The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery

By Barbara K. Lipska and Elaine McArdle

This week’s read was The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery, by Barbara K. Lipska (the neuroscientist of the title) and Elaine McArdle. This is a wondrously eye-opening account of what it feels like to go mad, or to be like one of those mean, nasty, self-centered, semi-crazy types who you sometimes run into if you work in customer service. This upbeat, pretty durn happy-ending book is one of the most beautifully-written that we’ve read all year. Good insight into the brain even as we readers receive wonderful insight into the frailty and wonder of human consciousness.


The Magic of Impromptu Speaking: Create a Speech That Will Be Remembered for Years in Under 30 Seconds

By Andrii Sedniev

This week we read The Magic of Impromptu Speaking: Create a Speech That Will Be Remembered for Years in Under 30 Seconds, by Andrii Sedniev.  Andrii is someone to be reckoned with—as the book description  notes: “At the age of 19, Andrii obtained his CCIE (Certified Cisco Internetwork Expert) certification, the most respected certification in the IT world, and became the youngest person in Europe to hold it. At the age of 23, he joined an MBA program at one of the top 10 MBA schools in the USA as the youngest student in the program, and at the age of 25 he joined Cisco Systems’ Head Office as a Product Manager responsible for managing a router which brought in $1 billion in revenue every year.”  So we picked up Andrii’s book, and we’re glad we did. Along with useful insights, Andrii provides wonderful stories about speaking, including his own growth from shy youth to outgoing public speaker. A useful primer to help you gain more comfort in speaking publicly, and an easy, nice read.


On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks

By Simon Garfield

There’s something about a map that brings extraordinary meaning to what, where, and even who you are in life.  (The long and the short of it is, we’re among the map-obsessed minority known as “mapheads.”) So we couldn’t resist reading On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, by New York Times bestselling author Simon Garfield. Simon takes readers through an insightful history of how maps and map-making unfolded over the millenia If your sense of place isn’t complete without a map, and you’re a bit of a history buff, you will enjoy this book. (An earlier book we also enjoyed several years ago was Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks, by Ken Jennings.)


How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

By Michael Pollan

This week’s read was How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan. We’ve had this book suggested to us by a number of Learning How to Learners, so we wanted to see why all the interest.  First off, Pollan is a great science writer—he’s able to pull the reader into the world of psychedelics and what science is discovering about them, whether or not psychedelics are “your thing.” Pollan makes a great case for why the recent movement to begin studying psychedelics again is beneficial—even as he also gives an even-handed description of the “wow factor” and the dangers of these unusual drugs. A thought-provoking and interesting read.


Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

By John Carreyrou

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. This was such a riveting book that we finished it all in one evening. There’s something so alluring about Silicon Valley would-be geniuses who claim world-changing technology.  The upshot is this whopping cautionary tale featuring world-class frauds and utterly ruthless, no-bounds-of-human-decency litigators. John Carreyrou and the Wall Street Journal deserve kudos for this edge-of-the-seat investigative reporting. See also Nick Gillespie’s interview with John Carreyrou.  Also a great book for audio.


Macular Degeneration: A guide to help someone you love

By Paul Wallis

Macular Degeneration: A guide to help someone you love, by Paul Wallis. It’s easy to get all excited about a great new biography, or entertaining, insightful books on subjects like octopuses or trees. But who would have ever thought that a book on macular degeneration could be both entertaining and enlightening? Entertaining, that is, even if you know no one with macular degeneration, and even if (perhaps especially if) you’ve never known anything before about macular degeneration?  Yes, Macular Degeneration: A guide to help someone you love is a delightful, informative, and upbeat book about a condition that most know little about.  Chapters 1 through 9 in particular give a nice overview of the topic. Paul Wallis is a good writer, whose use of analogies and examples makes the whole book sing—this book is the culmination of his career’s work. Dr. Wallis’s book is well worth reading if you’re generally interested in unusual subjects, if you’d like to learn a little about a subject that might save your own eyesight someday, and if you enjoy taking a literary walk with a good writer who has valuable insights on life.


Remember It! The Names of People You Meet, All of Your Passwords, Where You Left Your Keys, and Everything Else You Tend to Forget

By Nelson Dellis

We were very lucky to receive a pre-publication copy of 4-time US memory champion Nelson Dellis’s book Remember It! The Names of People You Meet, All of Your Passwords, Where You Left Your Keys, and Everything Else You Tend to Forget.  Nelson’s book will be coming out in September—it’s the best book on how to develop your memory we’ve ever read, so we highly recommend pre-ordering your copy.  What’s terrific about Nelson’s book is that doesn’t just give the usual information about how to remember lists or sequences of numbers. Dellis provides all sorts of side bits of important everyday tips—like how to remember something important that occurs to you when you wake up in the middle of the night, how to remember where you’re parked, and how not to forget objects, like a purse (forgetting her purse is the bane of Barb’s existence). We plan to reread the book as soon as we receive our final hard copy. We can’t recommend this book more strongly!


China’s Crony Capitalism

By Minxin Pei

China’s Crony Capitalism, by Minxin Pei. If you want a more up-to-date perspective on modern-day social structures in China, this book will give you a broad perspective. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, there couldn’t possibly be another facet of corrupt cronyism, off Pei goes to explore a new area, from business, to environmental protection, to the judicial system, to education, to the police themselves— and far more. If you’re doing business with China, this book, along with Poorly Made in China, is a must-read.


Wu: The Chinese Empress who schemed, seduced and murdered her way to become a living God

By Jonathan Clements

While in China we were also recommended another related biography—Wu: The Chinese Empress who schemed, seduced and murdered her way to become a living God, (a living God is, after all, a nice gig if you can get it). Where Cixi comes across as brilliant but sometimes necessarily hard-edged, Wu comes across more along the lines of the successfully sinister described in Barb’s classic, tongue-in-cheek titled but critically-acclaimed book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. (As Harvard’s Steven Pinker noted apropos Evil Genes: “A fascinating scientific and personal exploration of the roots of evil, filled with human insight and telling detail.”)


Empress Dowager Cixi

By Jung Chang

We often find that when we visit a country (and even when we’re simply interested in that country), it’s a great idea to read a book related to that country’s history. Barb’s recent trip to China led her to read Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China, by Jung Chang. This revisionist biography lends a sympathetic eye to Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908), who is considered by many to be the most important woman in Chinese history. If you want to catch a sense of the conditions that led to modern China, this intriguing book will keep you captivated—great biographies are one of the easiest ways to learn about history. Incidentally, Empress Dowager Cixi is a nice book for audio. Jung Chang is also the author of the spectacular international best-seller Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, with over ten million copies sold worldwide. Yes, Jung Chang can write!


The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from a Secret World

By Peter Wohlleben

This week’s book is a little different from usual.  It is The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben (Audio book here).  We LOVE this best-selling book, which has been optioned for translation into 19 different languages!  The New York Times review of the article summed up some of the book’s intriguing insights about how forest trees are social beings: “They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the ‘Wood Wide Web’; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.”

Wohlleben’s use of analogy and metaphor to convey fascinating science is masterful. This is of the best books we’ve read on nature in the last few decades.


The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

By Sy Montgomery

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, by Sy Montgomery.  (She also read the Audible version of her book.) This National Book Award Finalist caught our attention because we had no idea that octopuses are so smart and so filled with personality.  Montgomery is an infectiously enthusiastic writer who could get you excited about anything.  The book also gives great insight into the behind-the-scenes work needed to run a world-class aquarium, and the magic of diving on coral reefs in search of wild octopuses. Have you always wondered how an utterly alien intelligence might think? Read on!


Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

By Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel

If you’re trying to keep up your reading about learning, one of the best books about learning is Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel.  This insightful book was co-authored by some of the most influential researchers around. The book jacket says it best: “Many common study habits and practice routines turn out to be counterproductive. Underlining and highlighting, rereading, cramming, and single-minded repetition of new skills create the illusion of mastery, but gains fade quickly. More complex and durable learning come from self-testing, introducing certain difficulties in practice, waiting to re-study new material until a little forgetting has set in, and interleaving the practice of one skill or topic with another. Speaking most urgently to students, teachers, trainers, and athletes, Make It Stick will appeal to all those interested in the challenge of lifelong learning and self-improvement.”


Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career

By David Burkus

This week’s selection is Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career, by business school professor David Burkus. He offers great insight into how and why you can broaden your network, and how important it is to open your mind to those who are different from you, in background, training, outlook, or ideology. We particularly like the stories of both well-known people such as Tim Ferriss, and lesser-known but intriguing characters who’ve made their career breakthroughs by tapping into networks in unusual ways. We couldn’t agree more with the book’s central premise: “making choices about who your friends are and being aware of who is a friend of a friend—can directly influence the person you become, for better or for worse.”

A nice book also for audio listening.


Juggling for the Complete Klutz

By John Cassidy and B. C. Rimbeaux,

About forty years ago, Barb picked up the now-classic book Juggling for the Complete Klutz, by John Cassidy and B. C. Rimbeaux, which comes complete with three bean bags for juggling. Following the book’s instructions, she gradually learned to juggle. (We’re not talking circus level here—just juggling three items was Barb’s triumph!).  Juggling is a bit odd in that you must focus on the item you’re catching while also being more broadly aware of several other items at the same time. We’ve heard the suggestion that juggling can be a great way to relax into the diffuse mode. So recently, Barb picked up another copy of Juggling for the Complete Klutz and its accompanying bean bags and began to renew her juggling skills.  We’re not sure of the underlying neuro-mechanisms, but juggling does seem to be a great way of shifting mental gears.  If you want to learn a fun way to disconnect from whatever you’re doing, try learning to juggle!


Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

By Walter Isaacson

Sometimes we enjoy stepping back into the past (it can be surprising how many of today’s challenges are just repeats from the past!) This week, we dove into biographer extraordinaire Walter Isaacson’s first historical biography: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.  What’s not to like about a prototypical science nerd who had a smooth way about his life and (often lusty) loves? Franklin was something of a North American Leonardo da Vinci (another of Isaacson’s great biographies). If your background about US history is a little sketchy, Franklin’s life will also catch you up on all the major events that swirled around the country’s founding. Fantastic book!


The Courage to Grow: How Acton Academy Turns Learning Upside Down

By Laura Sandefer

The Courage to Grow: How Acton Academy Turns Learning Upside Down, by Laura Sandefer.  The Acton Academies are private schools that were created to solve precisely the types of problems discussed in Levine’s Price of Privilege.  Laura Sandefer tells a personal story of her own children, and how and why she and her husband Jeff chose to develop a new system of schooling that focuses on the hero’s journey—and vaults students well above their standard grade level. (Incidentally, Jeff Sandefer, with his MBA from Harvard, was named by BusinessWeek as one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in the United States and by The Economist magazine as one of the top Business School professors in the world.) Acton Academies are spreading quickly worldwide, and it’s little wonder, because the schools embrace personal accountability even as they provide powerful learning opportunities for children. An honest, forthright, deeply thought-provoking book about what an education could and should be. (Audio version read by Laura Sandefer herself.)


The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids

By Madeline Levine, Ph.D.

The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, by Madeline Levine, Ph.D. Our tendency is to focus on obviously disadvantaged kids coming from poor families. That can be a mistake, says author and practicing psychologist Madeline Levine, who works in affluent Marin County, California. Consumerism and focus on achievement can produce depressed, anxious, angry and bored teenagers who suffer from high rates of drug use, eating disorders, and suicide. Sometimes, in fact, the seeming poor can have far wealthier internal lives. Levine offers great suggestions for the advantaged to help them avoid common parenting pitfalls involving intrusiveness and autonomy.


On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft

By Stephen King

This week, we read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft—if you have any interest in writing at all, this is a great book, especially when paired with William Zinsser’s On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, which is geared towards non-fiction.  What we particularly like about King’s book is that he doesn’t just talk about the nuts and bolts of writing (although what he does provide along those lines is great).  The memoir portions of the book are utterly engrossing—you’ll learn what it’s like to grow up and become an international best-seller, and the bizarre things that best-seller-dom can do to your psyche. King has sailed through it all—including his near lethal run-in with an out-of-control car. By our count, this is an “all-time top five” book on writing!  


This Is the Year I Put My Financial Life in Order

By John Schwartz

This week, we read This Is the Year I Put My Financial Life in Order, by New York Times reporter John Schwartz.  This is an important book—before she passed away, Barb’s aunt Renie could have told you why.

Renie was a smart, independent career woman.  When she retired, to her surprise, found herself unable to afford to live independently.  The reason? Although Renie had learned many things in her life, she’d never bothered to learn about personal finances.  As it turns out, putting away a little each month beginning relatively early in your career can make enormous improvements in your life, and the lives of your family members, as you grow older.

John Schwartz tells you how to get your financial life in order, no matter what your age.  This is the Year is not some dry accounting discussion—instead, the book builds from a candid and entertaining description of Schwartz’s own occasional financial successes and many failures, including his brush with bankruptcy and disastrous housing “investment.”  Schwartz describes the what type of account to set up for retirement, how much to put away (it’s not much, especially if you start early), and how to think about your income, taxes, debt, investments, insurance, and home purchasing. If you want to do the best you can long term for yourself and those you love, you owe it to yourself to read this excellent book. (Also nice on audio.)


Principles: Life and Work

By Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio’s Principles: Life and Work is a masterpiece of insight, not only on how to achieve your goals, (whatever those goals might be), but on how you can build an organization that is structured for success.  Dalio knows what he’s talking about—he founded his investment firm, Bridgewater Associates, out of a two-bedroom apartment. Now, forty years later, Bridgewater has made more money for its clients than any other hedge fund in history, and grown into the fifth most important private company in the United States.

Dalio attributes some of Bridgewater’s success to his principle of radical open-mindedness. This means, at least in part, being aware of your internal signals of annoyance, anger, or irritability—which are all signs of close-mindedness.  You can use those internal signals to trigger quality reflections. Radical open-mindedness doesn’t mean accepting all information—it means seeking out quality information that you may not want to hear.

We have often used radical open-mindedness even in our research—for example, we send advance versions of our research papers to people we know will dislike our work. When we get past our own petty feelings of “ouch—that’s not true!” in the responses, we’re not infrequently surprised to find how the criticism, even “bad” criticism, helps improve what we’re working on.

Dalio’s Principles will, we feel, go down in the annals of best books of the decade. It is a deep book of productivity that gets at the essentials of your life. (This is also a good book for audio.)


From Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

By Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

From Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters. This insightful book helps readers understand the importance of creative entrepreneurial thinkers to the world’s future. Even if you have no interest in business, the book is worthwhile for its insights into contrarianism and creativity.  We like New York Times best-selling author Neal Stephenson’s characterization: “The first and last business book anyone needs to read; a one in a world of zeroes.” (The audiobook is read by Blake Masters—you may be able to get two free audiobooks through this link.)


Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue

By Ryan Holiday

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, by Ryan Holiday.  Holiday’s book tells the story of Peter Thiel’s behind-the-scenes destruction of online media company Gawker. We have to admit, Conspiracy is a page turner, and Holiday’s access to both of the principals in this case, Peter Thiel and Nick Denton, gave the kind of insider details that really kept us hooked.  It was amusing to watch how journalists’ seemingly objective view of the verdict flipped once they discovered Thiel’s involvement. Ryan Holiday’s entire career has arisen from his ability to make journalists happy (he wrote the best-selling Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, which we admit we really liked). So it’s no surprise that he ends the book to go almost comically over-the-top in siding with journalists.



How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life

By Louis Bloomfield

We want to bring up one of our favorite books: How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life, by Louis Bloomfield.  Barb has used this book for years to teach basic ideas of engineering to ordinary non-engineering types.  After all, “technological literacy” doesn’t just mean that you know a smattering about how your computer works–it should also mean you know the basics of how your car works, how your refrigerator keeps things cool, and how your house is kept warm in the winter. How Things Work will allow you to much more easily understand how these great technological advances work. Bloomfield uses wonderful, simple metaphors and great imagery that allow you to easily “chunk” the key ideas, even as you find yourself wading easily into the underlying physics.  There’s also a less textbooky version of the book How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the OrdinaryIncidentally, if you are an engineering professor, you’ll find some great ideas here to more rapidly onboard your students using Lou’s great metaphors.

Although Dr. Bloomfield would have no memory of it now, about a decade ago, Barb was able to visit and tour his fantastic physics demonstrations at the University of Virginia.  He’s a wonderful man!


Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones

These are expensive, but they’re nice in that you can not only listen to your laptop (or whatever) on a plane, but you also look sophisticated rather than dorky. (For dorky but cheap, see here  Somewhat less dorky but still cheap, try here.)


3M Peltor X-Series Over-the-Head Earmuffs, NRR 31 dB

These puppies are amongst the most effective sound protectors available.  They also make you look like you’re about to get inside an armored vehicle about to fire heavy artillery.  But if you don’t care how you look, these are really fantastic!


Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies

By Ann Hulbert

This week, we read Ann Hulbert’s Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies.  A great strength of this book was its broad coverage of prodigies of all sorts—from computer programming savants like Bill Gates to dance and acting prodigy Shirley Temple.  (A concomitant weakness is that sometimes we wanted to learn more!) We particularly appreciated Hulbert’s highlighting of the difference between intelligence and wisdom. Some parents with extraordinary IQs, for example, have pushed their children in bizarre ways—with often disastrous results. Other parents have wholeheartedly devoted their lives to the children they wished to make into prodigies, only to find little solace in the long run. Somehow through all this, the book provides healthy encouragement for ordinary, non-savant types.

There was a disconcerting tendency through the book to switch between prodigies even mid-paragraph, but otherwise, highly recommended!


A Book for Magnificent Leadership: Transform Uncertainty, Transcend Circumstance, Claim the Future

By Sarah Levitt

Sarah Levitt has written a book to help leaders better understand how other leaders wend their way through the difficult, sometimes lonely path of great leadership: A Book for Magnificent Leadership: Transform Uncertainty, Transcend Circumstance, Claim the Future.  Through interviewing successful leaders, Sarah has laid out guidelines that others can find useful. “The audience for this book includes CEOs, business leaders, those professionals contemplating a career change and those beginning a career as consultants.”


How the Brain Learns

By David A. Sousa

This past week, we read How the Brain Learns, by David A. Sousa, (now in its fifth edition), which was recommended to us as a top neuroscience-based book on learning.  If you’re looking for a good general overview of what we know from neuroscience about how to educate children better, this book has been put together with care.  A good aspect of the book is its comprehensive nature—there’s a nice overview of the brain and how it develops; how the brain processes information; memory; brain organization; and a particularly important section on the importance of music and art.  It’s not easy to make sense of all the disparate strands of neuroscience-related research and get it down in a logical, understandable form, and Sousa has done a yeoman’s job with it.

The book’s fault lies in its occasional acceptance of dated, sometimes junk science.  This latest edition doesn’t mention or do justice to well-deserved criticism of topics such as learning styles, stereotype threat, multiple intelligences, or concept mapping. We’re hopeful that the book’s next edition will resolve these issues.

There are so many books to help teachers understand how younger students learn. But you may be surprised to learn that there are virtually no books for those students themselves, or for their parents.  

If you want to help youngsters from ages ten to seventeen to learn how to learn, based on practical insights from neuroscience, we can’t help but suggest our own upcoming book Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens.  The funny but deeply informative pictures alone are worth the price of the book. (And yes, there are zombies…) In some ways, this seemingly simple book goes deeper into how we learn than even our MOOC Learning How to Learn. You’ll find that this is also a great book to read together as a family. And you’ll see that even if your children are in the toddler stage, you’ll get some powerful insights on learning that will help you guide them in their learning as they mature.


The Glass Castle: A Memoir

By Jeannette Walls

We make it a practice to ask people about their all-time favorite book. Along these lines, we’ve had a number of recommendations for The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls. So we finally broke down and read it. This book, incidentally, has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 411 weeks, and has over 7,000 Amazon reviews with a 4.6 rating.   Walls experienced, along with her brother and sisters, a deeply dysfunctional upbringing. Yet her upbeat, spunky child’s voice carries us through the hard times to Walls’ ultimate triumph as an adult. Walls writes in a way that we can draw our own conclusions about her parents’ shortcomings and odd blessings, even as we learn of the seamy, hardscrabble world experienced by many around the world.  (The audiobook is read by Walls herself—you may be able to get two free audiobooks through this link.)

Incidentally, years ago, we enjoyed Jeannette Walls’ Gossip: The Inside Story On The World Of Gossip Became the News and How the News Became Just Another Show, an eye-opening history of celebrity news reporting.


What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People

By Joe Navarro and‎ Marvin Karlins

This week’s recommendation is the wonderful, quick read What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, by Joe Navarro and‎ Marvin Karlins. We love the pictures in the book, which give an excellent sense of the small “tells” that signal characteristics such as sincerity or untrustworthiness.  This culturally aware book could help keep you out of trouble during your travels, and also give you a leg up in your ordinary interactions both at work and at home.  And veryone—especially teachers—could benefit from knowing how they may inadvertently be sending negative signals they don’t really want to be sending.  Highly recommended!


The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money

By Bryan Caplan

The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money, by Bryan Caplan. If you are in any way involved in education, or you think education is important (as we do!), this book will make you uncomfortable. But unlike The New Education, The Case Against Education is rigorously argued, and it will force you to examine the premises of your support for learning. Ultimately, we found that this book caused us to respect real learning even more.  Strongly recommended.


Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

By John Taylor Gatto

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto.  Gatto’s book consists of an easy-to-read, yet thought-provoking set of essays critical of the educational system.  His background in writing this book is unusual—Gatto was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. The eloquence and intelligence with which Gatto vivisects the modern K-12 world makes the book a very worthwhile read for anyone interested in education; it is particularly worthwhile for parents.  Highly recommended.


The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux

By Cathy Davidson

The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux, by Cathy Davidson. We went into this book with high hopes—Davidson characterizes herself as a contrarian instigator with provocative new ideas about how to revolutionize higher education.  What we found was a series of cherry-picked stories that supported Davidson’s unswerving worldview that MOOCs are bad and virtually impossible to learn from,  and that the only way to learn well is through a teacher who is willing to go to extremes to provide the personal touch. Her ultimate underlying recommendation for improving universities? Throw more money at them. (She writes off criticism of academic misspending or bloat with a few quick Manichean sentences.) No wonder academicians love her despite her self-proclaimed contrarian stance.

How readers would have benefited by seeing a profile a student like Tulio Baars, who has taken over 160 MOOCs to self-educate and used that knowledge to found an innovative new data analysis company! Tulio demonstrates the potential of today’s students to take advantage of the economy of scale that MOOCs provide to bootstrap themselves at low cost to an extraordinary education. Davidson constantly interweaves poorly founded opinion with facts—unless you know which are which, it can be hard for typical readers to understand when she’s going off the rails.  This is one of the few books we are reviewing without recommending.


Education and the State

By E. G. West

Education and the State, by E.G. West This important book seems to have somehow fallen off educator’s reading lists, which is a shame. If you want a solid reference about how education has developed over the past centuries in the UK and US, (admittedly with a bit of heavy reading involved), you couldn’t do better than to read West’s book. West doesn’t shy away from detailing the self-serving nature of many educational institutions.


King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

By Adam Hochschild

King Leopold’s Ghost is an extraordinary book exposes a vitally important, yet almost covered-up and forgotten story of how King Leopold of Belgium spearheaded the murder of some ten million people in the Congo. It would seem that such a book would be a depressing read, but somehow, Hochschild writes in such a riveting way, placing the story in context with greater world history, that the book is a not-to-be-missed masterpiece.

We believe this is one of the most important books written in the last twenty years. Don’t miss it. (Audio book here.)


12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

By Jordan B. Peterson

Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, has been floating at the top of the Amazon best-sellers listing for several weeks, so we had to see what all the hullabaloo was about. Peterson’s book is an intriguing mixture of deeply researched psychology, philosophy, religious studies, and history, with a connective tissue of biology, neuroscience and real-life experiences. (Given our own not-so-hot experiences with communism, we were gratified to see that Peterson, unlike many modern academicians, didn’t brush right over one of the most horrific movements of the twentieth century.)  Peterson’s book forms a worthwhile effort to find an inspiring, rather than nihilistic, worldview of life and of learning—read it yourself to see what all the hype is about. Peterson, with his wonderfully listenable accent from rural Canada, reads the audio version of his book. (You may be able to get two free audiobooks through this link.)


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

By Stephen Covey

This month’s top book recommendation is the great classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen Covey.  (Dr. Covey actually read the Audible version of his book. Don’t forget that you may be able to get two free audiobooks through this link.) There is a reason this book has been translated into 32 languages and has sold over 5 million copies. It is one of our personal, life-changing favorites—a synthesis of timeless principles for personal effectiveness that focus on character, rather than technique.  The stories he uses to convey key ideas help the ideas resonate unforgettably. We only wish that Dr. Covey were still alive to do a MOOC!


Confessions of a Public Speaker

By Scott Berkun

This week’s book recommendation is Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker.  We’ve read a fair number of books about various aspects of public speaking, and Scott’s book ranks among the best. He goes into the nitty-gritty of travel, preparation, and what it feels like to be on stage, plus tips on calming down about verbal flubs and the like. Teachers will find much useful insight–plus, Berkun is a really funny writer. Highly recommended!


Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone

By Satya Nadella with Greg Shaw and Jill Tracie Nichols

We happened to pick up Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. To be honest, we weren’t expecting much (we read a lot of books that never make the cut for our Cheery Friday newsletter). We were astonished to find a CEO who is the real deal as far as caring both for his customers and the employees of his company.  Satya’s empathy for others, growing in part from his children’s physical and learning challenges, have given him a sui generis approach to running a company. Satya’s book is a wonderfully inspiring read about the difference a great company, with great leadership, can make in people’s lives. Also includes interesting perspectives on quantum computing and artificial intelligence. Highly recommended!


Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

By Mason Currey

This week, we opted for some light reading with Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. This is basically a compendium of workaholic work habits of a number of famous writers and artists. Since we’re sort of workaholics ourselves, it was an intriguing glimpse into the psyches of kindred spirits. In one way, the book was a little unsatisfying, because most of the descriptions of people work habits were very short. On the other hand, the brevity of the entries is part of what made it such an intriguing book—Currey breezed through the lives of dozens of creative people in a way that allowed us to quickly glean key ideas from a lot of different people. It was gratifying to learn that many writers are bothered by noise, just as we are.  We’ve seen reference to Daily Rituals in so many books that we figured it was time to read the book ourselves, and we’re glad we did.

Audible version available here. (This is a nice book for listening. Two free audiobooks may be possible through this link.)


The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We’re embarrassed to admit that, despite all of the hullabaloo over the past decade, we had never previously gotten around to reading The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbablea no-holds-barred vivisection of so-called experts. Taleb doesn’t shy away from naming names—including Nobel Prize winners and the head of the Fed, and describing exactly how their financial guidance is, in some ways, more harmful than that of a cab driver.  

This is one of those books that we love because it confirms our own previous experiences with regards experts, particularly academic experts. As Taleb puts it, “Black Swan events are largely caused by people using measures way over their heads, instilling false confidence based on bogus results.”  Once you’re indoctrinated with a certain methodology, as for example, the value of the Gaussian curve, it’s hard to see when that curve gives dangerously misleading information.


Pathological Altruism

By Barbara Oakley,‎ Ariel Knafo,‎ Guruprasad Madhavan,‎ David Sloan Wilson

This book explores, in broad-ranging fashion, how helping can hurt.  See what some of today’s top thinkers have said about the book:

“A scholarly yet surprisingly sprightly volume…The book is the first comprehensive treatment of the idea that when ostensibly generous ‘how can I help you?’ behavior is taken to extremes, misapplied or stridently rhapsodized, it can become unhelpful, unproductive and even destructive.”
—Natalie Angier, The New York Times

“What a wonderful book! This is one of the few books in evolutionary biology I’ve read in the past ten years that taught me something completely new.”
—Edward O. Wilson, Pulitzer Prize Winner and Pellegrino University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

“The coverage of topics is breathtaking…. The reader will emerge with a much deeper and nuanced understanding of altruism in reading this book, the best on altruism in the last 15 years.”
—Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley; author of Born To Be Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life


Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By

By Timothy Wilson

Redirect is a great and thoughtful book.  It’s ostensibly about changing your interior dialogue—the story you tell yourself—in order to help you live a happier, more fulfilling life.  And there’s plenty of great information along those lines, told with riveting stories.  But Redirect is more than that—it’s also a book that helps you understand how well-meaning, but untested programs can harm the very people those programs are meant to help.

This book has resonated with us for years—it’s a “don’t miss” if you want to help yourself—and truly help others.

The audio version  of Redirect was narrated by Grover Gardner, who also narrated our own A Mind for Numbers.


The Fast Track to Your Technician Class Ham Radio License

By Michael Burnette

This highly rated book is being used by Barb’s daughter to study for her Technician Class Ham Radio License.  The book has terrific explanations–no wonder it is so highly rated!

Don’t miss the audiobook, which is surprisingly useful.


Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

By Steve Martin

Laughing out loud: Barb’s aunt was the mail woman who used to deliver comedian Steve Martin’s mail for him at his home in Hollywood. So that’s how we’ve come to know that in real life, Steve Martin is truly the nice guy he appears to be in his beautifully written, best-selling autobiography Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life.  (Yes, Steve did the Audible narrative, too.) Working as a professional stand up comedian is hard. If you are a teacher or do any kind of public speaking, you’ll find valuable nuggets of information as you learn of Martin’s extraordinary life.


When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

By Dan Pink

We’ve long been major fans of Dan Pink. His latest book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing lives up to Dan’s fantastic writing record. Right from the start, we were riveted to read of a ship sunk on a sunny afternoon within sight of shore—with over a thousand lives lost. How did it happen?  You’ll have to read When to see, but the book’s title gives an important clue. We love Dan Pink’s work because he’s one of the best writers around at combining practically useful insights from science with compelling stories that are hard to put down. (And as a result of Dan’s book, Barb plans to take tango lessons with her husband!)

Dan himself reads the Audible version, here.


How to Traumatize Your Children: 7 Proven Methods to Help You Screw Up Your Kids Deliberately and with Skill

By Knock Knock

We received this delightful book for Christmas.  By making fun, (in hilarious fashion) of common parental foibles, it also helps us keep in mind what good parenting really entails.  Barb regifted this to her pediatrician daughter–the book is now an even bigger hit, making the rounds with her fellow pediatrician-residents.nts.


The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters

By Benjamin Ginsberg

This important book gives a great overview of why administrative bloat at universities is a major societal problem.  “Deanlets,” that is, administrators and staffers often without serious academic backgrounds or experience, are setting the educational agenda. This book is highly recommended if you want to understand the important problem of sky-high student tuitions in higher education, or if you’d like to understand some of the strange recent academic decisions that are counter to the intellectual freedom that universities have long espoused.


Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

By Tom Mueller

We very much enjoyed Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, an eye-opening book on the world of olive oil.  We had a sense that olive oils were often scandalously mislabeled, but this book really opened our eyes about how “extra virgin first cold-pressed olive oil” is often anything but—and regulatory bodies worldwide often avoid doing anything about it.  Author Tom Mueller covers far more in his enlightening book—the health benefits of real, fresh olive oil; the growing international marketplace, the history of the oil in athletics, religion, and perfumes; and not to mention the sheer beauty of the trees.

You’ve probably been aware of the importance of both exercise and a healthy diet.  But you may not know that exercise coupled with a healthy diet has a bigger impact on our health, and our ability to learn, than either exercise or a healthy diet alone. But which diet is best?As Extra Virginity describes, the Mediterranean diet, with olive oil as a key component, is an excellent choice for healthy eating. Interestingly, there has long been a “food desert” hypothesis that poor individuals do not have access to reasonably priced healthy food, which is why their diets are so unhealthy.  This hypothesis has been essentially disproven in a recent massive analysis (described here) of 35,000 supermarkets covering 40% of the US.  Unhealthy eating, sad to say, is often a choice. So read this book to help you do your part in making healthier (and tastier!) choices!


The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure

By Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Barb is a big fan of Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. This book will be a very important part of the public conversation when it’s published on July 17, 2018.  Pre-order to be first in line for a copy!


Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life

By Amy E. Herman

If you’re interested in how art improves our ability perceive and understand, we highly recommend Amy Herman’s Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life.  (We prefer the hard copy over the e-reader copy, because the images are easier to see on the hard copy.)  This book will definitely improve your powers of observationeven while some of the stories are so compelling that the book’s tough to put down. And yet another excellent, but hard-to-get book on art is Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing, by Margaret Livingstone.


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

By Stephen Covey

This month’s top book recommendation is the great classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen Covey.  (Dr. Covey actually read the Audible version of his book. Don’t forget that you may be able to get two free audiobooks through this link.) There is a reason this book has been translated into translated into 32 languages and has sold over 5 million copies. It is one of our personal, life-changing favorites—a synthesis of timeless principles for personal effectiveness that focus on character, rather than technique.  The stories he uses to convey key ideas help the ideas resonate unforgettably. We only wish that Dr. Covey were still alive to do a MOOC!


Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

By Robert Cialdini

We also love to listen to books—we’re now listening to Robert B. Cialdini’s masterful volume Influence, which has influenced a generation’s understanding of the art of persuasion.  Influence will help you to see more clearly the subtle influences that others are exerting on you—and allow you to more easily bring people to agreement with your own ideas. (If you want to try Audible, you can get two free audiobooks through this link.)


The Ego Is the Enemy

By Ryan Holiday

Lately, we’ve found ourselves caught up in Ryan Holiday’s thought-provoking books.  We found a lot to like in his The Ego Is the Enemy, (Audible version here) which provides a refreshing break from today’s relentless onslaught of books about successful egotists. Ryan’s reflections on his own ego-related failures, as well as well as those of intriguing people through history, can give you good strategies for avoiding these problems yourself. Ryan’s excellent related book which has understandably developed a cult following is The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph (Audible here).


A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)

By Barbara Oakley

This stealth world-wide best-seller has been translated into over a dozen languages worldwide.  Whether you are a student struggling to fulfill a math or science requirement, or you are embarking on a career change that requires a new skill set, A Mind for Numbers offers the tools you need to get a better grasp of that intimidating material.

Unlike most books on learning, A Mind for Numbers delves into the neuroscience–walking you through research insights that are immediately and practically useful.  This is the book that the MOOC Learning How to Learn is based on–it helps reinforce and deepen your understanding of the fundamental concepts involved in learning!


My First Book About the Brain

By Patricia J. Wynne and Donald M. Silver

If you think your or a relative’s child might be curious about neuroscience, we recommend My First Book About the Brain (Dover Children’s Science Books), by Patricia J. Wynne and Donald M. Silver, 2013. This 32 page long, award-winning coloring book is actually used in some regular classes, and could be a particular boon for the wide-ranging interests of home-schooled kids. Suitable for ages 8–12, but grownups also seem to enjoy the relaxing process of coloring while they learn.


The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

By Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Our book recommendation this week is The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. (The Audible version seems to be on sale now. Two free audiobooks may be possible through this link.)  The ONE Thing has  been a monster best-seller, with  more than 350 appearances on national bestseller lists, including #1 Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today. We read this book when it first came out in 2013, and then reread it again recently. What’s surprised us is how much of its message we’ve internalized into our approach to our work. This has clearly been beneficial!  Highly recommended if you’re trying to improve your productivity in your work—and your happiness in family life.


Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

By Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

We’re now reading Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, which has become a #1 New York Times bestseller. We can see why the book is so extraordinarily popular—Designing Your Life is a book “built” for people of all ages to consider what their life is about, and to help them create a life that makes them happy to wake up to each day.  Even if you’re not looking to change, this book will help you get the most out of the life you do live.


TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

By Chris Anderson

We happened to pick up the book TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, by Chris Anderson, the curator of TED. We’ll admit, we didn’t have great expectations—after all, the title sounds a bit like a how-to manual.  But instead, as we like to say in English, it knocked our socks off!  This riveting book should be read by anyone who needs to communicate with others (which means everyone), and especially by teachers.   Even as Anderson regales us with the intriguing and sometimes hilarious stories that lie behind the great TED talks, he gives all sorts of useful nuggets about how we grow to trust and learn from others.  Highly recommended, also in the Audible version, which is actually read by Chris Anderson.   And if you are looking for a more specific how-to manual on public speaking, we also recommend Nancy Duarte’s HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations.


Peter the Great: His Life and World

By Robert K. Massie

Peter the Great: His Life and World, by Robert Massie, is in our opinion, truly one of the greatest biographies ever written–fully deserving of its Pulitzer Prize.  Not only does the book provide great insight into Peter the Great—it also takes us down some of the stranger rabbit holes of history.  Who knew that Sweden’s Charles XII squirreled himself away in Turkey, driving his hosts crazy and refusing to leave?  Barb babbled so much about this book at home that she was temporarily banned from discussing it.


Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

By Jack Weatherford

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World is one of Barb’s all-time favorite biographies.  Author Jack Weatherford has spent years traveling, exploring, and researching in Mongolia. As a consequence of Weatherford’s writing, we can enter into the world of one of civilization’s most storied leaders.  The juxtaposition of Genghis Khan’s utter ruthlessness with his enlightened policy-making, all mixed with great discussions of Mongolian culture and the great Khan’s impact on the world, makes for riveting reading.   This is a not-t0-be-missed biography!  (Jack Weatherford himself narrated the audio version.)

A great companion book is The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire.  Genghis Khan’s incredible achievements shine even more brightly once they’re contrasted with the decay that followed his death.  The stories of the great Khan’s daughters are riveting, and his descendants’ role in the birth of what is today modern Mongolia makes for a fascinating read.  Who would have thought that a little physically handicapped boy in manly Mongolia, and his more-than-a-decade older mentor (and, eventually, wife), could grow a nation?


Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams 

By Matthew Walker, PhD

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams is one of the most important books we have ever read.  If you read one book to help you with your learning (and life) this year, we think it should be Why We Sleep.

It seems that every question we’ve ever wondered about related to sleep is covered by author Matthew Walker’s masterful discussion of sleep. Walker is the Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to snoozing.  Yet Walker is also a masterful writer, full of witty, insightful metaphors that give an in-depth understanding of how and why we need to sleep.  We’d always known that sleep was a vital part of learning–Walker’s book tells why sleep is so important.  Walker shares sleep-related insights by the dozen along the way, such as why sleeping pills are much less innocuous than you think, tips and tricks to falling asleep more quickly, and why a tiny percentage of the population needs only 4 hours or so of sleep a night–(and why you’re probably not one of those people).  Do not miss this book. (Audio version here.) [Hat tip, super-MOOCer Ronny De Winter.]


Leonardo da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson

Everyone’s been talking about Walter Isaacson’s latest biography, Leonardo da Vinci, so we had to join the crowd and see what all the hullabaloo was about. (We’ll admit, we’ve previously tackled da Vinci biographies that ended up putting us to sleep, so we were excited to see what master biographer Isaacson would do with Leonardo’s story.)  Isaacson’s book is a stellar exposition of what we know of Leonardo’s life—Isaacson bases much of his writing on what we know of Leonardo from his encompassing set of notebooks.

Da Vinci will always remain something of an enigma, because the inner turmoil he communicated so poignantly in his paintings is not something he described in his otherwise comprehensive notebooks.  So as a biography, Leonardo da Vinci is slightly paler than some of our favorite other Isaacson biographies, including the fantastic  Einstein: His Life and UniverseSteve Jobs, and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. But our lack of understanding of da Vinci’s inner life is more than made up for by learning of da Vinci’s unparalleled life of curiosity and brilliance. Da Vinci tackled virtually every field of science and turned it into art.  As Isaacson observes, we ourselves can learn to observe life more fully by seeing how the magnificent Leonardo did it.


The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance

By Josh Waitzkin

We’ve just finished a fantastic book: The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, by Josh Waitzkin.Waitzkin’s book provides a fantastic juxtaposition of the commonalities of learning, whether in mental or physical endeavours. (Not only was Waitzkin an eight-time National Chess Champion–he is also a world champion in martial arts.) Josh is a wonderful writer with a wealth of telling stories–his book is hard to put down. Good writing seems to run in the family: Josh’s father wrote Searching for Bobby Fischer: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess, which we enjoyed when it first came out.  Josh’s experiences reinforce the importance of chunking. This is precisely what is emphasized by “expert on expertise” Anders Ericsson–see his excellent book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, which was another recent top pick, along with Mike Merzenich’s terrific Soft-Wired.)


Still Alice

By Lisa Genova

Still Alice is a book that has resonated amazingly with the public–it has over 5,000 reviews on Amazon, with an overall 4.7 out of 5.0 star rating.  Barb’s father passed from Alzheimer’s–this book gives a rare, “from the inside” perspective of what it’s like to live with this disease.


The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over

By Jack Schafer and Marvin Karlins

We love The Like Switch!  It has made us much more aware of the tiny “tells” that signal whether or not you’ve captured a person’s attention and interest.  Most people naturally give off “friend” or “foe” signals without even being aware of it. With the information in this book, you can find yourself making friends quite literally with the flick of an eyebrow.  You’ll see others–and yourself–with a new perspective. We only wish we’d read this book decades ago!

Audiobook version narrated by George Newbern, who’s voice we really enjoy–he did a fantastic job on Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. (Two free audiobooks may be possible through this link.)


Cajal’s Neuronal Forest: Science and Art

By Javier DeFelipe

Cajal’s Neuronal Forest: Science and Art, by Javier DeFelipe, is a sister volume to neuroscientist Javier DeFelipe’s earlier beautiful Cajal’s Butterflies of the Soul.

We were in Madrid looking at Cajal’s illustrations with Javier DeFelipeseveral months before Neuronal Forest launched.  The level of effort to produce this fantastic volume, and the extraordinary nature of the illustrations themselves, have to be seen to be appreciated!

Other books for Cajal fans include The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal, and Cajal’s own Recollections of My Life.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

By Marie Kondo

We’re just finishing Marie Kondo’s intriguing The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, (Audible book here). Before reading this book, we hadn’t made the connection between tidying and, for example, doing well on examinations. Some of Marie’s observations seem spot on for both improving productivity and improving ability to learn well under stress.  Marie’s book has sold over two million copies worldwide, and has over 12,000 reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 star average rating.  We can all clearly learn something of value from Marie’s lifelong compulsion to tidy. At first, her recommendations may simply seem impossible. But just keep reading—you’ll see that Marie has great insight not only about tidying, but about life.

We have to laugh at our recommendation of Tidying Up, given that we recently also recommended Tim Harford’s Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. As Ralph Waldo Emerson has observed, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”


Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential

By Barbara Oakley

Dan Pink says it best! “Mindshift is essential reading for anyone seeking a reboot, reset, or reinvention. As Oakley trots around the globe and across disciplines, she explains the power of taking a ‘pi’ approach to your career, why worriers often get ahead, why negative traits can house hidden advantages, and why it’s smarter to broaden your passion than follow it. Jammed with inspiring stories and practical tips, Mindshift is a book that can change your life.”
                                               — Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind

If you’re into audiobooks, don’t miss Barb’s reading!


Don’t Pay for Your MBA

By Laurie Pickard

When some of the most prestigious business schools in the world began providing free versions of their courses online, Laurie Pickard (whose great ideas Barb featured in her latest book, Mindshift) saw an opportunity to get the business education she had long desired, at a fraction of the typical MBA price tag.  Laurie launched a blog site to document her MOOC MBA journey. quickly attracted attention from prospective business students and the media alike. Laurie’s terrific new book Don’t Pay For Your MBAteaches readers how to put together a career-launching business education using massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other free and low-cost resources. Don’t miss this one! Even if you are interested in something other than an MBA, Laurie’s book will give you great ideas for putting together a program that’s right for you.


Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice

By Bill Browder

Book of the Month

It can sometimes be important to step back and look at society’s impact on how we learn and grow.  Bill Browder’s magnificent best-seller Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice tells the story of the impact of highest level corruption on ordinary people’s lives.  (This book has an amazing 5-star rating with over 2600 reviews on Amazon.) Browder was the co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management, which specialized in Russian investments.  In the course of his work, Browder became a victim of a kleptocratic part of Russia’s economy, where the rule of law can be rewritten on a whim.  The book’s cover notes “A financial caper, a crime thriller, and a political crusade, Red Notice is the story of one man taking on overpowering odds to change the world, and also the story of how, without intending to, he found meaning in his life.” We agree—we couldn’t put the book down.

On a side note, we often think that relentless focus is the best way to learn and be successful. Along those lines, we often tout Cal Newport’s Deep Work.  But as Browder notes, Edmond Safra, one of the world’s greatest investment bankers, could evince an almost gnat-like attention-span.  If you have trouble keeping your focus on just one thing, it may sometimes be an advantage.

That’s part of why we read great books—we often also gain insight in unexpected areas.


On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

By William Zinsser

This is the best book we’ve ever read on how to write well. Period. Barb would not have become a successful writer (or MOOC-maker!) if it hadn’t been for this book.

Anyone who writes will benefit from reading this book.  If you are in the “publish or perish” phase of academic life, you really need this book.


Peltor High Performance Ear Muffs

When you are trying to focus on something difficult, whether reading a book or anything else, one of the best things you can do to help you keep that focus is to block out sounds.  Earphones like these are used by professional memory champions to help them keep their focus–whether in competition or just learning something new.  Barb has found over the years that when she puts on her earmuffs, it signals her brain that it’s “focus time!”  It’s much easier for her to concentrate with earmuffs on, because the earmuffs not only block sound, they also indicate that it’s time to focus! Earmuffs are one of the most important tools in Barb’s learning repertoire.


Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

By Cal Newport

Cal’s Newport’s Deep Work is the best book on productivity we’ve ever read, bar none.  (Go for the Audible version if you don’t have time for the written.) Highly recommended!



By Robert Hughes

Goya, by Robert Hughes. Barb’s recent visit to Madrid allowed her to linger in person to examine at some of Goya’s most famous paintings, including the remarkable The Third of May 1808, as well as many of Goya’s more obscure, but equally riveting works.  An artist is able to focus on reality in a way that helps us “mere mortals” to also see that deeper reality. We decided to dig deeper into Goya’s life to discover what set him apart and made him one of Spain’s –and the world’s–greatest painters.  As Hughes’ biography reveals, Goya’s journey to greatness was spurred in part by an illness that made him deaf.  This, perhaps, set Goya unwillingly apart from the world–allowing him to be the last of the Old Masters as well as the first of the Moderns.

If you read the Kindle version, be prepared to look up many of Goya’s paintings on your cell phone beside you.  Hughes biography isn’t just a biography–it’s an insightful view of Spain of the late 1700s and early 1800s.  As you’ll discover, today’s seemingly modern societal trends are often simply repetitions of trends from centuries past.

Robert Hughes’  The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding became an international best-seller.  His The Shock of the New: The Hundred-Year History of Modern Art–Its Rise, Its Dazzling Achievement, Its Fall, is also on our “must read” list.

Incidentally, here’s Barb at the Cajal Institute in Madrid, with Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s death mask peering over her shoulder.


The Keystone Approach: Healing Arthritis and Psoriasis by Restoring the Microbiome

By Rebecca Fett

If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or other autoimmune-related disorders, we highly recommend The Keystone Approach: Healing Arthritis and Psoriasis by Restoring the Microbiome, by Rebecca Fett. (Rebecca read the Audible version of her book.) Rebecca Fett is a science author with a degree in molecular biotechnology and biochemistry. Before becoming a full-time author, Rebecca spent ten years as a biotechnology patent litigation attorney in New York, where she specialized in analyzing the scientific and clinical evidence for biotechnology companies. This book has enabled Barb to largely get off of medications for rheumatoid arthritis—remarkable, given her 30 years on a cornucopia of drugs.


World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech

By Franklin Foer

The central idea of this book is that Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple have become pernicious monopolies. One result, according to Foer, is that the writing world has changed dramatically, and not for the better. Foer has personally experienced this upheaval. The magazine he edited, the New Republic, ran roughshod over his career. Franklin makes some important points, even as it’s amusing to see him show the same “we know best” bias he’s accusing others of. Franklin, incidentally, is the brother of Learning How to Learn author fave Joshua Foer, who described how he became an unlikely memory champion in Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.


Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins

By Garry Kasparov

What a contrast with Foer’s book! Although Kasparov acknowledges the same seductive, monopolistic problems that Foer alludes to, Kasparov’s overall assessment is upbeat. This is a surprise, given that Kasparov will go down in history as the first world chess champion to be felled by artificial intelligence. Lots of readable insights about how AI experts went about tackling strategy in the games of chess and go. The gripping description of the final battle with Deep Blue will keep you up at night. We love Kasparov’s quote of Coursera’s co-founder, Andrew Ng, who has said that “worrying about super-intelligent and evil AI today is like worrying about ‘the problem of overcrowding on Mars.’”


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