I read a lot, not as much as I’d like, which I would like to blame on the super-addictive UFC, Guy Frieri, not to mention the time-consuming tasks of Facebook, Twitter, and well, OK, I admit, the occasional spider solitaire game (sigh). Though in spite of such vices, I do manage to get through several books a month. And this past year I’ve read some truly outstanding books. There is an art, I think, to finding and choosing great books. It’s actually not so easy. No matter what reviewers say, I have specific interests, and no amount of praise can interest me in, say, books about a recent election. And even if the topic does draw me in, I’m a slave (as we all are) to my particular thinking style, and I get easily impatient with how some authors think. And for reasons unknown, some things just won’t stick, no matter how riveting the topic is. What I’ve discovered is that in my search for good reads, how I find the book is a good clue to whether or not I’m going to love it. So for anyone a bit like me, I’ve included in my list below how I got tipped off to the book. So, here we go, a round-up of the best books I’ve read in the past year, in no particular order, and a note on how and where I found it.

  1. Farm City. The Education of an Urban Farmer. This was given to me by my favorite postmodern urban farmer, Affrica Taylor, Professor of Socio-cultural Politics of Education at the University of Canberra. Her opinion counts a lot, plus the topic is close to my heart.
  2. The Age of the Unthinkable. Diana Collett, who’s writing her doctorate on intercultural communication, raved to me about this one. It took me a few months to dive in, and I found it a bit slow at first, but bit by bit the twin topics of power and complexity won me over.
  3. Better. A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. I saw this one in Lois Orner’s office. She’s the Program Manager at I Have A Dream Oregon. The title caught my attention, and then I recognized Atul Gawande from his articles in the New Yorker. I had just read Whatever it Takes (see below), and couldn’t resist another book about great performance against all odds.
  4. The Talent Code. Tweeted by @scott_dm co-author of The Heart and Soul of Change: Whatever Works in Psychotherapy. Checking it out first online, I saw that it referenced a lot of the research that Gladwell (see below) used in The Outliers. Again, more on performance. Seeing a pattern?
  5. The Outliers. Who hasn’t been told to read this book?
  6. Viral Loop. My friends, Kevin Jones and Lesli Mones (www.pluralconsulting.com) told me to read this book. They are reliable trend sniffers, and I pretty much do what they tell me too, within reason, that is.
  7. Born to Run. Kevin and Lesli again. And an irresistible topic and a great read.
  8. The Art of the Start. Not the newest book, but inspiring and energizing, and great reminder to stay true to your core. I had known about this book for a few years; I probably read about it years ago in Fast Company. I decided to read it now in preparation of some new projects I’m developing.
  9. Whatever it Takes. Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, by Paul Tough. I’ve blogged about this book and the following one several times over the past year. I know, I know, more on performance, but the implications this has for our neediest population is amazing. Where did find it? I think I first read about it in the New York Times several years ago.
  10. Sweating the Small Stuff. See above. After reading Whatever it Takes, I used the Amazon feature “readers who bought this, also bought…”
  11. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Like Outliers, who hasn’t been told to read this? Michael Pollan is a miracle.
  12. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Simply amazing. Given to me by Will Hall who has a knack for finding gold at the intersection of psychology, politics and philosophy.
  13. Storming Heaven. LSD and The American Dream. I’ve wanted to read this book by Jay Stevens for years, not sure why I hadn’t till now. I found this myself, and couldn’t resist the social history of such a movement.

I am taking several weeks off at the end of the month. Here’s what I’m taking with me:

2nd Edition of The Heart and Soul of Change: Delivering What Works in Psychotherapy. Pierre Morin, friend and colleague, told me this is definitely worth reading, even if I have read the first version.

The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande. I’m hooked on Gawande.

Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations. Recommended by Joel Spolsky, whose blog, www.joelonsoftware.com is one of my favorites, as the bible in this field.

Cultures and Organizations. Hofstede & Hofstede. Gladwell relied heavily on their research.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon. Joe Goodbread recommended The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay which I read after putting it off, and was, as my Irish friends say, gobsmacked.  Andrea Scharf, fine book peddler, and woman of many talents, also recommended it.

If you’re reading my blog, chances are we have interests in common. Your book tips most welcome!