Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Read Any Old Books Lately?

Keep your very old books repaired and treat them gently.jpgYou probably read a variety of material–hopefully, some of it related to work or to personal or professional development. For interesting perspectives, try reading books and magazine articles about supervision, management, leadership or personal development, written thirty or more years ago. You will find that much of the material could have been written yesterday, while some of the material is is amusing or irritating, viewed from 2008 perspectives. Any old, non-fiction book can be a wonderful window into the world of the past

One of my prized possessions is a reference set of 6 books, first printed in 1907 and reprinted in 1910. I have used those books repeatedly and find them to be fascinating and worthwhile for many reasons. For one thing, it’s very interesting–and sometimes poignant–to read articles about historic figures, written while they were still living. Nicholas II and Alexandra, his beloved Tsarina, and their children had not yet been executed; Theodore Roosevelt was no longer the president but was active in conservation projects; John D. Rockefeller had just given over fifty million dollars to various colleges (In 1910 money!). 

In the section on physical development the comment is made: “It is not enough to exercise the limbs and muscles to build strength. Every man, woman, boy and girl should also exercise their hearts and lungs. This can be done through daily rapid walking, or exercises such as arm swinging for prolonged periods, to increase breathing and pulse and develop strong pulmonary and vascular systems. Without a healthy heart and lungs, the other muscles have little value.” So much for aerobic health being a fairly modern discovery!

I have a dozen or so books on supervision written from 1935-1985 and find them to be tremendously useful for comparison and contrast about training topics. I often read an excerpt from one of those books without telling participants the publication date. For example, the chapter of one book on leadership is titled, “Teach Young People To Work.” It discusses how young people coming into the work force need to be taught to take responsibility and to do more than just enough to get by. Young employees, the author says, often have unrealistic expectations and want all the benefits of tenure long before they have paid their dues as a valued employee. Then, I show the book and read the date of the copyright: 1967.

You can find old books and magazines at estate sales and garage sales, online, in used bookstores, and sometimes in the homes of older relatives and friends–like me! Some classics are costly, but I simply look for any old reference book, or books on topics about which I teach.  I also let people know I’m looking,  and I occasionally receive an old book or magazine in the mail.

In yesterday’s training journal post I mentioned using old photos or scans from old books or magazines in PowerPoint slides, and that is another reason to look for older publications. However, the main reason is to see the issues and concerns of supervisors, managers and employees decades ago. It’s also interesting to consider how the books and magazine articles written today will seem to those who collect old resource material in 2050.

February 22nd, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 3 comments


  1. Hi Tina, I’m trying my hand at commenting so I hope this goes through. I wanted to tell you I really like your site and think it will be a lot of fun to read. I don’t know how you find the time to do it though!

    About the books….I have a book from 1955 on career success that my dad had. Some parts are funny…like making sure you learn to use new equipment such dictaphones and mimeograph machines. But some of it is good for now.

    I like reading it better than newer books because it is written in an easy style and there is no psycho-babble to it, or any of the gaggy motivational phrases you get in so many books nowadays. I’m going to look for some more books this weekend.

    Thanks again for the site. Pat

    Comment by P.A.H. | February 22, 2008

  2. Tina, this is a fascinating post to me! Old books have been a constant fascination since my childhood. In my personal collection, my very favorite is one that was given to me years ago by friends who discovered it in a thrift store. It is The Christian’s Defense by James Smith and published in 1843. Dr. Smith was a Presbyterian pastor in Columbus, Mississippi when a famous atheist had challenged anyone to debate him on the existence of God. Concerned that he was winning over the youth in the community, Dr. Smith accepted the challenge and ran the atheist out of town. People were so moved by his presentation they urged him to publish a book. (This story is told in the introductory material in the book).

    Some years later, Smith moved to Springfield, IL. A young attorney and his wife lost an infant child while their Episcopal rector was on a sabbatical in Europe. They asked Dr. Smith to do the funeral. Not long after that the lawyer sought grief counseling from Smith and confessed his agnosticism. Smith gave him the book he had written and urged him to simply read the evidence and evaluate it with his lawyer’s mind.

    This story is told in a news paper clipping from an undetermined paper that is pasted to the inside covers of the book. Most significantly is a handwritten inscription from the author to a Rev. Dr. William Bishop of Salina, KS. The inscription says, “To Wm. Bishop, 1857” Then, apparently in the hand of Dr. Bishop “by the Author – This is the Book which, under God, converted Abraham Lincoln to the Faith of the Gospel in the first part of 1850 – Dr. Smith was at that time Pastor of the 1st Presbyterian church of Springfield, ILL – Lincoln was a regular attendant of this church & came under the influence of that eminent Divine.”

    Comment by Jeff Adams | February 26, 2008

  3. A double comment from Tina:

    Jeff, thank you! What a fascinating story! Next time I’m in KCMO be sure to show me the book.

    And Pat, you know very well you like all those motivational books! But, I do know what you mean about the style of some older ones. Well, look at things like “The Power Of Positive Thinking” which has stood the test of time. Isn’t it interesting to think about what books will be considered classics in another fifty years? YOU may find out!

    Thanks to you both for commenting. I enjoy that!

    Comment by Tina | February 26, 2008

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