February Books

What did you read in our shortest month?

March 1, 2015
If I asked you to write down all the books you read in February, how would you go about constructing this list? My method is simple. I pull up my My Library on Audible and my Digital Orders on Amazon, do some cutting and pasting, and voila. 
My wife, who to my great confusion and bewilderment, continues to read only physical books. She would have a harder job of it. She gets books from all over the place, having not sold her book buying soul to He Who Must Not Be Named (aka Jeff Bezos).  
Where I can copy and paste, she needs to remember and reconstruct. Where I pay, she borrows. Where I only have “access” to my books, she owns. Where I can’t share my digital books, she is free to give away as she likes. 
I ask you, who is the smarter one when it comes to books?
My (easily constructed) February book list is below. What have you been reading?
Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate by Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries
This is the sort of book that sounds like it would be terrible, but in reality is actually quite good. We should always be on our guard when the people who work for a company write a book with the company’s name in the title. Sure, Zillow Talk does have some shameless self-promotion, but Rascoff and Humphries are always good natured about things - and it turns out that they have lots to say. These guys are sitting on top of the greatest real estate database of all time. They have the data to tell us what sorts of houses sell, how much they sell for, and why they sell.  They set out to write the Freakonomics of real estate, and they actually come pretty close.   
We read this book for the ELI Leadership Seminar that I co-facilitated last month in Anaheim. Pentland directs the MIT Media Lab, and is right in the middle of an amazing confluence of academic, entrepreneurial, and policy streams of energy.  To Pentland, organizations are engines for idea exchange. Successful organizations will maximize idea exchange. Stagnant organizations will impede their flow. Social Physics is a useful book to read if you are thinking about organizational change. How can you set-up your university to maximize collaboration and knowledge sharing across diverse groups on your campus?  This book would have been a better book if Pentland focused his framework on one industry (I’d nominate higher ed), as his theoretical frameworks and methodological advances are so advanced and numerous that practical take-aways are sometimes difficult to discern. Still, Social Physics is an excellent primer for bringing a new data rich lens (thank you mobile phone and cloud based computing) to organizational effectiveness.
Fans of Just Visiting, or anyone who wants to read a writer at the top of his game, should pick up John Warner’s latest book Tough Day for the Army: Stories. My favorite stories in this fine collection is Homosexuals Threaten the Sanctity of Norman’s Marriage and A Love Story, although there are other contenders. These two stories best capture, I think, Warner’s pitch-perfect ear for how we navigate our relationships (or fail to do so) in the face of the absurdities of much of modern life. Tough Day for the Army is a wise, and very funny, collection of stories. This is a book that you should not only buy for yourself, you give as a gift.
Gailbraith is skeptical about the prospects for economic growth at anywhere near the levels achieved prior to the Great Recession. He worries that resource depletion, and future energy costs, will limit improvements in productivity. The danger is not that technology will displace jobs. It will. The risk is that new technologies will fail to raise societal wealth fast enough to compensate for job losses by creating new opportunities. Fast job erosion and uneven growth will exacerbate economic stratification. Is Gailbraith correct? The answer is probably unknowable, as the well-being of the future middle class will depend mostly on political decisions, and less on resource depletion or technological process. The End of Normal is a good book, but it could have been a better book if Gailbraith grounded his economic arguments more firmly in policy decisions and debates.
“Economic history is the queen of the social sciences." How could you not love a book that starts with that quote? Questions of why some countries are rich and some countries are poor, and how we got to where we are, are amongst the most important to ponder. This book is part of the Oxford University Press series called (appropriately enough) Very Short Introductions.  Can you recommend a nonfiction book with "concise" or "very short" in its title? I love these books.   
We all need books that are as relaxing to read as watching TV. Books that don’t take a ton of brain power, but are distracting and enjoyable. My goal is to watch less Netflix and Hulu by reading more low-mental energy but high quality fiction. Red Rising perfectly meets this goals.  Brown does a good job of transporting us out of our world and to his.  Written in a way that will easily translate to screen, I’m looking forward to being mentally drained enough to download the 2nd book in the trilogy.
Your turn. What books have you been reading in our shortest month?
Any books to recommend to our IHE community?


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