Favorite Reads of 2012 and Why

I clocked in 2012 at just over 265 books.  Granted, just over 135 of them were graphic novels, so they might not count as some people might argue; but I'll still take over 125 books read in the last year as a win.  So of those books that I have read in the last year, here are some of my favorites and why:



The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller
            A fascinating book about a teacher who manages to get her students to regularly read forty books within the school year and how she manages to do it. 

The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course by Linda Nilson
            I talked this book on this blog.  It’s a great one for thinking differently about communicating the details of your syllabus.

The following books paint a very challenging picture about the future of education.  There are some great ideas offered (particular with regards to the Finnish model of education) but  that requires a whole lot of effort and revamping of our schools. 
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch         
  • Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative by Sir Ken Robinson (Check out his awesome animated lecture)
  • Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? By Pasi Sahlberg
  • A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas
  • The Global Achievement Gap: Why Our Kids Don't Have the Skills They Need for College, Careers, and Citizenship--and What We Can Do About It by Tony Wagner
  • Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner


Book cover:  Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis
Reframing the public-
private debate.
These books are engaged in the same conversation about the ways in which social media and the wealth of information about us on the internet can impact us.  They all provide different approaches and advocate different ways of grappling with the same issues.
  • I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy by Lori Andrews
  • Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age is Revolutionizing Life, Business, and Society by Jeff Jarvis
  • Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger (check out my interview with the author)

These books offer creative insight in to what to do with and how to use social media and the internet for different purposes.  Each one shows the ways in which these can be used for good, bad, and irrelevant purposes. 
  • Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas by Grant McCracken
  • The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done by Peter Miller
  • The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories by Frank Rose
  • And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture by Bill Wasik
Both of these books look at the ways in which these could networked knowledge could (and has) fundamentally changed how and what we do in the future (and both left me with a desire to learn programming).
  • Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age by Steven Johnson (his Where Good Ideas Come From I also read this year and recommend; check out the TED Talk!)
  • Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World by Christopher Steiner

Politics, Society, People

Book cover: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Two books I think we all need to read and have a long conversation about with regards to how we move through the world. 
  • The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by BrenĂ© Brown. 
  • Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by by BrenĂ© Brown. 
Three books that would be enough for anyone to think differently about the way things are today.  That’s not to say they are anti-capitalistic, but they identify some of the challenges with capitalism that we never seem to talk about (or address). 
  • 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang
  • Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr; check out the interviews with Goodwin and Burr
  • The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz
 These books all have me thinking about the ways in which I not only understand myself and my actions, but those around me.  They have challenged me to think differently and to be more hesitant with my judgments.  They have also helped me think differently about how I do things and how I might encourage others (in the context of work, education, or even friends) to do things.  If you ever wonder why I’m able to see or come to certain conclusions about others and their actions, much of it stems from books like these
  • The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
  • The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath
  • On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits by Wray Herbert
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
  • Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (despite the issues of plagiarism and inaccuracy that haunt this book, the ideas are solid)
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
  • Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy        
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink 
  • Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers
The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman
            Learning about the instability of knowledge and why that is. 

As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda by Gail Collins
            An interesting look at the ways in which Texas has shaped elements of our country in the last fifty years. 
Book cover: Shop Class As Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford
            A book that makes me want to do more things in the physical world (like gardening, crafting, etc).

Popular Culture : A User's Guide by Susie O’Brien
            A great textbook for my course on Popular Culture.  It does really well with explaining and illustrating hard concepts. 

Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or Chance by Ellen Walker
            A book I’ve talked about before on this blog.  


On Writing by Stephen King
            A good book with some solid thoughts on writing. 
Mindfulness by Ellen Langer
            A good reminder to be in the moment and to balance the internal state of mind and external state of awareness. 

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
            A solid book about the nature of running by focusing on some of the mast amazing runners on Earth. 

The Modern Scholar: Tolkien and the West: Recovering the Lost Tradition of Europe by Michael Drout. 
            His Modern Scholar material is awesome and highly enjoyable.  He’s quirky and knowledgeable about the literature he speaks of but makes it extremely accessible.  Every time I listen to one of his lecture series, it makes me want to go out and read (or re-read) everything he talked about.       


Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
            Enjoyable and interesting, the book is not entirely different from the movie(s), but it’s interesting that the elements of the Wahlberg version of were more closely accurate to the book than the Heston film. 

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
            A book that strikes close to my heart with my teenage experience. 

The Rats by James Herbert
            I clearly need to read more Herbert; he’s fun to read for horror. 

Year Zero by Rob Reid
            The book had its funny moments and was truly in the tradition of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Redshirts by John Scalzi
            A metafictional spoof on Star Trek and highly enjoyable. 

DMZ Vol. 12: The Five Nations of New York by Brian Wood
            The end of an awesome series by Brian Wood.  Sad to see it end, but it was a great ending.  I’m likely to follow Wood as much as I follow Jeff Lemire (which is to say, read everything he has!). 

BEST BOOK OF THE YEARThe Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

Book cover:  The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
I’ve talked about Pinker before on this blog.  This massive but accessible text is an essential book for anyone who wants to better understand the world at large and move into a mental space that is much saner than what the daily news delivers.  Check out his Ted Talk that's a summary of many of his points:  TheSurprising Decline of Violence. 

WORST BOOK OF THE YEARThe Frankenstein Papers by Fred Saberhagen.

Oh man!  I enjoyed Saberhagen’s approach with Dracula in The Dracula Tapes, but this was an extreme let down in all manner of speaking.  The book’s end destroyed the journey. Nuff said!

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  1. Hi Lance,

    Thanks for your insightful commentary on this year's best (and worst). To the best I would add the novel by Kevin Powers, _The Yellow Birds_. Absorbing story of an Iraq vet trying to deal with the death of a comrade on the battlefield. Powers served in Iraq and tells the story from an insider's point of view; his resentment at America's willingness to send people off to war and then ignore the destruction combat causes.

    I plan to assign it to my students.



    1. Thanks Larry!

      Now, I have one more to read for next year :)


  2. Hey Lance, one of my favorite books this year was "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" I could listen to/read that man for hours (as long I can remain past the hair).

    1. Hi Joey!

      I KNOW! There's no better book to restore faith in humanity in the big picture methinks!


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