Recommendations

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

Taking the Stress Out of Homework

By Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer

Recommended on: 4th January 2021

Taking the Stress Out of Homework: Organizational, Content-Specific, and Test-Prep Strategies to Help Your Children Help Themselves, by Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer. This wonderful book is a much-needed masterpiece—chock-full of simple, easy-to-implement ideas that will enable you to help your child whatever your own background or skill levels. One thing we particularly like about this book is that it shows you exactly how to be most effective you’re your help, whether the topic is math, reading, writing, or what-have-you. For example, Freireich and Platzer write:

“We’re about to walk you through some of the most common mistakes we see our students make. But the real question is: How are you supposed to give all this advice?

“If Lisa’s  mom sat her down and said, ‘Use correct homophones and don’t write long sentences and watch out for pronoun antecedents and don’t repeat words and avoid cliches,’ Lisa would run out of the room screaming.

“If your child is open to your feedback, make it a game that allows her to do the critical thinking, rather than simply stating which errors need to be corrected.  Point to a sentence or line of text, and ask them if they can identify two or three mechanical or grammatical errors.  This puts them in the driver’s seat (in editing, we should have revised this cliché!) and means that they are more likely to internalize the edits needed.”

If you are a parent or caregiver, you want this book—it provides the best material we know of to help you help your child learn better. Also good as an audio read.

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Negative Self-Talk & How to Change It

By Shad Helmstetter

Recommended on: 4th January 2021

Negative Self-Talk & How to Change It, by Shad Helmstetter.  After reading about how one of Caesar’s assassins, Brutus, shifted himself from probable victory into suicidal defeat at the Battle of Philippi, (at least as detailed in The Last Assassin),  we became interested in negative self-talk. Helmstetter’s short, uplifting book tackles an important issue––how we talk to ourselves makes a big difference in how we feel about ourselves, how we interact with others, and ultimately, how successful we are, at least according to however we define success.  As Helmstetter notes, “The problem is that Negative Self-Talk Disorder is an unconsciously acquired disorder that becomes physically, chemically, wired into your brain. (It becomes an actual disorder–faulty wiring–in the brain.) If you do nothing to change it, it not only stays, it also gets progressively worse. It becomes a part of your programs, and follows the rules under which your brain operates. Imagine meeting a sour, pessimistic, down-in-the-mouth person who is negative about everything. When you meet someone like that, it is clear that person did not suddenly become a negative, unhappy person overnight. People who are super-negative––whether they are aware of it or not–have worked at it. Probably for years. Day after day, thought after thought, they have, usually without knowing it, wired their brains to see the world in a darker, more insecure, less enlightened and optimistic way.”

If you’re looking for ideas about how to get yourself out of a negative way of treating yourself, even though it’s a bit of a self-promotion for his audio materials, Helmstetter’s book is a good place to start.

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Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

By Tom Vanderbilt

Recommended on: 4th January 2021

Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning, by Tom Vanderbilt. The year 2021 has already started out with a bang with the publication of Beginners, a uplifting, fascinating book about the value and addictive pleasure of returning to the status of a beginner. Vanderbilt is a fantastic writer, as when he begins singing lessons and describes his rendition of “Time After Time,” as possessing “the control of a snake on ice.” 

We love how Beginners describes the joy of learning new skills—and the joy also to be found in learning together with other novices. We learn not only about whatever subject Vanderbilt is studying, whether it be surfing, jewelry-making, or chess, but also delightful ancillary information. For example, singing in choirs “has been found to increase people’s sense of happiness and well-being. Singing with someone else engages a wider range of brain activity than singing alone. Choir singing has also been found to boost people’s oxytocin levels and increase one’s tolerance for pain. One study found that group singing, but interestingly not group conversation, lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” (Perhaps it would be a good idea for MOOC-makers to schedule singing sessions when they are seeking to engage their learners.) Beginners is also a great book for audio listening.

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The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

By Michael Bungay Stanier

Recommended on: 28th December 2020

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, by Michael Bungay Stanier.  (As we write this, the electronic version is free!) Fantastic as a New Year’s gift to yourself that will give to many others in the future.

If you’re like us, you like to help other people. One of the best ways to do that is by serving as a sounding board and coach for your co-workers, friends, children, bosses, and partners.  But what’s the best way to do that?  Stanier’s The Coaching Habit is basically the best book we’ve ever read about how to truly change other people’s brains for the better.  As Stanier notes: “…our brains are wired to have a strong preference for clarity and certainty, it’s no wonder that we like to give advice. Even if it’s the wrong advice—and it often is—giving it feels more comfortable than the ambiguity of asking a question. In our training programs, we call this urge the Advice Monster. You have the best of intentions to stay curious and ask a few good questions. But in the moment, just as you are moving to that better way of working, the Advice Monster leaps out of the darkness and hijacks the conversation. Before you realize what’s happening, your mind is turned towards finding The Answer and you’re leaping in to offer ideas, suggestions and recommended ways forward.”  Read Stanier’s wonderful book to learn how to tame your advice monster and be the mentor you’ve always wanted to be.  Highly recommended! Also great for audio listening.

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SELF Journal: Undated 13-Week Planning, Productivity and Positivity System for Max Achievement and Goal Success — Track Gratitude, Habits and Goals Daily and Weekly

By BestSelf

Recommended on: 25th December 2020

SELF Journal: Undated 13-Week Planning, Productivity and Positivity System for Max Achievement and Goal Success — Track Gratitude, Habits and Goals Daily and Weekly, by BestSelf.  We were given this wonderful little book not long ago, and were stunned by both its simplicity and effectiveness.  Just as is recommended in one of our favorite MOOCs (Yale’s The Science of Well-Being), each day begins with a little place where you can annotate what you are grateful for–this helps you start your day on the right foot. (There are many other proven tricks from positive psychology interwoven in the pages.) The journal serves as a coach to help you prioritize your most critical tasks and budget your time, including your also-important time off, effectively. The SELF Journal is also a flexible book that allows you to skip vacation days, even while it helps you be consistent in heading toward your long-term goals.  We love it!  If you are looking to start 2021 off with a productive, up beat bang, this is the book to get!

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Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write: How to Get a Contract and Advance Before Writing Your Book

By Elizabeth Lyon

Recommended on: 12th December 2020

Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write: How to Get a Contract and Advance Before Writing Your Book, by Elizabeth Lyon. We’re often asked how to get started in publishing a non-fiction book. You can’t do any better than to read Elizabeth Lyon’s guide, which provides a crash course on how to write a book proposal that (along with three sample chapters), will help you sell your book idea without having to write the entire book.  A few things to note. It’s easy to overlook the importance of doing the market analysis—that is, analyzing the books that will compete with yours.  But that’s one of the first issues you should explore. What’s different about your book that hasn’t already been said in many other books?  It’s also easy to overlook the importance of developing your own personal platform.  Not everyone is going to be a Harvard professor or have a “sailed through Yale” resume. But, even so, you need some innovative dash of panache to establish your credibility as an expert.  You also need to keep in mind that it’s not enough to even just be an expert in your subject—you also want to captivate your audience.  Lyon gives great insight into how to do precisely that.

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The Last Assassin: The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar

By Peter Stothard

Recommended on: 12th December 2020

The Last Assassin: The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar, by Peter Stothard. The Roman Empire is an endless source of fascination—this new book lends a different perspective to the Empire’s most pivotal event.  Frankly, we have never read a book of history that had such a great starting hook, as Cassius, the last living assassin of Caesar, awaits his fate.  While dangling on this hook, we were led through the often self-serving saga of the Caesar’s killers and the civil war that the killing provoked. A book like this helps you appreciate the comparatively benign politics of today. Incidentally, we kept our cell phone handy to look up place names and found ourselves discovering all sorts of fascinating new geographic spots we hope to visit post-COVID.

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Cocoa Flavanols

By CocoaVia

Recommended on: 29th November 2020

There is solid research from a number of studies that cocoa flavanols are beneficial for heart health as well as cognition. However, ordinary chocolate processing procedures generally strip out many of the beneficial flavanols.  Researching matters, CocoaVia, which is what Barb uses, appears to be one of the best products available for the public.

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Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation

By Peter Cozzens

Recommended on: 24th November 2020

Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation, by Peter Cozzens.  Tenskwatawa was a klutz who, as a youth, managed to shoot one of his eyes out with an arrow—he became a debauched alcoholic living on handouts. But, as Cozzens book reveals, after a near-death experience, Tenskwatawa turned away from alcohol and became known as the Prophet. Together with his brother, Tecumseh, the siblings worked hard against long odds to unite Native Americans against the American “Long Knives” who were constantly encroaching on Indian lands.  

This fascinating book gives insight into the margins of the nascent United States during the latter 1700s and early to mid-1800s. What makes the book all the more interesting is that, despite the heroic nature of their cause, It’s not like the siblings were perfect people. Tecumseh, who hated torture and treated even his enemies with respect, abandoned women and divorced his wives with the most trivial of excuses, even such minor transgressions as a few feathers left on a plucked turkey. And the Prophet was still a self-serving wheeler dealer even after his near-death experience—although he never drank again.

This fascinating, little known era of history about iconic Americans also is a fine book for audio listening (although you may want to keep your cell phone handy to look up place names). Enjoy!

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You Look Like a Thing and I Love You

By Janelle Shane

Recommended on: 16th November 2020

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place, by Janelle Shane.  Shane is a Colorado-based artificial intelligence researcher who makes computer-controlled holograms for studying the brain. She also runs the blog AI Weirdness, where she writes about “the sometimes hilarious, sometimes unsettling ways that machine learning algorithms get things wrong.”  Shane knows her stuff, and she’s also hilarious—a rare, killer combo of talents for an author.  If you’ve ever wondered about how machine learning and artificial intelligence works, this book is for you. And if you’re an expert on machine learning and artificial intelligence, but want to learn more about its bizarre antics and foibles, this book is also for you. We love the simple, bizarre illustrations, but this is also a surprisingly good book for listening. Enjoy!

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Inferno: The True Story of a B-17 Gunner’s Heroism and the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History

By Joe Pappalardo

Recommended on: 3rd November 2020

Inferno: The True Story of a B-17 Gunner’s Heroism and the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History, by Joe Pappalardo, a contributing editor at Popular Mechanics. A critically important aerial front in the WWII battles against the Nazis was the daylight forays of the US Army Air Force (USAAF) over the skies of Western Europe from 1942 until near the end of the war. Over 30,000 USAAF personnel were killedas author Pappalardo notes “For some scale, the U.S. Marines suffered 24,500 killed in action during World War II.” Barb’s bomber-pilot-to-be father, Al Grim, caught pneumonia during training in 1942. This nearly mortal illness held him back as his initial pilot training cohort went on to be killed virtually to a man over Europe in circumstances similar to those Pappalardo describes in Inferno. (Barb’s gifted uncle, Rodney Grim, was killed during training when another young pilot rammed his plane, as poignantly described in the Grave Discovery: Discovering Grave Stones and Stories blog.)

Pappalardo uses the unlikely tale of a ne’er-do-well winner of the Medal of Honor, Maynard Harrison Smith, as a narrative device to help readers understand the horrors endured by men who were often facing near certain death. The central sections of Pappalardo’s book, describing what it was like to be flying a burning, just ready-to-snap-apart “flying fortress” while being strafed by German aces, are enough to keep you on the edge of your seat (don’t even try reading at bedtime.) The undercurrent theme of the book is precision bombinga will-o’-the-wisp target if ever there was one. If you enjoy learning about important, but little-known topics of military history, this book is for you.

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Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

By James Nestor

Recommended on: 26th October 2020

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor. We’ve long had the feeling that breathing and breathing techniques are supremely important. Yet it’s been tough to find a solid scientifically-based book that gives a trustworthy overview of the subject—until James Nestor came along.  Nestor’s extraordinary willingness to not only make himself try out the various techniques and therapies he’s describing, but also to do in-depth scientific and historical research, and on top of that, to write with the grace and beauty of a Pulitzer Prize winner, are virtually unparalleled in popular literature. Who knew that a book on breath could be hard to put down—and so important?

You’ll learn why it’s important to keep your mouth closed whenever possible (it turns out you must use—or lose—the ability to breath through your nose). You’ll also discover why the human face has, in the past 300 years ago, created breeding grounds for the sinus infections that frequently plague us—and how it is possible to widen our mouths and fix the crooked teeth and sinus problems caused by soft foods and well-meaning orthodontists. (Nestor makes the prescient point that old skulls meant to display the inadequacy of “non-civilized” peoples instead illustrate that civilization wreaks havoc on sinuses and teeth.) 

Discussions of the history of a subject are often disconnected from modern day findings, and thus more than a little boring. But in Nestor’s able hands, we’re able to see how the ancients’ abilities to, for example, stay warm even during the iciest of conditions informs our modern understanding of the impact of breath on the autonomic nervous system; and how, in the 1830s, artist George Catlin gained an uncanny understanding of Native American breathing techniques—knowledge that was sadly lost save for Catlin’s efforts to document it. We even get a surprisingly relevant visit to the catacombs of Paris.

The end of the book contains a helpful recapitulation of the most important techniques in the book (and more), along with links to relevant websites. This is the best book we’ve read all year—and one of our top ten ever.  Don’t miss it. (Also, this book is perfect for listening on Audible).

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The Incredible Journey of Plants

By Stefano Mancuso

Recommended on: 25th October 2020

The Incredible Journey of Plants, by Stefano Mancuso.

Have you ever wondered how avocados spread their seeds when their pits are so large? (Hint, when the mammoths died out, avocados almost did, too.) Or where the world’s most forlorn trees reside? Or what happened to the trees that survived the blast at Hiroshima? This oddly appealing book by neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso of the University of Florence (translated from the Italian by Gregory Conti), describes Mancuso’s unlikely admiration for invasive species and unusual plant survival-and-spread stories. 

As Mancuso notes: “One plant that truly has a terrible reputation in many parts of the world, and with all of the national and agencies involved in some way with invasive plants, is without a doubt the Eichhornia crassipes, or water hyacinth. Its rapid diffusion and its sovereign contempt for the vast majority of means with which humanity tries to fight it have combined to make it commonly considered the worst aquatic invasive species known to humanity. Furthermore, it has the dubious privilege of membership in the elite club of the ‘100 worst invasive species’ established by the Invasive Species Study Group… In short, deemed the vegetable personification of evil, it is hated by everyone. Without reservation. As you might imagine, it is exactly the kind of flora non grata that I find irresistible.” 

Gotta love such a contrarian, who also sagely observes that attempts to eradicate invasive species often simply make matters worse. Looking for a fun, yet nicely calming reading experience in today’s turbulent times? Settle back and enjoy!

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Leif and the Fall

By Allison Sweet Grant and Adam Grant

Recommended on: 14th October 2020

Leif and the Fall, by Allison Sweet Grant and Adam Grant.  All the other leaves say that “All leaves fall in the fall.”  But Leif applies creativity to learn that success grows from plenty of failures in this beautifully illustrated little story. If you are a parent, caregiver, relative, or friend, you couldn’t do better to help a child’s creativity than reading this uplifting book together. 

We also greatly enjoyed Allison and Adam’s children’s book The Gift Behind the Box. Adam Grant wrote one of our very favorite books, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (which also discusses Barb’s work on Pathological Altruism.)

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Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime

By Sean Carroll

Recommended on: 10th October 2020

Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime, by Sean Carroll. We have to admit, we know nothing about quantum physics. (Well, at least Barb, who is writing this review, knew nothing about quantum physics. Terry, on the other hand, studied relativity with John Wheeler at Princeton, so he can dish on quanta when he feels like it.) Sean Carroll is a magnificent writer—understandably, this book became an instant New York Times best seller.  Just take a gander at this paragraph: “Note the subtle difference between Planck’s suggestion and Einstein’s. Planck says that light of a fixed frequency is emitted in certain energy amounts, while Einstein says that’s because light literally is discrete particles. It’s the difference between saying that a certain coffee machine makes exactly one cup at a time, and saying that coffee only exists in the form of one-cup-size amounts. That might make sense when we’re talking about matter particles like electrons and protons, but just a few decades earlier Maxwell had triumphantly explained that light was a wave, not a particle. Einstein’s proposal was threatening to undo that triumph. Planck himself was reluctant to accept this wild new idea, but it did explain the data. In a wild new idea’s search for acceptance, that’s a powerful advantage to have.”

Barb can’t say she emerged from Something Deeply Hidden having a good grasp of quantum physics, (although maybe another version of her in a different world does), but she now has a much greater appreciation for some of the discipline’s oddly beautiful ideas. Also, it’s interesting to know that Schrödinger didn’t like cats. 

Enjoy!

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Teachers vs Tech? The Case for an Ed Tech Revolution

By Daisy Christodoulou

Recommended on: 8th October 2020

Teachers vs Tech? The Case for an Ed Tech Revolution, by Daisy Christodoulou. We’re tremendous fans of “force of nature” Daisy Christodoulou, author of Seven Myths about Education. In her newest book, Daisy makes the perceptive, balanced case for using technology for many critical teaching-related purposes, including personalized learning, make learning more active, and improving teachers’ reach and engagement with students. When combined with Daisy’s perceptive asides and experience, Teachers vs Tech makes for a compelling read.  

For example, think you can always “just look it up?” As Daisy shows, just looking things up can be worse than just being wrong—it can allow you and your students to be suckered by big tech into their self-serving, deceptive world. Want your students to learn independently? It’s not as simple as that—in fact, students don’t get better at learning independently by just learning independently. Think a video project can help your students learn more about the material? Think again—such a project can ultimately help students learn far more about video-making than about what you’re actually trying to teach.

Amongst all her intriguing perspectives, Daisy has a special insight into rubrics, and why rubrics can mislead teachers into believing students understand the material when they don’t. (Here is some of her published research on the topic.)  Indeed, there is excellent research evidence that just because a student may mouth or write the words you want to hear does not mean they actually understand what you want them to understand.

In the end, Daisy writes like a great teacher—we especially liked the illustrations and straightforward layout that made Daisy’s ideas easier to “chunk” and internalize. In these pandemic days, teachers and parents are pausing to reset their expectations about what the online world can bring to education. Daisy’s book provides an intriguing guide to what lies ahead.

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The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win

By Maria Konnikova

Recommended on: 29th September 2020

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win, by Maria Konnikova. What a fantastic book! Maria has a doctorate in social psychology from Columbia. But instead of going into academia, after a bout of sad events in her family, and with the stalwart support of her husband, Maria decided to tackle the world of high stakes poker.  Armed only with her own chutzpah (she had no knowledge whatsoever of poker), and a deviously informative research paper, she convinced one of the world’s best poker players to take her on as a student. This extraordinary book tells her tale. What turns this book into a master work is that Konnikova turns her psychoanalysis skills on herself.  As she observes:

“What I will offer throughout is insight into decision making far removed from poker, a translation of what I’m learning in the casino to the decisions I make on a daily basis—and the crucial decisions that I make only rarely, but that carry particular import. From managing emotion, to reading other people, to cutting your losses and maximizing your gains, to psyching yourself up into the best version of yourself so that you can not only catch the bluffs of others but bluff successfully yourself, poker is endlessly applicable and revelatory. The mixture of chance and skill at the table is a mirror to that same mixture in our daily lives—and a way of learning to play within those parameters in superior fashion. Poker teaches you how and when you can take true control—and how you can deal with the elements of pure luck—in a way no other environment I’ve encountered has quite been able to do. What’s more, in an age of omnipresent distraction, poker reminds us just how critical close observation and presence are to achievement and success. How important it is to immerse yourself and to learn new things, truly. As Erik [Konnikova’s mentor] told me that first day, lesson one: pay attention. This book isn’t about how to play poker. It’s about how to play the world.”

This book is a wow—enjoy it now! (Also great for audio.)

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Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education

By Justin Reich

Recommended on: 24th September 2020

Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, by Justin Reich.  Let’s cut to the chase. This brilliant, upbeat book should be read by anyone involved in education, including parents, teachers, educational administrators, and policy-makers. If you want to understand how education itself is carved at its joints, this book, ostensibly centered on edtech, is the book to read. 

The challenge for us all is that today’s vast edtech industry is enormously convoluted and connects virtually every sector in education. It’s deucedly difficult to get a “bird’s eye” view of the playing field, because there are so many players with so many motives and perspectives, ranging from lawmakers and university administrators to kindergarten teachers, from charismatic high-tech entrepreneurs to established industry players. 

One would need an extraordinary intellect to understand and float between all the worlds and layers. Fortunately for us, Justin Reich not only has the intellect and writing chops to make sense of the landscape, but his positions at Harvard and then MIT have given him an unparalleled opportunity to interact with or be aware of virtually every major trend in edtech. Additionally, with the advent of COVID, edtech is shifting. The “built from the foundations” nature of this book’s explanations—which cover networked communities, assessment, gamification, adaptive tutors, and far, far morewill help you understand where the shifts are going to have their biggest impact. (We love Reich’s Law“People who do stuff do more stuff, and people who do stuff do better than people who don’t do stuff.”)

Oddly enough for a book with “failure” in the title, Reich is an optimist, and his book provides a sunny outlook on the gradual improvements taking place, tweak by tiny tweak, in education aided by technology. When Reich finds unsuccessful areas in edtech (and there are many), he relates them cheerfully, so that even the partial deadends seem worthwhile.  Reich is able to suss out the ideologies that underlie the various educational approaches, looking beneath them and dispassionately describing what’s effective and what’s not.

This is masterful writing and thinking that helps us all see more clearly how to help students succeed. Highly recommended!

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Engaging Learners through Zoom: Strategies for Virtual Teaching Across Disciplines

By Jonathan Brennan

Recommended on: 16th September 2020

We’ve been intrigued by books on Zoom, and we wanted to share about a new one, out soon, that takes a different approach: Engaging Learners through Zoom: Strategies for Virtual Teaching Across Disciplines, by Jonathan Brennan. As Barb wrote in her blurb for the book: “Engaging Learners through Zoom is like a banquet of ideas for polls, chats, breakout rooms, using the main session as a central hub, and far more.  What’s terrific about this book is that it gives concrete, innovative examples for practically every discipline—any instructor can benefit! I never knew I needed this book, but now, I couldn’t do without it!” 

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Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain

By David Eagleman

Recommended on: 10th September 2020

Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain, by David Eagleman. There’s no getting around it—we loved this book! It’s enlightening, upbeat, beautifully written, and deeply thought-provoking. Ever thought about what it’s like to have a new sense? Eagleman has, and he writes provocatively of those who have begun to explore this strange new neural territory:

“Todd Huffman is a biohacker. His hair is often dyed some primary color or another; his appearance is otherwise indistinguishable from a lumberjack. Some years ago, Todd ordered a small neodymium magnet in the mail. He sterilized the magnet, sterilized a surgical knife, sterilized his hand, and implanted the magnet in his fingers. Now Todd feels magnetic fields. The magnet tugs when exposed to electromagnetic fields, and his nerves register this. Information normally invisible to humans is now streamed to his brain via the sensory pathways of his fingers. His perceptual world expanded the first time he reached for a pan on his electric stove. The stove casts off a large magnetic field (because of the electricity running in a coil). He hadn’t been aware of that tidbit of knowledge, but now he can feel it. Reaching out, he can detect the electromagnetic bubble that comes off of a power cord transformer (like the one to your laptop). It’s like touching an invisible bubble, one with a shape that he can assess by moving his hand around. The strength of the electromagnetic field is gauged by how powerfully the magnet moves inside his finger. Because different frequencies of magnetic fields affect how the magnet vibrates, he ascribes different qualities to different transformers—in words like ‘texture’ or ‘color.’

But Eagleman goes far deeper than just bio-hacking (interesting as it is) in this book—his enlightening metaphors provide insight into neural processes of all sorts, especially about the competing processes of sensory neurons. Who knew that our ability to see and feel could be equated to a form of neural colony building by our hands and eyes?  We particularly liked the section on why young brains are so much more plastic than older brains—perhaps surprisingly, it’s not all bad news for the mature amongst us. As Eagleman notes: “There’s a trade-off between adaptability and efficiency: as your brain gets good at certain jobs, it becomes less able to tackle others… To get good at one thing is to close the door on others. Because you possess only a single life, what you devote yourself to sends you down particular roads, while the other paths will forever remain untrodden by you. Thus, I began this book with one of my favorite quotations from the philosopher Martin Heidegger: ‘Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.’”

If you want to freshen your mind with the latest thinking of human potential, settle down and enjoy Eagleman’s brilliant book. (This is also a great book for audio.)

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