On June 6th 1944, Dwight D. Eisenhower pulled off the most stunning and impressive invasion in military history. A total of 156,000 Allied troops invaded the beaches of Normandy and by June 11 more than 326,000 troops had crossed with over 100,000 tons of military equipment. One of those men was my grandfather.

Eisenhower’s critics often harped that he was more of an organizer than a leader. But it was in the days after D-Day that Eisenhower illustrated one of the most profound and clear moments of leadership — an example that entrepreneurs can follow.

After their hard-won initial successes, the Allied troops became bogged down in the hedgerows of France. These obstacles — half earth, half hedge, sometimes 15 feet tall — plus the reality of coordinating that many men and so much material created a temporary stall, allowing the Germans to wage a series of counteroffensives — a final blitzkrieg of some 200,000 men.

The German blitzkrieg was one of the most intimidating and shocking developments in modern warfare. At the beginning of World War II, columns of Panzer tanks rushed into Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France with devastating results and little opposition. In most cases, the commanders confronted by the Germans simply surrendered rather than face what felt to them like an invincible, indefatigable monster bearing down.

The blitzkrieg strategy was designed to exploit the flinch. The Allied forces would collapse at the sight of what appeared to be overwhelming force. Its success depended completely on such a response. The military strategy worked because the set-upon troops saw the offensive force as an enormous obstacle.

That was reaction of the Allied forces to the blitzkrieg for most of the war. They could see only its power and their vulnerability. How could they stop it? And when that final blitzkrieg came, would it throw them back to the very beaches they had just purchased at such high cost?

Eisenhower answered that question unequivocally. Striding into a hastily assembled conference room at the Malta headquarters, the American general made an announcement: He would have no more of this quivering timidity. “The present situation is to be regarded as opportunity for us and not disaster,” he said. “There will be only cheerful faces at this conference table.”

Eisenhower was able to see a tactical solution that had been there the entire time: The Nazi strategy carried its own destruction.

Finally, the Allies were able see the opportunity inside the obstacle rather than simply an obstacle threatening them. As long as the Allies could bend and not break, more than 50,00 Germans could be sent rushing headfirst into a net — or a “meat grinder,” as General George Patton eloquently put it.

The Battle of the Bulge and the previous Battle of the Falaise Pocket — which the Allies initially feared were major reversals and the end of their momentum — set the stage for stunning triumphs. By allowing a forward wedge of the German army to pass through and then attacking from the sides, the Allies encircled the enemy completely from the rear. The invincible, penetrating thrust of the German Panzers became not just impotent but suicidal — a textbook example of why flanks should never be left exposed.

Eisenhower’s important decision is a moment I think of often. My grandfather, who landed at Normandy two days after D-Day, experienced these initial setbacks only to later fight at Battle of the Bulge, which resulted in his being awarded the French Croix de Guerre. Eisenhower’s decision reminds me of the role that perceptions play in the success or failures of those in opposition.

It’s one thing to not be overwhelmed by obstacles — to not become discouraged or upset. Few people can do this. But only after controlling one’s emotions, seeing objectively and standing steadily does the next step becomes possible: a mental flip, to look not at the obstacle but at the opportunity within.

As Laura Ingalls Wilder put it, “There is good in everything, if only we look for it.”

Yet many people close their eyes to the gift. Imagine being in Eisenhower’s shoes, with an army racing closer and only impending defeat seemingly in view. How much longer would the war continue? How many more lives would be lost?

Or imagine being Thomas Edison when his entire research and production facility became consumed in a terrible fire? Instead of feeling heartbroken, Edison calmly but quickly proceeded to the fire. “Go get your mother and all her friends,” he told his son. “They’ll never see a fire like this again.”

Let these stories put in perspective the next computer glitch, employee error, rude phone call or missed workplace target.

The hard thing about hard things is that people often make them worse by seeing the disaster and not the opportunity presented. The danger lies in assuming that things need to be a certain way. Businesspeople assume that they’re at a disadvantage or that it would be a waste of time to pursue an alternate course. In reality it’s all fair game and every situation is an opportunity to act.

Blessings and burdens are not mutually exclusive. It’s a lot more complicated.

Try to remember, in moments like these, that a second act comes along with these unfortunate situations.

Sports psychologists recently did a study of elite athletes caught up with adversity or serious injury. Initially, each reported having a sense of isolation, emotional disruption and doubts about their athletic ability. Yet afterward, they reported having a desire to help others, added perspective and a realization of their strengths. The fear and doubt encountered during the injury turned into their realization of greater abilities.

It’s a beautiful idea. Psychologists call it adversarial and post-traumatic growth. “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” is not a cliché but fact.

The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of the growth. The obstacle is an advantage, not adversity.

So this is what can be learned from Eisenhower about any situation bearing down right now. Be the one to stride into the conference room and make it clear: This will be an opportunity and not disaster. Be the first cheerful face at the conference table.

This post appeared originally on Entrepreneur.com



If there is one thing the great men of history have in common it’s this: books. They read, a lot. Theodore Roosevelt carried a dozen books with him on his perilous exploration of the River of Doubt (including the Stoics). Lincoln read everything he could get his hands on (often recording passages he liked on spare boards because he didn’t have paper). Napoleon had a library of some 3,500 books with him at St. Helena, and before that had a traveling library he took on campaigns. The writer Ambrose Bierce, the Civil War veteran and an underrated contemporary of Mark Twain once remarked, “I owe more to my father’s books than to any other educational and directive influence.”

The point is: Successful people read. A lot. And what about us young, wildly ambitious people who want to follow in their footsteps? We have that hunger, that drive, and desire. The question is: What should we read? What will help us on the path laid out for us — and all that it entails?

Now a lot of the right recommendations are domain specific. If you want to be a writer, there are certain books you should read. If you want to be an economist, well, there are genres you need to deep dive into. If you want to be a soldier, there are others too. Still, there are many books that every person who aspires to leadership, mastery, influence, power, and success should read.

These are the books that prepare you for the top, and also warn against its dangers. Some are historical. Some are fiction. Some are epics and classics. These are the books that everyone must have in his library. Good luck and good reading.

Biographies

power broker book cover

The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro. It took me 15 days to read all 1,165 pages of this monstrosity that chronicles the rise of Robert Moses. I was 20 years old. It was one of the most magnificent books I’ve ever read. Moses built just about every other major modern construction project in New York City. The public couldn’t stop him, the mayor couldn’t stop him, the governor couldn’t stop him, and only once could the President of the United States stop him. But ultimately, you know where the cliché must take us. Robert Moses was an asshole. He may have had more brain, more drive, more strategy than other men, but he did not have more compassion. And ultimately power turned him into something monstrous.

titan rockefeller by ron chernow

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr. by Ron Chernow. I found Rockefeller to be strangely stoic, incredibly resilient, and, despite his reputation as a robber baron, humble and compassionate. Most people get worse as they get successful, many more get worse as they age. In fact, Rockefeller began tithing his money with his first job and gave more of it away as he became successful. He grew more open-minded the older he became, more generous, more pious, more dedicated to making a difference. And what made Rockefeller stand apart as a young man was his ability to remain cool-headed in adversity and grounded in success, always on an even keel, never letting excessive passion and emotion hold sway over him.

kid stays in the picture book cover

The Kid Stays in the Picture: A Notorious Life by Robert Evans. If you’re specifically looking to make your way in showbiz, this is the book you have to read. It’s the rags-to-riches, rise and fall and rise of Robert Evans, one of the most notorious figures in Hollywood. From pants salesman to running Paramount Pictures (and producing The Godfather), his story is the one that everyone who heads to L.A. hopes to have. It was one of the first books I read when I started working in the business. I think it shows you how far hustle and hype and heat contribute to success. And how they can also lead to your downfall and exile.

empire state of mind jazy z book cover

Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office by Zack O’Malley Greenburg. This is a biography that also functions as a business book. It shows how as a young man in Brooklyn, Jay applied hustling techniques to the music business and eventually built his empire. A true hustler, he never did only one thing — from music to fashion to sports, Jay dominated each field, always operating on the same principles. As he puts it, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!” And related to that, I also recommend The 50th Law, which tells the stories of many such individuals and will stick with you just as long.

fish that ate the whale book cover

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen. This book tells the incredible story of Sam Zemurray, the penniless Russian immigrant who, through pure hustle and drive, became the CEO of United Fruit, the biggest fruit company in the world. The greatness of Zemurray, as author Rich Cohen puts it, “lies in the fact that he never lost faith in his ability to salvage a situation.” For Zemurray, there was always a countermove, always a way through an obstacle, no matter how dire the situation.

malcolm x autobiography

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X. I forget who said it but I heard someone say that Catcher in the Rye was to young white boys what The Autobiography of Malcolm X was to young black boys. Personally, I prefer that latter over the former. I would much rather read about and emulate a man who is born into adversity and pain, struggles with criminality, does prison time, teaches himself to read through the dictionary, finds religion, and then becomes an activist for Civil Rights before being gunned down by his former supporters when he tempers the hate and anger that had long defined parts of his message. Booker T. Washington’s memoir Up from Slavery and Frederick Douglass’s epic narrative are both incredibly moving and inspiring as well.

personal history by katherine graham book cover

Personal History by Katharine Graham. If one thing is certain about your path to success, it is that it will be fraught with adversity. Fate will intervene in ways you would never expect. Which is why you absolutely must read Graham’s memoir. After the tragic suicide of her husband, who ran the The Washington Post and which they both owned, Katharine Graham, at age 46 and a mother of three, with no work experience to speak of, found herself overseeing the Post through its most tumultuous and difficult years (think Watergate and the Pentagon papers). Eventually, she became one of the best CEOs of the 20th century, period. She pulled through and endured with a strong sense of purpose, fortitude, and strength that we can all learn from. In similar regard, read Eleanor Roosevelt’s two-volume biography to see how she managed to turn what was at the time a meaningless position in the White House into a powerful platform for change and influence.

How-to & Advice

48 laws of power book cover

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It is impossible to describe this book and do it justice. But if you plan on living life on your terms, climbing as high as you’d like to go, and avoid being controlled by others, then you need to read this book. Robert is an amazing researcher and storyteller — he has a profound ability to explain timeless truths through story and example. You can read the classics and not always understand the lessons. But if you read the The 48 Laws, I promise you will leave not just with actionable lessons but an indelible sense of what to do in many trying and confusing situations. As a young person, one of the most important laws to master is to “always say less than necessary.” Always ask yourself: “Am I saying this because I want to prove how smart I am or am I saying this because it needs to be said?” Don’t forget The Prince, The Art of War, and all the other required readings in strategy. And of course, it doesn’t matter how good you are at the game of power, without Mastery it’s worthless.

steal like an artist by austin kleon

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. Part of ambition is modeling yourself after those you’d like to be like. Austin’s philosophy of ruthlessly stealing and remixing the greats might sound appalling at first but it is actually the essence of art. You learn by stealing, you become creative by stealing, you push yourself to be better by working with these materials. Austin is a fantastic artist, but most importantly he communicates the essence of writing and creating art better than anyone else I can think of. It is a manifesto for any young, creative person looking to make his mark. Pair up with Show Your Work which is also excellent.

status anxiety book cover

Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton. Ah yes, the drive that we all have to be better, bigger, have more, be more. Ambition is a good thing, but it’s also a source of great anxiety and frustration. In this book, philosopher Alain de Botton studies the downsides of the desire to “be somebody” in this world. How do you manage ambition? How do you manage envy? How do you avoid the traps that so many other people fall into? This book is a good introduction into the philosophy and psychology of just that.

what i learned losing a million dollars

What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars by Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan.There are lots of books on aspiring to something. Very little are from actual people who aspired, achieved, and lost it. With each and every successful move that he made, Jim Paul, who made it to Governor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, was convinced that he was special, different, and exempt from the rules. Once the markets turned against his trades, he lost it all — his fortune, job, and reputation. That’s what makes this book a critical part in understanding how letting arrogance and pride get to your head is the beginning of your unraveling. Learn from stories like this instead of by your own trial and error. Think about that next time you believe you have it all figured out. (Tim Ferriss recently produced the audiobook version of this, which I recommend.)

Philosophy & Classical Wisdom

meditations marcus aurelius

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I would call this the greatest book ever written. It is the definitive text on self-discipline, personal ethics, humility, self-actualization, and strength. Bill Clinton reads it every year, and so have countless other leaders, statesmen, and soldiers. It is a book written by one of the most powerful men who ever lived on the lessons that power, responsibility, and philosophy teach us. This book will make you a better person and better able to manage the success you desire.

cyropaedia by xenophon

Cyropaedia by Xenophon (a more accessible translation can be found in Xenophon’s Cyrus The Great: The Arts of Leadership and War). Xenophon, like Plato, was a student of Socrates. For whatever reason, his work is not nearly as famous, even though it is far more applicable. This book is the best biography written of Cyrus the Great, one of history’s greatest leaders and conquerors who is considered the “father of human rights.” There are so many great lessons in here and I wish more people would read it. Machiavelli learned them, as this book inspired The Prince.

lord chesterfield's letters

Lord Chesterfield’s Letters by Lord Chesterfield. Just like Meditations, which was never intended for publication, this is a private correspondence between Lord Chesterfield and his son Philip. We should probably be happy that this guy was not our father — but we can be glad that his wisdom has been passed down. I have not marked as many pages in a book as I have in this one in quite some time. Of course, the classic in this genre of letters is Letters From A Self Made Merchant To His Son. Dating back to 1890, these are preserved letters from John “Old Gorgon” Graham, a self-made millionaire in Chicago, and his son who is coming of age and entering the family business. His letters are an incisive and edifying tutorial in entrepreneurship, responsibility, and leadership. Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet is also moving and profound. Addressed to a 19-year-old former student of his who sought Rilke’s critique, these short letters are less concerned with poetry and more about what it means to live a meaningful and fulfilling life as an artist and as a person.

plutarch's lives

Plutarch’s Lives (I & II) by Plutarch. There are few books more influential and ubiquitous in Western culture than Plutarch’s histories. Aside from being the basis of much of Shakespeare, he was one of Montaigne’s favorite writers. His biographies and sketches of Pericles, Demosthenes, Themistocles, Cicero, Alexander the Great, Caesar, and Fabius are all excellent — and full of powerful anecdotes. These are moral biographies, intended to teach lessons about power, greed, honor, virtue, fate, duty, and all the important things they forget to mention in school.

lives of the most excellent painters

The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari. Basically a friend and peer of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and all the other great minds of the Renaissance, Giorgio Vasari sat down in 1550 and wrote biographical sketches of the people he knew or had influenced him. Unless you have a degree in Art History it’s unlikely that anyone pushed this book at you and that’s a shame. These great men were not just artists, they were masters of the political and social worlds they lived in. There are so many great lessons about craft and psychology within this book. The best part? It was written by someone who actually knew what he was talking about, not some art snob or critic; he was an actual artist and architect of equal stature to the people he was documenting.

book of five rings

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Widely held as a classic, this book is much more than a manifesto and manual on swordsmanship and martial arts. It’s about the mindset, the discipline, and the perception necessary to win in life or death situations. As a swordsman, Musashi fought mostly by himself, for himself. His wisdom, therefore, is mostly internal. He tells you how to out-think and out-move your enemies. He tells you how to fend for yourself and live by a code. And isn’t that precisely what so many of us need help with every day?

Fiction

this boy's life by tobias wolff

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff and Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. If you wanted to read a book to become a successful, well-adjusted person, you probably could not do worse than Catcher in the Rye. Tobias Wolff’s memoir is a far better choice for the young man struggling with who he is and who he wants to be. I also suggest pairing it with the female counterpart: Totto-Chan. The latter is the memoir and biography of one of the most famous and successful women in Japan (akin to Oprah). It’s an inspiring little story of someone who didn’t fit in, who always saw the world differently (sound familiar?). But instead of making her hard, it made her empathetic and caring and kind — to say nothing of creative and unique. (The former is actually fiction but based on a true story. The latter is a true story but reads essentially like fiction).

duddy kravitz book cover

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler. Duddy is the ultimate Jewish hustler, always working, always scheming, always looking for a deal, and looked down upon by everyone for his limitless ambition. Duddy never stops in his pursuit to acquire real estate in order to “be somebody” — never forgetting his grandfather’s maxim that “a man without land is nobody.” Except it doesn’t work out like he planned. From this book, you learn that the hustler — the striver — if he cannot prioritize and if he does not have principles, loses everything in the end.

what makes sammy run

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg. A composite figure based on some of Hollywood’s first moguls, the book chronicles the rise and fall of Sammy Glick, the rags-to-riches boy from New York who makes his way through deception and betrayal. Essentially, Sammy is your Ari Gold without the slightest bit of human decency. He’s running from self-reflection, from meaning. It’s fear knocking on the door that he’s frantically trying to block with accomplishments. Sammy is an accomplished man, but not a great man — that takes ethics, purpose, and principles. All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren is another similar story — a sort of fictional version of The Power Broker — that tells of the effect that power and drive can have.

the disenchanted book cover

The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg and The Crack Up & The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Disenchanted and The Crack Up are both about the fall of F. Scott Fitzgerald, one from the first person perspective and the other from the fictional eyes of a friend watching his hero fall to pieces — just like the story of Gatsby itself. The Crack Up is a collection of essays, many of which are off-topic, but they had to be — a person cannot look so directly and honestly on their own broken soul without turning away at times. Fitzgerald’s Crack Up has always been illustrative to me and it’s something I’ve thought a lot about. I call it the Second Act Fallacy, and you pity and feel for a man with so much talent and wisdom who was helpless to apply it to himself.

Liber medicina animi — a book is the soul’s medicine.

Of course, the books listed here are by no means all you need to be healthy or fulfilled. It’s just the beginning. But they do make a solid start to your library.

Enjoy and be careful out there. It’s a perilous road to the top.

This post appeared originally on The Art of Manliness.



Los Angeles is a hard city to truly love. Not because it’s “always thrusting you away like an unwanted orphan” as John Fante once put it, but because it’s difficult to understand. Sure there is a lot to like—the weather, the food, the space—but love requires something deeper. It requires a deep understanding.

LA is a city that continually obscures its own history and forgets what it has going for it. So it’s no wonder that “getting” it is so difficult. I lived in LA for 5 years and I just could not understand the city, especially in light of other cities I loved like New York or New Orleans. But only after I randomly read a bunch of books that gave me a glimmer of understanding—a hint into its past as a real place with history and people and life—was I really able to appreciate this unique and special place.

It’s a city that launched its own literary genre and some of the greatest American authors who ever lived. It’s a city with amazing architecture (though it loves to tear that down). It’s a city where the second oldest athletic club in the United States costs $100 a month to join. It’s a city that once had amazing public transportation—where you could ride from downtown to Long Beach on a streetcar (which, btw, is what the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is about). It was once the home of everyone from Upton Sinclair to Wyatt Earp and his family. I mean, seriously.

Los Angeles is a city that you’ll love more the more you know about it. These books will help. Plus…they’re amazing.

The Works of John Fante

I found John Fante through Neil Strauss, who considers Ask the Dust one of his favorite books. I read it in one day, LOVED it and subsequently read everything by Fante I could get my hands on. It’s like people have been hiding this writer from us—and LA’s only attempt to recognize him is the silly little “square” they named after him Downtown. Fante’s Ask The Dust is the west coast’s Great Gatsby. Fante has benefited from some recognition—mostly thanks to Bukowski championing him in his later years—but because the book is about Los Angeles and not New York City, it is mostly forgotten. Better than Gatsby, it is a series. In one year alone, I read seven Fante novels, one biography by his son and a book of letters between John and H.L Mencken. Arturo Bandini, the subject of his most famous series, is a wonderful example of someone whose actual life is ruined by the fantasies in his head–every second he spends stuck up there is one he wastes and spoils in real life. Of historical note: Fante tells a side of Los Angeles that most people don’t know existed, a side that for some inexcusable reason has been completely forgotten. From Bunker Hill to Long Beach to Malibu—Fante’s works cover all of Los Angeles, usually in different eras. My favorite Fante books, in order, if you need more guidance are: Ask the Dust, Dreams from Bunker Hill, The Brotherhood of the Grape, Full of Life, Wait Until Spring, Bandini, The Road to Los Angeles, 1933 Was a Bad Year. Once you read those, you will almost certainly enjoy Fante/Mencken (HL Mencken was a mentor of John’s), and Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking and Surviving.

The Works of Raymond Chandler

If Raymond Chandler doesn’t make you love Los Angeles, no fiction writer can. I read every book Chandler published plus a biography in about a week and a half. I’m not sure what drew me to these books originally, but what kept me in them—literally one right after another without stopping—was how great they are. Chandler was a writer who the critics hated but the people loved, which is usually a pretty good indicator that he was onto something. Noir fiction appeals to me because it does what writing is supposed to: immerse the reader in a vivid, entertaining world. That it also happens to hold great insight about life, power, and people is extra. Chandler never forgot that. It’s why you should read him—you’ll be captivated and learn about the city, about people and about the time period. He too covers the full geography of Los Angeles county from the old gambling boats off Santa Monica to Pasadena to Riverside to Big Bear Lake. Chandler often changes the names but it doesn’t matter. You want to live in his Los Angeles, it just feels so much more interesting. Ranking his books in order of my favorites: The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake, Playback, The Long Goodbye, Trouble is My Business, The High Window, The Little Sister, Farewell My Lovely, and The Simple Art of Murder. Also read and liked: Raymond Chandler Speaking, Chandlertown, and Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles (which has some excellent photos).

Southern California: An Island on The Land by Carey McWilliams

Carey McWilliams was a famous public intellectual who lived and loved Los Angeles. It is his words that are inscribed on the statue in Pershing Square:

Then it suddenly occurred to me that in all the world there neither was, nor would there ever be, another place like this city of angels…Here indeed was the place for me, a ringside seat at the circus.

But I prefer a different line from him. In his biography of Southern California he remarks that Los Angeles, which possesses some of the most unique and special geography in the world—from mountains to ocean to desert to valley all within a few minutes drive, should take our breath away. But at the same time we can’t help but feel that with all this potential, the city and culture somehow disappoint us. It’s true. This book explains how and why the city came to be. It also gives you a glimpse as the where some of those problems come from.

Los Angeles Plays Itself

This is not a book but it’s one of the most unusual documentaries I have ever seen. It’s about Los Angeles…as it has been portrayed in the movies over the last one hundred years. As far as I know it will never be traditionally released due to rights issues but it’s usually available on YouTube. The film professor who made this is basically the greatest LA tour guide and historian who ever lived. If you don’t like reading, watch this moving. It’s like a cliff’s notes of all the books here and then some.

Los Angeles: Portrait of a City by David L. Ulin and Kevin Starr

Even though I haven’t lived in LA for 4 years (I live in Austin now), this is the book I have on my coffee table. Yes, it is expensive. I think it’s like $60, but damn it has some of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen. From the first known photo taken in Los Angeles, to the tragic photos of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel and the Rodney King riots, this book encapsulates the entire history of LA in amazing photos.

A History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory by Norman M. Klein and City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles by Mike Davis

I am putting these two books together because they are somewhat academic but nevertheless spectacular. Both are historians who explain Los Angeles’ strange tendency to obscure its own past. A city of reinvention, it likes to deny that it was ever once something else, or god forbid, something better. As Mike Davis points out, Los Angeles once had a world famous stone arch which celebrated the entrance to the Selig Zoo. Every child in the city had seen and loved the animals which decorated the arch. When the zoo closed, everyone forgot about the arch and it was dismantled. A few decades later they found most of the animals in a junkyard in Fontana. Can you imagine this happening to the lions of the of the Central Park Library? Only LA could wipe out it’s own history this way.

The Price of Experience: Power, Money, Image and Murder in Los Angeles by Randall Sullivan

If you liked any of Bret Easton Ellis’ fictions of Los Angeles like Less than Zero and Imperial Bedrooms then you need to read this book. Because it is basically the real life version. Joe Hunt, a delusional genius creates a Ponzi scheme called the Billionaire Boys Club with a group of friends. Living the high life in Los Angeles they eat at the best restaurants and shop at the best stores. They lived in one of the high rises in the corridor between Beverly Hills and Westwood, which I believe still stands. Most incredibly, one of their marks is actually a con man who ends of conning them. As the wheels begin to come off, they descend into violence and murder. And this all happens during the 1984 Summer Olympics in LA. This book is just a fascinating look at the kind of culture that LA had during that era and the worst it brought out (and brings out) in some. This is a truly underrated book.

LA Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City by John Buntin

This is not related to the video game. It is an excellent book about Los Angeles, crime, the police force and it’s dark period of the 30s, 40s and 50s. I prefer some of the primary sources but this book is great, especially the parts about gangsters like Mickey Cohen. I saw the writer give a talk about it at the Los Angeles Athletic Club a few years back—itself a place that features into the book—and got a lot out of it.

4 Books About the Movie Business (because you can’t understand LA without understanding the biz)

The Big Picture: The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood and The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Reality Behind the Movies by Edward Jay Epstein are the first books I was told to read before I moved to Hollywood. They explain the actual business model of the Hollywood studios (hint: it is NOT box office receipts) and this helps you understand why your actor and writer friends live and act the way they do. It’s why writers can have a house in the Hills without ever having made anything, for example. I also like Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Pete Guber Took Sony For a Ride In Hollywood because it explains just how incompetent and awful studio heads actually are. Finally, for a glimpse of some old school Hollywood glamour, check out The Kid Stays In The Picture: A Notorious Life by Robert Evans (it’s also a great documentary). Evans is nuts. I’m not sure how much there is to learn about the city itself but it is a fascinating story of some of the people who made the town in the last half of the 20th century—better than fiction. I think it shows you how far hustle and hype and heat contribute to success in LA. And that faith in yourself—deserved, delusional or not—goes a long way.

Los Angeles is an important city to understand. It’s just as old as San Francisco, but it seems like it went wrong somewhere along the way. It had its own version of the Lower East Side (Bunker Hill, which you’ve probably seen in LA Confidential). But where is it now? They tore it down. It wasn’t simply some diabolical plot to destroy a city (sorry, Chinatown) but mostly apathy and as we said earlier, a lack of understanding. The people who live there fundamentally do not understand their own heritage and thus they allowed it to be wrecked, often in the name of “improvement.”

When I left Los Angeles I needed to move out of there so badly. I was just so tired and sick of it. So much about LA is broken and not what it could be—how can a city that very intentionally embraced the car and had forsaken all other forms of transportation have such horrible roads? How could a city with so many sports teams, professional and college, basically not be into sports? How could a city known for it’s awesome weather basically be unbearable when its hot and shut down when it rains? And yet, understanding and reading about it—a lot of which happened after I left—made me love and miss it again.

So understand it now before it’s too late. You’ll thank these authors—not me—if you let them teach you.

This post appeared originally on Thought Catalog.