Why I Read the Book The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-Year-Old Man:

I stumbled upon “The Book of Charlie” during one of my Barnes & Noble visits with my daughter, Alyssa. We pop in two to three times a month. She has seen dozens of “Uncle Michael’s” books around my office, so she decided to start writing her first book. She is 12 pages into “Why Bob the Crocodile Needed Sunscreen.” While she’s busy writing about Bob’s adventures, I stumbled across The Book of Charlie.

The title immediately caught my attention. I resonated with the messages about Stoicism and was inspired by Charlie’s ability to overcome loss. Also, my dad is 82. Sometimes I struggle to find topics to discuss with him beyond the Dodgers and my kids. I wondered if this book could bridge that gap. So, while Alyssa read, wrote, and watched Youtube videos on my iPhone, I started reading The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-Year-Old Man.

What I Learned:

More than anything, Charlie’s life reflected wisdom gained from pain and loss. The centerpiece of this wisdom for me was how he coped with the shocking death of his father.

The details of the accident were truly tragic: Charlie’s father fell nine stories to his death in an elevator mishap in 1914. The usual operator wasn’t there; a replacement made a fatal mistake. The event was brutal, but Charlie’s response was what impacted me.

Rather than questioning the injustice of losing his father, who was only 42, while history’s tyrants (Hitler, Stalin) lived on, Charlie chose acceptance. He recognized that he couldn’t change the past, so why obsess over it? He could control his actions, emotions, outlook, and grit. This mindset, encapsulated in those powerful lines on page 29, reminded me of conversations I had with Michael in prison, and they are lessons we strive to share with our community. 

The idea of acceptance resonates with those in government investigations who long to change the past. Charlie’s self-reliance and ability to overcome struggle echo what Michael began teaching me in prison. I see parallels between Charlie’s journey and messages from Earning Freedom.

The book also became a bridge between my father and me. We found common ground in discussing Charlie’s experiences, like driving a car or flying for the first time. It even led me to discover my dad’s childhood passion for collecting pennies, a hobby he began at the age of 4 and still embraces today. I also learned about my dad’s love of sailing–he told me about the day he sold his sailboat so he could buy my mom an engagement ring. He was 28 years old.

The Book of Charlie offered more than just a historical glimpse into a century-old life. It reaffirmed timeless truths about resilience, acceptance, and the power of choice. Charlie’s wisdom has enriched my understanding of life’s challenges and helped me forge new connections with my dad. 

Charlie died in 2014, a century after his father’s tragic death. His story, filled with resilience and gratitude, impacted me. It’s a constant reminder that some of life’s adversities are often beyond our control, but our response to them is firmly in our hands. It’s a lesson of empowerment, connection, and embracing life’s rollercoaster with the same spirit that Charlie did.

How The Book of Charlie Will Help Me Moving Forward:

This book has become more than just a compelling read; it’s provided wisdom that echoes many lessons I’ve learned and continues to shape my path.

One significant aspect that resonates with me is focusing on what we can and cannot control. This message is important for justice-impacted individuals and a reminder of my experiences as a defendant. Those times when I sat in my house all day eating, chewing tobacco, and playing online chess only to ask myself, “Why me? How did I end up here?” I should have been learning from leaders, recognizing opportunities, and expressing gratitude for all that remained rather than obsessing over all I had lost. This book would have helped when the Feds showed up at my home on April 28, 2005. I would have been more prepared to respond to struggle. 

Charlie’s life, his ability to see his father’s tragic death as an opportunity rather than a burden, speaks to anyone facing hardship or adversity. His mindset encourages us to act, grow, and learn from our experiences, a philosophy our team shares within our community.

Quotes like “Why do you cling to pain? There is nothing you can do about the wrongs of yesterday,” or as Epiceteus said, “Misfortune is the hard training that shapes our inner Olympians,” struck me.

I recall discussing adversity with Michael in prison, asking him how he managed to work so long every day for more than two decades. Some people in prison found him odd because he was always smiling and upbeat. I will admit it was hard for me to understand at first. Rather than complain about the work or sentence, Michael expressed gratitude, never complained, and stressed making the most of each day and living authentically. Michael’s words mirror Charlie’s philosophy, reinforcing the belief that “adversity can be a teacher rather than a trap.”

The book’s insights will remind me that, as Charlie wrote, “dark waves of depression will pass” and that adversity can lead to true freedom if we choose to grow from it. I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from the book, “By the time Charlie White graduated high school, he felt tested by adversity and seasoned by success.”

For me, The Book of Charlie is not just about a 109-year-old man’s incredible life. It’s a handbook for resilience, growth, and acceptance. Rather than asking, “Why me?” this book encourages me to see challenges as opportunities, aligning with the lessons Michael has taught me and reinforcing the importance of guiding others on a path of resilience.

Justin Paperny