The Road to Character
, by David Brooks1
The insightful New York Times columnist2
examines the contrasting values that motivate all of us. He argues that American society does a good job of cultivating the "résumé virtues3
" (the traits that lead to external success) but not our "eulogy4
virtues" (the traits that lead to internal peace of mind). Brooks profiles various historical figures who were paragons5
of character. I thought his portrait of World War II General George Marshall was especially enlightening. Even if the distinction between the two types of virtues is not always crystal clear, The Road to Character gave me a lot to think about. It is a thought-provoking look at what it means to live life well.
Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, by Randall Munroe
It is a brilliant concept, because if you can't explain something simply, you don't really understand it. Munroe, who worked on robotics at NASA, is an ideal person to take it on. The book is filled with helpful explanations and drawings of everything from a dishwasher to a nuclear power plant. And Munroe's jokes are laugh-out-loud funny. This is a wonderful guide for curious minds.
Being Nixon: A Man Divided, by Evan Thomas
I wouldn't call it a sympathetic portrait -- in many ways, Nixon was a deeply unsympathetic person -- but it is an empathetic one. Rather than just focusing on Nixon's presidency6
, Thomas takes a cradle-to-the-grave approach and gives you sharp insights into the inner workings of a brilliant, flawed, and conflicted man.
Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open, by Julian M. Allwood, Jonathan M. Cullen, et al
Although the topic can be dry as a desert, the authors keep it light with lots of colorful illustrations and clever analogies without sacrificing clarity or rigor7
. I learned a lot from this thoughtful look at a critical topic.
Eradication8: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever?
, by Nancy Leys Stepan
Stepan's history of eradication efforts gives you a good sense of how involved the work can get, how many different kinds of approaches have been tried without success, and how much we've learned from our failures. She writes in a fairly academic style that may make it hard for non-experts to get to her valuable arguments, but it's worth the effort. You come away from it with a clearer sense of how we can use the lessons of the past to guide future efforts to save lives.
Mindset: The New Psychology9 of Success
, by Carol S. Dweck
Through clever research studies and engaging writing, Dweck illuminates10
how our beliefs about our capabilities11
exert tremendous influence on how we learn and which paths we take in life. The value of this book extends way beyond the world of education. It's just as relevant for businesspeople who want to cultivate talent and for parents who want to raise their kids to thrive on challenge.
The Vital Question, by Nick Lane
When I interviewed him back during his Microsoft years, he was all about the business of technology. Today, he's like the mentor12
we all wish we had. So much energy in business today is all about the push-push-push for success, so it's refreshing13
to see an icon14
of entrepreneurship who no longer needs to posture15
but instead wants to share, wisely and well, what he's acquired and learned.