Before we get too far into the new year, I want to spend some time reflecting on some of the books that shaped me in 2013. Of books that have influenced some part of my teaching, the following were my favorite nonfiction reads of last year. They are presented simply in the order in which I read them.
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
Carr gives a fascinating overview about how different technologies throughout human history have affected the very way that we think. Each new technology, such as the printing press, the clock, or the computer, has changed not just our perspective but the way in which our brains work. Carr is not opposed to technology, but he does want us to think about the ways in which our brains are changing from the constant multitasking and the overabundance of information.
Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers
Powers’ book has many of the same principles that Carr discusses; however, what I appreciated about this book was Powers’ personal anecdotes about how he tries to realign his life and his family with his belief that relationships should be more important than connectedness. While Carr’s book develops the problem well, Powers’ book offers some ways in which we can cope with the new online reality. He shares practical ways in which he and his family seek balance and healthy relationships, including their “Internet Sabbath” where they disconnect for at least a day each week.
Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
Pink has finally told me why I’ve never felt all that motivated by money: most people aren’t all that motivated by money! Pink challenges some of our assumptions about rewards for work and argues that after people have enough financial compensation to provide a decent living, more material rewards don’t create better job performance. In fact, at a certain point, more money can create poorer job performance. What are we motivated by? Autonomy, creativity, and mastery.
Several Short Sentences about Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg
I haven’t read a book about writing in a while, but this book reminded me about why I occasionally like to do so. This book is actually composed of all short sentences. You can read a little bit from pretty much any part of the book at any time you want and not be lost. Within each short sentence there is a lot to digest, and I found myself reading the book very slowly as I contemplated each of his principles for good writing.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Duhigg discusses how we form habits, as individuals, as organizations, and as societies. He argues that we can change our habits and offers practical suggestions for doing so. He also maintains (and I agree) that success in most things is a result of habit formation rather than our myths about “talent.” The sections on the habits of organizations are fascinating, as Duhigg asserts that most negative habits of organizations can be changed by first identifying what he calls “keystone habits,” behaviors at the root of all other habits.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
I will pretty much read anything Gladwell writes, and his latest book did not disappoint. Gladwell argues that our perceptions of power need to change, that the very things that make a person or institution powerful may also be the very things that comprise their greatest weaknesses. Underdogs have more power than we often think, and giants will eventually fall.
What nonfiction would you recommend?
(“It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It’s a great way to keep track of what you’re reading and see what others are reading each week.)