The 5 Books I Read In January

And why I plan to read fewer books in February.

January 29, 2015
My wife Julie has taken to writing down the books she reads in a paper journal. By hand, with a pen, on paper. Weird. Only she sees the list.  
Her list contains basic information about the book. Title. Author. A one-liner about what the book is about. Her book list also includes her thoughts about what type of person would enjoy or dislike the book and why. For instance, she read Joyce Carol Oate’s novel Blonde (which she loved), and her comments read “not a beach book”, and “not a book for someone who would be discomforted floating between conspiracy, dream, and reality”.  
Wouldn’t it make more sense for Julie to keep her book lists online, and share her thoughts about the books she reads on the interwebs? She could use GoodReads.com. (I don’t, but she could). Or Julie could do the sensible thing and join our IHE community conversation about the books we are reading.
Now that January is almost over it is time to share the books we have been reading in this first month:
The Great Fragmentation is one of the books written for business types, not higher ed people, which is precisely why we should all read this book. Sammartino, an affable Australian marketing bloke / information economy thought spinner, has written a terrific eulogy for the industrial economy. He thinks that every legacy business needs to get rid of any process, system, and organizational structure that they would not put in place if they were starting today. Any business that does not act with the agility and flexibility of a startup will be made irrelevant. Reading The Great Fragmentation had me thinking about how higher ed is fragmenting. How would we set up our colleges and universities if we were creating them today?  
What cotton clothing are you wearing right now? Are the sheets on your bed cotton? Did you use paper money today? Have you given any thought where the cotton in your life comes from?  Are there old cotton mills near where you live? I drive by enormous mills each time I drive through Manchester NH, and until reading Empire of Cotton I never quite understood what these mills symbolize.  If oil and natural gas are the world’s most important commodities today, cotton deserved that title for from the industrial revolution until the start of the 20th century. It is impossible to understand the rise of capitalism, the tragedy of slavery, or the carnage of the Civil War without understanding cotton.  Through the story of cotton we can make sense of imperialism, industrialism, and the differentials in wealth across nations. The Empire of Cotton is an epic, brilliant, and totally mind-blowing book.  
Many of my higher ed friends are innovation people. We love innovation. We talk endlessly about innovation. (We don’t mention disruption anymore, that is not cool).  We love to talk about disciplined experiments. We think that we are doing such cool things help create tomorrow’s higher education. Maybe we are. But the innovations that we taking part in creating are nothing compared to what the world witnessed a mere 135 years ago. Edison may not have invented the light bulb, but he invented the electric industry. The shift from gas lamps to electric light bulbs took many years, but it would have not have occurred where and when it did without Edison’s genius for creating system (power stations, electrical lines, installed fixtures). Did you know that in the early days of electricity that the electrical company supplied not only the electrons, but the bulbs? Those of interested in creating what will come next in higher education can learn much from how Edison (and his colleagues and competitors) were able to finally displace the powerful incumbent gas companies. Now that was a fight.
It would be a mistake to start this novel if you have to be anywhere where you can’t keep reading. This book should be deconstructed by some elite publishing company CSI unit. I wonder if Paul Hawkins write e-mails that are this compelling. Shopping lists. Stay away from this book if you have any work to get done.
The Perfect Assassin by Ward Larsen
The Perfect Assassin had me at its title. We all need books that are as fun and undemanding at TV. Downtime books. The tale of an elite Israeli assassin falling in love, preventing a nuclear bomb, and basically being total awesome is my kind of book.  
What did you read in January?
What are you planning to read in February?
As for me, I plan to do less book reading in February as I plan to devote a few hours each week (for 6 weeks) to DART.ENVS.01.X, Introduction to Environmental Science on the edX platform. This is Dartmouth’s first DartmouthX open online at scale course, and the team that has put this course together has done so with a passion and a joy that has been amazing to witness.  


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