My summer reading isn’t like most people’s.
Summer should be a time to read what you want, to indulge in the guilty pleasures of breezy novels. For some inexplicable reason, I always choose the opposite, to “go back to school” if you will, to read the books I feel I should be reading.
No thrillers, popular novels or otherwise “easy reads” for me. No, I get ambitious, selecting 1,000+ page tomes that require every bit of my attention. I’m not sure what the unconscious motivation is here. Maybe remnants of imposter syndrome past that keep telling me, despite Master’s and undergraduate degrees from a leading university and a lifetime of reading, that I’m under-educated at best and uneducated at worse.
Reading from the past few summers has included fiction and biography: The Brothers Karamazov, Walter Isaacson’s Einstein and last year, Hitler: Ascent, the first of two-volumes to be released by Volker Ullrich.
And if we weren’t having fun yet, when Churchill: Walking with Destiny, the acclaimed bio by Andrew Roberts, came out last year, it had my name on it. The book, as my past summer reads, could have been easily been subtitled “Walking with Density.” That every page is packed with names, places and events acknowledges both the incredibly rich life Churchill lived and the author’s attention to detail.
No pain, no gain, right? Though “challenging” is probably a better word than “pain” to describe these books. “The Brothers Karamazov” had characters pondering their existence and a moral dilemma on every page. My iPad is close when I read Churchill. It’s unusual to go more than a few pages without referring to a map or a Wikipedia page for context.
I’m on track to finish “Churchill” in the next week or so, at which time I will joyfully throw myself into any one of several novels I’ve already downloaded to my Kindle. School’s out! Still, I do love my summer reading, a different kind of escape that always leaves me with a bit more insight and understanding.
As always, this learning extends to marketing and branding. Among his incredible talents and accomplishments as a soldier, journalist, historian, artist and of course, Great Britain’s inspirational Prime Minister and war time leader, Churchill was a branding genius.
Renowned as a great orator, he used his knowledge of history and legendary sense of humor to educate and inspire. He was at one time the lone voice in the wilderness, warning his country and the world of Hitler’s potential while government leaders favored appeasement. On becoming Prime Minister, he was the voice of unbridled optimism and confidence while never discounting the terrible loss and sacrifice the war exacted from his people.
In addition to his elegant words, Churchill was an iconic presence, from the way he dressed, to the ubiquitous cigar, to the V for Victory sign for which he was known. Like great brands and politicians, he adapted to changing circumstances, most conspicuously pursuing an alliance with Stalin in World War II after years of consistently bashing the cruel, totalitarian Soviet state.
But also like great brands, he was fearless, always himself, staking out strong, often controversial stances with little concern of what others thought. This was rooted supreme self-confidence. On a practical level, he was always the most well-read and best prepared. But he was also a visionary and a great strategist, grasping the future of warfare, economics and politics far earlier than most of his contemporaries.
I wonder what he’d think of the digital age, big data, privacy issues and of course the wretched state of politics. Now there’s a great exercise for an ideation session. What would Churchill do if he were the CMO of our brand? If only participants were looking to history and literature for inspiration rather than Buzz Feed and Instagram.