Resist the Candy

Photo by Yes and Studio

Last week, while my wife and I were packing to stay with her parents over the Thanksgiving break, I decided to leave home the book I was currently reading, a three-pound hardcover edition of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Abraham Lincoln biography Team of Rivals, so as to save space in my bag. Besides, my mother-in-law had recently mentioned that she has a copy of the same book, so I knew I could pick up where I left off when we arrived.

Unfortunately, my mother-in-law’s copy was nowhere to be found, so she kindly routed around in her library to find me a couple of books I might be interested in reading instead.

She came up with Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci, and Bob Woodward’s newest presidential biography, Fear: Trump in the White House.

I had heard great things of Isaacson’s latest work. Ryan Holiday had recently praised it with as much passion as I’ve seen him give any book in recent years in his reading newsletter. My mother-in-law was equally enthusiastic in her praise.

The thing is, Isaacson’s book was the broccoli, the green beans, and the carrots all in one. It was the vegetables that I knew were good for me, but that were hard to get excited about. Woodward’s book was the candy. While I have no doubt there are lessons to learn from it, its nutritional content just wasn’t there compared to Isaacson’s vitamin-rich alternative.

Despite this, it took everything in me not to choose the candy. I’ve probably read hundreds of articles about the Trump presidency (and the prelude to it), all of them satisfying some need in me—a desire to feel anger, pity, superiority, or all of the above. I knew Woodward’s book would be more of the same, it would delight me in the most unhealthy of ways, after which I would feel exhausted and stressed for having spent so much time with it.

And so, I resisted the candy. I picked up Isaacson’s book and started reading. And just a few pages in (Leonardo’s a fascinating fella), I knew I’d made the right decision. ∎

Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall is the co-author of My Morning Routine (Portfolio). He has written for outlets including the New York Times, New York Observer, Quartz, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, CNBC, and more.