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Cover to Cover: The reading life of Mike Sanders
Mike Sanders, president and CEO of Monroe Clinic, grew up in southeast Michigan in a family of eight children. He received his undergraduate degree in math at Michigan State, went to graduate school at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and earned his MBA at Stanford Business School. After many years working in various healthcare-related positions throughout the Midwest, he was recruited to take the helm at Monroe Clinic and settled with his family here in 2001.

As a child, Mike and his siblings regularly frequented their local library. "My mom used to take us every two weeks, and we all got the maximum number of books we could check out," he recalls. "Ironically, I can't remember being read to as a kid. I'm sure I was, but I don't have a memory of it. I do remember always having my nose in a book. Maybe too much," he says with a laugh.

Mike gravitates toward reading non-fiction books for pleasure these days. He came to his Cover to Cover interview armed with a large stack of titles he's either currently reading or that have made a significant impact on him.

What are you reading now?

I'm reading "American Prometheus" by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherman. It's a biography about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos during World War II. It's really interesting - it gives a little context to that history, on him personally and his work in physics, as well as his Leftist leanings during the war and how that blended into the McCarthy era and the witch hunt challenging his patriotism.

I'm also reading "Hard Times" by Studs Terkel. My daughter gave it to me for my birthday. She's a readaholic. I envy her because she can read a book in a day. The book came out in 1968. It's a series of interviews he did with people in the 1960s about living during through the Depression and how their worlds were affected - some in a big way, some not so big. It's interesting because he went all over the country to do this. Most of the people he interviewed were just common people, but others are famous now.

Another author I really like is Bill Bryson (Mike brings out copies Bryson's books "Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe" and "At Home: A Short History of Private Life.") This is kind of spooky, but it was probably after the fourth or fifth book of his that I read that I realized he and I have the exact same birthday, Dec. 8, 1951. Maybe that's why we share a similar sense of humor. He's very funny.

What book inspires you?

I don't know if inspiring is exactly the right word, but I love the book "Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder" by Nicholas Taleb. It's the only book I've read three times, and I've recommended it to a lot of people. I can't say that I can give you a synopsis of it. It's philosophy and statistics. It's just kind of a new way of thinking. Things that are fragile break when you drop them. Things that are antifragile actually get stronger when you drop them. The author talks about how, as individuals and organizations, we live in a world of chaos. So how do we build ourselves up in a way that we get stronger from uncertainty as opposed to breaking down? He's the most interesting person I've ever read.

How do you discover books that you want to read?

All kinds of ways. My kids get me books for gifts. Some I buy. Some I bought years ago thinking I would read them and I didn't. Sometimes I look at them and say, "Wow, there are all these books and we haven't even read them." But on the other hand, we've got a treasure right here. I like looking at it that way.

Did you have a favorite book growing up?

I didn't, not that I can remember. I guess the one that was in my hands, maybe, was my favorite.

If you could be a character in a book, who would you be?

I'd probably be Gandalf. He's a pretty wise old guy with some extra special powers.

Was there a book you were disappointed in?

Oh yeah, there are a lot of books I've started that I haven't finished. I tried to read "Gone Girls" by Gillian Flynn. I got about 50 pages in, but I got pre-empted by something else.

Another was the Harry Potter series. My kids were all into it, I read two or three, and then it kind of trailed off for me. But on the other hand, so many kids and adults have obviously read those books. With our kids, it's like, "Hey, if you're into it, read it." We didn't censor them. Reading something is better than not reading. It's hard, I think, to get good readers today. There's more distraction now. Creating environments for reading is more challenging.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what one book would you want to have with you?

I'm going to be there for a long time? I'm not going to be able to return it to the library for a new one, so I'm stuck with it? Today, I'd probably take "Antifragile," because if I kept reading it, I'd figure it out. I'd have time to think about it.