Searchable recommendations archive

Here you can explore the full archive of my book recommendations.

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

Recommended on: 19th March 2018

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

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

By Sarah Levitt

Recommended on: 14th March 2018

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

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

By Barbara Oakley

Recommended on: 13th December 2017

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

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

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A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy

By Sue Klebold

Recommended on: 19th March 2019

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. by Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two Columbine High School mass murderers.  We weren’t sure what to expect when we picked this book up, but we sure weren’t expecting this sensitively-written, insightful book the ways that even the best of parenting can unintentionally go deeply astray, if only in missing subtle warning signs. An eye-opener was Sue’s admission that if she could go back and do it over, she’d not hesitate to have intruded and read her son’s diaries.  Sue understandably doesn’t want to place blame on anyone or anything else, but clearly, a poisonous atmosphere that tolerated and even encouraged bullying was an important factor in the horrific events that took place. All author profits from the book are donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.

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A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence

By Jeff Hawkins

Recommended on: 1st July 2021

A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins. Hawkins is a neuroscientist as well as one of the most successful and highly regarded computer architects in Silicon Valley. Some of his scientific papers have become the most downloaded and cited papers in their journals. 

A Thousand Brains is one of the most intriguing books we’ve ever read about the brain—Hawkins takes an utterly novel approach to understanding how the brain works.  As he notes: 

“People often say the brain is the most complicated thing in the universe. They conclude from this that there will not be a simple explanation for how it works, or that perhaps we will never understand it. The history of scientific discovery suggests they are wrong. Major discoveries are almost always preceded by bewildering, complex observations. With the correct theoretical framework, the complexity does not disappear, but it no longer seems confusing or daunting. A familiar example is the movement of the planets. For thousands of years, astronomers carefully tracked the motion of the planets among the stars. The path of a planet over the course of a year is complex, darting this way and that, making loops in the sky. It was hard to imagine an explanation for these wild movements. Today, every child learns the basic idea that the planets orbit the Sun… Similarly, I always believed that the neocortex appeared complicated largely because we didn’t understand it, and that it would appear relatively simple in hindsight. Once we knew the solution, we would look back and say, ‘Oh, of course, why didn’t we think of that?’” 

Hawkin’s book proceeds to lay out precisely those relatively straightforward ideas—often arising from his group’s research—that make the brain much easier to understand.  He also makes a prescient case for why artificial intelligence will advance only by copying the approaches used by the human brain.  Highly recommended for brain buffs and those interested in artificial intelligence.

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Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children

By Sara Zaske

Recommended on: 18th July 2018

Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children, by Sara Zaske. Zaske’s book is more focused on early child care systems than educational systems, which somehow makes the book a lighter read, but no less interesting, read from Lenore Chu’s Little Soldiers. What we found particularly compelling in this book were the discussions of the problems with “attachment style parenting.” As Zaske points out, efforts to be a close parent who maintains a strong bond with a toddler may have the inadvertent effect of creating a type of dependency—not to mention making for many sleepless nights. Fascinating insights into the differences between US and German parenting cultures.

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As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

By Cary Elwes

Recommended on: 26th December 2019

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes. We’ve long been fans of the cult-classic movie The Princess Bride. After reading As You Wish, we had to watch the movie yet again, this time to observe where Westley gives a slight hobble (a result of breaking his toe while romping offset with André the Giant), and to once more enjoy such classic lines as “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father; prepare to die!” The Princess Bride has a low key humor that creeps up on you instead of smacking you in the face—all this makes it one of the nicest holiday films around to enjoy with the family, even as you can regale the family with anecdotes of movie-making from Cary Elwes’ wonderful As You Wish. Enjoy!

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Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

By James Clear

Recommended on: 24th December 2018

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear. Sometimes it’s valuable to go back over your life and habits to get a sense of how productive you are—and how much more productive you could be so as to leave room for family, friends, and fun.  James’ book starts with a bang (literally—he was banged in the face with a baseball bat), and takes off from there to step through how to make tiny, doable changes that add up to big results. If you’re looking to make changes in the New Year, this book will be invaluable.  A useful book on reforming your habits, whether or not you’ve read Charles’ Duhigg’s The Power of Habit (which we also really liked). Atomic Habits is also good for audio. (Two free audiobooks may be possible through this link.)

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Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners

By Michael Erard

Recommended on: 10th November 2019

Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners, by Michael Erard.  For years, Barb has thought she would like to write a book about language superlearners. Babel No More is what she had in mind. This fascinating book begins with the story of legendary linguist Giuseppe Mezzofanti, the Italian cardinal who was said to speak 72 languages. It goes on to share dozens of interesting language learning tidbits. Although in 2012 (when this book was published), neuroimaging techniques weren’t as advanced as they are today, Erard does a fine job of exploring how the brain of language superlearners might be different from those of more ordinary learners.  Interestingly, “..individuals living in multilingual communities seem to settle on an optimal cognitive load. The hyperpolyglot possesses a similar patchwork of linguistic proficiencies. Yet he or she exceeds this optimum with a conspicuous consumption of brainpower.” 

We particularly liked learning how the common mentality that you only speak a language if you are a native or near-native speaker is actually not a reasonable measure. “[People think] that when you really know a language, you think in it. In fact, the brain doesn’t think in any language. What people refer to as ‘thinking in a language’ comes from being able to speak more immediately in a language without rehearsing it or translating it from a language one might know better; the spoken thought feels as if it’s closer to its source in the brain.”

If you’re interested in language-learning, and want some inspiration, you’ll find it here in this book.

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Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

By John Carreyrou

Recommended on: 9th June 2018

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

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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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Behavioral Neuroscience of Learning and Memory

By Robert Clark and Stephen Martin

Recommended on: 13th December 2018

Our second recommended book this week is Behavioral Neuroscience of Learning and Memory, edited by Robert Clark and Stephen Martin. (Yes, despite the price, we bought the hard copy so we could mark it up—the color pictures are a treat.) Clark is a Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UCSD’s School of Medicine, while and Martin is a neuroscientist and Discovery Fellow at the University of Dundee.  This book provides an excellent overview of what’s known at a foundational level about memory and how we learn. There’s a fantastic discussion of the long-term memory medial temporal lobe memory system (see the great diagram on page 25); we only wish that research was more advanced so that the chapter on working memory could have been similarly as informative.  (See this fascinating article on changing concepts in working memory in Nature Neuroscience.)

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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

By Walter Isaacson

Recommended on: 3rd May 2018

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

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Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War

By Thomas de Waal

Recommended on: 14th April 2019

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War, by Thomas de Waal. What a revelation to find a book that can even-handedly parse one of the most gut-wrenching wars of the late 20th century. De Waal doesn’t take the easy way out in his conclusions about the cause of this disastrous, still-unresolved conflict, which could set the spark for future world war. This book about an important, but often neglected, area of the world is well-worth reading.

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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

By Trevor Noah

Recommended on: 12th June 2020

We watched Trevor Noah’s thoughtful video take on George Floyd, the Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery, and Amy Cooper, and were inspired to read Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Wow! This riveting book describes how, due to miscegenation laws in South Africa, Noah really was born a criminal—blacks and whites were not supposed to be mixing under apartheid in South Africa. Lucky for us, Trevor’s miraculous mother deliberately chose to break the law. We won’t tell you how or why because we’d be spoiling the story.

The long and the short of it is that Noah is, quite simply, one of the most masterful story-tellers around.  He describes the great value of language—a gifted linguist, Noah could use his ability to understand the essence of how people spoke to in turn speak with them. “I became a chameleon. My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color. If you spoke to me in Zulu, I replied to you in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.” Noah truly understands and conveys the horrors of domestic violence, and perhaps most importantly, from our perspective, he describes the often appalling lack of educational opportunities for children born into poverty.  This is truly a great book by an extraordinary writer—also a terrific book for audio listening. (Noah’s subtle South African accent is almost magnetically listenable.)

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Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

By Steve Martin

Recommended on: 5th January 2018

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

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Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom

By Katherine Eban

Recommended on: 11th July 2019

Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom, by Katherine Eban. We picked this book up after noticing that a minor prescription drug we were switched to—a generic—just didn’t seem to work right. What an unexpectedly eye-popping thriller!  You’ll learn about the hands-off ineffectiveness and incompetence of the FDA, the infectious nature of corrupt corporate cultures committing global fraud, and of the sometimes completely ineffective nature of life-saving drugs.  If you or anyone you know takes, or will take, generic drugs, you should read this book.

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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

By Robert Coram

Recommended on: 5th December 2018

Our very favorite, most highly recommended book this year is Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.  This book ranks amongst our favorite biographies ever. Boyd was a genius level iconoclast (with a measured IQ of 90), and a rebel of the first order, who changed the military’s approach to war and saved countless lives while he was at it. Boyd took on idiocy where ever he found it, whether with bombastic Pentagon generals who were happy to fake important tests, or those who thought they could out gun him in the air. Boyd was so witty, engaging, and fearless in tackling new approaches, and the research behind this extraordinary biography is so artfully done, that it’s a “can’t miss” book for anyone who loves rebels and reading.  OODA away!

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Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power

By Lisa Mosconi

Recommended on: 28th February 2019

Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power, by Lisa Mosconi.  Dr. Mosconi is the Director of the Women’s Brain Initiative and Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, where she also serves as an Associate Professor of Neuroscience in Neurology and Radiology. Mosconi’s book couldn’t be more different from Genius Foods—for one thing, grains are big for Mosconi, where avoiding grains is fundamental to Genius Foods.  We got the sense that Brain Food was based on information cherry-picked to coincide with the way Mosconi was raised in her eating habits, rather than an impartial review of recent research literature. And sometimes her recommendations are based on rocky research ground: for example, she refers glowingly to the herb ashitaba without regard for the fact that in vivo research results have not been conducted, and royal jelly is touted notwithstanding the lack of research evidence. Mosconi’s frequent mentions of her website—a dozen repetitions of the URL throughout the book—became tiresome.

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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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Cajal’s Neuronal Forest: Science and Art

By Javier DeFelipe

Recommended on: 11th November 2017

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

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

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

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Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World

By Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West

Recommended on: 26th August 2020

Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World, by Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West. This very readable book describes how easy it is for journalists, politicians, companies, and yes, even researchers themselves to bullshit people.  As Bergstrom and West note: “Perhaps the most important principle in bullshit studies is Brandolini’s principle. Coined by Italian software engineer Alberto Brandolini in 2014, it states: ‘The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than [that needed] to produce it.’ Producing bullshit is a lot less work than cleaning it up. It is also a lot simpler and cheaper to do. A few years before Brandolini formulated his principle, Italian blogger Uriel Fanelli had already noted that, loosely translated, ‘an idiot can create more bullshit than you could ever hope to refute.’

We also like this book because it provides fresh perspectives on the black box of artificial intelligence algorithms; how to understand conditional probability in simple, visual ways; how p-hacking leads to a misleading research landscape; and why even superb scientists can publish irreproducible results. Not that Bergstrom and West aren’t above a bit of occasional bullshit themselves, but this is an important book that we feel is destined to become a classic. Also good for audio listening.

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Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds

By David Goggins

Recommended on: 21st December 2018

This week’s astonishing book is Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, by David Goggins. David grew up in an unbelievably tough environment with a deeply abusive father. He experienced prejudice and poverty, and suffered learning difficulties that left him graduating from high school barely able to read or do math. He became a depressed, overweight young man with an attitude.  But shockingly, he turned himself into one of the world’s greatest endurance athletes, and became the only man in history to complete training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller.

To find a self-published book as #2 on Amazon, with a five-star rating and over 400 reviews, speaks volumes about how good it is.  If you’re trying to do more in your life, or change your life, you’ll find Goggin’s book to be a terrific inspiration.

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Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators

By Ronan Farrow

Recommended on: 6th December 2019

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, by Ronan Farrow.  We’ve long been interested in the “successfully sinister” among us. These individuals can become so powerful that they can get away with virtually anything—that’s how they can destroy so many lives. Ronan Farrow is to be commended for pursuing the story of Harvey Weinstein and others of his ilk, despite the threats and imminent personal danger that put off so many for so long. Catch and Kill might as well be a thriller—we’ve become huge fans of Ronan and his fearless ability to uncover behavior of those who can feign doing good while doing so much harm.

The successfully sinister are the subject of Barb’s book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. For six years, while overtly working towards tenure as an assistant professor of engineering, she covertly delved into an analysis of the holes and flaws of the field of psychology. She remembers thinking “Why am I even doing this? Nobody’s going to read a book that’s focused on psychology, but written by an engineer.” Ultimately, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker called Evil Genes “A fascinating scientific and personal exploration of the roots of evil, filled with human insight and telling detail.” 

As one correspondent recently wrote Barb, “Reading your outstanding book [Evil Genes] today…. I work with organizational behavior, reading a lot recently about narcissism. Everything I just learned is in your book. From my work with others and most recent personal experience of aggression directed at me and accepted by a Board, I asked myself that questions that you did years ago to write your book. Seems like the Me Too movement exposes this everyday behavior…”

Yes, the Me Too movement does expose this type of behavior, which, sadly, is equal opportunity and can be found in women as well as men.  The hypocrisy of news organizations like NBC reporting on sexual abuse in organizations such as the church, while killing stories that might incidentally be related to their own sordid abuses, or the horrific behavior of their favored people or politicians, is a perfect example of Conquest’s third law of politics: “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.” Sadly, we feel Conquest’s insight is relevant to the field of education.

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China’s Crony Capitalism

By Minxin Pei

Recommended on: 31st May 2018

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

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Churchill & Son

By Josh Ireland

Recommended on: 17th June 2021

Churchill & Son, by Josh Ireland. Reaching the end of a fantastic book like Churchill & Son is bittersweet. There’s a feeling of satisfaction with the closure, but that satisfaction is mixed with the sad knowledge that you will not be able to return and spend more time with characters and a story you’ve become entranced by.  Winston Churchill is one of history’s astonishing figures—an ostracized man who saw a future few others wished to see. His accurate vision, combined with his ability to unite and marshal his country’s (and others’) forces to combat the Nazi juggernaut was unparalleled.  But when it came to Churchill’s son, Winston took a path that virtually everyone—especially Churchill’s long-suffering wife Clementine—could see was bound for disaster.  By overcompensating for his own neglected upbringing, Churchill groomed his son to become a spoiled, overbearing, overweening character whose descent into alcoholism left him with few friends, and lost him even the respect of his father. As this book so eloquently reveals, being the son of a great man can truly be a curse. This is an amazing behind-the-scenes story of what was really going on from a family perspective during some of the most tumultuous political upheavals of modern history.  This book was hard to put down—highly recommended! (Also good for audio.)

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Clean: The New Science of Skin

By James Hamblin

Recommended on: 29th July 2021

Clean: The New Science of Skin, by James Hamblin.  Clean begins with a startling claim: author James Hamblin, a medical doctor, had stopped showering for five years and had given up as well on shampoo, conditioner, or soap, except on his hands.  With this unusual introduction, Hamblin moves on to describe soap, skin, and the entire set of related industries.  The book is filled with interesting factoids, such as that the pharmaceutical industry is tightly regulated at great expense, but the cosmetics industry is basically the wild west—“there are currently no legal requirements for any cosmetic manufacturer marketing products to American consumers to test their products for safety.”  That, in a nutshell, is why you can find seemingly elegant $60 creams and lotions with the same basic ingredients as a $6 tube. 

Clean was named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR and Vanity Fair. This is an especially worthwhile book if you have skin issues, or spend a lot on skin products, or have ever wondered why—and whether it’s reasonable—to spend so much on skin products. Clean is also a good book for audio.

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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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Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation

By Susan Williams

Recommended on: 25th February 2021

Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation, by Susan Williams, tells a fascinating tale about how love, racism, and politics can intertwine to affect an entire country.  Sir Seretse Khama was born to inherit the throne of leadership in what was then the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland. This area would become Botswana, and Khama was to be elected its first president.  Seretse’s strong stance against corruption has helped make today’s Botswana one of the most advanced, with the highest GDP, in all of Africa. 

But behind all this is an extraordinary love story between Khama and his wife, Lady Khama, who was born Ruth Williams, the daughter of George and Dorothy Williams of South London. Initially, virtually everyone who was anyone in both Bechuanaland and England  opposed the weddingthe English because they opposed a white woman marrying, of all people, a black man, and the Botswanans  because they opposed Khama marrying, of all people, a white woman. But the Botswanans were soon to prove much more accepting, while the English powers that be (save for Churchill!) dug in their heels. We found the book to be a bit heavy on the behind-the-scenes political maneuveringwe would have loved to have known more of what Seretse and Ruth themselves were thinking. But then, a biographer can only work with what’s available. How Seretse and Ruth found a way through a world of rampant prejudice is the stuff of legend.

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Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science

By Atul Gawande

Recommended on: 19th May 2019

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, by Atul Gawande. We’ve often wondered about exactly who gets to be the guinea pig when surgeons first begin to branch out independently in their practice, or when they begin to use new procedures. After reading Gawande’s book, we realize we should have wondered about much more. How do experts make decisions in that amorphous period when someone’s dying, but there are a thousand and more reasons why—and different experts will have different opinions? Virtually every chapter of Gawande’s beautifully written book starts like a thriller. This is one of those books you can’t put down. A National Book Award finalist. [Recommended by Tom Hiebert, who points to Gawande’s quote: “Surgeons don’t believe in talent. They believe in practice.”]

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Confessions of a Public Speaker

By Scott Berkun

Recommended on: 28th January 2018

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

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

By Ryan Holiday

Recommended on: 28th March 2018

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

 

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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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CorkScrew Solutions: Problem Solving with a Twist

By Clarke Ching

Recommended on: 24th March 2021

CorkScrew Solutions: Problem Solving with a Twist, by Clarke Ching. We love Clarke Ching’s writing, so we’d probably read a book of his even if it was about dirt.  But in fact, this latest book by Clarke is a delightful, quick and easy read about how to solve problems when any approach you take to solving the problem has a major drawback. You’ll find a valuable set of tools—enjoy!

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COVID Conversations: Helping Children Understand What’s Happening,

By Gail Brown

Recommended on: 3rd June 2020

COVID Conversations: Helping Children Understand What’s Happening, by Gail Brown. This simple book provides an explanation that young children can understand about some of the sudden changes in life’s rhythms with the COVID pandemic. Often, just talking with children can help—this simple dialog between a grandmother and granddaughter is a great conversation starter that also provides activity suggestions. (Here also is a more formal sheet of guidance on talking to youngsters about COVID.)

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Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come

By Robert Preston

Recommended on: 30th October 2019

Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come, by Robert Preston. We’ve been fans of Robert Preston ever since his gripping New York Times best-seller The Hot Zone first came out. Crisis in the Red Zone focuses on Ebola—Preston traces its origin back to a little boy playing in the forest, probably touching a bat. Ebola got its initial foothold in humanity largely because of lack of education—most people simply couldn’t believe that the love and care that is at the heart of our humanity is what allows the contagion to take place. The bravery of the nurses and doctors on the front lines of this epidemic, and the potential danger to humanity of these types of diseases, is something everyone should know more about.  Don’t miss this edge-of-your-seat thriller.

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Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It

By Ian Leslie

Recommended on: 20th August 2020

Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, by Ian Leslie. Barb has an upcoming talk for Novartis on curiosity for their Curiosity Week, (it will start with the story of the worst professor Barb ever had, and this professor’s inadvertent role in inspiring the corny video editing behind Learning How to Learn). So meanwhile, Barb couldn’t help but become more curious about curiosity.  Ian Leslie’s book is a scorcher on the topic—highly readable and beautifully researched.  Here’s a sample: “Sir Ken Robinson’s 2008 [TED] talk on educational reform—entitled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”—has now been viewed more than 4 million times. In it Robinson cites the fact that children’s scores on standard tests of creativity decline as they grow older and advance through the educational system. He concludes that children start out as curious, creative individuals but are made duller by factory-style schools that spend too much time teaching children academic facts and not enough helping them express themselves. Sir Ken clearly cares greatly about the well-being of children, and he is a superb storyteller, but his arguments about creativity, though beguilingly made, are almost entirely baseless.”

This is also a great book for audio.  Enjoy!

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Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

By Mason Currey

Recommended on: 18th January 2018

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

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

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Dakota: The Story of the Northern Plains

By Norman K. Risjord

Recommended on: 14th April 2019

Dakota: The Story of the Northern Plains, by Norman K. Risjord. We’re guessing that, unless you live in North or South Dakota, that you haven’t necessarily had a yen to discover the history of that area.  But you’re missing a treat with this book’s perspective on a little-known, sparsely populated area of the US. Risjord’s “big picture” perspective starts with the geology of the Dakotas, which leads to the earliest traces and growing presence of Native Americans in the area. Onwards the narrative goes to the French and American expeditions, revealing the area’s connection with Canada. As with elsewhere in the US, governmental intervention was devastating for the Native American tribes of the Dakotas—Risjord lays out the blatant scheming and corruption, which carried through to the Swedish and other immigrants.  An insightful look at the history of one of the most beautiful, but less-often-visited, areas in the US.

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Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins

By Garry Kasparov

Recommended on: 2nd October 2017

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

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Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

By Cal Newport

Recommended on: 20th October 2017

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

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Designing the New American University

By Michael Crow and William Dabars

Recommended on: 2nd August 2018

Designing the New American University, by Michael Crow and William Dabars.  Michael Crow is one of the world’s most visionary university presidents—U.S. News and World Report has called Arizona State University, which Crow helms, the #1 university for innovation in the country. (We admit, we’re Michael Crow fans.) So this is a worthwhile book to read if only to get a handle on Crow’s admirable vision of innovation and access. Sadly, the main points of the book are buried beneath clunky prose. We think it’s time for a updated, revised, and streamlined edition.

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

By Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Recommended on: 13th December 2017

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

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Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

By Cal Newport

Recommended on: 9th April 2019

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport. We have to start out with an admission of bias—we have always loved anything Cal Newport has ever written. (Cal’s most recent book before Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, is one of the best books on improving productivity we’ve ever read.) In Digital Minimalism, you will find that Newport has become today’s Thoreau, whose cogent observations give us much insight into how to live happier lives.  Plus, Cal’s a wonderful writer—witness this gem: “Earlier, I cited extensive research that supports the claim that the human brain has evolved to process the flood of information generated by face-to-face interactions.  To replace this rich flow with a single bit [the “Like” button] is the ultimate insult to our social processing machinery. To say it’s like driving a Ferrari under the speed limit is an understatement; the better simile is towing a Ferrari behind a mule.”  Highly recommended. (An excellent book for audio. Two free audiobooks may be possible through this link.)

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Don’t Pay for Your MBA

By Laurie Pickard

Recommended on: 8th November 2017

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

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Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

By Benjamin Dreyer

Recommended on: 1st June 2019

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, by Benjamin Dreyer, vice president, executive managing editor and copy chief of Random House.  Dreyer is one of the most delightfully droll writers of non-fiction we know of, full of wonderful little quips like “The only thing worse than the ungodly ‘incentivize’ is its satanic little sibling, ‘incent’.” You’ll learn of common writing mistakes, confusable words, trimmables, commonly misspelled names, and why it’s important to verify quotes. (If nothing else, Dreyer’s English taught us to try to be even more careful to look things up.)  Barb always wondered why her American editors corrected her use of “towards” to “toward”—Dreyer explains why. Dreyer’s only flaw was that he tended to go off on irrelevant political tirades that will quickly date the book—a bit like holding a treasured glass of Château d’Yquem knowing you will have to fish gnats out to drink it.

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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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Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

By John Taylor Gatto

Recommended on: 15th February 2018

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

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e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning

By Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer

Recommended on: 30th November 2018

e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning, (4th edition) by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E. Mayer. It’s easy to think that this is a book only for creating online materials.  Nothing could be further from the truth—this is a very deep and useful book for any serious educator. Early on, the book describes how to find and evaluate good research. It’s hard to find books on teaching that build their guidance from knowledge of how the brain works, but Clark and Mayer’s book does just that, and beautifully.  Sure, some of the guidance seems straightforward, but when put all together, this book provides a great set of principles that will help instructors from any discipline better understand, and reach, their students.  Hardcover (not e-book) copy is recommended.

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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.”

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Education and the State

By E. G. West

Recommended on: 11th February 2018

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

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Empress Dowager Cixi

By Jung Chang

Recommended on: 31st May 2018

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

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Engaging Learners through Zoom: Strategies for Virtual Teaching Across Disciplines

By Jonathan Brennan

Recommended on: 16th September 2020

We rarely repeat a recommendation, but Jonathan Brennan’s Engaging Learners through Zoom: Strategies for Virtual Teaching Across Disciplines is on sale this week for $2.99, so you may wish to head over and take a look. 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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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!

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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.”

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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!

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Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

By Tom Mueller

Recommended on: 19th December 2017

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

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

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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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Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem

By Simon Singh

Recommended on: 10th February 2021

Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem, by Simon Singh. Wow, what a book!  You might expect this volume to be the next best thing to Ambien as a sleep-inducer, but instead, Fermat’s Enigma is a real page-turner, providing a dazzling overview of the growth of mathematics from Pythagoras, (whose different way of thinking led to his being burned to death by a proto-cancel culture mob), through Euclid, and on through the early mathematical giants of Euler,  Gauss, Sophie Germaine (a mathematical savant who managed to save Gauss’s life while inadvertently revealing she was a woman), the tragic geniuses Évariste Galois (who wrote as much as he could of his key mathematical discoveries the night before his death), and Yutaka Taniyama (spoiler alert—it didn’t go well for him).  You don’t need to know much more than elementary math to enjoy this book, because an enormous part of the story is the personalities and fascinating lives of the mathematicians. By the time we finally homed in on Andrew Wiles and his solution, we thought—well, the drama is done, we’re back to the humdrum modern world.  But that’s when the book really came alive. Highly recommended!

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

By David Burkus

Recommended on: 16th May 2018

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

A nice book also for audio listening.

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

By Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

Recommended on: 28th March 2018

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

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Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

By Jack Weatherford

Recommended on: 13th December 2017

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

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

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Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life

By Max Lugavere and Paul Grewal M.D.

Recommended on: 28th February 2019

Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life, by Max Lugavere and Paul Grewal M.D. This is a well-researched book that covers some of the same ground as other books we’ve reviewed regarding sleep, the microbiome, and fat. But it puts everything together in one “life healthy” package that also includes food. Well-produced extra virgin olive oil, incidentally, is considered of standout importance. (But hey, we knew also that from reading the outstanding Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.) Genius Foods is a “most sold” book of the week on Amazon.

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Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide

By Cass Sunstein

Recommended on: 1st March 2021

Cass Sunstein’s Going to Extremes is, quite simply, a classic. We wish every person would read this book. This excerpt gives an excellent idea of the key ideas that the book delves into.

“Much of the time, groups of people end up thinking and doing things that group members would never think or do on their own. This is true for groups of teenagers, who are willing to run risks that individuals would avoid. It is certainly true for those prone to violence, including terrorists and those who commit genocide. It is true for investors and corporate executives. It is true for government officials, neighborhood groups, social reformers, political protestors, police officers, student organizations, labor unions, and juries. Some of the best and worst developments in social life are a product of group dynamics, in which members of organizations, both small and large, move one another in new directions… When people find themselves in groups of like-minded types, they are especially likely to move to extremes… Political extremism is often a product of group polarization, and social segregation is a useful tool for producing polarization.”

This is one of the top ten books we would recommend that all well-read people should read.

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Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick

By Wendy Woods

Recommended on: 10th February 2021

Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick, by Wendy Woods. It looks like we’re on a roll this month with fantastic reads! Good Habits, Bad Habits is one of those life-changing books where the implications of what you’re discovering unfold gradually, until it hits that you’ve been oblivious to a vital part of you.  Although Wendy writes in an easy-to-read, friendly way, the book is not just woo-woo fluffy stuff—Dr. Wood is a UK-born psychologist who is the Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at University of Southern California, as well as the Distinguished Visiting Professor at INSEAD Business School in Paris. Her research on the brain’s habitual system is world class. (Our very own Terry recommended this book to Barb.)  

As a bit of historical background, Skinnerian research about the habitual system was quashed about fifty years ago by the burgeoning cognitive revolution. “Cognivistas” claimed (with some legitimacy) that Skinner’s behaviorists had been suppressing them. The problem is that Skinner and his behavioral approaches were on to something big—a lot of learning does take place through simple stimulus-reinforcement learning. Only in the past decade has this come to be more widely appreciated— except, sadly, in the field of education. (But follow our merry, mischievous crew this year… there is much more on that to come!) 

Good Habits, Bad Habits is an extraordinary book. Your relationships, productivity, health, and ability to learn will all benefit from reading it—and it’s so well-written, that you’ll enjoy every word.  Also excellent as an audio book (it is, as of this writing, free through the Audio book trial).

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Goya

By Robert Hughes

Recommended on: 15th October 2017

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

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

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

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

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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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Heroes & Hormones: From Screen Slave to Superhero

By Mali Alcobi

Recommended on: 15th April 2021

Heroes & Hormones: From Screen Slave to Superhero, by Mali Alcobi. Mali is an expert in work-life balance who helps both employees and organizations develop systems that help people lead productive, yet happy lives. Mali speaks around the world on this topic—which is how Barb happened to meet her and to read her book. Heroes and Hormones is one of those deceptively simple reads that teaches a few critical points—like how to train yourself to prioritize family even as you are pulling your weight at work. This book also has a good review of what you need to be doing healthwise, from exercise to the right foods, to keep your life on track—and not wake up one day at your seeming career peak only to find your family has given up on you, and your body is beginning to show the aftereffects of too much stress and too little care. This quick read will help you balance your priorities with dozens of practical tips.
Mali is the founder of Dynamix – Work-Life Balance. Barb and Mali will be speaking for Microsoft together next month—Barb can say with confidence that Mali is a great choice if your company is looking for a work-life balance speaker.

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

By Satya Nadella with Greg Shaw and Jill Tracie Nichols

Recommended on: 22nd January 2018

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

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How the Brain Learns

By David A. Sousa

Recommended on: 4th March 2018

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

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

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

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

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How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life

By Louis Bloomfield

Recommended on: 19th March 2018

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

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

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

By Michael Pollan

Recommended on: 21st June 2018

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

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

By Knock Knock

Recommended on: 27th December 2017

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

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

By Stanislas Dehaene

Recommended on: 13th March 2020

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.)

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Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction

By Chris Bailey

Recommended on: 8th January 2019

Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction, by Chris Bailey. This book gets right to the heart of how to tame distractions and get your attention keenly focused on the task at hand.  But Bailey does more—he also discusses intelligent use of the diffuse mode (“scatterfocus”) to help with creative problem-solving and incubation of new and different ideas in both learning and work.  We very much appreciated Bailey’s simple, yet effective illustrations. But even so, this is also a fine book for audio. Another popular book by Bailey, (which we haven’t read yet), is The Productivity Project.

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I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran & Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa

By Charles Brandt

Recommended on: 5th May 2019

I Heard You Paint Houses, by Charles Brandt. Living in the Detroit area, we’ve heard stories over the years about corrupt union activities. So we read this book when not long after it first came out in 2004. It was a riveting read then, and apparently, it’s even more riveting in the most recent edition. As one of the book’s endorsements notes: “Sheeran’s confession that he killed Hoffa in the manner described in the book is supported by the forensic evidence, is entirely credible and solves the Hoffa mystery.”- Michael Baden, M.D., former Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York. Highly recommended if you want to get a feel for the seedy underside of union life.

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In A Sunburned Country

By Bill Bryson

Recommended on: 15th May 2019

In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson. In years past, Barb has occasionally looked with concern at her husband as he would suddenly double over with a paroxysm of—well, she wasn’t sure what, but it didn’t seem healthy.  Gradually she came to learn that these paroxysms came about whenever her husband was reading a Bill Bryson book. The laughter came so hard and heavy that he sometimes couldn’t breathe!  Bryson is a master of doubling or tripling up on his humor. A story is funny at first. But then Bryson circles around later to hit it again from an unexpected angle. And then again.  The result is comedic depth that will swallow you whole.

Who could have ever guessed that a book about both the history and travel related to a country could be so funny? If there were a Nobel Prize for comedic travel-writing, Bryson would take the honor.  If you want to find a way to look in an upbeat way at the weird and wacky things that can happen during travel—or in life itself—you can do no better than to read Bill Bryson. This has just become our favorite travel and outlook-on-life book. Barb can assure you (despite the fact that she’s in Australia now), that you don’t actually need to be travelling to Australia to enjoy this great comedic, travel, and life classic.

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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.

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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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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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Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

By Robert Cialdini

Recommended on: 13th December 2017

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

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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.

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Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

By Jon Krakauer

Recommended on: 18th July 2019

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer,  “ranks among the great adventure books of all time,” notes the Wall Street Journal, and we couldn’t agree more. This book has resonated with us over the years—whenever we’ve found ourselves in a tough situation, we remember to, either literally or metaphorically, keep taking just one more step forward.  The Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters is rarely given for a book that’s an on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller. This new edition addresses some of the controversies that arose after the book’s initial publication. A must read, and great as well for audio.  (Two free audiobooks may be possible through this link.)

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Isabella: The Warrior Queen

By Kirstin Downey

Recommended on: 15th January 2019

One of our tricks for finding good books, especially biographies, is to look through the books at historical tourist sites that we happen to visit.  In this way, we happened to come across (at the Royal Alcázar of Seville), the extraordinary book Isabella: The Warrior Queen, by Kirstin Downey. What a book! This great biography of Isabella of Castile, “the controversial Queen of Spain who sponsored Christopher Columbus’s journey to the New World, established the Spanish Inquisition, and became one of the most influential female rulers in history” goes into the psyche of this extraordinary woman—an increasingly black-and-white thinker whose efforts to do good sometimes rebounded for ill through many centuries. (Shades of pathological altruism.) Great biographies often take side tangents into other fascinating areas: Downey doesn’t disappoint with her descriptions of how Columbus blew one of the greatest discoveries of modern European history, the back and forth of the Ottoman and the European empires, Isabella’s focus on her children’s education, the origins of syphilis, and much more.  Amongst the best biographies we’ve ever read—we had trouble putting this book down. It’s also nice for audio.

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Juggling for the Complete Klutz

By John Cassidy and B. C. Rimbeaux,

Recommended on: 9th May 2018

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

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Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

By Rebecca Wragg Sykes

Recommended on: 1st March 2021

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, by Rebecca Wragg Sykes. We have to admit, like many a fellow Homo sapiens, we’re enamored of Neanderthals. So we were very excited to get our hands on this book. And indeed, Kindred did a great job of pointing out not only the surprising intelligence of Neanderthals and their cunning abilities with stone tools, but also of describing the enormous time spans involved in the Neanderthal sojourn in Europe and parts of Asia.  We did notice that reviewers often observed that the book was “fact packed,” which can often be a bit of code to avoid unkindness.  Sadly, after a while, the facts grew monotonous, while interpretation was often lacking. The lead up to why the Neanderthals vanished was something of a bustalthough humans are a reasonable bet to being the culprits, at least in part, we instead hear of inbreeding and disease. 

Kindred is an interesting read if you’re into the current nitty-gritty of Neanderthal anthropological findings. But if you’re looking for a more conclusive read, you may wish to wait a few more years until more definitive findings might come available.

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

By Adam Hochschild

Recommended on: 8th February 2018

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

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

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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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Leonardo da Vinci

By Walter Isaacson

Recommended on: 29th November 2017

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

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

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Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve

By Lenore Chu

Recommended on: 18th July 2018

Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve, by Lenore Chu. It’s very easy to fall into a pattern of thinking that making your child happy is—and should be—the theme of all education.  Chu’s remarkable book explores an educational system that is in many ways the exact opposite of that espoused by Westerners. As it turns out, when “happiness” is not necessarily a factor, sometimes kids, and parents, seem to end up happier.  It’s fascinating to read about the obviously negative (from a Western perspective) effects of the Chinese education system on Chu’s son, but how Chu’s open-minded understanding allows her to persevere and see the benefits of this very different system. We also deeply appreciated Chu’s visits to the Chinese countryside, to obtain a fuller account of what is going on “on the ground” in the Chinese educational system. This is one of the best and most thoughtful books we’ve read on education in a long time—highly recommended.

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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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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.)

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Macular Degeneration: A guide to help someone you love

By Paul Wallis

Recommended on: 9th June 2018

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

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Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

By Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, Mark McDaniel

Recommended on: 27th October 2018

We recently had the opportunity to have breakfast with Peter Brown, the first author of the redoubtable Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, which we believe to be one of the very best books on learning currently in existence. So we took the opportunity to reread the book before our meeting.  Yes, Make It Stick holds up and is even better than we remembered—it’s a wonderful romp through the various techniques that are valuable in making your learning stick.  What has impressed us is not only the scientific rigor of the work (thanks, Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniel!), but also Peter’s in-depth explanations and wide-ranging examples—this is not a fluff job of a book. Peter’s a heckuva guy—stay tuned for a joining of forces in LHTL’s future projects.

A Spanish version is also available: Apréndetelo: La ciencia del aprendizaje exitoso.  

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Marie Antoinette: The Journey

By Antonia Fraser

Recommended on: 28th September 2019

Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser. We’re used to reading history books about compelling, intelligent men and women like Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Queen Isabella of Spain. We’re not-so-used-to reading books about apparent intellectual lightweights. And indeed, Marie Antoinette started her life as a coddled royal who successfully eluded attempts to, for example, teach her how to read. But despite her love of frivolity, Marie Antoinette had a great and good heart—you’d be hard put to find a woman who could face the worst and remain brave until the end.  Her ultimate, raw intelligence in front of the jury, with its pre-ordained verdict of guilt, is heartrending. This is the story of how dangerous “fake news” mobs—as easy to lead then as they are now—put Marie Antoinette under the guillotine. A spell-binding read.

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Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture

By David Kushner

Recommended on: 13th August 2018

We’re very interested in how games attract people’s attention. So as we are beginning to explore the world of gaming, we couldn’t resist reading David Kushner’s awesome Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture, about John Romero and John Carmack, and how the pair of geniuses helped revolutionize the gaming industry. A riveting read!

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

By Nelson Dellis

Recommended on: 8th August 2020

Memory Superpowers! An Adventurous Guide to Remembering What You Don’t Want to Forget, by Nelson Dellis. It’s probably clear from our many past postings that we’re HUGE Nelson Dellis fans. That’s because four-time US memory champ Nelson isn’t just a memory experthe’s also one of the best memory teachers in the world.  Nelson’s latest fantastic book is geared toward helping teens achieve remarkable memorization skills. If your child is a struggling underachiever, read a little section of this book together each evening so you both can learn how to outwit the Memory Thief. If your child is an overachiever, encourage them read this book on their own so they can achieve still more, all while enjoying adventures in the Forest of Forgettable Names and the Great Word Pyramids, maneuvering around the Pirates of the Periodic Table and journeying through the Himalayan Memory Palace. Nelson notes: “10-14 is the age range (but not limited to that. I mean, lot’s of adults could read it and get a lot out of it. Some advanced readers under 10 could read it too.” Truly a fun and highly practical guide to helping kids achieve remarkable memorization skills.

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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!

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Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster

By Adam Higginbotham

Recommended on: 16th October 2019

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, by Adam Higginbotham. This extraordinary book tells of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster—but it is also a powerful testament to how governmental propaganda and secrecy can cause these types of global-scale disasters to unfold. 

The surprisingly positive upshot of the disaster is that far safer nuclear power is being developed.  As Higginbotham notes: “Less than a month before the explosion of [Chernobyl] Reactor Number Four in 1986, a team of nuclear engineers at Argonne National Laboratory–West in Idaho had quietly succeeded in demonstrating that … the integral fast reactor … was safe even under the circumstances that destroyed Three Mile Island 2 and would prove disastrous at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR), an even more advanced concept developed at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is fueled by thorium. More plentiful and far harder to process into bomb-making material than uranium, thorium also burns more efficiently in a reactor and could produce less hazardous radioactive waste with half-lives of hundreds, not tens of thousands, of years. Running at atmospheric pressure, and without ever reaching a criticality, the LFTR doesn’t require a massive containment building to guard against loss-of-coolant accidents or explosions and can be constructed on such a compact scale that every steel mill or small town could have its own microreactor tucked away underground. In 2015 Microsoft founder Bill Gates had begun funding research projects similar to these fourth-generation reactors in a quest to create a carbon-neutral power source for the future. By then, the Chinese government had already set seven hundred scientists on a crash program to build the world’s first industrial thorium reactor as part of a war on pollution. ‘The problem of coal has become clear,’ the engineering director of the project said. ‘Nuclear power provides the only solution.’” [Hat tip: Mary O’Dea] 

We read Midnight in Chernobyl in conjunction with watching the HBO documentary Chernobyl.  Television doesn’t get better than this.

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

By Barbara Oakley

Recommended on: 8th November 2017

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

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

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Mission Transition: Navigating the Opportunities and Obstacles to Your Post-Military Career

By Matthew J. Louis

Recommended on: 22nd September 2019

Mission Transition: Navigating the Opportunities and Obstacles to Your Post-Military Career, by Matthew J. Louis. This book is a special treat for those in the military, and military veterans. Nearly a quarter-million leave the service each year, but transitioning to civilian life can be a challenge—as Barb knows, having shifted out of the Army to begin her engineering studies as a civilian. As the book cover notes: “Mission Transition is a practical guide to career change for service members considering leaving active duty. It attempts to address this primary question: How can transitioning veterans realize their full potential by avoiding false starts and suboptimal career choices following active duty? The book has been endorsed by Generals, Astronauts, Super Bowl winners, members of Congress, and best-selling authors.” We’re all in accord that this is an extraordinarily useful book!

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Misty of Chincoteague

By Marguerite Henry

Recommended on: 29th August 2019

Over the past few weeks, as she works on her upcoming books, Barb & her Hero Hubby Phil have been traveling the Northeast in their little trailer. (Adventurous friends from Spain are living in the Oakley house this fall to give their children a semester’s experience in US schools.)  Among the sights Barb & Phil have visited? The Morgan Horse Farm in Vermont, and Chincoteague Island in Virginia, where she sits writing the “Cheery Friday” email right now. 🙂 These wonderful places brought to mind some of Barb’s favorite books as a child: Justin Morgan Had a Horse, and Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry and illustrated by Wesley Dennis. If you are looking for beautiful books to read with children you love, these fantastic books are just the ticket.  If you’re looking for more adult-oriented equine material to sink your teeth into, try the fantastic Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand’s use of metaphor is virtually unparalleled.  Want something even meatier? Try The Color of Horses: A Scientific and Authoritative Identification of the Color of the Horse, which Barb used in to help guide the creation of the best-selling horse board game (the first board game about horses): Herd Your Horses.

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My First Book About the Brain

By Patricia J. Wynne and Donald M. Silver

Recommended on: 13th December 2017

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

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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.

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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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Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty

By Robert Massie

Recommended on: 14th March 2019

Last week’s mention of Queen Victoria’s status as a carrier for the gene for hemophilia brought to mind what we believe to be one of the greatest biographies ever: Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty, by Robert Massie.  Massie first became interested in the Russian imperial family because Massie’s own son son was born with hemophilia. This gives Massie’s book an extraordinarily sensitive understanding of the tsarevitch’s hidden illness,  which ultimately led to the family’s murder. The story of Rasputin’s influence on the royal family—along with the bizarre circumstances of Rasputin’s death—are some of the creepiest stories ever told. This is a book that’s nearly impossible to put down. One of Massie’s other books, Peter the Great: His Life and World, is our very favorite biography—it also won the Pulitzer Prize. If you’re looking for good, long audio books to take you through many driving hours, these are great choices. (Two free audiobooks may be possible through this link.)

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No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine High School

By Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt

Recommended on: 19th March 2019

No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine High School, by Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt. Brooks Brown was one of Dylan Klebold’s closest friends since elementary school, and he was alternately a friend and enemy of Eric Harris, the other Columbine High School killer. Like Klebold and Harris, Brown was an alienated teen who saw the dark side of the bullying and factionalism at Columbine. Brown’s efforts to alert police prior to the massacre resulted in the local police to do everything they could to smear Brown’s reputation, the better to hide their own malfeasance. A shocking look at how administrators at Columbine, through their one-sided “justice,” encouraged Columbine’s poisonous atmosphere. A quick read and an eye-opening book about how laissez-faire policies underpin sadly simmering rage.

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No One Cares About Crazy People: My Family and the Heartbreak of Mental Illness in America

By Ron Powers

Recommended on: 2nd January 2020

No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America by Ron Powers. Both of Powers’ sons were afflicted with schizophrenia, which fueled his desire to begin sorting out and writing about why there is such chaos in the US regarding treatment for those who clearly cannot care for themselves.  The essence of the problem lies with lies anosognosia, which, as Powers writes, is “the false conviction within a person that nothing is wrong with his mind. It stems from a physiological by-product of psychosis, and accompanies about 50 percent of schizophrenia occurrences and 40 percent of bipolar cases. Anosognosia disrupts the parietal lobe’s capacity to interpret sensory information from around the body.” No One Cares details how virtually every ideology—left, right, and libertarian—has contributed to the disastrous set of policies for mental health that have increasingly unleashed heartbreak and chaos both for US families caring for the mentally ill, and US society as a whole.  (It’s interesting to watch, however, as Powers attributes simple lack of knowledge as underlying the mistakes of his favored party, but outright malevolence as causing the mistakes of the party he dislikes. A more dispassionate observer might draw very different conclusions.) A worthwhile book on a vitally important, but all-too-neglected problem. Also good for audio listening.

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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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Nursery Rhymes for Modern Times Vol I: The Great Americans

By Philo F. Willetts, Jr.

Recommended on: 19th August 2019

Nursery Rhymes for Modern Times Vol I: The Great Americans, by Philo F. Willetts, Jr. This wonderful slim volume uses some of the best of what we know about learning to help kids remember key ideas and concepts—just as Wexler recommends in The Knowledge Gap. Our brains are ‘wired’ to remember rhymes, and kids are inspired by the qualities and achievements of great people. This book is packed with great stories and information, including excerpts from Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream!” Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and many more, including Barb’s personal favorite historical figure, Sequoyah. Here’s a witty excerpt on Dolly Madison:

She made enemies like one another,
By inviting those who hated each other
To eat at the Madison’s table
And be as nice as they were able.

She planned her table’s seatings,
So all had friendly meetings.
Her dinners weren’t just for fun.
She got important agreements done.

Barb has been commanded by her daughter to spend Christmas time teaching some English to her son-in-law’s Spanish-speaking-only (at present) little brother. She’ll be using this book to help with the task!

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

By Ann Hulbert

Recommended on: 14th March 2018

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

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

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

By Simon Garfield

Recommended on: 28th June 2018

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

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On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

By William Zinsser

Recommended on: 25th October 2017

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

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

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On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft

By Stephen King

Recommended on: 17th April 2018

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

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Online Teaching with Zoom

By Aaron Johnson

Recommended on: 31st July 2020

Online Teaching with Zoom: A Guide for Teaching and Learning with Videoconference Platforms, by Aaron Johnson. We had previously read and liked Aaron’s first book on online teaching, Excellent Online Teaching. Aaron’s new book provides a solid overview of how to use Zoom for teachinghis insights are also more broadly applicable to any sort of online teaching.  And the price is rightboth books are free on Kindle Unlimited!

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Out on Good Behavior: Teaching Math while Looking Over Your Shoulder

By Barry Garelick

Recommended on: 6th April 2021

Out on Good Behavior: Teaching Math while Looking Over Your Shoulder, by Barry Garelick. We greatly enjoyed and got a lot out of this brief, sardonic memoir of an outstanding math teacher in an era when teaching math in public schools is becoming increasingly divorced from what neuroscience has revealed about how students actually learn math. Garelick’s witty observations give a sense of what’s going on in a way that would be difficult for most parents to discover—and some of Garelick’s observations are priceless: “I once told my eighth-grade algebra class that my classroom is one place where they won’t hear the words ‘growth mindset’—to which the class reacted with wild applause. Someone then asked what my objections to ‘growth mindset’ were.  I said I didn’t like how it was interpreted: Motivational cliches like ‘I can’t do it…yet’ supposedly build up confidence leading to motivation and success. I believe it’s the other way around: success causes motivation more than motivation causes success. [Or, as researchers Szu-Han Wang and Richard Morris have noted: “we rapidly remember what interests us, but what interests us takes time to develop.” And this Slate Star Codex article about growth mindset remains timeless.] 

Garelick presciently observes: “Where students frequently see through ineffective educational fads, people in education—after buying into such theories—see what they want to see.” Out on Good Behavior is well worth reading if you care about what your child is learning—or not learning—in school, particularly when it comes to math.

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P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever

By Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, and illustrator Maria Beddia

Recommended on: 28th January 2021

We have it directly from Barb’s pediatrician daughter Rosie that P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever, by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, and illustrator Maria Beddia is actually one of the greatest children’s books evuh!  Many children get tired of spelling rulesP Is for Pterodactyl features words that break all the rules. You and your gleeful youngster will have a blast with this bizarrely educational book.

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Pakistan

By Anatol Lieven

Recommended on: 29th May 2019

Pakistan: A Hard Country, by Anatol Lieven. Barb read this book preparation for her upcoming trip to Pakistan—but now that she’s read it, she’s realized what a comprehensive, thought-provoking, beautifully written book it is: truly a masterpiece of on-the-ground research over several decades. You may be surprised to discover ideas such as why sharia law is preferable for many Pakistanis to western (and often deeply corrupt) legal processes, and to learn just how deeply diverse Pakistan’s religious base is. Pakistan came together in a way almost guaranteed to make it a challenging country to govern—it can be difficult for outsiders to appreciate the dramatically diverse demands of the population.

Here’s a snippet of Lieven’s writing involving his journey through the little town of Shapqadar to do more interviews. “Bypass roads are unknown in small towns in Pakistan and we had made the mistake of travelling on a market day. Traffic jam doesn’t begin to describe the results – more like a double reef knot. The crossroads in the centre of town was a maelstrom of dust and exhaust fumes, apparently sucking into it cars, buses, trucks, scooter rickshaws, horse-carts, donkey-carts, men pushing carts, men on horseback and one understandably depressed-looking camel, all mixed up with a simply incredible number of people on foot for such a small town, as if the heavens had opened on a Sunday morning and rained humanity on Shapqadar. Out of the dust-shrouded mêlée the brightly painted lorries with their great carved wooden hoods loomed like war elephants in an ancient battle.”

Background research (and writing) doesn’t get any better than that. Lieven does his homework in knitting a comprehensive perspective of an extraordinary country. If you want to learn about the history, religions, government, and social mores of a critically important country on the global stage, you couldn’t do better than to read Lieven’s critically-acclaimed book.

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Palomino Blackwing Pencils

Recommended on: 5th December 2018

We love Palomino Blackwing Pencils for our note-taking. These pencils have the most extraordinary feel of any pencil we’ve ever used. Once past the initial sharpening with a standard pencil sharpener, we use a cheap plastic Staedtler manual pencil sharpener, which we set right beside us whenever we are writing. As for the actual note taking, we tend to use either quadrille pads or Moleskine squared notebooks.

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Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1874-1914

By David McCullough

Recommended on: 9th June 2019

Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1874-1914, by David McCullough. This is a fantastic book (a National Book Award winner) about the successes and disasters of both great and awful—and great-but-awful—leaders.  After the charismatic Ferdinand de Lesseps—the Steve Jobs of his day— spearheaded the successful construction of the Suez Canal, the French grew to adore de Lesseps’ ideas almost as much as de Lesseps himself did. (As Bill Gates has said “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they cannot lose.”) De Lesseps’ desire to create another sea level Suez Canal in Panama ultimately doomed the project, killed thousands, and ruined tens of thousands more.  When the Americans subsequently took over, their initial leadership was worse than that of de Lesseps. That is, until John Frank Stevens (he of “Stevens Pass” in Washington State), took over. Between Stevens—who ultimately appeared to crack under the strain—and his successor, the very different, but equally effective George Goethals, the canal took shape. You’ll learn of Dr. William Gargas’s David against Goliath story competing against malaria, yellow fever, and perhaps worst of all, pig-headed bureaucrats. And you’ll get a sense of how the front line laborers, primarily from the West Indies, did the hardest work under appalling conditions.

Construction of the Panama Canal was the biggest construction project in history—of inestimable value in uniting the globe.  Its clever use of the fearsome Chagres River to provide the energy to run the locks is a lesson in elegant engineering. During our tour of the Canal last week, we were surprised to learned that the Panama Canal competes with the Suez Canal in bringing goods from the far East to the Americas.  McCullough’s book gives a wonderful understanding of the main players and issues behind this extraordinary human feat of engineering.

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Pathological Altruism

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

Recommended on: 10th January 2018

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

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

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

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

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Patient H.M. A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

By Luke Dittrich

Recommended on: 7th November 2019

Patient H.M. A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets, by Luke Dittrich.  H.M., that is, Henry Molaison, rivals only Phineas Gage as one of the world’s most famous brain patients.  As it turns out, Dittrich’s grandfather, neurosurgeon William Beecher Scoville, performed the notorious surgery that removed Molaison’s hippocampuses and helped spur extraordinary bodies of research on memory. Dittrich’s family history means he has an unparalleled perspective to share on what actually happened to Molaison and what type of man Scoville actually was (hint—there are many dark secrets). This can sometimes be a bit graphic about what can happen during brain surgery, as well as what happens when people undertake to do experiments on people, but its final revelations are astonishing.

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Peltor High Performance Ear Muffs

Recommended on: 24th October 2017

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

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Peter the Great: His Life and World

By Robert K. Massie

Recommended on: 13th December 2017

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

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Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning

By Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. and Patrice M. Bain, Ed.S.

Recommended on: 21st October 2019

Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning by Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. and Patrice M. Bain, Ed.S. If we had to select a single book to recommend to instructors of any kind, it would be this masterpiece—the best book on teaching that we’ve ever read.  

In Powerful Teaching, Agarwal and Bain provide a tour de force of practical ideas and explanations involving retrieval practice, explaining how this vital topic is related to concepts such as interleaving, deliberate practice, formative assessments. 

Retrieval practice is so much deeper than simple memorization: As Powerful Teaching notes: “we typically focus on getting information into students’ heads. On the contrary, one of the most robust findings from cognitive science research is the importance of getting information out of students’ heads. Based on a century of research, in order to transform learning, we must focus on getting information out – a strategy called retrieval practice.”  

If you are a K-12 teacher or university instructor, or a parent, don’t miss this teaching book for the ages. Think retrieval practice is only for plebeian facts? Think again—as Agarwal and Bain note: “When it comes to retrieval practice, how far up the pyramid can we move student learning? If we want students to think on a higher-order level, then we should make sure our retrieval questions are basic and higher-order. It’s shortsighted to think, ‘Gee, well, if I have students retrieve a vocabulary word, they should be able to apply this in a higher-order example or a higher-order type of material.’ Based on research, provide a mix of fact-based retrieval and higher-order retrieval if that’s the type of learning you want to see in your students.” 

Part of what we love about this book is the simplicity of its explanations—not only is it well-researched, it’s elegantly written. Looking for a Christmas present for a parent or teacher friend, or for yourself? This is it.

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Principles: Life and Work

By Ray Dalio

Recommended on: 6th April 2018

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

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

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

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

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Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World

By Melissa Schilling

Recommended on: 28th September 2018

We have a habit of reading books about rebellious, contrarian sorts of people. Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World, by Melissa Schilling, is among the better of these books. Schilling’s discussion of the independent, sometimes lonely perspectives of remarkable innovators is alone worth the price of the book—she makes a clear case that too much group work and “creative collaboration” can unintentionally kill creativity.  Well worth the price if you’re interested in creativity.

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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.)

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Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World

By Maryanne Wolf

Recommended on: 25th July 2019

Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, by Maryanne Wolf. 

This lovely book uses metaphors to convey the extraordinary complexity of what happens when we read—and to describe how important it is to pause and read deeply.  As Wolf notes: “whenever we name even a single letter, we are activating entire networks of specific neuronal groups in the visual cortex, which correspond to entire networks of equally specific language-based cell groups, which correspond to networks of specific articulatory-motor cell groups—all with millisecond precision. 

“It takes years for deep-reading processes to be formed, and as a society we need to be sure that we are vigilant about their development in our young from a very early age. It takes daily vigilance by us, the expert readers of our society, to choose to expend the extra milliseconds needed to maintain deep reading over time.”

This is a book well worth reading, if only to remind us of the value of reading slowly and deeply.

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

By Bill Browder

Recommended on: 30th October 2017

Book of the Month

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

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

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

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Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By

By Timothy Wilson

Recommended on: 10th January 2018

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

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

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

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

By Nelson Dellis

Recommended on: 5th June 2018

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

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Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations

By Ronen Bergman

Recommended on: 27th July 2019

Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, by Ronen Bergman. This fascinating book has been named one of the best books of the year by The Economist, The New York Times Book Review, BBC History Magazine, and Kirkus Reviews. It is a tour de force explanation of how a people who have suffered through the Holocaust and myriad other horrors through the centuries have developed a “kill first” approach as an integral part of their approach to organized terrorism. As Bergman describes, this policy has been adopted by others in the West, for example, Barack Obama. When successful, targeted killings are very effective at saving lives. When unsuccessful—well, read the book to find out. As spy-master extraordinaire John le Carré writes: “A remarkable feat of fearless and responsible reporting . . . important, timely, and informative.” [Hat tip Ali Ali Binazir MD MPhil] Of course, other countries have related programs—perhaps not as tightly monitored, benevolently intentioned, or ultimately as accountable to the public.

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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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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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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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Seven Myths About Education

By Daisy Christodoulou

Recommended on: 6th November 2018

As you can tell, we’ve been heavy into education books recently (don’t worry–we’ll be back soon to other topics!) Our most recent book, Seven Myths About Education, by Daisy Christodoulou, is one of the best on education that we’ve ever read. Daisy’s broad experience in teaching, coupled with her critical thinking skills, provide counter-intuitive insight into how we can be fooled into thinking some ways of teaching are better, when they’re actually worse. Her observations involve seven widely held beliefs that are harming students:

  • Facts prevent understanding  
  • Teacher-led instruction is passive   
  • The 21st century fundamentally changes everything   
  • You can always just look it up   
  • We should teach transferable skills   
  • Projects and activities are the best way to learn   
  • Teaching knowledge is indoctrination.

Although this book was written for UK audiences, its findings are perfectly translatable to what is going on in the US. This powerful book is a “must read” for any parent, or K-12 teacher, professor, or administrator.

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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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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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Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones

Recommended on: 19th March 2018

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

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Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

By Simon Sebag Montefiore

Recommended on: 18th November 2019

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, by Simon Sebag Montefiore. This extraordinarily well-researched volume reveals what can happen when a vicious, brutal, but charming-whenever-necessary killer climbs to power in a system that has nothing by way of checks and balances. Even Churchill—no fool when it came to Hitler’s intentions, was wowed by Stalin—a man who enjoyed the mental as well as physical torture of all who opposed him. Montefiore describes the strange family and public life of a man who led one of history’s greatest democides. It’s hard to convey just how difficult life was for anyone who thought independently, or even anyone who made a simple joke, in Stalin’s time—Montefiore does an outstanding job at this virtually indescribable task. An extraordinary book.

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Still Alice

By Lisa Genova

Recommended on: 29th November 2017

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

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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 with 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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Teach for Attention! A Tool Belt of Strategies for Engaging Students with Attention Challenges

By Ezra Werb

Recommended on: 10th June 2021

Teach for Attention! A Tool Belt of Strategies for Engaging Students with Attention Challenges, by Ezra Werb. This brief, easy-to-read book provides “from the trenches” teaching strategies for students with ADHD, low self-confidence, distraction, and other attention challenges. There are dozens of true classroom stories that show the strategies in action. Ezra is an educational therapist working with students with attention
 deficits, learning challenges, and spectrum disorders, so his insights can definitely help build your teaching repertoire if you are working with attentionally-challenged students.

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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.

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Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation

By Saundra McGuire

Recommended on: 31st August 2018

This week’s book recommendation is Saundra McGuire’s Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation. We thought we knew a lot about how to help students succeed, but Saundra’s inspiring book reframed the topic even more positively for us, and gave us a lot of great new strategies.  (Barb was lucky enough to speak with Saundra about her book a few days ago—Saundra herself is a force to be reckoned with in helping reshape attitudes towards student learning.)

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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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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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TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking

By Chris Anderson

Recommended on: 13th December 2017

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

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Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine

By Barry Strauss

Recommended on: 22nd April 2019

We greatly enjoyed the book Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry Strauss. We’ve long been interested in the Roman Empire, and it was a lot of fun romping through Strauss’s explanation of the Game-of-Thrones-like atmosphere that permeated the shenanigans of the various regimes.  By focusing on ten of Rome’s most important rulers, Strauss cuts through the dizzying array of lesser figures who were perpetually offing one another, to instead give us a feel for the men and behind-the-scenes women who shaped history. Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Constantine—you may have heard the names, but Ten Caesars will help flesh them out and connect the dots between, so you can better understand an ancient world that, in surprising ways, held similarities to our own.

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The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity

By Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott

Recommended on: 27th January 2019

The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. We had never really thought about the consequences of lifespans in today’s world, where people have a good chance of living to 100.  Living so long means many societal changes–for one thing, it’s just not as possible to afford to retire at 65 and live comfortably over the next 35 years without having thought, and planned, wisely. In fact, retiring at 65 may not be the best option at all.  This book gives an insightful overview of how to effectively plan your own life, and reinvent yourself as necessary to live long and prosper.

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

By Stephen Covey

Recommended on: 1st February 2018

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

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

By Stephen Covey

Recommended on: 13th December 2017

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

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The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance

By Josh Waitzkin

Recommended on: 29th November 2017

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

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The Artist’s Quest for Inspiration

By Peggy Hadden

Recommended on: 26th June 2019

The Artist’s Quest for Inspiration, by Peggy Hadden. We were turned on to this book by Barb’s artist daughter Rachel, who has found it to be deeply inspirational for her work.

What we love about this book is its insights into how to look at life around you in a fresh way, and why these fresh perspectives are important. For example, Hadden talks about how seemingly silly questions can be valuable, giving the example of Dr. Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid camera: “One day, Dr. Land and his young daughter were walking on a beach when he stopped to take a photograph of her. “Can I see it now?” she asked. When told she’d have to wait until the film went to the lab, she wanted to know why. Although the question seemed dumb at the time, because all film had to be processed in a lab, it prompted Dr. Land to consider the need for faster-processing film.” Hadden gives example after example of practical exercises to help you redevelop the fresh eye you had as a child and overcome creative blocks. You don’t need to be an artist to gain creative insight from this book!

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The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

By James Weldon Johnson

Recommended on: 29th September 2018

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, by James Weldon Johnson, a polymath author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, civil rights activist, and key figure in the history of the NAACP. Johnson’s book is actually a fictional account of a man of biracial heritage of the late 1800s and early 1900s who describes his experiences as the son of an African-American woman and a wealthy white aristocrat.  The astonishing musical gifts of the “Ex-Colored Man” (Johnson never supplies a name) are subverted by his horrifying experience in witnessing a lynching. This is a moving roman à clef that will haunt you.

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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

By Benjamin Franklin

Recommended on: 1st October 2018

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, by Benjamin Franklin.  Although we read Walter Isaacson’s outstanding biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, we couldn’t resist digging deeper to see what Franklin himself wrote about his life.  Once we grew accustomed to Franklin’s style, we found the book to be a deeply insightful read. We were taken with Franklin’s quote of Pope:

“Men should be taught as if you taught them not,

And things unknown propos’d as things forgot.”

Many of you have already realized that is the approach we took with the creation of Learning How to Learn.  This is an inspiring book about how to improve both yourself and the lives of others.  Plus, who knew that Franklin almost made a living as a swimming instructor?

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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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The Bilingual Brain

By Albert Costa

Recommended on: 6th July 2020

The Bilingual Brain, by Albert Costa.   We’re suckers for books on bilingualism, and this recent book, by multilingual Albert Costa, (who is in real life a leading researcher on bilingualism), really delivers the goods on what we know from neuroscience.  Unlike many authors who are in love with their discipline, Costa is an honest broker—he thoughtfully describes areas where research may be reflecting a bit of wishful thinking about the benefits of bilingualism. But he also has intriguing perspectives on how, for example, making decisions while speaking a foreign language can result in a more rational decision. As Costa notes: “I realized that we had discovered something interesting when I was explaining these results to my mother and son over lunch and they both said at the same time: ‘No way!’ If people who were more than fifty years apart in age were surprised by the same phenomenon, it was because they could not believe that their moral judgements, what most identified them as individuals, could be affected by such an insignificant thing as the language in which a moral dilemma is presented. And believe me, my stories almost always bore them.” If you’re trying to learn a new language, this book will give you fascinating insights into how your brain will change. Count us now as Costa fans! Also good for audio.

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The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age

By James Crabtree

Recommended on: 13th September 2018

This week, we read and enjoyed James Crabtree’s The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age. We’re always fascinated by India, but sometimes the unfamiliar names (to our US-based sensibilities) can make it hard to keep track of what’s going on. Crabtree solves the name-challenge by following outsized personalities with riveting stories, all in the context of what’s unfolding politically and financially in today’s India. This is an Amazon Best Book of July 2018—as the review notes, “Crabtree uses interviews and riveting reporting to give us a fascinating look into the sudden, sometimes shocking, and seemingly insurmountable rise of the Indian super-elite, as they surf the wave of globalism.”

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

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Recommended on: 10th January 2018

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

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

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The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect

By Judea Pearl

Recommended on: 22nd April 2021

The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect by computer scientist and philosopher Judea Pearl. For anyone with the slightest interest in statistics, mathematics, or figuring out whether the public is being duped by yet another “solidly researched” fad, this book is for you.  Judea himself observes “In Statistics 101, every student learns to chant, ‘Correlation is not causation.’ With good reason! The rooster’s crow is highly correlated with the sunrise; yet it does not cause the sunrise. Unfortunately, statistics has fetishized this commonsense observation. It tells us that correlation is not causation, but it does not tell us what causation is. In vain will you search the index of a statistics textbook for an entry on ‘cause.’ Students are not allowed to say that X is the cause of Y—only that X and Y are ‘related’ or ‘associated.’

But, in large part due to Judea’s research, “…things have changed dramatically in the past three decades. Nowadays, thanks to carefully crafted causal models, contemporary scientists can address problems that would have once been considered unsolvable or even beyond the pale of scientific inquiry. For example, only a hundred years ago, the question of whether cigarette smoking causes a health hazard would have been considered unscientific. The mere mention of the words ‘cause’ or ‘effect’ would create a storm of objections in any reputable statistical journal. Even two decades ago, asking a statistician a question like ‘Was it the aspirin that stopped my headache?’ would have been like asking if he believed in voodoo. To quote an esteemed colleague of mine, it would be “‘more of a cocktail conversation topic than a scientific inquiry.’ But today, epidemiologists, social scientists, computer scientists, and at least some enlightened economists and statisticians pose such questions routinely and answer them with mathematical precision. To me, this change is nothing short of a revolution. I dare to call it the Causal Revolution, a scientific shakeup that embraces rather than denies our innate cognitive gift of understanding cause and effect.”

We love this book, which explains the new science of causality in a straightforward fashion. You’ll find yourself thinking about correlations in a new way.  

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The Bottleneck Rules: How To Get More Done at Work, Without Working Harder

By Clarke Ching

Recommended on: 14th February 2019

This week, we read the simple The Bottleneck Rules: How To Get More Done at Work, Without Working Harder, by Clarke Ching. This is a short, quick read that gives plenty of examples of bottlenecks (we’ll never look at lines in a coffee shop—or elsewhere—in the same way). Bottleneck Rules gets to some of the key ideas of the theory of constraints much more quickly than the famous The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement; at the same time, Clarke’s breezy style makes the book altogether fun. [Hat tip: José António Basto]

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The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life

By Julie Bogart

Recommended on: 7th February 2019

Julie Bogart’s written a magnificently helpful book: The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life.  Barb’s cover blurb says it all: “A masterpiece. This is the deepest, most meaningful book on parenting I have ever read. If you want to raise your child to be a happy learner, whether via homeschooling or conventional schooling, read this book.” If you are a parent or parent-to-be, get this book!  In these times of COVID and stay-at-home parenting, this book is invaluable. If you’re looking for writing guidance for your kid’s writing, also check out Julie’s website, Brave Writer.

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The Breakdown of Higher Education

By John M. Ellis

Recommended on: 22nd June 2020

The Breakdown of Higher Education: How It Happened, the Damage It Does, and What Can Be Done, by John M. Ellis. This provocative book provides a sobering analysis of what is unfolding on college campuses today—a phenomenon similar to that which Barb experienced in her past work with the Soviet communists. (All of which ultimately led to Chernobyl, because censorship under communism reigned supreme.)  Key graf: “Censorship on college campuses concerning questions where the opinions of thoughtful people differ is contrary to what we have always thought about higher education. Until recently, universities dealt in precise argument using evidence that is systematically gathered and carefully analyzed—not in ruthlessly enforced uniformity of opinion based on arbitrary political dogma. That is exactly the kind of anti-intellectual behavior that we expect universities to remedy—it’s what we have them for. If those institutions now routinely resort to this irrational thuggery, what is the point of them? We already see enough of that in the wider world. Academics who behave in this way are really telling us not only that they don’t do university-level thinking, researching, or analyzing of issues, but that they won’t allow anyone else on campus to do it either.”  The Breakdown of Higher Education explores, in great detail, the consequences in higher education of Pathological Altruism.

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The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning

By Richard E. Mayer

Recommended on: 30th November 2018

The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning, 2nd edn, edited by Richard E. Mayer. If you want to go even deeper into the principles of how human beings learn effectively, you can’t do better than this marvelous 900 page, nearly five-pound behemoth of a book. It goes heavily into the research that helps guide our understanding of how human beings learn. The basic premise is that humans learn better when they can both see and hear what they’re learning–Mayer and his contributors give great insight into why this is true. Hardcover (not e-book) copy is recommended.

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The Cancer Code: A Revolutionary New Understanding of a Medical Mystery

By Dr. Jason Fung

Recommended on: 17th March 2021

The Cancer Code: A Revolutionary New Understanding of a Medical Mystery, by Dr. Jason Fung.  This is an extraordinarily insightful book. If you simply have an interest in a disease that has killed far more than COVID has, or you fear cancer might be in the future for you or a loved one, this book will give you ideas for subtle tweaks that could make an enormous difference in what unfolds long term.

As the book begins, you might think—well, been there, done that—the book’s just describing how it’s carcinogens that cause cancer.  Oh yes, and maybe genetics.  But in Dr. Fung’s masterful hands, you gradually learn that cancer often involves a process where cells revert to primordial states. In these states, rather than playing nicely with the rest of the cells of the body, malignant cancers forge ahead on their own ancient kill-or-be-killed fashion, using ancient anaerobic pathways to fuel themselves while poisoning other cells and gaining building materials for new malignancies.  

You will gain extraordinary insight into cancer that is often not conveyed by cancer experts.  This is a not-to-be-missed book. Also great for audio.

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

By Bryan Caplan

Recommended on: 15th February 2018

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

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The Cattle Kingdom

By Christopher Knowlton

Recommended on: 25th April 2021

The Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West, by Christopher Knowlton. What an eye-popping read! Many North Americans grow up familiar with cowboys, cattle barons, and the battle of barbed wire fences in the Western US, along with haute cuisine (at least as haute as American cuisine could get) at the legendary Delmonico’s Steakhouses in New York City. And North Americans know at least a little about the meatpacking industry of Chicago and its accompanying scandals.  They may even be familiar with iconic, laconic, literary figures like Shane and the Virginian (an apparent legacy of European aristocracy). 

But until the publication of The Cattle Kingdom, few of us had the opportunity to put together the disparate pieces to understand this important era in US history. We know why the buffalo disappeared (a horrific addendum to the genocidal predations on Native Americans), but Knowlton helps us understand how cattle arose so quickly to take the place of buffalo, why the life of a cattleman became so popular, and how the whole enterprise came crushing finale with the Johnson County war, when local newspapers essentially owned by the elite, wealthy cattlemen spurred an insurrection allowing them to quite literally get away with murder.

This is an in-depth look at virtually every aspect of the history of the cowboy west, from the major players (including fascinating discussions of Teddy Roosevelt, the father of the American conservation movement),  to saddles, barbed wire, the economics of cattle rearing, British attitudes of “I can do what I want with my land,” and of course, the “Big Die Up,” where millions of cattle died in one horrific winter—officially sealing the end to the cattle kingdom. From about 1850 to 1900, the US Kingdom of Cattle was the equivalent to today’s Silicon Empire. A remarkable work of history. Also great for audio listening. [Hat tip, Ryan Holiday.]

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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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The Checklist Manifesto

By Atul Gawande

Recommended on: 19th May 2019

The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. Gawande is actually perhaps best known for The Checklist Manifesto, so, having read Complications and been converted into lifelong Gawande fans, we couldn’t resist picking up this important book. The biggest breakthroughs in life are often due to surprisingly simple ideas, and the Checklist Manifesto reveals how simple checklists make an extraordinary difference in industry after industry, including, as it turns out, surgery.  (Is it possible that checklists of the sort Gawande describes could help teachers as they lift students off for learning?) Great, thought-provoking book.

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The Chiffon Trenches

By André Leon Talley

Recommended on: 4th June 2020

The Chiffon Trenches, by André Leon Talley. Barb’s own sense of fashion tends toward frumpy. So she was fascinated to read André’s descriptions of life at the highest levels of fashionhe was friends or colleagues with practically every major figure in high fashion over the past fifty years, including Karl Lagerfeld, Halston, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Halston, Yves Saint Laurent, and Oscar de la Renta. As a black, gay fashion maven inspired by both his Southern roots and his faith, André opened new doors of diversity in an industry struggling with a history of racism, prejudice, and bias. A very elegant and readable book, as “bespoke” as André’s extraordinary sense of fashion.

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

By Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Recommended on: 21st February 2019

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Where Campbell and Manning’s Rise of Victimhood Culture views the microaggression, safe space, and trigger warning trends from a larger perspective, as sociologists, Lukianoff and Haidt’s book also goes into more depth at a personal level about how these kinds of trends can be harmful. But this is actually an uplifting book overall, with plenty of insights from cognitive behavioral therapy to help you get, and keep, your own life in order.

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

By Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Recommended on: 19th December 2017

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

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

By Laura Sandefer

Recommended on: 26th April 2018

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

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The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love—Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits

By Judson Brewer

Recommended on: 30th June 2020

The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love—Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits, by Judson Brewer. For years, we’ve been looking for a good book that gives insight on the science of meditation. This book is a great one that goes far beyond simple addiction and gets to the heart of issues such as why our minds get “stuck” on people who annoy us, and squirrel-like thoughts that can keep us from focusing as we’d like. 

Amongst many quotable gems, we liked how Judson described what the “RAIN” process of what to do when getting caught up in obsessive thinking: “RECOGNIZE/RELAX into what is arising (for example, your craving) ACCEPT/ALLOW it to be there INVESTIGATE bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts (for example, ask, ‘What is happening in my body or mind right now?’). NOTE what is happening from moment to moment The N is a slight modification of … ‘nonidentification.’ The idea is that we identify with or get caught up in the object that we are aware of.” Also nice for audio. [Hat tip: Mako Haruta]

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The Deep Learning Revolution

By Terrence Sejnowski

Recommended on: 25th October 2018

The Deep Learning Revolution, by Terrence Sejnowski.  Barb had the chance to read this superlative book pre-press, and she has a beautiful hard copy beside her as she writes this. If you are interested in how we got to driverless cars, automated translations, eerily human-like conversations with automatons, and uncannily adept opponents in chess and Go, you can’t miss this fantastic book by our very own Terry Sejnowski. Terry’s many decades of experiences at the pinnacle of discovery in neural processing and artificial intelligence give him an irreplaceably broad perspective. Learn how the obstruction of a few key players delayed the advent of artificial intelligence by decades  and the future direction of deep learning networks in everything from gaming. The deep learning revolution has brought us driverless cars, the greatly improved Google Translate, fluent conversations with Siri and Alexa, and enormous profits from automated trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Deep learning networks can play poker better than professional poker players and defeat a world champion at Go. In this book, Terry Sejnowski explains how deep learning went from being an arcane academic field to a disruptive technology in the information economy.

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The Education of Eva Moskowitz: A Memoir

By Eva Moskowitz

Recommended on: 3rd May 2019

The Education of Eva Moskowitz: A Memoir, by Eva Moskowitz. What a wonderful and eye-opening book about the educational system! Eva Moskowitz is a take-no-prisoners, never-blink pioneer in the K-12 sector. A lifelong Democrat, Moskowitz understands politics through her participation at a variety of levels. She came to the conclusion that education was the place where her natural talents could have the biggest impact, because it was most in need of reform. If you want to truly understand the pernicious effects that American education-related unions have had on students’ access to quality education, read this book. Moskowitz names names of the cabal of successfully sinister leaders who have succeeded in harming children and wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars through subterfuge and intimidation, all under the guise of helping children.

Unions can do important and valuable work, but if you think unions and their leaders are always