness industry for a decade. Through my personal work with clients, and my writing, I strive to help others become more well-rounded human beings, so that they may thrive in all areas of their lives.

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