“Wouldn’t you like to get your hands on that?” my dad remarked as he gazed at Winston Churchill’s private library. We were in Chartwell, England, at Churchill’s home. Churchill was a great man, and the books on those shelves—still preserved just as Churchill had left them—helped to shape his mind. That’s why my dad wanted them.
What about your personal library? Do you have a personal library that is designed to further your education? If so, do you use it? Here are a few points on how to develop and use your own personal library:
1) Seek titles highly recommended by the best sources.
I wonder if we realize how often God’s Work recommends reading materials—in messages, in sermons, in articles, etc. Whatever the issue, our ministers have plenty of reading ammunition packed in their holsters when members need counsel. Use this same principle to expand your personal library. Seek the counsel and advice of someone experienced in the field you want to learn about.
Let me give you an example. One time, when the Key of Davidtv crew was waiting in Heathrow Airport for our return flight to the States, we decided to shop. My dad, as he typically does, made a beeline for the bookstore. He left the store with a new volume tucked under his arm: Full Disclosure by Andrew Neil. It was several weeks later when I realized the importance of that book, as my dad quoted large portions of it at an Editorial meeting.
The impact of that one book has been significant. In the editorial department alone, it has helped to better organize our publications and improve our writing. My dad later told me, “It’s as if that book was written for this Work.”
Keep a watchful eye on what the Church quotes or often refers to. If it is good enough to be quoted extensively in the Trumpet, it may be worth adding to your library. Be observant, seek the advice of those knowledgeable in certain fields, and you will have no problem finding plenty of good books. Your problem will then be trying to narrow your selections down.
2) Keep your library narrowed down.
French philosopher Ernest Dimnet once said, “Do not read good books—life is too short for that—only read the best” (emphasis added). He recommended a personal library of no more than 20 or 30 volumes.
Several years ago, my dad gave a series of lectures at Spokesman Club about Winston Churchill. Knowing we probably had not studied Churchill’s life as much as he had, he recommended a concise, one-volume biography by Martin Gilbert to begin our studies. It was excellent advice.
Herbert W. Armstrong said The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin changed his life! It made him want to study the lives of other great men. He also studied the works of Elbert Hubbard.
We have been admonished to study the lives of great individuals in history. To carry that one step further, look for books that were studied by the great individuals themselves. Any book highly recommended by a great man is probably worth reading.
3) Read and study the books in your library.
This seems like a simple point, but far too many people today read very little, even if they do own many classics. Often, what they do read is a waste of time.
Mr. Armstrong wrote in his Autobiography about a true education: “Education comes from study—from books—from lectures—from contacts—from travel—from thinking about what you see and hear and read—and from experience.”
Once your small, personal library is in place, don’t just give each book a cursory read. Study those books. Read to learn. And every so often, re-read. This seems obvious for books like Malachi’s Message and Mystery of the Ages, but we rarely apply this principle to secular reading. Why not? We’re better off mastering 20 or 30 excellent volumes than quickly browsing 100.
Mr. Armstrong often said that the Bible does not contain all knowledge; it is merely the foundation of all knowledge. God expects us to build upon that foundation. He admonishes us to prove all things—to keep growing. There is always room for improvement. Education never stops.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12, Paul encouraged us to live a lifestyle that is quiet, peaceful and productive. That kind of lifestyle is busy, but it is one that allows for education and study. If we stopped to honestly analyze our schedules, minute by minute, we would probably find a lot of time wasted. Redeem the time. Create space in your schedule for regular reading and studying—Bible study first, as the foundation, and then outside material that will improve your mind and make you a more educated, well-rounded individual.
God has given each of us a responsibility to develop character as we support this Work. Studying history and the lives of great men and women, keeping up with current events, and reading all of the Church-produced material makes us more responsible in our role.
Develop your own 20- or 30-volume set, and then let those books shape and mold your thinking the way Churchill’s library did his.