Transformational Books 2018: Dune
This is the first in a series of posts under the Category, “Transformational Books.” These articles will not be book reviews. In this series, I will write about the books I read in 2018, and discuss how the experience may have been transformational.
I don’t plan my reading a year ahead of time. In fact, I started the first three books I will write about before even deciding to create this category. For this reason, the result may be a bit eclectic and haphazard. Past experience tells me that some books have a profound transformational experience, while some have just a single take-away. Of course, there’s always that occasional book whose transformational effect is to simply make you avoid the author in the future. I’ll try to avoid those.
(I’ll also provide affinity program links directly to these books if you’re interested in purchasing a copy.)
The first book I’ve completed in 2018 is Children of Dune, the third book in Frank Herbert’s epic Dune series. Dune has always been a touchstone read and transformational book for me. I’ve returned to it several times throughout my life when I felt I needed strength and focus. I started the series late last year and have read (actually in this case, listened) to the first three books straight through, finishing Children of Dune on 1/10/2018. There will be no plot spoilers in this article as I will focus on the transformational themes, not the plot.
The story takes place far in the future. In this future, a galactic feudal system is in place in which Great Houses rule various planets, with the most powerful of the Great Houses seating the Emperor. The epic takes place against the backdrop of intrigue and power struggles between the Great Houses. Arrakis is a harsh desert planet with giant sandworms, and the spice melange. Melange, which is found only on Arrakis, has both physical and metaphysical effects that make it the most prized substance in the empire. Of course, that puts melange – and Arrakis – at the center of the power struggle. Herbert’s writing is poetic, dramatic and vivid.
I return to this series to remind myself of several important and valuable lessons.
The Value of Physical & Mental Focus & Discipline
Every one of the main characters in this series is engaged in an epic struggle that may turn on the execution of something as insignificant as a twitch of a finger or the recognition of a certain inflection of voice, or as boldly violent as hand-to-hand combat or survival of one of the planet’s massive sandstorms. Herbert takes great care in describing the extensive training – both mental and physical – required for the characters to acquire the focus, discipline and stamina to survive the harsh climate of Arrakis as well as the even more brutal political power struggles between the Great Houses.
At particular times when I feel that tremendous challenges and opportunities for transformation lie ahead, I’ve gained inspiration to maintain or intensify my mental and physical discipline from reading Dune.
The Importance of Strategic Thinking
One of my favorite quotes is from early in Dune. Duke Leto of House Atreides is explaining to his son about the dangers of their impending move to Arrakis. He says, “Knowing where the trap is – that’s the first step in evading it. This is like single combat, son, only on a larger scale – a feint within a feint within a feint…seemingly without end. The task is to unravel it.”
We all face traps, whether it’s in our businesses, our careers, or our personal lives. Traps may be set by other companies or individuals, or they may arise from circumstance. And, of course, some traps we set ourselves. The traps may be multi-layered, complex and hard to understand. Passages like this remind me to look deeply into the challenges and opportunities for transformation that lie ahead because too often, we stop before we’ve fully unraveled them.
A Realistic Attitude Towards Technology
One of the interesting backdrops of the Dune story has to do with technology. There are some really interesting and powerful technologies in the story, including space travel, advanced manufacturing and materials, and advanced weaponry. But centuries earlier, the empire had engaged in a revolution – referred to as the “Butlerian Jihad” – in which any machines that tried to replicate the operations of the human mind (artificial intelligence) were destroyed and their development prohibited.
“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”
Dune, the first novel in the series, was published in 1965. The passage above is prescient in light of the recent revelation by Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, who confessed that Facebook was designed to be addictive. “It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he said.
Too many marketers have fallen victim to this as well. It’s a great reminder that technology is an enabler, a tool, even an enhancer. It is not a substitute for the human mind unless we allow our minds to become subservient to technology.
The Awesome Power of Complex Systems
Quote from Children of Dune, published in 1976: “Limits of survival are set by climate, those long drifts of change which a generation may fail to notice. And it is the extremes of climate which set the pattern. Lonely, finite humans may observe climatic provinces, fluctuations of annual weather and, occasionally may observe such things as ‘This is a colder year than I’ve ever known.’ Such things are sensible. But humans are seldom alerted to the shifting average through a great span of years. And it is precisely in this alerting that humans learn how to survive on any planet. They must learn climate.”
In the Dune series, as in life, climate is transformational. We ignore climate as a critical factor in all of our calculations – both current and future – at our peril. (See The Importance of Strategic Thinking above.)
The Transformational Power Within Us
In each of the books, the main characters struggle to achieve a transformation, to become more than they were. All of the lessons above are useful in the transformation. But the bottom line is this:
You can leverage your inner strength, the collective wisdom of generations, and the specific skills and insights shared by teachers and mentors to become something more than you are. In fact, you can become more than you ever imagined possible. For me, that’s what makes the Dune epic transformational.