Read Dead Authors

My favorite authors are dead. 

I don’t love the fact that they’re dead. I didn’t mean for them to be dead. And it’s definitely not my fault they’re dead. But—just like T.I. and Justin Timberlake once taught us—that’s exactly what they are. 

Dead and gone. 


I didn’t realize how much I loved dead writers until I set a goal of reading 40 books in 2019. As I built a habit of reading more often I realized many of my favorite living authors were quoting the same few books from history. So I followed the cookie crumbs to older books from authors who have long since kicked the bucket. 

Each book felt like discovering a secret wealth of strange wisdom. 

People like John Wesley have taught me what you can accomplish in a lifetime. He rode over 200,000 miles across England on horseback preaching in public places about the friendship Jesus desired with everybody. He spoke of a radical new religious life—one built on Grace and Faith in God rather than membership in a particular church denomination or tradition. His revolutionary message became a cornerstone of the First Great Awakening throughout Europe. 

Giants like Frederick Douglass amaze me with their tenacity and persistence. Douglass escaped from brutal slavery in Maryland to raise a family and later become a rock of the Abolition movement. His incredible oratory skills earned him an audience with Abraham Lincoln and the ability to drive the national conversation on slavery and the Civil War. 

Sure, I knew some facts about both men before reading their memoirs, but now I feel like I know them. 

They’ve spoken into my life well after the end of theirs. 

They’ve also taught me a few really tangible lessons.  

Dead authors help us realize things aren’t that bad in 2019. 

Abraham Lincoln’s sister Sarah died in childbirth when he was 19. His 11 year old son, Willie, died in the White House guest room years later. Definitely a tragedy, but not a unique situation by any means. 

In fact, Willie was lucky to make it so long.

40% of children didn’t survive past their 5th birthday in the 1800s. 

Today, 96% of them do. 

Poverty, disease, war casualties, and most other major causes of disaster have followed the same trend. Each of them plummeting to historic lows throughout the last hundred years. 

In many ways, we’re living in the greatest era of all human history!

Refuse to believe the dramatic headlines telling you everything is terrible today. 

It’s just not true. 

Dead authors teach us that human problems have always been the same.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” Solomon wrote long ago. 

Thomas à Kempis published an incredible set of writings around 1427 called The Imitation of Christ. He recorded the wisdom he gained in his lifetime as a monk, and his work became the second most printed book of the 15th century. 

The first was the Bible. 

à Kempis wrote:

Do not fall all over yourself in an effort to bask in the shadow of famous people nor to have a [large] pack of acquaintances nor to enjoy the personal affection of a few close friends. These things breed distractions and great darkness in the heart.

In other words — quit living to get famous or acquire a bunch of cheap acquaintances. They just leave you distracted and depressed. 

Sound familiar? 

None of our core problems are new because human nature is human nature. 

Technology isn’t the problem. 

War isn’t the problem. 

Politicians aren’t the problem. 

We are the problem. 

And you’ve got to recognize that fact to start making any sort of meaningful forward progress.

Dead authors challenge our assumptions.

Millions of books are published each year. Many of them are excellent works, but all are constrained by the same set of cultural assumptions. 

You and I are stuck inside a box as every living author. We live through the same major world events, we read the same books, we listen to the same music, we’re stuck in the same news cycle. Those experiences combine to instill a set of underlying beliefs common across the board. 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read books from living authors, but it does mean you are stuck with a limited perspective if 21st Century books, podcasts, and tweets are your only source of information.

It often takes the words of somebody living outside the cage for us to realize we were ever stuck inside one. 

Dead authors don’t care about hot trends or political drama.

Dead authors aren’t worried about their status or following. 

Dead authors don’t need to write i n s t a g r a m m a b l e quotes.

They just tell the truth. 

And if you listen to them, they will quietly guide you towards becoming a deeper, more aware human being. 

That’s something we all need today.

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