On Our Nightstand: Rumsfeld’s Rules

A lifetime of insight and foresight from one of America’s longest-serving political figures.

Donald Rumsfeld has led an extremely interesting life. After studying at Princeton University and Georgetown University, he was a naval aviator, a U.S. Congressman, a top aide to four presidents, a high-level diplomat, the only twice-serving Secretary of Defense (he is both the youngest and oldest person to hold this title) in American history and a CEO of two Fortune 500 companies. One would expect that Rumsfeld learned a thing or two along the way. In fact, he has officially recorded hundreds of “rules” he has learned in his lifetime.

Rumsfeld began writing these observations about leadership, business and life on three-by-five note cards and collected them in a shoebox. Eventually, they were typed up and informally circulated to political figures; President Gerald Ford even distributed them to his White House staff.

Now, this remarkable collection of life lessons has been gathered in one book: “Rumsfeld’s Rules.” Touching on everything from business to politics, “Rumsfeld’s Rules” is full of witty—and often humorous—aphorisms and their blunt explanations. Rumsfeld also includes various anecdotes from both history and his experiences. His rules range from, “The three rules of politics: if you run, you may lose; if you tie, you do not win; and, most importantly, you can’t win unless you are on the ballot,” to “If you are working from your inbox, you are working on other people’s priorities.”

Sections of the book have darkly funny undertones, considering Rumsfeld’s previous decisions. For example, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect,” takes on a completely different meaning when thinking about Rumsfeld’s actions leading up to the invasion of Iraq. At the same time, it is interesting to see Rumsfeld’s own opinions on his previous actions. He openly discusses what he views as his triumphs and what he regrets.

Other parts of the book might be surprising to readers familiar with Rumsfeld’s past and political views. He reveals a strong admiration for Jon Stewart, for instance, but does not speak so fondly of George W. Bush. Despite being politically controversial at times, Rumsfeld’s entertaining and witty writing style, personable attitude and widespread knowledge will still be a valuable resource for anyone interested in leadership, politics or being successful.

Story by Alex Sher