Executive Book Club

Apple CEO Tim Cook: What to read to 'put these times into perspective'

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, in Sun Valley, Idaho, United States, on July 12, 2019.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook has some advice amid the Covid-19 pandemic: "Those who meet times of historical challenge with their eyes and hearts open — forever restless and forever striving — are also those who leave the greatest impact on the lives of others," he said during his virtual commencement address for The Ohio State University's graduation on Sunday.

"Wear these uncommon circumstances as a badge of honor," he said.

Cook also had some advice about what to read during the pandemic.

Left with "a lot of odd gaps of time to fill," and he said he's been trying to read more, and he has turned to the work of Abraham Lincoln.

"I'd recommend [Lincoln's work] to anyone who wants to put these times into perspective," Cook said. "You'll be shocked at how clever and funny and alive his thinking still is, how this reserved and humble man managed, in noisy times, to call others to hope."

Lincoln delivered hundreds of speeches over the course of his career, and many of them are available to read for free online. There have been more books written about Lincoln than any other person in history, historians and experts say.

Cook quoted a letter that Lincoln wrote to Congress in December 1862, before the historic Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that slaves living in states not under Union control would be free.

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present," Cook said, quoting Lincoln's letter. "The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

While it might seem like an unlikely comparison, Cook said Lincoln is another example of someone who, like the class of 2020, was "defined by their circumstances."

"Lincoln found his country on fire and chose to run into the flames," Cook said. "And he gave everything he had to bring his people — chaotic and squabbling, fundamentally flawed yet fundamentally good — along with him."

Similarly, today's graduates "enter a world of difficulty with open eyes, tasked with writing a story that is not necessarily of your choosing but is still entirely yours," he said. He encouraged graduates to think about the people who have helped them along the way.

Cook, who became the CEO of Apple in August 2011, also shared how his own experience working for the late Steve Jobs shaped the way he views relationships.

"When I joined Apple in 1998, I couldn't believe my luck," Cook said. "I was going to get to spend the rest of my professional life working for Steve Jobs."

"But fate comes like a thief in the night," he said, referring to Jobs' death in 2011. "The loneliness I felt when we lost Steve was proof that there is nothing more eternal, or more powerful, than the impact we have on others."

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