Recommendations

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

The Viking Heart

By Arthur Herman

Recommended on: 19th January 2022

The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World, by Arthur Herman.  Seeing as how 23&Me revealed that Barb is roughly 70% Scandinavian, with intriguing dollops of Egyptian and Eastern European mixed into the gene-pool, she figured it was time to learn a bit more about her ancestry. (And who, she has long wondered, was her “Black Norwegian” grandfather?)  

This fascinating book answers all these questions, and many more!  Whether of Scandinavian descent or not, after all, one can’t help but wonder how a small group of Scandinavians perched on the outer edge of Europe could have had such an outsized influence on how European history unfolded.  

It all started, it seems, with naval technology: 

“The big change came when Scandinavian sailors introduced the square sail, which, when combined with oars for propulsion, turned the Viking ship into an unsurpassed maritime instrument. It made for swift and sure navigation across large bodies of water: comparisons with the flight of birds, made by poets and others, were inevitable… Viking ships were built to last. They were broad in the beam, as buoyant as giant water lilies, and equipped with a new nautical technology: the single oaken plank running along the bottom of the ship, from stem to stern, known as the keel (in Old Norse, kjǫlr), which the Vikings invented in the seventh century. It was the keel that gave the Viking ship its stability in any kind of sea and any kind of weather. A single sixty-foot pine mast (from the Norse word mastr, meaning ‘tree’) raised in the dead center of the vessel, with a three-hundred-square-foot sail attached, gave the vessel the wind power it needed to travel anywhere…. When a Viking vessel had to make its way up a river such as the Seine or the Thames or the Volga, its mast could be struck and laid aside and the oars lowered, so that the crew’s muscle power could take over. Viking ships, with a draft of eighteen inches fully loaded, were well designed for these waterways.”

This book will help knit together your understanding of a small group of people whose influence was broad through history. Now, thankfully, that Scandinavian influence is felt in peaceful realms!

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The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy

By Peter W Huber, Mark P. Mills

Recommended on: 6th January 2022

The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy, by Peter W Huber, Mark P. Mills. This book is considered a classic in energy studies, lauded by everyone from Bill Gates to, well, the best economist we know in energy studies, Gabriel Calzada.  And we can see why.  Huber and Mills put it best:

“Energy thus consumes itself at every stage of its own production and conversion, from the grassland on the Serengeti to the gazelle to the black-maned lion of Ngorongoro crater, from strip mine and derrick to the power plant and car engine, and from the direct current (DC) power supply to the central processing unit (CPU). Not just a bit of energy, here and there, but most of it. Over two-thirds of all the fuel we consume gets run through thermal engines—and well over half of it never emerges as shaft power at the other end. Just over half of all the shaft power we produce is used to generate electricity—but another 10 percent of that power doesn’t make it out the far end of the generator. A rapidly growing share of our electricity is now used to transform ordinary grid electricity into computer-grade power—with another 10 to 20 percent overhead in this stage of conversion.

“Some small but growing fraction of high-grade electric power is used to produce laser light—and another 60 to 90 percent, or more, of the electric power dispatched to the laser never makes it into the blinding beam of light. These losses compound from end to end: overall, only 1 to 5 percent (at best) of the thermal energy locked up in the fossil fuel or the enriched uranium ever emerges at the other end of the pipeline, as a laser beam, or a stream of cool air from an air conditioner, or as 200 pounds of 40 mph mom-and-kids; all the rest goes into purifying, conditioning, and tailoring the power.”

This book will change your thinking about energy, which is, no matter how you slice it, crucial for survival and economic growth.

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Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era

By Laurence Leamer

Recommended on: 28th December 2021

Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era, by Laurence Leamer.  Truman Capote was one of the most fascinating characters of the twentieth century.  So this book proved irresistible for us.  

Capote was a raconteur of the first order, and he parlayed his story-telling skills not only into a career as a novelist, but also into calling cards that made him a popular houseguest amongst the wealthy.  Over time, Capote began to realize that his awareness of the world of enormously wealthy, fashionable women could be used as fodder for his writing. Just as he took advantage of the confidences of murderers in his classic, In Cold Blood, Capote ruthlessly set about milking his wealthy female friends for their thoughts—thoughts he could put on the page to sell books, even as these publicly shared confidences would destroy his deepest friendships.  A real page-turner that is a biography not just of Capote, but of some of the world’s wealthiest, intelligent, best-dressed, but often trapped women.

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Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education

By Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness

Recommended on: 28th December 2021

Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education, by Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness. 

This fascinating book is framed around an important premise – it’s not that people in a given problematic institution, say, academia, are necessarily bad people.  It is instead that people can have differing incentives and rewards.  As authors Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness observe: “What sets this book apart from many other critiques of higher ed is that we believe academia’s problems are ingrained. Bad behaviors result from regular people reacting to bad incentives baked into academia. No specters haunt academia. Normal people just take the bait.” We might point out that another difference between this book and other critiques of higher education is that it’s pretty funny.  

We quibble with Brennan and Magness about a few things.  For example, student evaluations may be problematic, but in our opinion, they’re certainly not worthless.  If such reviews can’t tell how good an instructor actually is, they can certainly give a good sense of how bad they are.  Malign instructors under the protection of tenure can kill student motivation. Just a few of these creatures on, say, an engineering faculty, can result in students—even good students—deciding that by golly, it doesn’t matter if the humanities or psychology might come with a latte-type job; anything looks better than engineering. In any case, we found Brennan and Magness’ focus on incentives to be deeply insightful—this perspective has come to flavor our own analysis of many social interactions.

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Raising Critical Thinkers: A Parent’s Guide to Growing Wise Kids in the Digital Age

By Julie Bogart

Recommended on: 31st October 2021

Raising Critical Thinkers: A Parent’s Guide to Growing Wise Kids in the Digital Age, by Julie Bogart.  As one endorser notes: “Julie Bogart is a brilliant educator who’s written a wonderful book that shows us how to nurture children’s ability to think critically and carefully. Each chapter offers dozens of questions, lessons, and exercises for helping learners understand their biases, evaluate the sources from which they get information, and consider other perspectives. These tools can enable students from kindergarten through high school to experience the joys of discovery and insight, and they can help young people grow into compassionate adults who want to make a positive contribution to their world. Read this book and use it. Your children and students will thank you, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself, too!”  

And here’s an excerpt from Barb’s foreword:

“Julie approaches critical thinking in an utterly novel way. Like a master poker player, she turns her gaze not only toward the cards being dealt, but also inward to the body’s physical ‘tells’ in reaction to those cards… these bodily reactions and thought patterns can serve as a guide for digging deeper and being more honest, both with those you are interacting with and yourself. It’s this self-awareness that supports you in guiding your children as well.

“As Julie notes, ‘Knowing how to develop well-formed opinions in spite of prejudice and bias is one of the goals of education (and this book).’  Read on, for a wonderfully insightful guide to steering yourself, and the children you love, toward a life of considered, thoughtful insight.

Raising Critical Thinkers is an instant classic.  Highly recommended! Also good for audio.

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Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World

By Andrea Pitzer

Recommended on: 30th October 2021

Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Andrea Pitzer.  This wonderful book relates the exploits of intrepid polar explorer William Barents, who became a European legend after his death in 1597.  It can be tough to relate the story of a man about whom little is known aside from his occasional appearance in the diaries and reminiscences of others.  But Pitzer provides a great feeling for Barents’ uncompromising goal of reaching China through a northern route.  The true glory of Icebound, however, is Pitzer’s way with words.  Here, for example, is her description of how a ship is built: 

“Barents had begun exploration just as the Dutch dominated European shipbuilding. Though the craft was evolving, ships remained in that moment artisanal projects, in which each vessel was made by hand with little in the way of diagrams or written plans. Builders began with a set of blocks in a line on which they set the keel—the spine of the ship. Perpendicular to the keel, arcing planks known as ribs rose to breathe a shape into the cage of the hull. With the ribs in place, planks running parallel to the waterline could be attached, and L-shaped knees set inside to brace and bind the structure. Planks, keels, and ribs were all still cut and shaped by hand. They had to be hammered and plugged, with joining pegs pounded in then cut flush to the exterior planks. One or more decks could be laid to divide the ship into levels, from the cargo hold at the very bottom of the ship; to the orlop in the middle, which held the guns and sleeping sailors; and the upper deck, which sat open to the elements topside. The ‘ceiling’ of the ship—not the roof but the planks along the sides of the vessel—would finish off the interior.”

It is entrancing to read Pitzer’s portrayal of the crew’s exploits, as nearly every day brought an ingenious new escape from death. (Pro tip: Remain armed around polar bears.)  Pitzer herself has travelled to Russia retracing Barents’ voyages—it is little wonder her descriptions are so evocative. An excellent read, especially if you want to appreciate sitting cozily at home on a winter’s eve. 

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Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To

By David Sinclair

Recommended on: 22nd October 2021

Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To, by David Sinclair with Matthew D. LaPlante. [Hat tip, Adam Trybus] This fascinating, beautifully written book explores a common—but ignored—factor in many lethal diseases. That is, the effects of aging. Sinclair describes why aging occurs, and describes the potential of possible treatments such as NMN, rapamycin, and metformin. The book’s compelling descriptions of biological processes oftentimes make it a joy to read. This, for example, is the best “for the general public” explanation of epigenetics we’ve ever seen: This, for example, is the best “for the general public” explanation of epigenetics we’ve ever seen:

“Every one of our cells has the same DNA, of course, so what differentiates a nerve cell from a skin cell is the epigenome, the collective term for the control systems and cellular structures that tell the cell which genes should be turned on and which should remain off. And this, far more than our genes, is what actually controls much of our lives. One of the best ways to visualize this is to think of our genome as a grand piano. Each gene is a key. Each key produces a note. And from instrument to instrument, depending on the maker, the materials, and the circumstances of manufacturing, each will sound a bit different, even if played the exact same way. These are our genes. We have about 20,000 of them, give or take a few thousand. Each key can also be played pianissimo (soft) or forte (with force). The notes can be tenuto (held) or allegretto (played quickly). For master pianists, there are hundreds of ways to play each individual key and endless ways to play the keys together, in chords and combinations that create music we know as jazz, ragtime, rock, reggae, waltzes, whatever. The pianist that makes this happen is the epigenome. Through a process of revealing our DNA or bundling it up in tight protein packages, and by marking genes with chemical tags called methyls and acetyls composed of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, the epigenome uses our genome to make the music of our lives.”

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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin

By Erik Larson

Recommended on: 18th October 2021

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson. We have read many books over the years about the rise and fall of the Third Reich (including Shirer’s definitive classic by that name).  But In the Garden of the Beasts is one of the best we’ve ever read in describing the gradual unfolding of the evil that was Hitler and his loathsome cronies.  The book follows William Dodd, the unlikely, bottom-of-the-barrel pick as Ambassador to Nazi Germany, and his daughter, Martha Dodd, who slept her way through the top of Berlin’s high society as she merrily embraced Nazism.  But as the Dodds grew more familiar with Germany and the Nazis, they began to appreciate the true horrors of the regime. Martha would become a spy for the communists—only late in life realizing that she had been the dupe of each evil faction.  Larsen’s descriptions are stunningly apropos of the era—and resonate today: 

“…Germany had undergone a rapid and sweeping revolution that reached deep into the fabric of daily life. It had occurred quietly and largely out of easy view. At its core was a government campaign called Gleichschaltung—meaning “Coordination”—to bring citizens, government ministries, universities, and cultural and social institutions in line with National Socialist beliefs and attitudes. 

 “‘Coordination’ occurred with astonishing speed, even in sectors of life not directly targeted by specific laws, as Germans willingly placed themselves under the sway of Nazi rule, a phenomenon that became known as Selbstgleichschaltung, or ‘self-coordination.’ Change came to Germany so quickly and across such a wide front that German citizens who left the country for business or travel returned to find everything around them altered, as if they were characters in a horror movie who come back to find that people who once were their friends, clients, patients, and customers have become different in ways hard to discern. Gerda Laufer, a socialist, wrote that she felt ‘deeply shaken that people whom one regarded as friends, who were known for a long time, from one hour to the next transformed themselves.’ Neighbors turned surly; petty jealousies flared into denunciations made to the SA—the Storm Troopers—or to the newly founded…Gestapo…

This is an absolutely remarkable book of history—we cannot recommend it more highly. 

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The Great Upheaval: Higher Education’s Past, Present, and Uncertain Future

By Arthur Levine and Scott J. Van Pelt

Recommended on: 12th October 2021

The Great Upheaval: Higher Education’s Past, Present, and Uncertain Future, by Arthur Levine and Scott J. Van Pelt. If you’re looking to understand the future of higher education, you couldn’t do better than to look at The Great Upheaval.  What makes this book so interesting is not only its review of past changes in higher ed, but also its careful look at what has happened in leading industries such as movie-making, filmmaking, and newspapers as they’ve been disrupted by the online world. All this background means it’s a slow wind-up to get to the meat of the matter—that is, the future of higher ed. But the careful foundation that Levine and Van Pelt lay pays off. They conclude that many new universities will be unlike their industrial era predecessors. “The key actor is the student or consumer of higher education, no longer the colleges and universities that provide it. The focus is on learning rather than on teaching. The outcomes of education are fixed instead of time- and process-based. Higher education is primarily digital, no longer principally analog, and content is unbundled rather than consolidated. Competencies replace credits as the currency and accounting system of higher education. Colleges and universities are one of many sources for education rather than the sole provider.”  Well worth reading if you are wondering where higher ed is heading post-COVID.

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The Fire and the Darkness: The Bombing of Dresden 1945

By Sinclair McKay

Recommended on: 6th October 2021

The Fire and the Darkness: The Bombing of Dresden 1945, by Sinclair McKay.  This riveting book held us spell-bound each evening over the past week—only when sleep called with urgency was Barb able to draw herself away.  It is hard to do justice to Dresden’s horrific bombing, which was, on the face of it, a war crime that killed some 25,000 innocent civilians—many of them refugees—in the final weeks of World War II. Yet McKay does a fantastic job of setting out the context of what occurred, describing the horrors experienced by Jews and anyone else who dared cross the Nazi juggernaut, and how, whatever else it might have done, the savage bombing seemed to have been the final straw that broke the Nazi’s morale.  Even-handed, riveting works of history such as this book are extraordinarily important as nowadays, hyperinflated versions of the Dresden death toll are used by neo-Nazis to support revisionist history. These revised histories give short shrift to the millions of deaths and untold damages that Hitler caused.  The Fire and the Darkness is truly a great book. (Also excellent for audio listening).

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The End of Trauma: How the New Science of Resilience Is Changing How We Think About PTSD

By George A. Bonanno

Recommended on: 28th September 2021

The End of Trauma: How the New Science of Resilience Is Changing How We Think About PTSD, by George A. Bonanno. Bonanno argues that we vastly overestimate how common PTSD is, and we often fail to recognize how resilient people really are. In fact, many relatively new ideas about stress and how to handle it can actually exacerbate stressful feelings. Take mindfulness, for example—as Bonanno points out, not only is there not good evidence for mindfulness’s efficacy in helping with recovery from trauma, there is actually some evidence that it could be detrimental. As Bonanno notes: “A group of mindfulness experts recently cautioned, in a paper published in a leading psychology journal, that misinformation about the effectiveness of mindfulness can mislead people, and can even lead to harm. An alarming number of published studies and case reports have linked meditation to serious side effects, including increased anxiety, panic, disorientation, hallucinations, and depersonalization—the feeling of being disconnected from oneself. It can also cause people who have gone through potentially traumatic events to reexperience memories of these events.”

So what does Bonanno recommend to end trauma? Flexibility—realizing that there is no “one-size-fits-all” ways to handle trauma. For example, letting emotions out in relation to a stressful situation may sometimes be warranted, but many times, suppressing emotions is the better approach.

As Bonanno concludes: “All of this research points to the same basic conclusion: coping and emotion regulation strategies are inherently neither good nor bad. Every strategy has costs and benefits, and a given strategy is effective only insofar as it helps us meet the demands of a specific situation. Ironically, this is not a new story. The leading theorists on coping and emotion regulation have always emphasized this kind of dynamic interaction with changing situational demands. The core theorists have also emphasized the importance of timing. What may be effective at the onset of a stressor event, they pointed out, may be less effective or less useful later as the stressor runs its course.”

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Seven Essentials for Business Success

By George Siedel

Recommended on: 17th September 2021

Seven Essentials for Business Success, by George Seidel. Since we aren’t in the world of business, we found Dr. Seidel’s description of the world of business education, and the philosophy of great professor-teachers in business, to be intriguing.  The discussion is filled with nuggets of thought-provoking, teaching-related information we’d never encountered before, as for example: 

“In 1995, Robert Coles, a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at Harvard University, published an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled ‘The Disparity Between Intellect and Character.’ He wrote the essay after meeting with a student who was distraught after another student propositioned her on more than one occasion. She recounted to Professor Coles that she had ‘taken two moral-reasoning courses with [the other student], and I’m sure he’s gotten As in both of them—and look at how he behaves with me, and I’m sure with others.’ She went on to note, ‘I’ve been taking all these philosophy courses, and we talk about what’s true, what’s important, what’s good. Well, how do you teach people to be good?’”

Now that’s an important question for us as teachers!

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Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization

By Edward Slingerland

Recommended on: 13th September 2021

Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, by Edward Slingerland.  We were a little taken aback at the title and topic of this book.  After all, drunkenness is not a state most of us aspire to—at least not most of the time—and alcoholism is a tremendous bane.  Yet, while acknowledging alcohol’s dark side, Slingerland makes a credible case that alcohol, by virtue of its ability to tone down the ever-self-conscious prefrontal cortex, can have a helpful impact on the human condition, including the fostering of trust and opening of creativity. By turns witty and thought-provoking, Slingerland leads us through a new perspective on alcohol. This passage gives a sense of the book’s style and approach: 

“A significant portion of the Incan Empire’s organized labor was directed toward the production and distribution of the corn-based intoxicant chicha. Even ancient dead people were obsessed with getting wasted. It is hard to find a culture that did not send off their dead with copious quantities of alcohol, cannabis, or other intoxicants. Chinese tombs from the Shang Dynasty were packed with elaborate wine vessels of every shape and size, in both pottery and bronze. This represented a cultural investment equivalent, in today’s terms, to burying a few brand-new Mercedes SUVs in the ground with their trunks full of vintage Burgundy. Ancient Egyptian elites, the world’s first wine snobs, were sent off in tombs full of jars that carefully recorded the vintage, quality, and name of their content’s maker. Because of its centrality in human life, economic and political power has often been grounded in the ability to produce or supply intoxicants.”

Drunk is an interesting and thoughtful read—also good for audio listening.

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The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism

By Olivia Fox Cabane

Recommended on: 8th September 2021

The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, by Olivia Fox Cabane.  Every once in a while, it’s good to return to a book that’s shown its worth through the years.  Just such a book is The Charisma Myth, which is one of the best books we’ve ever read about how to get along with people while simultaneously being more persuasive, influential, inspiring, and yes, charming. (Who knew that charm could be taught?)  If you feel uncomfortable in meeting people and interacting in public settings, this is one of the best books we could suggest to help.  Also good for audio.

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Set it & Forget it: Are you ready to transform your sleep?

By Daniel Erichsen

Recommended on: 31st August 2021

Set it & Forget it: Are you ready to transform your sleep? by Daniel Erichsen.  Barb’s been doing her darndest over these past few years to try to make sure she gets at least eight hours of sleep most evenings.  Well, there’s been a problem with that.  Mostly, she just can’t get eight hours of sleep—instead, she generally spends an hour or two staring into the darkness trying to fall asleep.

Enter Daniel Erichsen’s intriguing, easy-to-read but potentially life-changing Set it & Forget itDr. Erichsen is a pediatrician who has also studied sleep medicine at the University of Chicago—his passion is helping people to improve their sleep.  His counterintuitive advice?  We generally don’t need as much sleep as the “experts” say.  Erichsen suggests simple, workable approaches for detecting when you are truly sleepy, (as opposed to just tired), and perhaps most importantly, he provides advice for reducing the stress that causes so many of us to lose sleep. (Oddly enough, one of the most common stressors on top of all our other daily stressors is that we stress about not getting enough sleep!)  If you have trouble sleeping, this thought-provoking book, and other related books and podcasts by Dr. Erichsen, may help bring you to your dreams.

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The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

By Tom Reiss

Recommended on: 27th August 2021

We can always tell when we’ve got a great book to read when we’re so excited about it that we sneak reading in even during the day, when we’re supposed to be working. And just such a book is Tom Reiss’s The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.  This is a stunningly good book—to be deposited on Barb’s shelf of “favorite books of history.”  It’s always fantastic when you read a biography centered around a decent, caring, but daring human being who gives whatever it takes to do it right by his fellow humans.  

Just such a person was Alex Dumas, father of the famous novelist Alexandre Dumas, (author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers—whose key characters were clearly based on aspects of the novelist’s father). Alex, the son of a white marquis and a black enslaved woman, Marie-Cessette Dumas, was the first person of color in the French military to become general-in-chief of a French army. What an extraordinary man!  You can’t help but read about his exploits and come to believe he was an eighteenth-century superhero. 

Reiss provides a very different perspective on the French Revolution and its destroyer, Napoleon Bonaparte.  By providing an in-depth perspective of someone who knew Napoleon well, we come to see how narcissistic Napoleon actually was.  And where the French Revolution had begun the process of freeing all enslaved people in French dominions, Napoleon moved to re-enslave them and to re-institutionalize racism in France.  (Somehow, this is never emphasized in Napoleon biographies.)  In the end, however, it is the wonderful exploits of Alex Dumas that makes this extraordinary book such a delight to read. Also fantastic for audio.

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Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World

By Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell

Recommended on: 16th August 2021

Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World, by Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell. In keeping with our enthusiasm for alcoholic beverages, and our own past experiences in the world of Marxist thinking, (both alcohol and Marxism feature in Barb’s Hair of the Dog: Tales from a Russian Trawler), we couldn’t help but be tickled by Lawson and Powell’s enlightening tales of travel through socialist societies. As Bob and Ben note: “In this book … we’re aiming for a popular audience that will appreciate not just our economic insights but our down-to-earth honesty. We wrote this book because too many people seem to be dangerously ignorant of what socialism is, how it functions, and its historical track record. We also wanted to get drunk in Cuba, and this was a great way to write off our expenses.” 

This not-to-be-missed book describes what’s really happening on the ground in socialist countries throughout the world—not just relating blinkered academic theory. Plus… beer.

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Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering

By Scott Small

Recommended on: 12th August 2021

Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering, by Scott Small.

This extraordinary book is the best, most riveting, most readable book related to learning (and PTSD, autism, memory, and a host of other topics) that we’ve ever read.  Small is an extraordinary writer—his tales of being at war, and why he didn’t develop PTSD despite what he’d experienced, provide thought-provoking insight for us all. And his simple, lucid explanations of why we forget—and how important it is to be able to forget—provide a whole new perspective on how you look at both life and learning.

Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Small provides a profound scientific underpinning for one of the most important points we make in Learning How to Learn—that having a great memory ain’t necessarily so great.  It can be hard for you to forget the details so that you can see the big picture.  (This is part of why people who can’t remember so well can be more creative.)  Even better, Dr. Small is by our estimation in the top ranks of non-fiction writers—our guess is that if he’d gone into writing fiction, he’d be ranked amongst the best in the world for his prose style.

We love this book—it is a tie for the best book we’ve ever read.  It’s also ideal for audio. You can’t start reading this fantastic book soon enough!

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Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste

By Bianca Bosker

Recommended on: 8th August 2021

We give an enthusiastic thumbs up for Bianca Bosker’s fantastic book Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste. You might think that this is just a simple book about wine tasting.  It’s not. Or rather, it is about wine tasting, but it is SO much more!  Much like our other favorite “immersion learning” book, Moonwalking with Einstein, Cork Dork is one person’s hilariously obsessive, but scientifically-informed pursuit of the development of memory.  But this time, rather than learning to memorize things like cards, numbers, or names, Bosker is learning to remember tastes and smells. That might seem inconsequential, but as Bosker reveals, improving your sense of taste and smell, in fact, improves all of your cognition.  Bottom’s up to this brilliant book! (Bosker also reads the Audible version; you may be able to get two free audiobooks through this link.)

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Greenlights

By Matthew McConaughey

Recommended on: 1st August 2021

Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey.  It took us a bit to get used to McConaughey’s style. But once he hits his stride with stories, Greenlights soars as an unparalleled autobiography of a funny, tough, unfailingly curious extrovert with a sense that the world is conspiring to make him happy.  This is the kind of book you read so you’ve got funny stories to haul out when you’re sitting around jawing with friends. But the book goes much deeper than that, with insights ranging from the sacrifices and risks needed to get to where you want to go, to finding the love of one’s life, to the value of listening to your intuition.  Highly recommended—also good for audio (McConaughey himself is the narrator).

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