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Books on Character

Still In Progress


Disclaimer: What This Isn't

The top books ever written on character. Nope. We're merely listing some books that we've found helpful. Of the thousands of books on character, plus tens of thousands of great biographies, we've read only a small portion and thus can't claim to narrow down the best. 


Books written solely on character

Some of the books we mention may be marketed solely as business books, for example. But if they motivate and inform us concerning character, we make the connection.


Books that we agree with 100%

These books were written by and about imperfect humans. When we mention a certain biography, some may gasp, "But I think she was despicable in her treatment of some of her employees!" Perhaps, but she also have saintly characteristics that deserve recognition. 



What This Is

We've listed books we've actually read that motivate and inform us about character, books that have practical implications as to how we teach character in our schools and homes. We tend toward practice more than than theory, favoring readable over academic. 


The Books: Not Necessarily in Any Order

  • "Educating for Character," by Thomas Lickona, Ph. D.
    An international authority on moral development tells us clearly and practically how to do character education in the school setting. A great first book to read on the subject. 
  • "My Personal Best," by John Wooden
    Wooden "combined...overwhelming success with...unshakeable integrity." (Bob Costas, NBC Sports) A quick and fun read of a person of character. Lots of great lessons for coaches and all leaders. 
  • "Smart & Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success in School, Work, and Beyond," by Thomas Lickona, Ph.D. & Matthew Davidson, Ph.D 
    Most work in character development is being done on the elementary level, with some creeping up into middle school. It's rare in our high schools. Lickona and Davidson studied 24 high schools that are making character education happen. From this study, they lay out a practical road map for other schools to follow. Thanks to the Templeton Foundation, American high schools should have all received a free copy. A must read! 
  • "First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently," by Buckingham and Coffman
    Based on the largest study of its kind ever done - over 80,000 managers in 400 companies! The implications are often counter-intuitive, yet critical for managing schools and managing families. Drives home such principles as:

    • Do people know exactly what you expect? 
    • Are your people given the opportunity to do primarily what they do best?
    • Do you regularly praise those who do well?
    • Do you care?
    • Do you listen to others' opinions?
    • Do you give plenty of ways to grow in their areas of strength, rather than concentrating on correcting their weaknesses?
    To us, their most thought-provoking discovery was that people's strengths and interests vary remarkably. Since workers will be most successful and satisfied when their job description lines up with their strengths, we need to spend most of our time finding the right niche for people and training them in their area of strength. Most managers do the opposite, helping their workers identify weaknesses and concentrating on trying to train those weaknesses out of them. Rather, Buckingham and Coffman argue that the area we have the most potential to grow in is our area of strength. Thus, we should concentrate on building that strength rather than shoring up weaknesses that might be from difficult to impossible to fix. 
  • "Now, Discover Your Strengths," by Buckingham and Clifton
    A follow-up to the above book, the authors, based on surveys of over 2,000,000 people, show how to identify and develop your strengths and talents. Goes much broader and more detailed than a few "temperaments," identifying 34 dominant "themes" or strengths. Book owners get free access to an online strength inventory to assist in identifying your own unique combination of strengths. Could start a small revolution in "strength-based schools." 
    • Possible character connections:
      • Helping low achievers: Many poor students simply don't have strengths in the areas needed to succeed academically (e.g., a great rote memory, superb organizational skills, infinite patience). Our schools have helped them to identify some  substantial weaknesses, and remind them of these deficiencies every school day. How can we help these students discover their strengths and begin developing them? This book helps point the way. 
      • Preparing students for a successful vocation: According to management guru Peter Drucker, "Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer."  

        A large part of our education is to prepare our students for a successful vocation. Yet, if we ask students about their strengths, they'll probably answer with their favorite subject or an extra-curricular activity. Bottom line? They're clueless about both their strengths and how these strengths might translate into a fulfilling vocation. This book, and the accompanying web-based inventory (free with the book) can help. 
  • Eagerly awaiting Gallup's upcoming books, "Strength-Based Schools and Teach With Your Strengths: How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students" http://press.gallup.com/content/?ci=17473
  • "Promising Practices in Character Education - Nine Success Stories From Around the Country," by Dr. Philip Fitch Vincent, Editor, Character Development Group, 1996
    A quick read at 103 pp., but don't try to digest it in one sitting. There are too many great ideas to implement at once. Instead, read about one school (an average of 10 pages) each week and gleen what you can to implement in your own school.
  • "Promising Practices in Character Education - Volume II"
    More great success stories, this time from 12 schools (138 pp.).
  • "Life's Greatest Lessons: Or, 20 Things I Want My Kids to Know," by Hal Urban, Great Lessons Press, 1997.
    The book I pay my own teens to read! Tons of great advice from a former high school teacher on issues like success, attitude, habits, thankfulness, etc. Shares his failures as well as successes, so that it doesn't come across preachy.
  • "Raising Good Children: From Birth Through the Teenage Years," by Thomas Lickona (A Bantam Book, 1983). "How to help your child develop a lifelong sense of honesty, decency, and respect for others."
    In the first half, Lickona walks us through our typical stages of moral development. This background helps us to understand, for example, why one middle school student makes moral decisions based on "what's in it for me?" (Stage 2) while another bases the same decision upon "what will people think of me?" (Stage 3). Lickona helps us devise ways to help move them to ask "What If Everybody Did It?" (Stage 4) and "Respect the Rights of Every Person" (Stage 5). He quickly moves past the description of each stage to deal practically with how to work with those at each stage, a critical skill for parents and educators.
  • "Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues," by Thomas Lickona (Touchstone Publishers, New York, 2004)
    Okay, so it's the fourth book I'm recommending by Lickona, without apology. No, I don't work for him. I say read everything the guy's written. His books are the perfect blend of scholarship (a developmental psychologist and Professor of Education) and clear, practical writing. This book speaks to parents, schools, and communities about how to develop character. Filled with over 100 strategies that work.
  • "Copy This!: Lessons from a hyperactive dyslexic who turned a bright idea into one of America's best companies," by Paul Orfalea & Ann Marsh (Workman Publishing: New York, 2005).
    Orfalea founded Kinko's in 1970, growing it into a $1.5 billion-a-year company. Fortune named it one of the world's best places to work. Yet, he struggles to read and write. So how did he succeed in spite of his Dyslexia and ADHD? He claims that he succeeded because of these learning opportunities, not in spite of them.

    He found how to maximize his strengths (compassion and relationships) and work around his weaknesses. He learned to depend upon others (he couldn't even work the copiers). By creating a culture of mutual dependence and idea sharing (by voice mails rather than e-mails), he freed himself up to be "on his business," not "in his business." He could spend his time on the road getting new ideas and passing them on.

    Bill Moyers once said of Orfalea, "If I could live my life over, I would sit at his fee and listen to everything he has to say."

    A must-read for teachers and parents who find themselves with kids who don't fit into the mainstream academic culture. The very qualities that make them constantly buck the system, just might be the qualities will one day make them great leaders.
  • "The Millionaire Mind," by Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D. (Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, 2001).
    So what's a book about millionaires doing in a list of character books? Aren't millionaires all materialists - the bad guys who spend like crazy on themselves while much of the world starves? Not according to Stanley.