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.’”


This site directs people to Amazon and is an Amazon Associate member.