2014 Books

What books did you read this year? What were your favorites?

December 17, 2014
The only reason that I can share with you every book that I read in 2014 is that every book that I read was downloaded. Amazon makes it relatively easy (although not easy enough) to generate a list of all the Kindle and Audible books that have been purchased in a year.   The reason that I’m sharing this list is that unless I write about what I have read I will forget about what I have read. Grouping the books in categories also helps.
Mostly, I am curious about what you read in 2014. What books did we both read? What books did you read and that you loved? How do you choose your books, and how has this process changed? What format do you buy and read your books?  How much of your information budget is taken up by books vs. other streams such as video, social media, podcasts, and magazines?   
The books that I read in 2014:
Higher Education and Learning Science:
The best overview of American higher education written in the last decade. Every Ph.D. student should be issued a copy upon arriving on campus.
This book made me re-think what I thought about both the public K-12 system and teacher’s unions. A must read for every educator, every parent, and really anyone who cares about the future of primary and secondary education in the U.S.  Another nomination for the best book of 2014.
Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz
You know, I just don’t buy it. Read the book and decide for yourself, but the college students (and almost college students) that I know are curious and fierce.   
Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown
How We Learn by Benedict Carey
I’m putting the Brown and Carey books together because they are both about learning, because I read them together, and because they are both excellent. If I were to choose between the books I’d probably sart with Make It Stick, as it lays an strong empirical and theoretical foundation to the science of learning. How We Learn reinforces the points in Brown’s book, while offering some good practical advice for how to (and how not to) improve our learning.  Both books should be read and discussed in your local Teaching and Learning Center.
A surprisingly good book about the pressures facing U.S. postsecondary education, and the potential of new technologies to re-work long-held (and perhaps outdated) practices and structures.
I’m about a two-thirds of the way through this 948 page, 41.5 hour masterpiece.  What convinced me to finally tackle this wonder of a book?  Two reasons: 1) Hearing Doris Kearns Goodwin speak at EDUCAUSE.  She is brilliant, funny, and full of great stories.  2) The fact that the book is available in WhisperSync format, meaning that I can seamlessly go back and forth between e-book and audiobook.  What are you reading over vacation?
An excellent book, even for those who think they already know the computer, software and internet creation story.  Isaacson puts it (almost) all together, and in doing so helps us understand how the digital age emerged and under what conditions innovation is most likely to thrive.  In the running for the best book of 2014.
A beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated book on the innovations and inventions that created the modern world.  Steven Johnson is always terrific.  Will the companion PBS series be available for full episode streaming? 
Ever wondered why you now work in a open office, why your Dad worked in an office with a door, and why his Dad maybe did not work in an office at all?  Cubed is one of those terrific books that combines history with sociology and economics to explain the modern arrangements (in this case our office life) that we too often take for granted as permanent and unchanging.  Another best book of 2014 nomination.
The best overlooked book of 2014.  About 1-in-4 of the people I meet would rather ride a train than drive or fly.  We would choose Amtrak, even if going by rails is slower and more expensive than other options.  Dartmouth College MALS (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) graduate Tom Zoellner goes on train adventures on every continent.  He explains why U.S. passenger rail service is so terrible compared to everywhere else in the world.  Every train person should read this book.
I grew up in Brookline MA, riding the T to Red Sox games at Fenway.  My love of trolleys and the subway has never left me.  If you also know all the words to the Charlie and the MTA Song then this is the book for you.  
If Gandhi really did respond to the question “What do you think of Western civilization?” with “I think it would be a good idea.” then Gandhi (and all of his followers - which is really all of us) should read Stark’s excellent book.  Your conclusions about the legacy of Western civilization may be different from Stark, but wherever your ideological leanings my lie it probably makes sense to know the arguments, facts, and trends.
Capital would be a better book if it were a shorter book, but it is still pretty great.  Piketty convincingly demonstrates why a market based economy, unchecked by redistributive policies, will inevitably result in the accumulation of capital and the rapid increase of wealth at the top end.  
Economics and Business: 
This book may have my vote for the best nonfiction book of the year.  Essential for anyone working in higher education who is worried about the impact of technology and globalization on employment and equality.
Will the shale gas revolution and new clean energy economies fundamentally re-make the U.S. economy?
If you are worried about your kids economic future you are probably worrying about the wrong things.  This is at least the argument that Joel Kurtzman makes, and I found his reasoning plausible and sound.  
Joffe’s book is a good companion to Kurtzman.  Joffe actually spends not much time talking about the strengths of the US, but lots of time talking about the weaknesses of everywhere else (especially China).  
The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr
I honestly wonder if Carr truly believes in his thesis.  He seems convinced that technologies are limiting our personal options, eroding our freedoms, and are causing us to disconnect from communities.  Yet, Carr is perfectly conversant with the latest technologies and the impact of technology on business and education.   It is good to read a critic who know what he is talking about, and although I found Carr’s arguments ultimately unpersuasive I recommend that you read this book and draw your own conclusions on its merits.
A book that will sort of freak you out about how the stock market really works.  Turns out that computers do most of the trading, and the game seems to be sort of rigged.  If I could take one class today it may be a Michael Lewis course on narrative nonfiction writing.
Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
The last Freak book, and the Steven’s go out with some style.  No academic / journalist pair has benefited so greatly from the popular economics nonfiction genre - a genre these two helped to create.  The fact that behavioral economics is now mainstream thinking is a great development that we should not take too much for granted.  Fans of this economics oeuvre should feel good in their decision to take one more spin around the block with the guys that helped start the discussion.
Most of what we thought we knew by reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail turns out to be wrong.  This is actually one of those books that I think higher ed decision makers need to read. The decision about where to invest scarce resources is one that every business (including not-for-profit higher ed) needs to make.  This book is a good guide to making those hard choices and tradeoffs, and every now and again we should look to adjacent industries for some lessons.
I recommend this book, but I didn’t really like it.  For my taste Taibbi is a bit too strident, a bit too lefty, and bit too critical of American society.  Maybe I’m just getting conservative in my middle age.  Still, there is no denying Taibbi’s passion and skill as a chronicler of U.S. economic and policy dysfunction.
Robert Bryce thinks that all of us dreaming of solar powered garages that will power our all electric automobiles are basically in fantasy land.  Those of us who love wind and solar are well meaning but misinformed.  According to Bryce, renewable energy simply does not have the energy density to compete with carbon based fuels.  Nuclear is better, but crazy expensive.  Our energy future will remain in natural gas, oil, and coal for the foreseeable future.  Someone with the analytical chops of Bryce needs to write a response.
A book that might inspire you to quit your job and become a material scientist.  
Big Picture Economics by Joel Naroff, Ron Scherer
A good balance to the narrow lens behavioral thinking that have dominated so much of our popular economics writing.  It is good sometimes to take a step back and to think about how the economy works as macro system.
If you think that your college or university is immune from the force of big bang disruption, think again.  A good book to give to presidents and trustees.
Harford uses the literary device of giving the reader control of the economy. Congratulations, you now get to make decisions that will determine if unemployment goes up, inflation goes down, and inequality increases.  This method makes for both an engaging read and an excellent overview of the fundamentals of macroeconomics.   
Big Data is certainly overhyped, but that doesn’t mean that big data is not important.  Every industry, including higher education, is moving towards a more data driven and evidence-based mode of decision making.  These two books provide an excellent starting point for a larger discussion about big data in higher ed, even if higher ed is seldom (if ever) mentioned in either.
Whatever you think about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline you will be amused and edified by this travel book along its route. 
If I ran HR I’d declare a one year hiatus on the annual performance review.  Instead, for this year, I’d have every employee, supervisor, and manager read and discuss this book.  We often can’t change the feedback we get, but we can change how we listen to and respond to this feedback.  
I love the Churchill quote:  “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  McArdle takes this lesson to heart in explaining why we should not judge our own success by our setbacks, but rather in how we respond and learn from adversity.  
Kidding Ourselves by Joseph T. Hallinan
An excellent synthesis of the literature on our cognitive and behavioral shortcomings.  
Sidetracked did more to help me feel better that I am not alone in too often going off course than in discovering ways to keep on track.  A worthy addition to the literature on why we should be careful not to overestimate our own abilities.
Influence: Science and Practice 5th Edition Robert B. Cialdini
The Small Big by Steve J. Martin, Noah Goldstein, Robert Cialdini
Anyone working in an organizational change capacity should be knowledgable about Cialdini’s and colleagues research on influence.   These two books cover similar ground, but do so with a diversity of stories and examples.   
Curious by Ian Leslie
Should curiosity be thought of as the most desirable trait in any job candidate? Should our colleges and universities first select for curious students?  Leslie is worried about what the web and smart phones are doing to curiosity, as he believes that easy answers and fast information are the enemy of deep pondering.  A good book for the techno-enthusiasts and techno-skeptics amongst us.  
An ambitious book on the dangers of data overload, and the strategies to thrive in our information economy.
Sociology and Political Science:
While I think Roberts’ is over negative about the consequences of technology on social life, I admire the skill and clarity in which he constructs his arguments.
If this book had been written while I was an undergraduate I may have decided to go to grad school in urban planning.  
A book that I would teach if I were teaching an upper division sociology or population course.  A data driven picture of our (mostly bright, and much more diverse) American future.
Every parent, would-be-parent, or relative of a parent should read this book.  A realistic portrait of the challenges, expenses, and rewards of raising kids. 
An excellent analysis of how family formation patterns are diverging by social class, and what this trends means for social and economic inequality.  No sociology major should get out of college without having read this book.
Kirn’s true-life account of his friendship with “Clark Rockefeller” is a cautionary tale of social class, social climbing, and willful blindness. 
How St. Petersburg, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Dubai anticipated and helped create our modern urban world.
Since reading this book I can drive my kids and spouse crazy at restaurants and supermarkets.  Ever thought that Indian food was about to take off?  (In Great Britain Indian restaurants are as ubiquitous as Chinese joints are in the US.  Have you made a bacon joke?  Stood in line at a cupcake store?  Remembered your (or your parents) fondue pot?  
The fact that all of us feel overwhelmed with the work / family juggle is not a surprise.  The fact that we have mostly created this overwhelm out of choice rather than necessity, and therefore can choose a different path, may be news.  Schulte does a great job of tracing the roots of the overwhelm, and in offering practical suggestions for creating some daylight in the juggle.
The story of America’s tacit one child policy is worthy of discussion and debate.  My population science training causes me to naturally align with Last and his concerns.  I’d be curious if you are as worried as us?  Read the book and let us know.
Zweig would argue that publishing a list of every book read in 2014 is an example of relentless self-promotion.  But then if I followed Zweig’s advice you may not hear of this fine and wise book.  A catch-22.  An excellent companion book to Susan Cain’s excellent 2012 Quiet.
This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral - Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! - in America’s Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich
While the rest of the country suffered through the great recession, Washington D.C. boomed.  It was a good time in the last two decades to be in the defense, intelligence, lobbying or government business.  Leibovich gives us an insider view of the party that was (until the sequestration) that was our nation’s capital.  Equal parts hilarious and depressing, a must read for any political junkie.
Slow Getting Up by Nate Jackson
Two excellent books on the world of pro football.  The books work well together, as Jackson gives the player’s point of view where Dawidoff acts as an embedded reporter within a team’s season.  Football fans, such as myself, will also come away from these books with a new appreciation of the brutality of the game that we so love.
A great book on the best TV ever created.
Did you know that there exists a world of small ship luxury cruising?  I didn’t.  Further, these ships will hire historians and authors to give talks along the journey.  How do we get one of these gigs?  
The Magician’s Land: A Novel (The Magicians Book 3) by Lev Grossman
The best novel of 2014 is fantasy book for adults.  Imagine that.  If you have not read this trilogy then you are in for a real treat.
Dear Committee Members: A novel by Julie Schumacher
The best academic farce of 2014.
The Peripheral by William Gibson
The Peripheral is one of those challenging reads that end up being the most enjoyable.  Gibson is required reading for anyone who wants to think clearly about the future.  
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer
The world needs more dark comedy techno-thrillers.  
The Burning Room (A Harry Bosch Novel Book 19) by Michael Connelly
Connelly’s police procedurals are reliably good.  Harry Bosch is reliably ill-tempered.  
Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book by Richard Ford
Maybe not as good as The Sportswriter and Independence Day, but still pretty great.  Terrible title.  Excellent novel.
I started reading this trilogy because it is set in NH.  I kept reading this trilogy because Winters’ main character, Detective Hank Palace, is one of the most interesting police officers to ever come out of the world of policy procedurals and doomsday novels.  
Influx by Daniel Suarez
Suarez’s best techno-thriller so date.
Kill Fee (A Stevens and Windermere Novel) by Owen Laukkanen
Criminal Enterprise (A Stevens and Windermere Novel) by Owen Laukkanen
The Professionals (A Stevens and Windermere Novel) by Owen Laukkanen
An enjoyable trilogy of amateur (but deadly) criminals, smart cops, and brave FBI agents.  
Providence Rag (Liam Mulligan) by Bruce DeSilva
I liked this mystery mostly because I went to grad school in Providence.  You will probably enjoy it also, no matter where you went to school.
Sniper’s Honor: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel (Bob Lee Swagger Novels Book 9) by Stephen Hunter
The kind of right wing gun nut book that even moderate democrat gun control advocates will enjoy reading.
California: A Novel by Edan Lepucki
A portrait of marriage, societal breakdown, and family ties following economic and social collapse.
Rogue Code: A Jeff Aiken Novel (Jeff Aiken Series Book 3) by Mark Russinovich
If you are not scared about what hackers could do to the economy, much less your own private information, you should be after reading Russinovich’s latest (and best yet) techno-thriller.
Big If: A Novel by Mark Costello
The novel to read if you are interested in the Secret Service.
I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller by Terry Hayes
A fast-paced and thoroughly absorbing thriller.
The Director: A Novel by David Ignatius
A  spy / techno thriller hybrid.  Ignatius gets the details right on both sides.
What are you reading?


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