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Billy's Book Bag - October Edition

Three books Genii Earth CEO Billy Afghan recommends you consider reading and why.

The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life

by David Brooks

Published April 2019

How do you define success for yourself? For your children?

Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, by David Brooks, comes at a time when we should all be asking ourselves this question newly.  This book examines what it means to set out to be “successful” in life as defined by most people today—personal achievement, degrees, money and status.  What Brooks calls, “the first mountain.” He asks us to reevaluate this perspective in the times we are in today. At Genii Earth we help our clients reimagine their work for the times we are in, so I was eager to read this book.

Brooks asserts that not only does this first-mountain definition of success not create happiness, but it is detrimental to what the world needs from us today. He argues that the over-privileged, individualistic mindset has created a self-serving and self-obsessed society that comes at great cost to our ability to create a better future for the next generation.  It drives a growth mindset that implies that more is always better, when having more comes as great cost to communities, the planet, and our collective ability to solve big problems together as a society.

Second Mountain is a call to shift our focus from the pursuit of the first mountain, to the “second mountain,” a life centered around values, relationships, and a sense of responsibility towards others. Brooks asks us to consider a broader definition of success that includes moral character, empathy, and a commitment to a greater good.

This book represents a deeply personal journey for David. He shares that the five years proceeding his divorce had him reevaluating what success really is – how being self-absorbed around achieving first-mountain success comes as a big cost to relationships and communities.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Brooks about this book and asked him what he sees as his purpose in life now.  His answer was simple and clear, “to be of service to others in any way I can.” David’s next book coming out this October is called, How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen. It’s meant to help people understand the specific social skills people need to build connection, community and democracy.  I can’t wait to listen to it. David will be narrating himself—his familiar voice, like an old friend, giving us sound advice for the times we are in.


Who We Choose to Be: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity

By Margaret Wheatley

Published May 2017

How is despair connected to leading for the future?

Margaret Wheatley’s book, Who We Choose to Be: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, is an intriguing exploration of leadership, responsibility, and humanity’s capacity to shape a more compassionate and just world. Wheatley challenges conventional notions of leadership and offers a compelling vision for creating positive change in the midst of uncertainty and chaos.

Wheatley takes a painfully honest look at the current state of the world. She does not shy away from the reality of the turmoil, divisiveness, and fear that characterizes our times. Some may even say she is harsh in her assertion of the state of the world. What I find intriguing and effective in this approach is that she empowers us to confront reality head-on and engage with it constructively. She reminds us that despite the overwhelming chaos, we have the agency to influence our environments through conscious choices and thoughtful actions. It reminds me of an old saying, “those with the most truth win.”  To me this suggests that confronting what’s real opens more authentic pathways for constructive action; keeping our collective heads in the sand does not.

She asserts that leadership is not confined to positions of authority. Rather, it is a personal choice each of us can make regardless of our position. Wheatley emphasizes that leadership for these complex times requires a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings and systems. She encourages us to embrace a more expansive and empathetic form of leadership.

Wheatley introduces the concept of “warriorship.” She asserts that leaders must adopt a warrior’s stance in times of crisis—not to fight against others but to stand for what is just and compassionate. This concept of warriorship is grounded in inner strength, integrity, and the unwavering commitment to act for the betterment of all.  This is a stark contrast to the prevalent “warrior” archetype often associated with aggression and domination.

She believes that by coming together and engaging in deep conversations we can collectively address challenges that appear insurmountable when faced alone.

Who We Choose to Be offers that despair is not a sign of weakness, but a testament to our deep caring for the world. Instead of avoiding despair, she encourages us to lean into it, acknowledging its presence while moving forward with the work that truly matters.

Meg Wheatley has a unique take on leadership that feels underrecognized today.  Her connection to current reality, her implications for collective leadership, and her plea for each of us to be leaders in our everyday world feels just right.  If you can be with her assessment of our current reality and make it out to the other side of the book, you will really see this is about hope, action and agency—and that it’s in our individual and collective hands to change the trajectory we’re on.


Ground Truth: A Geological Survey of Life

by Ruby McConnell

Published in 2020

What is your connection to the land where you grew up? What do you think about when you remember the rocks or trees you climbed, or the water you swam in, or the parks where you played?

I first met Ruby at a book signing where she shared her story of growing up in the Northwest of the United States, her connection to the land and her passion for the environment.  She shared why she became a geologist, and how she weaves the land and her personal life together to help us understand why she has such a strong connection to nature—and why we should too.

Ruby’s book, although very personal, amplifies our connection to the natural world, weaving together anecdotes, scientific insights, and a profound love for the environment. Her beautiful writing and passion make this book a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Earth and our place in it.

“Ground truth,” a term Ruby learned as a geologist, refers to testing the validity of subjective data by looking at the ground to see what the rocks and land are telling us.  For her, nature is the ultimate truth.  It doesn’t lie.

What sets Ground Truth apart is Ruby’s unique perspective as a geologist, environmentalist, and mother. She takes us on a journey through her life, from her childhood in rural Oregon to her adventures as a field geologist, all while reflecting on the broader themes of nature, feminism, and climate change. You can feel the dirt under your fingernails and the awe of standing in the presence of ancient rock formations. Her intention is that we come away with a newfound appreciation for the Earth’s intricate systems and a sense of urgency to protect them. She reminds us that the environmental movement is not just about abstract concepts; it’s about our homes, our families, and our future.

Thank you, Ruby, for sharing this very personal account of our shared backyard, the Pacific Northwest. I could imagine each place that you describe.  Each of us can find a personal connection to nature by just walking out our back doors.

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