If you want to get One Grip Higher, read The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon!

If you are a student of history, you might have picked up this classic of political and historical literature.  This 6 volume classic was originally printed, ironically, in 1776 at the nascent moments of our great nation’s rise from imperial domination.  It is considered the seminal work on this time in history.  It is anything but an easy read! I owned the entire set of books and stacked on end it was about a foot and half tall. That is a lot of words!

So, here is the confession.  I have not read a single page of Gibbon’s masterpiece. So, why am I saying that you should read it?  Stay with me…

As a young, aspiring politician in the late 1800’s, Winston Churchill committed himself to reading several masterpieces of political history and theory.  In one letter to his mother, he wrote that he was committed to reading 100 pages of Gibbon (a reference to this title) a day.  It is important to note that Winston Churchill was the son of a nominally successful politician, and a descendent of 7 or 8 generations of dukes, lords and other prominent British aristocrats.  He had achieved some notoriety as a young soldier and writer and by all accounts had a tremendously bright future… he probably could have earned a seat in the British Parliament without the painstakingly laborious tedium of reading the likes of Gibbon. He grew up with the proverbial “silver spoon” in his mouth… no one would have expect him to work all that hard.

So what is the point?  Churchill demanded more of himself.  He read, what others would not read.  He put in the hours, that others would not put in.  The result was astounding.  Rather than set for mediocrity and the easy life, he achieved unparalleled greatness. He was elected to Parliament in his mid 20’s, appointed to the British Cabinet at the age of 33 and ultimately emerged during World War II as the Prime Minister. He was the rock upon which Britain would stand firm against the onslaught of Hitler’s forces.  Imagine a world without the man who proclaimed…

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.” (June 18th, 1940, in a speech delivered to the House of Commons one month after becoming Prime Minister)

The world would look a whole lot different if Winston Churchill had settled for mediocrity. The world would look a whole lot different if he had NOT read Gibbon and the other books that most men in his profession would not read. Britain may not have had a leader to inspire courage and confidence in that crucial moment… Britain may of fallen! I’m glad he read Gibbon. I’m glad he put in the work to become the great man he became.

So, let me ask you… what is your Gibbon?  What is your “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”? As a high school principal, I am committing myself to reading the great works of research and pedagogy that anchor my field. What do you need to be reading to separate yourself from the ever inciting lure of mediocrity?  The world is waiting for someone like you, to do what others won’t, so that you can do great things. When you will be ready, will you be able to lead people through “their finest hour”?

Read your version of Gibbon… and you will be One Grip Higher!

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