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My 10 Best Audio Nonfiction Books of 2010
December 20, 2010 - 8:45pm

Audiobooks have changed my life.

How often have we heard complaints that our students don't read enough? What if we figured out how to deliver all of the assigned readings in multiple formats - from paper to digital to audio? Why should education be exempt in an attention economy? Why do we think our students have any more time than we do?

Notice that in the list below for my 10 favorite audiobooks that I link to not to Audible (where I purchased the books), but to Audible's parent company Amazon. Going to is a terrific book browsing experience. A social experience, with excellent recommendations, reviews, and links to similar books. Going to is an atrocious book browsing experience. Like spending time at the Walmart book aisle. is as slow and kludgy and sterile as is quick and robust and dynamic. By all means become an Audible Platinum listener (and get your books for under $10), but be sure to let Amazon know that the website is long past its sell-by-date.

My 10 Best Audio Nonfiction Books of 2010:

1. The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu

If you read this book, and I hope that you do, please let me know where you think education fits into the larger category of information businesses. What can the history of the telegraph, telephone, radio, TV, movies and Internet teach us about higher ed? This question is become more acute as education become increasingly delivered over the same platforms (wires and devices) as entertainment.

2. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Mukherjee is one of those people who make us crazy. How can a working oncologist possess the talent to write so beautifully, and the energy to complete such a thorough and well-researched book? I happen to be married to a pediatric oncologist, and dinner table conversations often revolve around tumors and leukemia. This book hits close to (my) home, but given the incidence of cancer in our population we will all be touched by this disease sooner or later. An essential subject, brilliantly executed.

3. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

Do you look at your children and wonder if they will be better off than you? Will they find stable, challenging, and decent paying jobs? Will the cost of education, housing, and health care limit their options? I worry about these things. Taking the long-view, and the why's and the how's that the material standard of living has improved dramatically over the past couple hundred years is greatly reassuring. The forces that have increased and spread wealth and health since the industrial revolution will only accelerate in the digital age.

4. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

Understanding how ideas are born should be among the top concerns of people in the higher ed business. Johnson provides us with a map.

5. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz

I've built a career on the principles outlined in 'Being Wrong'.

6. False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World by Alan Beattie

In some parallel universe I'm an economic historian (and I can dunk a basketball), in this world I have to be content reading books as good as 'False Economy'. The chapter on why Argentina is not as rich as the U.S. is worth the price of admission all by itself.

7. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Don't read this book if you are happy with our higher ed status quo.

8. Sonic Boom: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the New Global Economy by Gregg Easterbrook

Great complement to Ridley's book. The future will be wealthier, but scarier. Easterbrook tells us why.

9. I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted by Nick Bilton

Bilton could have added "school" to his list of domains being disrupted by technology.

10. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

The 19th century, particularly the 2nd half the 19th century, sets the standard for progress and change. Born into a world of agriculture, home production, horse travel and kerosene lamps - our great great great grandparents witnessed the birth of the railroad, the automobile, the telephone, the radio, the airplane, and the factory. Bryson tells this story at ground level, through the eyes of the people who lived through a world remade, doing so without ever having to leave home.

What are you top 10 nonfiction books of 2010? What are you reading?


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