My Current Bookshelf - May 2017

May was a much more active month as it relates to reading because, well, the semester was over and I had a whole lot of downtime to which I filled it with reading...mostly because, I like busman's holidays!  There were so many good reads this month so I've got a lot to talk about!

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal

We all carry with us various myths about what willpower is, our relationship with it, and how to do better with it.  However, so many of our assumptions about willpower are often wrong in total or problematically applied because of a failure to understand what willpower is and its different forms.  McGonigal's provides a fantastic foundation to exploring and articulating willpower by breaking it into three different forms (I will, I won't, I want).  She guides readers through the science it has taken to better understand it from our historical or often racially, culturally, classist views of willpower to one that highlights just how willpower works in many different ways with cognitive, physiological, and mental tricks that humans fall prey to quite often.  One of my favorite parts of McGonigal’s work is that she provides small challenges for readers to test out with each new idea she introduces.  While it is inevitably something she, herself, has developed, I can’t help but think, her sister, Jane McGonigal has helped or advised in as it has a strong gamification element to it.  What I appreciate most about this book is that it reminds the reader that willpower is often a moving target and that one cannot necessarily conquer it but rather just better understand where and when one is most likely to succeed or surrender to short-term desires that are at odds with long-term goals.

Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely

This short but intriguing book will be useful for not just leaders but really for anyone who is looking to understand his or her own sense of motivation as well as those of others that someone works with.  It's a fairly short book and one that you can get the gist of from Ariely's TED Talk.  Known for conducting a range of curious tests with humans to better understand human nature (previous works include The Truth about Dishonesty and Predictably Irrational), Ariely takes this book to explore how we tend to profoundly misunderstand how motivation works and therefore regularly fail to achieve the outcomes we are expecting in others or severely cramping the possibilities.  He unpacks some rather strong misconceptions about how extrinsic rewards (e.g. more pay) can fail to increase or even decrease productivity or how purpose and meaning on behalf of the individual drives more productivity.  This book has a lot of potential for everyone as it makes the reader more aware of how to make outcomes more beneficial for both parties involved.  

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

Dobelli works his ways through some 98 different biases and faulty thinking practices that he has witnessed and experienced in his life as an author and businessman.  With each, he introduces the concept in clear and easy to understand prose with some great examples to illustrate how each works.  While the format remains largely the same, the text is still lively, fun, and helpful.  I enjoyed learning about and realizing the different fallacies that I have regularly stumbled with and ways of trying to get around them.  He smartly emphasizes that we cannot use a list like this all the time, but when we are pressed to make the big decisions in life, it is useful to go through such a list to make sure we're not missing something in our thinking.  The one strong critique I have of the book is that his final chapter, labeled, "Why You Shouldn't Read the News: News Illusion" entails many of the fallacies to which he has discussed.  He argues that there is no value to the news and that it's distracting in most people's lives.  He claims to rely on his friends and associates to filter news of relevance to him and that ultimately, people should read books and forgo news.  Of course, this seems to be a blatant case of the man with the hammer or as he says, "if you take your problem to an expert, don’t expect the overall best solution. Expect an approach that can be solved with the expert’s toolkit."  That is, the book author is telling the reader the fix is more books rather than more strategically engaging with news.  Besides that one issue, the book is a solid collection of wisdom and food-for-thought when making big decisions. 

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Snyder's book is short and sweet.  It's kinda like a TED-Talk or highlights real.  However, the book is straight and to the point, providing specific details, historical examples, and things to consider about tyranny in the 21st century, with particular attention to the US President Trump and the tenuous and problematic elements of his election and administration. I found there was practical advice about being involved and active but equally important was the smaller stuff that on some level people might disregard but are also central to keeping society a community.  For instance, his advice to make eye contact and be friendly with others is something that we don't realize its prominence and importance until it's gone and by that time, we are in serious trouble.  In total, it's a solid short read that helps the budding activist or reminds the experienced one of the importance of the work.  

Making Gumbo in the University by Rupert W. Nacoste

Nacoste's book is an enjoyable read in many regards and a look at the problems that those involved in diversity work often come up against.  Nacoste relates his experience as a chief diversity leader on southern US university and the walls he came up against while trying to create a more effective and meaningful approach to diversity at the institution.  For me, I liked how this book captured the fact that diversity is not milk-warm acceptance of one another but is embedded in the tension of recognition of differences while trying to move forward in different directions.  That is, diversity is not blind acceptance but respectful dialogue of differences that at times will be hard or unlikely to be reconciled.  He also provides a good frame for institutions to rethink diversity as housed in a particular place or position and more embedded throughout the different areas of an institution; what does diversity mean for the different areas and how do they foster?  Where I was less interested and impressed with the prose was the interweaving of his family life and his earlier life.  Both are important to include but sometimes, the details (relevant though they were to his personal experience) distracted from his discussion and analysis of his work.  Also, as a self-published book, it had a significant amount of grammatical and spelling errors.

A word cloud of this blog post in the shape of a coffee cup on a saucer

Check out other reading recommendations from 2017 (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads):


  • An Introduction to Qualitative Research: Learning in the Field by Gretchen Rossman
  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
  • Making Gumbo in the University bu Rupert W. Nacoste


  • Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
  • Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
  • Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
  • Printer's Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History by JP & Rebecca Romney
  • Certain Dark Things: Stories by M. J. Pack
  • The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi,
  • The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal
  • Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely
  • The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli 
  • The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World by Anne-Marie Slaughter
  • Finding Gobi (Main edition): The true story of a little dog and an incredible journey by Dion Leonard
  • House of Names by Colm Tóibín


  • Briggs Land Vol. 1: State of Grace (Briggs Land, #1) by Brian Wood
  • The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long

What about you reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?

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