How Reading Great Books Can Enrich Your Life

UPDATED: October 17, 2023
PUBLISHED: February 1, 2017
How Reading Great Books Can Enrich Your Life

“Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.” —Joshua Wooden

Coach John Wooden had a great love for reading because he understood that poetry, biographies and other great books would enrich his life. He would often comment on this in speeches he gave after retiring from coaching, saying, “Familiarize yourself with Lloyd Douglas’ The Robe and The Magnificent Obsession. Read Shakespeare, Tennyson and other great authors. They can make you a little better than you are.”

Coach’s father instilled a love of reading into him as a child. He would read the Scriptures and poetry to his children every evening. Throughout his lifetime, Coach read countless books, including more than 40 books each about his favorite historical figures, Mother Theresa and Abraham Lincoln. His interest in Lincoln was another gift from his father, who had read many of Lincoln’s works himself and often quoted Lincoln’s wisdom. Through his own study of Lincoln, Coach learned the important lessons of overcoming life’s obstacles and moving quickly past failure. By taking every opportunity to learn from the greatest historical figures such as Lincoln, Coach was able to use their wisdom to enhance and expand his own wisdom and philosophies.

Related: John Wooden’s Legacy Is a How-To Guide for a Successful Life

One example of how Coach Wooden applied the wisdom of a great historical figure is demonstrated in how he viewed disagreements with his assistant coaches. One of Coach’s favorite books was Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book documents Lincoln’s decision to appoint several of his former political opponents to fill important posts in his presidential cabinet. Lincoln felt that by not surrounding himself with “yes-men,” his ideas would receive honest criticism and inspire spirited debate to help to make his policies more balanced and reasonable.

Whenever Coach Wooden had a disagreement with a member of his coaching staff, he applied what he learned about Lincoln’s approach to disagreement, and he would embrace the conflict. Coach liked being challenged by his assistant coaches because it helped improve his decisions and demonstrated that his assistant coaches were equally passionate about the team’s success. Coach actively encouraged his staff to voice contradictory opinion. After hearing everyone’s input and debating their suggestions, he would decide the best course of action. Then they would all commit to it and move forward.

Related: 4 Ways to Be a More Collaborative Leader

Drink deeply from good books,” does not necessarily have to be applied exclusively to books, for the universal concept behind it is learning from others. Coach Wooden’s father used to say, “You’ll never know a thing without learning it from someone else.” Every summer after basketball season, Coach would choose a different topic, such as the jump shot, free throw shooting or attacking the zone, and then he would create an improvement study project. He would develop a questionnaire, send it out to coaches and players who excelled in the given discipline, and follow up with a personal call. He was fully engaged in studying and learning from others how to teach and improve his team’s ability to better execute that particular skill. He continued this practice through his very last season of coaching.

As usual, Coach gave us some insightful maxims to help convey his feelings on the benefits of reading, and by extension, learning:

  • “If I am through learning, I am through.”
  • “It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
  • “The worst thing about new books is they keep us from reading the old ones.”

The block on the Pyramid of Success that best exemplifies the importance of drinking deeply from good books is Condition, which is defined as: “Mental-Moral-Physical. Rest, exercise and diet must be considered. Moderation must be practiced. Dissipation must be eliminated.” Indeed, reading good books and constantly learning from others are great ways to condition one’s mind.

Related: 71 of 2016’s Best Books to Make You Successful

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This article originally appeared on and has been republished with permission.

As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.