Reading List for Billy Gormley

This month’s reading list is dedicated to the memory of FDNY firefighter and U.S Marine Billy Gormley. Billy died in 2017 of cancer related to his exposure to the dust at Ground Zero on September 11th and in the rescue effort that followed. Billy’s daughter, my friend, Bridget Gormley, made a documentary about the toxic cloud that took her father’s life: DustIt premieres this Thursday, September 9th, at New York’s SVA theater. You can buy your tickets here.

Steve Buscemi, who produced the documentary, wrote about the dust in Time magazine.

Bridget was featured on New York Nico this week, sharing a story that haunted her father from that day.

Besides marking the 20th anniversary of the attacks, 2021 is the year deaths from 9/11 related illness will overtake the death toll of the attacks themselves.

Fair winds and following seas, Billy. Never forget.

Fire by Sebastian Junger – A collection of essays on subjects ranging from smokejumpers to blood diamonds. I’m revisiting this collection for Junger’s essay on Ahmed Shah Massoud, “The Lion in Winter.” Massoud was a scholar and a warlord who successfully repelled the Soviets and then the Taliban from his valley in Afghanistan. Junger was embedded with Massoud’s Northern Alliance fighters as they fought the Taliban from caves and trenches in the summer before 9/11. Massoud was killed on September 9th. His assassination was the first phase of the September 11th attacks, intended to deprive the United States of a mighty ally in the invasion that would inevitably follow the attacks.

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the Cia, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 By Steve Coll – I want to give a copy of this book to everyone on social media who suddenly fancies themselves an expert on Afghanistan. This is a lesson in complexity and the law of unintended consequences for anyone who thinks the current mess can be pinned on one administration or policy decision. It’s also a wild, swashbuckling tale of old school, cloak and dagger espionage. (I have a ton of recommendations specifically on Afghanistan for anyone who’s interested).

Escape the Wolf by Clint Emerson – A precursor to Emerson’s wildly successful 100 Deadly Skills series, he wrote this eBook at the request of The Wall Street Journal to give their correspondents knowledge to stay safe in hostile environments.  This is a hidden classic of the offbeat travel guide genre, and it could save your life.

SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam by John L. Plaster – More swashbuckling… This is the true story of the most secret and deadly unit in the Vietnam war. This book made me realize that Apocalypse Now is probably more realistic than it seems. These guys now have a podcast called SOGcast. A couple of them have been on Jocko as well.

First Blood by David Morrell – The book that inspired the Rambo movies. Sometimes a film franchise puts an author on the map. Sometimes it shackles the author to a caricature of their creation. Rambo did both for David Morrell. He wrote this book as a way of trying to understand what friends who’d come home from Vietnam were going through. They all seemed angry in a very specific way. That was his prompt. What if one of those guys brought the whole war home with him so a small American town had to deal with the reality of it. Morrell’s writing on his process is an interesting look at the role of trauma in storytelling. I’ve recommended his book on writing The Successful Novelist to a few veteran authors.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein – Or the antidote to that 10,000 hours bullshit… Being well-rounded and having broad interests is not only good for you, but it will also make you better at a given area than those who specialize in that field. Scientists who have hobbies and outside projects win more prizes and make more discoveries than those who focus narrowly. Free-range parenting is a better strategy for success in life than tiger parenting.  In some fields, like aerospace engineering, over-specialization can actually lead to disaster. I would recommend this book to anyone who feels bad about starting late or changing careers.

Coco Channel’s writing advice.

The reissue of Captain Willard’s Seiko from Apocalypse Now.

A history of Kayaking in Greenland.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Clint Emerson’s podcast.

Ryan holiday has a new book on courage.

The perfectionism trap.

A lesson from nesting bowls.


Thanks for reading,

Charlie