Reading for business, or just for character development and fun

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Today, in the Harvard Business Review blog, Anne Kreamer discussed the exciting new finding that reading books, general books, even (horror) fiction or literature, stimulates new pathways and is beneficial to your social interaction and, by extension, your usefulness to society and the economy. Thus, one no longer need to feel guilty about reading, whether John Keegan's military history or Clayton Christensen's Innovators Series, whether the Great Gatsby or Harry Potter.

While I have no doubt some of her "guilt" discussed was intended tongue in cheek - anyone who really enjoys sitting reading the Great Gatsby in the evening instead of watching television is, thankfully, not about to be too burdened by such guilt - there is nonetheless some implicit (or explicit) assumption of productivity requirement. The study "absolves" one of the "sin" of non-productiveness when reading by showing that even reading can be a socially productive activity.

I find this deeply troubling. Literature, history, fiction, business.. it matters not. Reading is good in the absolute sense. To really understand the meaning of good, listen to Bill Cosby's classic "The Apple" (available on iTunes and Amazon).

I love business. I love productivity. I see value in every productive moment and could not live without it. If I were wealthy, retirement would be the farthest thing from my mind, as it is, quite simply, unproductive. Profit means excess value creation, and the improvement of the lot of mankind. But life is about life. Reading is good because it expands one's mind and makes them a better, more educated and more creative person and member of society, and a more fulfilled and fulfilling human being. It need no justification, no dispensation from the priests of high business.

I had the privilege of attending Columbia University, with its excellent core, as an undergraduate. Over the entrance to Earl Hall the following is inscribed:

"Erected for the Students that Religion and Learning May Go Hand in Hand, and Character Grow with Knowledge."