Discover my recent book recommendations below, or explore the full searchable recommendations archive.

The Great Mental Models (two volume series)

By Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien

Recommended on: 28th May 2020

The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts and Volume 2: Physics, Chemistry and Biology by Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien. There is intriguing evidence from neuroscience that our brains “reuse” patterns based on models to help us think creatively about ideas we are grappling with. Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien’s delightfully interesting books provide many examples of how models can be used to help us think in fresh ways. For example, we know that different systems, like a small pot of hot water nestled inside a larger pot of cold water will tend towards reaching a thermal equilibrium.  As Mental Models Volume 2 notes: “What if we consider the equilibrium of two systems not between two containers of different temperature water, but two societies with different values?” What a neat way of thinking about societal differences!

As Parris and Beaubien note: “You’ve got to have models… You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.” Mental Models describes some of the best of these models. These are also good books for audio listening (Volume 1, Volume 2). (Two free audio books may be possible through this link.)

We’re also fans of Parrish’s Farnam Street Blog, Podcast, and Learning Community. Check them out!



Napoleon: A Life

By Andrew Roberts

Recommended on: 13th May 2020

Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts.  Having read Robert’s wonderful Napoleon, we now realize that we’d had an enormous gap in our understanding of European history—a gap related to Napoleon and the Napoleonic wars. If you’re a biography buff, Napoleon himself was one of the most fascinating characters of his, or any, age.  As Roberts points out: “Napoleon Bonaparte was the founder of modern France and one of the great conquerors of history. He came to power through a military coup only six years after entering the country as a penniless political refugee. As First Consul and later Emperor, he almost won hegemony in Europe, but for a series of coalitions specifically designed to bring him down. Although his conquests ended in defeat and ignominious imprisonment, over the course of his short but eventful life he fought sixty battles and lost only seven. For any general, of any age, this was an extraordinary record. … 

“Even if Napoleon hadn’t been one of the great military geniuses of history, he would still be a giant of the modern era. The leadership skills he employed to inspire his men have been adopted by other leaders over the centuries, yet never equaled except perhaps by his great devotee Winston Churchill… The fact that his army was willing to follow him even after the retreat from Moscow, the battle of Leipzig and the fall of Paris testifies to his capacity to make ordinary people feel that they were capable of doing extraordinary, history-making deeds… Napoleon is often accused of being a quintessential warmonger, yet war was declared on him far more often than he declared it on others.” 

If you are a fan of either history or biographies, don’t miss this book! But be prepared for battlefield detail—right down to the McDonalds’ parking lot currently located at a once key hillside now called Napoleonshöhe outside Abensberg. Also good for (33-hours-long!) audio listening.



In Hoffa’s Shadow: A Stepfather, a Disappearance in Detroit, and My Search for the Truth

By Jack L. Goldsmith

Recommended on: 25th April 2020

In Hoffa’s Shadow: A Stepfather, a Disappearance in Detroit, and My Search for the Truth, by Jack L. Goldsmith.  Since Barb lives in the Detroit area (she has lunched at the old Machus Red Fox, where the notorious Hoffa was last seen), she can’t help but take an interest in the fascinating life and strange vanishing act of long-time Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa.  This book provides an unusual take on Hoffa’s legacy. Hoffa’s foster son, Chuckie O’Brien, was probably the most dedicated of all of his followers—yet Chuckie has been accused by almost everyone of having facilitated Hoffa’s disappearance.  This book, by Chuckie’s own foster son, upstanding Ivy League lawyer Jack Goldsmith, burrows deep into the mindset and zeitgeist of unions, the mob, and much, much more. A thought-provoking take on loyalty and love.



The Order of Time

By Carlo Rovelli

Recommended on: 25th April 2020

The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli. Who knew that a world class physicist—one of the founders of loop quantum gravity—could also write world class prose?  In this lovely little book, Rovelli introduces us to the complexities of (current) conceptions of time, where nothing is as simple as it appears.  Time, for example, may not be infinitely dissect-able—it may come in tiny little timely chunks. And your time is different from my time is very different from time across the galaxy. And there may be a reason, in our universe, that time appears to flow forward—it may not be that way everywhere. The audio version of the book is read by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, which puts the book in a league of its own, audio-wise.



Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It

By Kamal Ravikant

Recommended on: 25th April 2020

Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It, by Kamal Ravikant. This odd little book offers its own idiosyncratic approach to self-healing: to simply love yourself.  Many successful leaders in Silicon Valley are perhaps not in the healthiest place mentally, and Kamal was amongst this “mental dark space” group. His solution was to reaffirm his own love and support for himself.  This goes against the guilt-ridden grain many of us have been raised with, but does seem to offer solid, healing qualities, at least in Kamal’s experience, and in the many thousands who have given this book a five-star review since its recent publication. A quick read with a practical upside. Also a great book for audio listening. (Two free audiobooks may be possible through this link.)



The Elements of Education for Teachers: 50 Research Based Principles Every Educator Should Know

By Austin Volz, Julia Higdon, William Lidwell

Recommended on: 20th April 2020

The Elements of Education for Teachers: 50 Research Based Principles Every Educator Should Know, by Austin Volz, Julia Higdon, William Lidwell. When reading books about good teaching, it can easy to become overwhelmed with a flurry of approaches. The Elements takes a step back and focuses on the best approaches, with pithy summaries that help you know exactly what to do without becoming overwhelmed.  Elements doesn’t just take the easy path—it describes, for example, when and why meta-analyses, despite their value, must be taken with a grain of salt. And for some situations direct instruction just doesn’t work so well: “For example, rather than abstractly teaching a child how to ride a bike, it is more productive to first allow them to try and then provide feedback and guidance.” A solid, deeply insightful overview that will strengthen your understanding of the foundations of teaching.



Excellent Online Teaching: Effective Strategies For A Successful Semester Online

By Aaron Johnson

Recommended on: 20th April 2020

Excellent Online Teaching: Effective Strategies For A Successful Semester Online, by Aaron Johnson. This is a wonderful little book that is available for free (at least as of the moment) on e-book on Amazon.  Johnson really nails the key simple ideas of communicating effectively with your online students, and setting up a course experience that students—and instructors themselves–will find worthwhile. You can read this book in a little over an hour—and if you’re a teacher, you’ll find it time well-spent!



Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault

By Stephen R. C. Hicks

Recommended on: 29th March 2020

Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Expanded Edition), by Stephen R. C. Hicks.  We read this marvelous book some years back, when it was in its first edition, and are delighted to now see the book is now out with a new, expanded version that is, as we type this, now available on Kindle for free. (The expanded essays include “Free Speech and Postmodernism” and “From Modern to Postmodern Art: Why Art Became Ugly.”  Hicks has a wonderfully readable style that makes complex philosophical ideas more comprehensible to us mere mortal, non-philosopher types.  

True story: Barb was talking to a fellow colloquium attendee who seemed keenly aware of philosophy. She mentioned she only really felt she understood and enjoyed one book about philosophy, but for once she couldn’t remember the title or author. She dutifully reported back after break that the book was Explaining Postmodernism, by Stephen Hicks.  “Oh,” said Barb’s conversant. “That’s nice to hear, because I’m Stephen Hicks.”



Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health

By Mark Hyman, M.D

Recommended on: 25th March 2020

Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health, by Mark Hyman, M.D.  For the heroes on the front lines of the pandemic, as well as those of us at home, good nutrition is more important now than ever.  Hyman’s book has an unusual take on diet—he describes why fats and oils are so important, and how the US government went astray decades ago in its low-fat recommendations. Although Hyman’s approach is similar to some low carb and keto diets, his explanations help us understand why consuming fats is actually a healthy idea.  See also Dr. Hyman’s article “How to Protect Yourself from COVID-19: Supporting Your Immune System When You May Need It Most.”



Instant Pot

By Instant Pot

Recommended on: 16th March 2020

Gizmo of the Year

Normally, we don’t like kitchen gizmos. They clutter up the counter and, after not being used for a while, end up relegated to the garage.  But we love, love, love the Instapot. It’s a pressure cooker that doesn’t need you to be standing around fiddling with the temperature on the stove—you can instead just set it and forget it, cooking a tender beef stew in half an hour; making beans (our favorite is lima beans with Vegeta, sweet paprika, stewed tomatoes, and if desired, meat that you can brown with an onion and garlic right in the Instant Pot before pressure cooking). You can also make  artichokes, brussel sprouts, or other vegetables in far less time and in a more nutritious way. Now that eating out is mostly not an option, this gizmo is fantastically helpful. You can either get a cook book or just Google whatever you want to cook—you’ll see all sorts of recipes online, and of course, very helpful YouTube recipes.  If you don’t already have this very popular kitchen device, we think you’ll really like it.



How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine . . . for Now

By Stanislas Dehaene

Recommended on: 13th March 2020

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine . . . for Now, by Stanislas Dehaene. This is the best book around, hands down, on how the brain learns. Part of the brilliance of Dehaene’s book is that he breaks everything down into easy-to-understand insights that allow you to grasp the big picture without getting bogged down in the minutia of complex neural interactions.  

Dehaene also describes why discovery learning is so problematic in comparison with explicit teaching: “[Discovery learning] is attractive. Unfortunately, multiple studies, spread over several decades, demonstrate that its pedagogical value is close to zero—and this finding has been replicated so often that one researcher entitled his review paper ‘Should There Be a Three-Strikes Rule against Pure Discovery Learning?’ When children are left to themselves, they have great difficulty discovering the abstract rules that govern a domain, and they learn much less, if anything at all. Should we be surprised by this? How could we imagine that children would rediscover, in a few hours and without any external guidance, what humanity took centuries to discern? At any rate, the failures are resounding in all areas: 

  • In reading: Mere exposure to written words usually leads to nothing unless children are explicitly told about the presence of letters and their correspondence with speech sounds. Few children manage to correlate written and spoken language by themselves…. The task would be out of reach if teachers did not carefully guide children through an ordered set of well-chosen examples, simple words, and isolated letters. 
  • In mathematics: It is said that at the age of seven, the brilliant mathematician Carl Gauss (1777–1855) discovered, all by himself, how to quickly add the numbers from one to one hundred (think about it—I give the solution in the notes…). What worked for Gauss, however, may not apply to other children. Research is clear on this point: learning works best when math teachers first go through an example, in some detail, before letting their students tackle similar problems on their own. Even if children are bright enough to discover the solution by themselves, they later end up performing worse than other children who were first shown how to solve a problem before being left to their own means. 
  • In computer science: In his book Mindstorms (1980), computer scientist Seymour Papert explains why he invented the Logo computer language (famous for its computerized turtle that draws patterns on the screen). Papert’s idea was to let children explore computers on their own, without instruction, by getting hands-on experience. Yet the experiment was a failure: after a few months, the children could write only small, simple programs. The abstract concepts of computer science eluded them, and on a problem-solving test, they did no better than untrained children: the little computer literacy they had learned had not spread to other areas. Research shows that explicit teaching, with alternating

If you’re into the neuroscience of learning, you will unquestionably want to read this book. (The last half, in particular, is extraordinarily enlightening.)

The Best Analysis We’ve Seen So Far on the Coronavirus

Virtually every aspect of education has been affected by COVID-19. This article gives a superb overview of what you need to know to help your community or company to act wisely in the face of the exponential spread of the coronavirus. [Hat tip: Dr. David Handel, founder of our favorite flashcard app, IDoRecall.] 

How to Remember Not to Touch Your Face

This wonderful video by four-time memory champion Nelson Dellis gives you a quick tip to help you to not only not touch your face and to be sure to wash your hands—but it also gives you a way to detect fellow Nelson Dellis fans. 🙂

Putting the ‘special’ into ALL education

This podcast, featuring Tim Connell, an educator specialising in Special Education, discusses various trends and insights related to Special Education. Key graf: “Special education too tends to be less at the mercy of the kind of pendulum swings of whatever is trendy currently within education, special educators tend to hold that line of just good practice because they know that works and invariably those pendulum swings in mainstream education tend to come back to that anyway.”

The Unparalleled Daisy Christodoulou to Give a Workshop on Simplifying Assessment in Schools

We had the good fortune while in London last year to attend one of Daisy’s workshops on comparative judgment of essay writing to speed and improve assessments in schools.  Frankly, we were blown away by the unique simplicity and effectiveness of this approach. If you’re interested in learning more, you can attend Daisy’s workshop May 5th in New York City.  Register here.

Garuba Ojo Fredericks (Fred) from Nigeria has completed over 400 MOOCs in a wide range of subjects

Are you looking for inspiration in the MOOC-making world?  Look no further than Fred, who is a world-class MOOC-taker.  It’s a fantastic story, well-told (as always) by Pat Bowden of Online Learning Success.

How to Turn Yourself Into a Superlearner

This article in the Guardian does a terrific job of covering the nitty-gritty behind good learning. Key (encouraging!) graf: “Most of us have more than enough brainpower to master a new discipline, if we apply it correctly – and the latest neuroscience offers many strategies to do just that.” [Hat tip: Lead Mentor Steven Cooke.]

Drilling Down into Problems with Common Core

This article gives an in-depth description of why one K-12 teacher, who has two decades of experience in a technology-related career, finds Common Core math to be deeply problematic.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team



Explicit & Direct Instruction: An Evidence-Informed Guide for Teachers

By Edited by Tom Boxer, Series Editor Tom Bennett

Recommended on: 5th March 2020

Explicit & Direct Instruction: An Evidence-Informed Guide for Teachers, Edited by Tom Boxer, Series Editor Tom Bennett. This wonderful short book lays out everything you need to know about Direct Instruction, a precise way of teaching that research has shown to be one of the very best approaches to use in a classroom. (Doug Lemov’s admirable Teach Like a Champion uses many techniques of Direct Instruction.) What we found to be most useful in this book was the discussion of how to select the best set of example problems when trying to give students an intuitive foundation for what they are learning.  Real people, after all, must often learn from very limited data-sets, unlike many of the approaches used in artificial intelligence. We also appreciated learning the history of why Direct Instruction has been too long been ignored and is only now coming into its deserved prominence. Enjoy!



The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church

By Malachi Martin

Recommended on: 2nd March 2020

The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, by Malachi Martin.  At a time when some public schools are refusing to teach at all in the name of “equity,” (as we mentioned last week), this book is as topical today as when it was first published in 1988.  Martin was originally ordained as a Jesuit priest—he became Professor of Palaeography at the Vatican’s Pontifical Biblical Institute. From 1958 he served as secretary to Cardinal Bea during preparations for the Second Vatican Council, so his knowledge of the Jesuits and the inside history of this important group was unparalleled. (Disillusioned by reforms, he asked to be released from certain of his Jesuit vows in 1964.) Martin makes a convincing case for how the Jesuits used cult-like revamping of the meaning of Roman Catholic vocabulary, such as equating evil with capitalism, that allowed the group to essentially become a Marxist splinter group in direct opposition to Pope John Paul II’s attempts to overcome the evils of communism, particularly in South America. As Martin notes: “Cleverly used, the new ‘theological’ lexicon not only justifies but mandates the use of any means—including armed violence, torture, violation of human rights, deceptions, and deep alliances with professedly atheistic and antireligious forces such as the USSR and Castro’s Cuba—in order to achieve the ‘evolution’ of Marxism and its promise of material success.” 

See also Perfect Peril: Christian Science and Mind Control for another example of how cults redefine important words so that when you think you are discussing the same ideas, you actually aren’t—making cult deprogramming all the more difficult. Martin’s views must be taken as a snapshot of the context of the time and his own beliefs, but his careful attempts to be objective contain much worth pondering.



Memory Superpowers! An Adventurous Guide to Remembering What You Don’t Want to Forget

By Nelson Dellis

Recommended on: 25th February 2020

Memory Superpowers!: An Adventurous Guide to Remembering What You Don’t Want to Forget, by 4-time US Memory Champion Nelson Dellis. This is a wonderful book for youths from about 10-years-old on up—it’s the kind of rollicking good adventure that your youngster can read aloud to you, so you are learning together as a family about tricks and secrets to remembering everything from the world capitals to the elements of the periodic table to speeches and soliloquies.  Barb’s blurb on the book is: “If there’s ONE BOOK to give your child (or you!) to help with learning, this is the one.” This is a pre-order—get your order in line early for what we suspect will be a sell-out!



The Longevity Diet

By Valter Longo

Recommended on: 16th February 2020

The Longevity Diet, by Valter Longo. This book provides an intriguing set of hypotheses about how to extend life, and reset bodily systems, using intermittent fasting.  Longo is the real deala top researcher at UCLA who has studied this issue for years. Along with making an excellent case for intermittent fasting, Longo also recommends a more vegetarian-oriented diet that includes some fish. What we wouldn’t give to see Valter Longo and Michael Eades (of Protein Power Diet), in a debate!



Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College

By Doug Lemov, Joaquin Hernandez, and Jennifer Kim

Recommended on: 8th February 2020

Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, by Doug Lemov, Joaquin Hernandez, and Jennifer Kim. It’s no wonder Lemov’s book has long been a runaway bestseller in the world of teaching. It is, quite simply, the best comprehensive book on K-12 teaching we’ve ever read, with some of its lessons being worthwhile for instructors of any kind, whether in academia or business.

Lemov took an unusual approach to researching this book. He and his team took hundreds of hours of video of outstanding teachers in action so as to carefully watch and deconstruct their magic. In this way, Lemov is able to get a new perspective on almost everything imaginable about good teachingranging from the when, where, and why of giving little encouraging nods, to getting students enthralled in material, to how to have that star quality that automatically captures students’ attention.  (Hintit involves what they call the military drill sergeant’s “command voice.”)

Barb can’t help but reflect on her many engineering and math professors who could have learned so much by reading Lemov’s book. In fact, one thing she finds interesting about learning and education is that academia, business, and K12 are often so dissociated from one another, even though each could benefit from the cross-pollination between different professions. Barb is often asked “So, what is your specialty in education?”  Her answer? “Academia and business and K12, because all three inform one another.” Her background as a professor of engineering gives her a fresh perspective that helps her see the difference between the fantastic in educationlike Lemov’s bookversus the fad.



The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine

By Serhii Plokhy

Recommended on: 6th February 2020

The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, by Serhii Plokhy. It’s all too easy, in reading books on history, to focus on the areas of the world that currently have large populations. Russia, for example, overshadows Ukraine by more than a factor of three, population-wise (145 versus 42 million), meaning Russia gets the vast majority of coverage in books and press. But this kind of “large pop” reading can give a misleading sense of the conflicting interests of the groups involved, and can give short shrift to important current issues and past events. For example, the Cossacks were an important group through much of Russian history, but with the brief descriptions of many excellent Russian-centered history books (for example, Peter the Great, Barb’s favorite biography), it’s still hard to piece together who the Cossacks were, and what they stood for.  The Gates of Europe explains Cossacks, and far more, so that the reader can truly understand the important historical linkages between Greece, Byzantium, Europe, and Asia.  With Ukraine topping headlines today, it can be helpful to get a good overview of this country’s fascinating history, and to understand its past and present relationship with central European countries as well as Russia.  Plokhy has written an extraordinary book—highly recommended.



The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It

By John Tierney and Roy Baumeister

Recommended on: 28th January 2020

The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It, by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister. Unlike many optimists, Barb has always been the kind of person who anxiously anticipates possible bad outcomes. Since she’s a contrarian, however, she faces life with a relentlessly positive attitude that not only belies, but helps her overcome those anxious feelings. Teirney and Baumeister’s wonderful book helps give a scientific perspective about why people can often focus on the negatives in their lives, even when positives abound. What we really like about this book is that it gives concrete strategies for overcoming negativity and moving forward in a positive way, whether in relationships, work, or life in general. Highly recommended—also a good book for audio listening.



Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

By David Epstein

Recommended on: 23rd January 2020

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. Range has been recommended to us by a number of LHTLers, and now that we’ve finally read this marvelous book, we can see why. It lays out, in clear and convincing detail, why being a narrowly- ocused expert may seem like the way to go in your life and career—but it actually makes you less capable of creativity, not to mention more narrow-minded. As Epstein notes “I dove into work showing that highly credentialed experts can become so narrow-minded that they actually get worse with experience, even while becoming more confident—a dangerous combination.”  

Key graf: “‘Eminent physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson styled it this way: we need both focused frogs and visionary birds. “Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas of mathematics out to the far horizon,’ Dyson wrote in 2009. ‘They delight in concepts that unify our thinking and bring together diverse problems from different parts of the landscape. Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. They delight in the details of particular objects, and they solve problems one at a time.’ As a mathematician, Dyson labeled himself a frog, but contended, ‘It is stupid to claim that birds are better than frogs because they see farther, or that frogs are better than birds because they see deeper.’ The world, he wrote, is both broad and deep. “We need birds and frogs working together to explore it.’ Dyson’s concern was that science is increasingly overflowing with frogs, trained only in a narrow specialty and unable to change as science itself does.”

Epstein makes the case that even those without any advanced education can sometimes think more clearly, and make more intelligent insights about intractable problems than the so-called experts.  Read this marvelous book to discover why. (This is also a good book for audio listening.)



Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe

By Steven Strogatz

Recommended on: 16th January 2020

Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe, by Steven Strogatz. Strogatz is a wonderful writer, and Infinite Powers is a wonderful book about the beauty of calculus. But we hasten to add that you don’t need to know any calculus to enjoy Strogatz’s work. The book begins with a quip that the physicist Richard Feynman made to the novelist Herman Wouk when they were discussing the Manhattan Project. “Wouk was doing research for a big novel he hoped to write about World War II, and he went to Caltech to interview physicists who had worked on the bomb, one of whom was Feynman. After the interview, as they were parting, Feynman asked Wouk if he knew calculus. No, Wouk admitted, he didn’t. ‘You had better learn it,’ said Feynman. ‘It’s the language God talks.’”

So Wouk went on to try—and fail—to learn calculus.  Strogatz continues “It shouldn’t be necessary to endure what Herman Wouk did to learn about this landmark in human history. Calculus is one of humankind’s most inspiring collective achievements. It isn’t necessary to learn how to do calculus to appreciate it, just as it isn’t necessary to learn how to prepare fine cuisine to enjoy eating it. I’m going to try to explain everything we’ll need with the help of pictures, metaphors, and anecdotes. I’ll also walk us through some of the finest equations and proofs ever created, because how could we visit a gallery without seeing its masterpieces? As for Herman Wouk, he is 103 years old as of this writing. I don’t know if he’s learned calculus yet, but if not, this one’s for you, Mr. Wouk.”

This is a timeless book that puts all of calculus into a grand, beautifully written perspective that you’ll enjoy whether you’re a physicist or an English teacher.  Enjoy! 



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