Thursday, November 28, 2019

The ultimate list of 100 nonfiction books

I did it!

I believe 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend has been a thoughtful and important project. It took some mettle to recommend a book on a daily basis with a reflective write-up. The pace was intense, and I handled it.

At the end of the day, I love these books, so it was not that big of a deal. I committed to this project and stayed with it!

I guess the big takeaway is that reading is crucially important. Sadly, reading, curiosity and exploration typically aren't taught in schools, and so the masses don't really read, follow their curiosity or explore the world of ideas, life and experience books offer.

Too often, I am reminded that we live in a superficial culture. With books, we can delve into new ideas or go deeper into important ones. Life constantly evolves, as do I, and I truly have loved soaking in these 100 books. My reading will continue even more so after this project, and I view this project as a beginning to go deeper into my education and to create more meaningful writing and art.

The books are not ranked in order of importance by any means, but here is my list of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. Here's advice. Do a little research before you commit your time to reading a book. I stand by all of these 100 and only did popular books that read well too. Yes, I have many wildly popular books on this list, and they deliver. Life is too short for books that are strong on marketing and weak on prose.

Now, you might ask why I just didn't come out with this list and save the 110 (100 reviews plus 10 recaps) blog entries. Well, here's the thing. We live in an era in which the image, the list, the fake is what most are becoming accustomed. Click bait is an actual thing.

This is an actual project of 100 nonfiction books recommended by a guy who read them all and could talk in depth about all of them (save the David Sedaris one that I hardly remembered). Feel free to click on the book for the write-up in case you missed it. Enjoy!

Big Time and Deserving:
1. Outliers (2008) by Malcolm Gladwell
2. Daring Greatly (2012) by Brene Brown
3. The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) by Joan Didion
4. Thrive (2014) by Ariana Huffington
5. Tribe of Mentors (2017) by Tim Ferris
6. Leaders Eat Last (2014) by Simon Sinek
7. Option B (2017) by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
8. The Creative Habit (2003) by Twyla Tharp
9. On Writing (2000) by Stephen King
10. A Curious Mind (2015) by Brian Grazer with Charles Fishman
Parenting:
11. How To Raise An Adult (2015) by Julie Lythcott-Haims
12. Nonviolent Communication (1999 original, 2015 third edition) by Marshall Rosenberg
13. How We Love Our Kids (2011) by Milan and Jay Yerkowich
14. The Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys (1995) by Jawanza Kunjufu
15.  iGen (2017) by Jean Twenge
16. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) by Amy Chua
17. Grit (2016) by Angela Duckworth
18. How Children Succeed (2012) by Paul Tough
19. Fraternity (2019) by Alexandra Robbins
20. A Promise to Ourselves (2008) by Alec Baldwin
Personal Growth:
21. Mindset by Carol Dweck (2006)
22. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (2016)
23. Money (2014) by Tony Robbins
24. The Art of Asking (2015) by Amanda Palmer
25. You Are a Badass (2013) by Jen Sincero
26. Girl, Wash Your Face (2018) by Rachel Hollis
27. The Art of Non-Conformity (2010) by Chris Guilleabeau
28. The Omnivore's Dilemma (2007) by Michael Pollan
29. The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins
30. The Power of Now (1997) by Eckhart Tolle
Humor:
31. Born Standing Up (2007) by Steve Martin
32. Poking a Dead Frog (2014) by Mike Sacks
33. Modern Romance (2015) by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
34. Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) by David Sedaris
35. A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) by John Kennedy Toole (Yes, it's technically fiction, but it's freaking funny!)
36. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) by Dave Eggers
37. Fresh Off the Boat (2013) by Eddie Huang
38. How to Make White People Laugh (2016) by Negin Farsad
39. The Comedy Writer (1998) by Peter Farrelly
40. Brain Droppings (1997) by George Carlin
Education:
41. Letters to a Young Teacher (2007) by Jonathan Kozol
42. The Homework Myth (2007) by Alfie Kohn
43. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (2017, 20th anniversary edition) by Beverly Daniel Tatum
44. Punished (2011) by Victor Rios
45. Excellent Sheep (2014) by William Deresiewicz
46. In Defense of a Liberal Education (2015) by Fareed Zakaria
47. You Are Not Where You Go (2015) by Frank Bruni
48. Readicide (2009) by Kelly Gallagher
49. Rethinking School (2018) by Susan Wise Bauer
50. On Your Mark (2014) by Thomas Guskey
Social Conscience:
51. The New Jim Crow (2010) by Michelle Alexander
52. White Fragility (2018) by Robin DiAngelo
53. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) by Paulo Freire
54. Born on Third Base (2016) by Chuck Collins
55. Dark Money (2016) by Jane Mayer
56. The Vanishing American Adult (2017) by Ben Sasse
57. Food Not Lawns (2006) by Heather Jo Flores
58. So You Want to Talk about Race (2018) by Ijeoma Oluo
59. Black Boy (1945) by Richard Wright
60. Night (1956) by Elie Wiesel
"Grab Bag":
61. Lost Connections (2018) by Johann Hari
62. Humans Are Underrated (2015) by Geoff Colvin
63. The Mask of Masculinity (2017) by Lewis Howes
64. This Is Marketing (2018) by Seth Godin
65. The Power of Glamour (2013) by Virginia Postrel
66. A Book of Mentors (2015) by Gillian Zoe Segal
67. The Rules Do Not Apply (2017) by Ariel Levy
68. The Souls of Yellow Folk (2018) by Wesley Yang
69. The Body Keeps the Score (2014) by Bessel Van Der Kolk
70. Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995, new edition 2018) by James Loewen
Sports:
71. A Pitcher's Story (2001) by Roger Angell
72. Why Baseball Matters (2018) by Susan Jacoby
73. String Theory (2016) by David Foster Wallace
74. Little Red Book (1992, with 2012 anniversary edition) by Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake
75. Zen Golf (2002) by Joseph Parent
76. The Big Miss (2012) by Hank Haney
77. The Whore of Akron (2011) by Scott Raab
78. Back from the Dead (2016) by Bill Walton
79. Word Freak (2001) by Stefan Fatsis
80. Relentless (2013) by Tim Grover
Leadership:
81. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002) by Patrick Lencioni
82. Multipliers (2010) by Liz Wiseman
83. Ego Is the Enemy (2016) by Ryan Holiday
84. A More Beautiful Question (2014) by Warren Berger
85. Crucial Conversations (2002, 2012 edition) by Kerry Patterson, et. al.
86. Conversational Capacity (2013) by Craig Weber
87. Leadership on the Line (2002) by Marty Linsky
88. Good to Great (2001) by Jim Collins
89. This Fight Is Our Fight (2007) by Elizabeth Warren
90. Positive Deviance (2010) by Richard Pascale, et. al.
Recommended by Readers:
91) EntreLeadership (2011) by Dave Ramsey
92) Letters from the Earth (1962) by Mark Twain
93) Fantasyland (2017) by Kurt Andersen
94) The Death of Truth (2018) by Michiko Kakutani
95) Pleasure Activism (2019) by Adrienne Marie Brown
96) Aware (2018) by Daniel Siegel
97) The Moment of Lift (2019) by Melinda Gates
98) Loonshots (2019) by Safi Bahcall
99) Raising Cain (1999) by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
100) Quiet (2012) by Susan Cain

Happy Thanksgiving! This blog is going on hiatus until New Year's Day 2020. Enjoy these reviews, and I'll see you back in 2020.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The power of word of mouth

Time and time again, word of mouth proves to be the best recommendation for practically anything. Nowadays, that's tricky with social media and what we perceive as word of mouth. For me, word of mouth worked out magnificently in 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend because readers personally recommended the following 10 books and many more.

I started a few books not on this list and was not into them. Aborted! I do indeed recommend the books in this category but realize that not all 10 fit my criteria for a recommendation.

My criteria to recommend a book is simple: 1) I actually read the book cover to cover, 2) I enjoyed or found my time well-spent with the book, and 3) the book helped me feel or see something differently.

Here are 10 books readers recommended to me that I, too, recommend:

1) EntreLeadership (2011) by Dave Ramsey
2) Letters from the Earth (1962) by Mark Twain
3) Fantasyland (2017) by Kurt Andersen
4) The Death of Truth (2018) by Michiko Kakutani
5) Pleasure Activism (2019) by Adrienne Marie Brown
6) Aware (2018) by Daniel Siegel
7) The Moment of Lift (2019) by Melinda Gates
8) Loonshots (2019) by Safi Bahcall
9) Raising Cain (1999) by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
10) Quiet (2012) by Susan Cain

Good golly, I realize that I have finished this project! Bam! That was an undertaking. It started July 15, and 100 books and more than four months later, it is complete.

I'm proud of this. So many websites of books are just trying to sell books, and this is all about my reading path and where I'm at in 2019. It will be interesting to see how this path contorts and develops in future years.

Tomorrow, I will recap the entire project and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A celebration of introverts

Editor's Note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. Fellow teacher Mr. Bill Mustard recommended Quiet (2012) by Susan Cain.

For odd reasons, I tried to avoid reading Quiet. One of my students did a presentation on the book that was so strong, I felt I didn't need to read it. Plus, it is so popular that I figured it could only be a letdown.

I was wrong.

Quiet is an awesome book, but not because of its thesis about the power of introverts. Rather, it's such a good read because of how Susan Cain shapes her narratives and the many adventures she takes.

She interviews and cites a veritable who's who of modern thought in the book, and I found the book to be a page-turner. The book starts off like gangbusters with its section on our society's ideal of extroverts. Cain traces part of our society's love of the extrovert to Dale Carnegie, who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. That's a long, long time ago, and Carnegie is no relation to the Carnegies. In fact, Dale Carnegie's original last name was spelled "Carnagey."
Cain correctly shows how extroversion is strived for and often rewarded. This doesn't necessarily help our society or lives. My added theory on the advent of the extrovert ideal is that TV spurred that on as well, especially after the JFK/Nixon debate of 1960.

Also, in her first section, Cain attends a Tony Robbins seminar and explores the myth of charismatic leadership and talks about how collaboration — dominated by the loud ones — often turns into unproductive groupthink. I found these sections fascinating.

I found the next section about biology, and how it relates to introverts and extroverts, the least interesting. But then the book's final two sections are strong, especially the part on Asian-Americans. It becomes utterly obvious that most of our interpretations of introverts and extroverts are based on culture, and I'm not so sure we question our culture enough.

My main criticism for Quiet is that maybe Cain sticks to her thesis too much. Not everything we do is about being an introvert and extrovert, and aren't we all really ambiverts? (An ambivert is someone with both qualities of an introvert and extrovert.)

One fear I have is that introvert is mistakenly interpreted as a shy person, and they are much different. Being shy entails feeling anxiety around others. An introvert is not necessarily shy, but feels revived with lone time.

If any overarching message comes out of Quiet, I believe it can be that we all don't have to be wildly social. While I find social skills to be important for all in this world, I respect those who appreciate solitude and don't feel they need to be the gregarious life of the party.

Monday, November 25, 2019

It's crucial for boys to embrace emotion

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. Literary agent Gail Ross recommended Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (1999) by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.

When boys cry, why do we often say "be a man" or "get over it"? Are boys truly in tune with how they actually feel? How can someone experience empathy if they do not understand their own emotions?

Raising Cain (1999) addresses these questions, and more, about boys and emotion. At an extremely young age, boys are steered away from understanding their inner world. This is called the emotional miseducation of boys.
In my own book, the topic of men's emotions is huge, but it's not like I'm an expert on the topic. Raising Cain is spot on and written by two child psychologists, who see what I also witness in the classroom. Sadly, boys' understanding of their emotions often is poor. I say it has gotten even worse in the past two decades when this book came out because those inner lives are given away to video games and adult websites.

What is explored in Raising Cain is even more important today than ever. To build emotional literacy, boys first need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves other than with anger. Boys need to feel emotionally connected. They need close, supportive relationships that support their emotions. Fathers, and men, must model this.

In Raising Cain, prescriptive sections meld with examples of actual boys and their situations. The book reads well, and so many parts ring true, including the male's tradition of being emotionally isolated, and how boys treat each other.
In the final chapter, the book lists seven foundations of parenting and teaching that create communities that respect and cultivate the inner lives of boys. Those seven foundations are:

1. Give boys permission to have an internal life, approval for the full range of human emotions, and help in developing an emotional vocabulary so that they may better understand themselves and communicate more effectively with others.

2. Recognize and accept the high activity level of boys and give them safe boy places to express it.

3. Talk to boys in their language — in a way that honors their pride and their masculinity. Be direct with them. Use them as consultants and problem solvers.

4. Teach boys that emotional courage is courage, and that courage and empathy are the sources of real strength in life.

5. Use discipline to build character and conscience, not enemies.

6. Model a manhood of emotional attachment.

7. Teach boys that there are many ways to be a man.

I cannot stress the importance of these seven foundations. In my book, I look at this, and more, through the lens of relationships. The question remains: How can a woman truly love a man who is emotionally illiterate?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Loonshots must go forward

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. My cousin Sally Stevens suggested Loonshots (2019) by Safi Bahcall.

I looove the idea of a "loonshot." Safi Bahcall defines a loonshot as "a neglected project, widely dismissed, its champion written off as unhinged."

Bam! Go no further, I love the concept. But, hey, what exactly does that entail?

I started reading Loonshots like there was no tomorrow, and I powered through the book, even though I slowly lost that loving feeling.

How do we teach creativity and innovation? I find that to be wildly tricky, and I'm not so sure that often works with our conventional schools in 30-person classrooms. Innovative thinking typically gets shimmied out of students, oh, by around fourth grade or so. I find that innovative students need innovative parents, or innovative mentors, to foster creativity. That's more rare than it should be.

In Loonshots, I respond to the basic rules on how to create innovation:

1. Separate the phases. 2. Create dynamic equilibrium. 3. Spread a system mindset.

What this means is that each organization has a mixture of "artists" and "soldiers." These must be respected equally, but they must be separated. Leaders must act as gardeners of both, and we must guide the members of the organization to look at themselves as part of a system and repeatedly ask "why" it's doing certain things and "how" to improve.
So I respond to the basic rules of what creates a loonshot and the prescriptive portions of the book. But the book is mostly narratives about loonshots from yesteryear. I would have preferred more about how to harness loonshots now and in the future.

I'm not sure why I didn't respond to the narratives in the book. I think it's just the writing. They seem to be written without much passion or flair. Rather, they're written to prove that a loonshot is indeed a real thing. But one question remains: Is it really?

Here's the deal. Around the same time I was reading this book, I was helping my AP English Language class understand common fallacies and see if we ever subscribe to fallacious thinking. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a fallacy that, in essence, is faulty causality. Just because B follows A, it doesn't mean A caused it.

In every narrative in Loonshots, Bahcall goes back in history to prove that loonshots caused this incredible event in history. Madness! How in the world could a non-defined term — loonshots in this case — cause a major historic event in retrospect? Couldn't we do that with any selected historic events and prove pretty much any theory?

To me, books need to seek truth more than anything else, and I'm not sure Loonshots really does that. However, I must say that the world is so desperate for new ideas on creativity and innovation that we'll take Loonshots. We need more and more ideas on innovation, but we need to look forward, not to the past.

Friday, November 22, 2019

It's easy to empower with $104 billion

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. The Moment of Lift (2019) by Melinda Gates came from a former student of mine, Steven Chang.

I must admit that I hesitated to read The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates because she and her husband, Bill, have an obscene net worth of $104 billion, according to Business Insider. Mathematically, the average American spending $1 is equivalent to Bill or Melinda spending $1.06 million.

So while it certainly is beneficial to have the Gates Foundation with a $50 billion endowment (the largest in the world), I do not believe the foundation addresses the real problem here —wealth distribution. For God's sake, the Gates family is second only to Amazon's Jeff Bezos with personal wealth and has the GDP of the 83rd biggest country in the world, edging Croatia, Panama and Lithuania. Wacky!

So I tried my best to leave my wealth-distribution knowledge in the background, and I will give credit to Melinda Gates for coming out with an important book with various salient issues brought to the forefront.

I can't complain, nor can anyone really, about the Gates Foundation's efforts to rectify sewage problems in Africa and India. But doesn't philanthropy lose something when it's broadcast by one's self? I guess the point of writing about this is to educate the reader on what is happening in parts of the world in which they are oblivious, so I say, "Uh, thanks, I guess."

What I respond to most in Gates' book is Chapter Five, "The Silent Inequality: Unpaid Work." Why is it that in many families, both parents work, but then the woman does the lion's share of the child rearing and house work? Why aren't there more conversations on this?
If we really want to change the world, doesn't it start in our own home? I love Melinda Gates' anecdote that she needed Bill to take their kid to school sometimes, and so he did. Then, other dads did that, too, because, well, they wanted to see Bill Gates.

If men are truly leaders, they must lead in the home with a fair division of labor. It is powerful when men embrace their nurturing side. I see house work as a manifestation of love, but I worry that men don't see it that way. And, then, the woman undoubtedly picks up the slack, and the home remains the root of inequality.

So that chapter was a home run. I also can relate to Melinda Gates' background as a Catholic. The book is readerly enough to be a page turner. But I must say that I just couldn't help it — thoughts of wealth distribution repeatedly crept into my mind throughout the read.

It would be nice if the Gates corporation did even more for the United States and lead the charge on systemic economic change. No one can debate that a lot of the information in The Moment of Lift is on the mark, but the fact remains that a net worth of $104 billion is obscene.

Let's hope the next Gates book is on wealth distribution, but I highly doubt that's going to happen.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The power of awareness and compassion

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. Friend and former colleague at the Long Beach Press-Telegram Don Jergler recommended Parenting from the Inside Out and The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel. I realized that Siegel had a newer book out called Aware (2018), and I read that one.

The epigraph to Aware could not be more fitting: "A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension."
— Oliver Wendall Holmes

Aware has a zillion deep concepts in it, and it has two subheads: The Science and Practice of Presence and The Groundbreaking Meditation of Practice. There is A LOT in the book! The best way I can describe it as a scientific approach to mediation and the mind, and it clears up misconceptions of how the brain works. I found the book absolutely fascinating and highly recommend it.

However, I do not respond to the book's central premise, something called "The Wheel of Awareness." I do respond to most of the ideas within the wheel, but I just don't see awareness as fitting into this illustration. Maybe it's a mental block; I just don't buy the wheel.

I do subscribe to the three basic tenets connected to the wheel that have multiple health benefits, including immune function, cardiovascular factors and neural integration. Those three tenets are: focused attention, open awareness and kind intention.

By soaking in Aware, it helped me rotate my thought patterns out of a constant dialogue to more openness, calmness and just being in the moment. Granted, I'm a novice when it comes to meditation and these type of ideas, but I gained a lot from the book.
Why is it that we practice dental hygiene but not mental hygiene? My 12-year-old daughter calls this "mental maintenance" and says it's common sense. Maybe. But this Polack missed that lesson and is finally realizing it in his 40s.

If we have perceived enemies, which I don't really have, or difficult people or maybe politicians we don't like, I love the idea of putting positive thoughts toward them. When we have negativity toward them, it only really hurts ourself. Compassion and empathy likely have actual, physical health benefits as well as emotional and mental ones.

Scientists often stay away from examining the health benefits of love, but I know those benefits are there. Dan Siegel, AKA "Dance Eagle," touches upon that as well as explaining how we must embrace our emergent self, our ever changing self.

He writes about so many interesting things that it's hard to give his book justice in this write-up, but his idea that energy is the movement from possibility to actuality, or the the throwaway quote from a professor that "insight and understanding only move forward when we have the courage to be wrong" also struck me.

I must admit that some stuff in the book flew right over my head, and I felt that the last few chapters kind of did that. But I still walk away from Aware feeling a sense of clarity and with permission to shift my attention and focus and continue to be awed by the amazement of life and human beings.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Activism can be pleasurable

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. When I did a training on restorative justice, our facilitator recommended Emergent Strategy (2017) by Adrienne Maree Brown. I read that as well as Brown's Pleasure Activism (2019) and will be focusing on the later because it is newer.

Women and film.

Oh, man, I am embarrassed with how I arrived at that women's studies class at Ohio State. I figured, "Great! Women and film are two things I love. I'm in!"

Little did I anticipate, but when I showed up for the first class, there were only six males and about 40 females. At least, that's the math I did back then without an inkling of what gender identity even was. Three of the males dropped, so I was one of only three men in the class. It was not what I imagined. We did not watch Cinemax.

I learned a lot in the women's studies course 25 years ago about things that weren't even close to being on my radar. I remember exploring the male gaze, the white male perspective and stereotyping in various film genres. I busted my tail in the class, like I had something to prove, but maybe just me being there was an education in itself.

I certainly am not on the pulse of current gender or lesbian theory or where women's studies is in 2019, but I am open to it. So it was quite a pleasure to read Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown.

Brown defines pleasure activism as asserting that "we all need and deserve pleasure and that our social structures must reflect this. In this moment, we must prioritize the pleasure of those most impacted by oppression."
With pleasure activism, we seek to understand and learn the mistakes from political and power dynamics connected to what gives us pleasure. By tapping into the potential goodness in ourselves, we can generate justice and liberation. We are trying to make justice and liberation more pleasurable.

OK. That all makes sense to me. Sold!

This will sound stereotypical, and it is. BUT ... when I was in the women's studies class 25 years ago, I took a lot of seemingly random heat from angry lesbians. Yes, I am a white male, and maybe I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes. But at least I was in the class. I was seeking to understand.

Now, 25 years later, the climate has changed immensely and has progressed. The rage may have subsided. Gender differences and various orientations are more accepted in society. Maybe many are partaking in pleasure activism, whether they realize it or not.

My only critique with Pleasure Activism is that it has an "everything and the kitchen sink" feel. There are so many interviews, essays and even silly stuff that I wonder if it could have been edited a bit more.

I was absolutely positively blown away, and sickened actually, by the recounting of survivor Amita Swadhin and her experience. I could hardly muster reading the details of what she went through because it was one of the most raw and horrific things I've ever read. Including that in the book had enormous value to me.

But then a few pages later, we had a homage to Beyonce. I respect the Queen Bee, and I guess it could have served as a way to change the mood, but I was still reeling from Swadhin's story.

I commend Brown for her honesty, vulnerability and intimacy throughout the book, and I do see some things differently now. Some stuff that sticks with me is what consent actually means and how it works and how the binary approach to gender is outdated. There also was such a range of people interviewed and included that it was refreshing for me to see perspectives that I often don't see.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Americans: Can they handle the truth?

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. OK, how this recommendation happened is a little weird. Michiko Kakutani's name jokingly came up in a shoddy review about David Sedaris. I had been wanting to read The Death of Truth (2018), and my wife said, "Just read it then."

Michiko Kakutani. Wow.

For anyone familiar with the name, I bet you have a similar reverence as I do. She was the longtime chief book critic of The New York Times and retired two years ago. Then, she wrote The Death of Truth, which examines truth in the Trump era in a scholarly yet accessible and captivating read.

At one point in the book, Kakutani conjectures how Trump's tweets could be printed and bound and become part of presidential history. That might very well happen, but I believe her book is more of an accurate portrayal of truth. Her book certainly is more truthful than the president's non-realistic and hyperbolic tweets.

The one thing about the Trump era that I cannot stand is the utter division seen in cable news, how people converse and animosity toward "the other side." No doubt, The Death of Truth is an indictment of Trump, but it is objective, fairly reported and takes us through the history of what got us here that is both accurate, fair and the truth. Furthermore, I reject the premise of our country's perceived division. There is no "other side" in my mind.

I found many aspects of Kakutani's book fascinating. Perhaps at the top of the list is how critical theory, stuff I studied in college from Derrida and Baudelaire, helped pave the way to the relativism of the Trump world. If we deconstruct a text so much to say that it has no objective truth, or that it's all subjective, then that path can take the idea of truth too far, to a place that is meaningless.
Trump and his strategy team have done what the postmodernist critical theorists did — to obscure and discount basic truth. But then Kakutani also looks at fascism and how Naziism rose, and it's eerily similar to Trump's rise. Mind you, this is not a knee-jerk liberal reaction. This is supported by legitimate texts and history. This is Michiko freaking Kakutani. How more legitimate of a source could there really be?

At one point, Kakutani calls Trump a symptom of the current political, economic and technological climate as well as an accelerator of it. Perhaps we all should have seen something like this coming, but I guess technology worked so fast that we wouldn't have realized the advent of fake news sites, fake posts, accounts on Facebook created by Russia and how Google's searches tailor themselves to the actual searcher based on his/her data.

In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman (who I once briefly met in his Greenwich Village apartment around 1996) pointed out how the "electric plug" rendered our cultural discourse inconsequential. Our discourse would now be "simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical and noncontextual; that is to say, information packaged as entertainment."

This was back in '85, and it's in the epilogue of Kakutani's much-needed book. The electric plug, which Postman meant as TV, has become so strong that it put a reality TV star in the White House, and then he continues with the show daily. Practically all sources of information nowadays are entertainment based; I hardly see any depth to the typical American's daily discourse.

Maybe I'm a dreamer. Maybe I'm naive. I am hoping that soon the American collective conscientious realizes that truth is more important than power and that in the end, truth wins out. Of course, best case scenario, it may take years for the country to get back on a non-corporate, democracy path. Maybe we are too far gone at this point. But, heck, what is life, if we cannot dream?

Monday, November 18, 2019

We live in the Fantasy-Industrial Complex

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. My friend Matt Gailey, a Cleveland native now in San Diego, recommended Fantasyland (2017) by Kurt Andersen.

If we truly examine it, Donald Trump's election makes perfect sense because the United States has been blending politics, news, infotainment, corporate money and madness for at least the past 40 years.

We are living in a world of constant corporate fantasies — or "Fantasyland," AKA the Fantasy-Industrial Complex as Kurt Andersen calls it.

Andersen walks us through our country's relationship with over-the-top fantasies from 1517 to current times. Some of the highlights include the Salem Witch Trials, P.T. Barnum, Mormonism and other religions created in the United States, Ronald Reagan and the X Files.

Fantasyland is a pop culture smorgasbord that repeatedly goes back to the thesis that the United States always has been a land of dreamers, hucksters, conmen and naive followers. The state of affairs today coupled with technology is in alignment with our history.
Once I soaked in Fantasyland, I saw my surroundings in a new light. When I'd see groups of kids on phones, I got it — part of the fantasy. When I looked at CNN and Fox News for comparison, I saw the fantasy — each's slanted narrative to lure viewers. When I was chatting with a friend during a hike and said, "We have more stories about TV than what we've actually done," we acknowledge Fantasyland. Then after the hike, I checked my fantasy football lineup.

So, yes, I concur with Andersen's thesis. But now what? Or better yet... so what?

Fantasyland did indeed make a much-needed point and had a zillion examples to support it, but where does that leave us? In the final pages, Andersen writes about the importance of making America reality-based again. OK, true, but what in detail does that entail?

To me, it goes back to previous books promoted in 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. Dark Money by Jane Mayer comes to mind as does Born on Third Base by Chuck Collins. Digging just slightly deeper, the reason we are in the Fantasy-Industrial Complex is that it makes corporate BANK.

Disney, the NFL, ESPN, WWE, CNN and any other entertainment entity that comes to mind is there because fantasies can be commodified on a mass scale in the 21st century. It's been that way for quite some time; some might argue it started with the printing press. Now, with all the tech and options, we find ourselves in the Fantasy-Industrial Complex.

So the fact that America is living in a fantasy world is less about the mindset of the individuals than the scope of media, but that is my view. Andersen takes more of a stance that it's on the individual, who needs to weed through the fakery and find the reality. OK. That's fine. But isn't the bigger issue that fantasies constantly are packaged as reality for corporate profit and that the lines of reality deliberately are blurred for bigger profits?

In the end, I recommend Fantasyland but with reservations. It's repetitive. It could go deeper and stray from its thesis to become the indictment of corporate infotainment that would be more on the mark in my eyes. In other words, it could focus more on the present and potential future than so much on the history.

I would have liked to see Andersen examine himself more. Finally, on page 433, as Fantasyland is about to end, he brings up his upbringing in Nebraska. His inner search lasted a whole three paragraphs before he went on to explain the logic of his agnosticism.

Ah. There it is. The hidden thesis! The Fantasy-Industrial Complex has created a world of constant phone users, screen time gone awry and a reality TV star as president. How has this happened?

Well, perhaps the main reason is it keeps individuals from searching inward and analyzing themselves. I believe this corporate fantasy world would go in a better direction if individuals looked inward, understood who they are and then understand what they are watching or consuming. But it's easier to look at a TV or iPhone than one's self.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Is Twain down to earth or above us?

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. My friend Matt Kalinowski, a Portland resident and Southern California native, recommended Letters from the Earth (published in 1962 and written around 1909) by Mark Twain.

Mark Twain! I feel it's only fitting that this American icon makes the list. However, I must say that I had to "work through" Letters from the Earth. I skipped some parts and really am not sure I recommend the book.

Matt, I love you, man, but overall reading this was a chore. The easy part is that it was pretty short. Twain's diction may have been fitting for the time, but for me, it's just so wordy, verbose, roundabout, overdone. Eh, you get the point.

What I did like in Letters from the Earth is his theological critiques of Christianity. The problem is that I had some similar critiques when I was in elementary school. I believe questioning Christianity was practically taboo around the turn of the century, so perhaps Twain was innovative there. But where the book fits now, I'm not so sure.

It made me think of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and then I was thinking that I much preferred that book. But it was written in the 21st century.
Another strength of the book to me is the candid nature of Twain's words. Mind you, this was published posthumously in 1962, and readers during his lifetime could have revolved against his Christianity critiques. But he doesn't hold back.

Letters from the Earth was written between 1904-1909, a rough time for Twain. He was deeply in debt and had lost his wife and a daughter during that stretch. His other daughter, Clara Clemens, objected to the publication of the book in 1939, but she recanted and changed her position in 1960. The book was published shortly before her death in 1962.

Twain was a lifelong searcher and questioner and, of course, had a way with words. Letters from the Earth might have been blasphemous during his time, but 57 years after its publication, I do respect it, and it's good to know that some of the inconsistencies of Christianity were discovered and explored in America well before I figured some out in the '80s.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Ramsey explains keys to business leadership

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. A lifelong childhood friend and former Marine David Davis recommended EntreLeadership (2011) by Dave Ramsey.

"Leading by fear and anger is not leading."

That quote comes out during Dave Ramsey's book on business leadership called EntreLeadership. He goes on to explain that fear is an offshoot of ignorance, and I often get frustrated when I see leaders using fear and anger because the truth is that those leaders probably are ignorant themselves.

Ramsey's book is a page turner and worthwhile, and he is a popular radio host. But I had never heard of him. So, thank you Dave Davis, for the recommendation.

I was familiar with some of the leadership concepts in EntreLeadership, and one that stood out was what unity entails. Unity involves actual work, and I am not sure leaders often commit themselves to it. Ramsey also mentions five pitfalls to leadership, and those are poor communication, lack of shared purpose, gossip, unresolved disagreements and sanctioned incompetence.

Those five qualities ring true to me. In particular, unresolved disagreements and sanctioned incompetence hit me. If there is a problem that has never been resolved, I just see no way an organization can have genuine unity. Problems must be addressed and resolved, or we become a part of incompetence. When we enable incompetence, it diminishes the excellent work others do.
So many tidbits on leadership exist in Ramsey's book, and a lot of useful info comes in passing. One quote thrown in that I never heard came from Aristotle. It was: "There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing and be nothing."

My main point is that Ramsey's leadership stuff is legit, but for me, personally, I found the business stuff more telling and useful because I just don't know much about the business world. It's a void in my knowledge. I do know that to make it, one has to hustle, work hard and devote themselves to their career.

I have done that with writing and education as they are passions of mine, and I assume that others have that passion in business. Or do they? I wonder for how many people in the business world, if it truly is a passion, or if they are just trying to survive.

This idea popped up in Ramsey's nuts-and-bolts chapters on legal matters, salaries, health coverage, etc. One line that he said was that if a worker is in a company for the employee matching of the 401K or a secure salary, he wouldn't want that worker. Now, I understand the importance of being hungry in the workplace and producing, but the overall culture for workers nowadays is not what I think it should be.

I also learned that Ramsey's employees pay for their own health insurance, but his company does put in $75 for it. This is no problem with Ramsey; it is the reality for many businesses. I take for granted my full health coverage through my school district. I feel sorry for business owners, like Ramsey, and workers, who have to devote so many resources to health coverage.

So through it all, I believe one message I could give anyone entering the business world would be this: Figure out how to learn and be an owner, not a worker. Easier said than done. But it's such a tough world out there that I find it hard to have a meaningful quality life with so much time devoted to salaries without health coverage, pensions or even a matching 401k.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The best leaders are voracious readers

I ran across a cool quote the other day from actor/comedian Bryan Callen: "The difference between the people you admire and everybody else is that (the people you admire) are the people who read."

We certainly can apply that to leadership, too. I have found that good leaders are constant truth seekers, voracious readers and people you can learn from — sometimes in brief exchanges.

Of course, a mountain of leadership books stand tall in the marketplace, and I have whittled those to my 10 favorite. I'm always open to more and more books, so feel free to email me and recommend me ones that you love.

Here are 10 leadership books for 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend:

1. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002) by Patrick Lencioni
2. Multipliers (2010) by Liz Wiseman
3. Ego Is the Enemy (2016) by Ryan Holiday
4. A More Beautiful Question (2014) by Warren Berger
5. Crucial Conversations (2002, 2012 edition) by Kerry Patterson, et. al.
6. Conversational Capacity (2013) by Craig Weber
7. Leadership on the Line (2002) by Marty Linsky
8. Good to Great (2001) by Jim Collins
9. This Fight Is Our Fight (2007) by Elizabeth Warren
10. Positive Deviance (2010) by Richard Pascale, et. al.

Voila! This project is 90 books into it, and we move onto our final category tomorrow — books recommended by readers. The good news about this category is that the books are fresh in my mind, so I might have even more insightful things to say. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

Even though the pace of this project has been a bit wild for this writer, I have enjoyed doing it. I hope readers use it as a resource or consider checking out some of these books. On the flip side, I also believe we do not have time for books that aren't worth our time. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The key to innovation: Positive deviants

Problem solving. Is problem solving truly taught, or learned, in the schools?

I've been deliberately giving my students difficult assignments and watching how they handle them. It's fascinating. Most go to Google within five minutes. Others go to others within that time, and many just give up immediately, turn something in and hope it's graded on "effort." But, uh, I watched, and for many, I saw no effort.

Every so often, I see actually talking, deliberating, collaboration. Some students do that well, but they only do it with friends they know and trust. They are focused on the problem itself, not the outcome, nor the grade, nor the perception of what they did. These kids are deviants!

In The Power of Positive Deviance by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin, we see how nearly all problems that societies or organizations face can be solved from within. It takes positive deviance to do this. When the culture of a society or organization is not working, or not thriving how it should, there typically are deviants who thrive no matter what. Just like there are actual problem solvers in schools, no matter what. A key to leadership is to figure out who those positive deviants are and harness what they got. A key to life is to be a positive deviant, when the culture doesn't match healthiness and improvement.

The Power of Positive Deviance (2010) defines what that is exactly and then examines seven examples in the world, including Vietnam, Egypt, Uganda and more, to see it in action. The problem, I see, in the United States is that there is so much static, division and diversion that many can't even agree what the central problems are. So true leaders make that judgement, even when outvoted, and move forward.
The odd thing about positive deviance is the word "deviance." The term "deviant" typically has a negative connotation. But the term is accurate because someone who does something outside of the culture is indeed a deviant. Many times, we assume that's a criminal act or that it's wrong. But often times, the positive deviants are the answer.

Why is it that under the same circumstances, some people thrive but others are miserable? What is the secret sauce? What is the difference?

Problems can be solved from within, and that applies to individuals and communities. What behaviors are critical, and what is sustainable?

It turns out that we live amid many, many success stories, and one key to leadership is to tap into those stories and have them spread. Those success stories typically are coming from positive deviants.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Warren should appeal to Republicans

When I planned out 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend this past summer, I knew that This Fight Is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren would be on the list. However, I strive to keep this blog apolitical, and so I had minor reservations.

From a purely centrist American view, this book belongs on the list because it displays true leadership and promotes a vision of America that both Democrats and Republicans would agree, if they only took the time to be open-minded and read it.

Warren — and Bernie Sanders — are portrayed as "leftists" by both Democrats and Republicans on corporately owned networks and media. One reason they get that label is that they repeatedly attack corporations, and because the corporations have so much power, their factual assertions of a highjacked democracy by corporations must be "out there." Another reason they get that label is that political conventions call it "left" when there is talk of cutting down special interests in government and focusing on individuals.

But isn't the whole point of our democracy is that it is for the people? I would argue that our democracy has pretty much been off the rails since at least 1980. Isn't it each citizen's job to fight for democracy? Isn't it true that in many ways, our government plays second fiddle to corporate interests?

So, in Warren's This Fight Is Our Fight, she focuses on our time's biggest issue — the death and struggles of the middle class. Now, Warren has been focused on this issue for the past 20 years, and she has also written The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Families Are Going Broke (2004), All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan (2006) and The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Families Are (Still) Going Broke (2016).
By the time we get to This Is Our Fight, we should realize that the system is broken — but not hopeless. The typically family needs two incomes, works its butts off and lives paycheck to paycheck. It is a major step backward from pre-1980 where there were more single-family wage earners than not, and those families had more savings, pensions and less debt.

I still believe in the American Dream, but what exactly is that? At last look, we had 607 billionaires in the United States out of 329 million people. So mathematically, it's ridiculous to believe you can be a billionaire. But, honestly, being a millionaire, with an M, should be possible for Americans who sacrifice, work hard, become educated and understand finance.

In her book and campaign, Warren repeatedly singles out the root of 21st century problems — wealth distribution. No doubt. We can trace wealth distribution and see that it negatively impacts the healthcare system, education, politics, opioid use and the lion's share of society's ills.

Sure, it would be great if Warren became the next president. But more important, we need all Americans, Democrats and Republicans, to stand up to the billionaire system of government and get a tax system that helps more than just the elite. And for God's sakes, let's hope we never elect another billionaire for any office and return to a government run by the people. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Good enough isn't good enough

When a conversation about leadership books ensues, Good to Great by Jim Collins often pops up, and I had been hearing about it so much that I had to check it out. Solid. A page-turner. Yes, it is part of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend.

However, unlike the other books in this leadership category, I find it hard to remember. I think that's because there are A LOT of points in Good to Great, and it's not as simple, or specialized, as some of the other books.

First of all, organizations must be brutally honest with themselves. A company's bread and butter can change, especially now with rampant technology, so a company must understand its exact place in the marketplace. Easier said than done.

Steal. There always are better organizations out there, so when relevant, I say analyze what the competitions is doing and do it better. Simplicity also is critical. Companies need to follow three key questions: 1) What can I do best? 2) What makes money? 3) What ignites my passion?

Another key in the book is to stop doing anything that does not align to the company's mission. Prioritize. If leaders find themselves wasting time on irrelevant actions or tasks, that needs to end. Yes, that is obvious. But I see it happening all the time with seemingly well-intentioned leaders.
Some of what is in Good to Great (2001) applies to leadership anywhere, including public schools, but some doesn't. One glaring irony about leadership in traditional public schools is that because there is no pressing need for a profit, leadership can be harder.

I used to think it would be easier, or should be easier, to lead in schools because leaders would only have to do what's best for students and have the green light to innovate, innovate, innovate. That's not always the case.

In the 21st century, the marketplace drove innovation among companies, and schools typically have no incentive or wherewithal to improve. I believe public education has hope, but elements of it are like the health-care industry. We all know things in the system are not efficient, and sometimes cruel, but the system has become too big for easy fixes.

Another irony in public schools is that because the stakes are so low for the workers, that everything becomes a big deal. The pay is standard in schools based on time served, yet there are small things workers can do for a little extra — such as coaching and some specialized roles. But, financially, it's not significant. Ironically, all of this stuff becomes a big deal, even though logically and mathematically, it is insignificant.

Where the stakes are higher with for-profit companies is where organizations truly must understand Collins' book to improve. Companies that cannot be honest with themselves and cannot do something better than the competition are doomed.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Leaders embrace adaptive challenges

When I obtained a master's in education and a credential in California school administration at Cal State Dominguez Hills, the first book assigned was Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky.

I don't think it's possible to leave Dominguez's program without understanding the concept of "getting on the balcony." If anything ever gets hairy in leadership, one key tactic is to go on the balcony, look at the big picture, soak it in and then make a decision.

Too often, leaders get hung up on details or lose sight of the organization's goals, so critical mistakes can be made. A true leader not only survives with difficult situations, but thrives.

Perhaps the bigger lesson of Leadership on the Line (2002) is that leaders face two distinct issues — technical problems and adaptive challenges. Often, these two issues are misdiagnosed or not understood. A technical problem is something that can be solved by experts, while an adaptive challenge requires new learning.

I immediately was drawn to adaptive challenges because I believe those are more difficult in which savvy leaders are crucial. Schools face both issues, and I've gotten frustrated with schools failing to understand and address adaptive challenges. If, or when, I plunge into school leadership, I can't wait to tackle adaptive challenge, but first things first, building a strong functioning team is the actual first step.
In addition to getting on the balcony and seeing the distinction between technical problems and adaptive challenge, other keys that come out in Leadership on the Line are that we must constantly build relationships, orchestrate conflict, delegate while helping and then hold steady.

These basics are the trunk to the leadership tree. One thing I have noticed is that in high-profile leadership positions, a leader's personal or personality issues are on display for all. So a truly strong leader accepts this and commits to constant self-improvement. If not, then the individual will stay stagnant, as will the organization.

It's been a fun ride for me since I read this book, earned another master's and qualified myself to be a California public-school administrator. I have grown more than I imagined and am feeling happier than ever.

For anyone who has been on a strong functioning team, it feels exhilarating. Unfortunately, if you happen to be on a weak functioning, well, that can be draining. For all team members, remember: "Get on the balcony!"

Friday, November 8, 2019

How do we build conversational capacity?

When I was younger, I used to think "conflict" was a negative thing. Why can't we just get along here? Why do we have to fight here?

Oh, man, I had major misconceptions on what conflict even was, and looking back, it held me back. Conflict is critical to organizations, and even for families, to grow, but in order to embrace healthy conflict, one must be skilled with how to handle it.

Conversational Capacity by Craig Weber is an excellent book that offers skills and ideas on how to value and embrace conflict while building team and growing.

It's not as if anyone can read Conversational Capacity (2013) and be a maestro with business conversations, building teams and addressing conflict. However, Weber does offer a lot of food for thought and skill building. For me, it changed my mindset with how to approach work conversations. I am more intentional and will help guide conversations to where I perceive it is meant to be. Of course, my perceptions sometimes can be off, but heck, at least I am trying.
One of my favorite chapters in Conversational Capacity is titled "Intentional Conflict: Why Good Intentions are Never Enough." It's about how many participants in conversations either minimize issues or "try to win" conversations, and so that keeps the conversation out of its sweet spot where things can progress. Minimizing and trying to win are progress killers. If we continue with that, organizations and ourselves remain static.

Why do so many people hate meetings? Why did I used to hate them?

Well, many participants in meetings do not have any training on how to run them or how to contribute. Maybe we think it's common sense, but it really isn't. I believe it is reasonable to focus on "how to run and contribute to successful meetings" for 5 percent of an organization's meeting time. Usually, it's zero percent. (By the way, I also recommend Patrick Lencioni's book Death by Meeting, but I already have a Lencioni book on this list. So I did not officially recommend it in this project.)

Anyway, back to Conversational Capacity, I highly recommend it because I believe conversational skills must continually be worked on, especially in professional settings. The first step with improvement typically is an honest and real conversation.