So here are my nonfiction picks for the year. And remember, there is only one more day for free super saving shipping on Amazon.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Daniel Pink argues that much of what we think about why people do things is actually wrong. Citing research and case studies on human motivation, he shows that our carrot and stick approaches are often counterproductive.
It’s Gladwell-ish, with complicated studies related as fascinating stories. And it really represents new paradigms of human motivation. Any parent, teacher, coach, pastor, or boss would find this an important book. Download the first chapter here.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
Seth Godin’s short but important business book is not about management but about leadership. Like Drive, it turns traditional models on their heads. Yes, connecting people and ideas with leaders is essential, and technology offers new ways to do this.
But the book is more about confronting your fear of criticism or failure in order to serve others with your gifts and passions. He says, “The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.”
His style is simple, even chunky and repetitive, by the way. Nothing notable about the literary style, but a lot can be said for the content.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
If you enjoyed any of Gladwell’s books (Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers etc.), you will like Chip Heath’s entertaining and practical guide to effective communication. Essentially it is a book about story telling as a way to make ideas “sticky,” or memorable.
All stories are not equal, of course, and his examples of how to make them concrete, simple, credible and surprising are clear and compelling. If you want to be more interesting, read this book. Or if you know someone who you wish were more interesting, buy it for them. Here is chapter one.
In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed (Plus)
When Canadian journalist Carl Honore was tempted to read “one-minute bedtime stories” to his son, he set out to research the “slow movement.” I wrote several blog posts on this earlier in the year, largely inspired by this book.
He makes a convincing case that speed is a cultural addiction, examining ways this is being challenged by local food, home schooling and other practices. Just as a warning, there is a chapter on tantric sex and sometimes the whole thing feels a little new age-ish. So before you buy it for others, make some judgment about their maturity.
You can always slow down without reading this book. But in an age where children grow up too soon and everyone eats too fast, it could be a starting point for thinking differently about this problem. Or you could just reread my blogs.
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Vintage International)
I enjoyed Alain de Botton’s book so much I ordered another one for Christmas. For myself. A sort of everyday philosopher, in Pleasures he looks at 10 different industries from the inside out, examining why we work and what makes it worthwhile. Again, the narrative style makes this readable. But it is his broad knowledge of art, culture and history that makes this my favorite read this year.
He says, “It has become as impossible for us to think that you could be out of work and happy as it had once seemed impossible for Aristotle to think that you could be employed and human.” This satisfaction with work is an essential message of Ecclesiastes, I believe. And one that is much misunderstood and important to embrace. Start reading here. Look for the little green box that says Kindle, read first chapter free. You don’t have to have a kindle—it will open on your computer.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
Crawford quit a miserable think tank job to find joy and meaning as a motorcycle mechanic. But this book goes beyond his story, to examine the lack of respect in our culture for those skilled in the manual arts. He is (justly) concerned about this in every regard, from education to economics.
It’s somewhat divergent, and I wish he hadn’t felt a need to defend off-color jokes, but his respect for the value of working with your hands is rare and provocative. He challenges the assumptions we make about the need for everyone to have a college education. A cubicle farm might be a lot less satisfying than a real one. Software support might come from India, but they can’t unplug your drain.