Reflecting on Summer Reading

Ever since I finished my last final exam in early May I've been trying to read as many books as possible. The summer months aren't quite like they were when I was in high school or even undergrad because the first thing you learn in grad school is that the work never really ends. However, I did have a little bit of extra time and have read approximately 19 books between then and now. 

I won't go into an exhaustive review of all of them, but I do want to share three that I think that stood out from the rest (a complete list of all the books I've read this summer and since 2008 can be found here).

Workflow: Beyond Productivity

This book is unlike any other productivity book I've ever read. I'm not even really sure where to start or how I can accurately describe it. It almost reads like what the love child of David Allen (Getting Things Done) and Aristotle would write. It's like a philosophy book in that words and concepts are very carefully defined and then systematically built into a coherent structure and a psychology book that tries to unravel the mysteries of mastery. This book opened my eyes to the very basic nature of what it means to be "productive." At the same time, by breaking it down to the very basics, the book can come across as quite complex. This paradox is probably what made the book so interesting to me as very few writers in this field treat the topic with such careful exposition. 

This is one of those books that I'm going to need to read again in the near future to unravel it even further. You can learn more about it and buy it here.

Upside of Irrationality

A few months ago I watched a TED talk by a fellow named Dan Ariely. At this point, I had never heard of him but I thoroughly enjoyed his talk and shortly thereafter I started seeing his name everywhere. I decided to pick up one of his latest books and give it a read. First, before I get into the meat of the book, I just wanted to share that I'm not 100% sure why Dan's speaking and writing style resonate with me so much -- but they do. I loved his talk not only for the content but for the way he presented it. His writing is very similar. Warm, understated, extremely clear and a touch of humor. 

Ariely is a behavioral economist which falls into the realm of psychology more often than not. His book is about how human beings are incredibly irrational even though most classical economic theory assumes otherwise. While irrational may have a negative connotation in every day use, Ariely shows how our irrationality can be quite positive. This book is chock full with very easy to follow explanations of clever experiments conducted by Ariely and his colleagues. This book is well-supported by academic scholarship yet Ariely's writing does not come across as stilted or difficult to follow in the least.

I highly recommend this book for an eye opening look at how your irrationality isn't as unique as you might think and how it can be a positive force in your life. Buy it from Amazon here.

Ripples from the Zambezi

This book filled me with hope and excitement regarding the future of independent work and entrepreneurship. In a nutshell, it's a description of a method developed by the author to help communities improve economically. While traditional development up to this point was a very top-down approach (meaning the government would create some kind of program in which community members could enroll -- like job training), Ernesto Sirolli completely turned the process around. In fact, while his job was to help local economies, he would never initiate any kind of program on his own. Instead, his theory was that the entrepreneurial spirit and intrinsic motivation of the locals just needed to be supported by somebody who could help them find the resources they need, help cut through red tap, and make connections among related businesses and ideas. Sirolli would come to a community and just start making it known that he was there to help anybody who wanted to start some kind of business. The progress was slow at first, but success started building on success and now the approach has been replicated in numerous communities throughout the world.

I thought the book got a little repetitive near the end but the basic idea resonated with me so much I didn't mind. I think there are huge connections between this book and this kind of economic development and my own interests in independent work, positive organizational psychology, and coworking. I'm not quite sure what the next steps might be but I'm glad to have read this.

Buy it from Amazon here. 

Honorable Mentions

I re-read Ready for Anything, as I tend to do every summer. It's always a good kick in the pants and reminder for what I need to be doing to keep my personal organization system fresh and well-maintained.

Christopher Peterson, ostensibly the third "founding father" of positive psychology and University of Michigan professor died several months ago. The book he completed just prior to his death is called Pursuing the Good Life and is a compilation of 100 articles he wrote for the Psychology Today website about positive psychology. It's humorous, incredibly insightful, and grounded in the best research. 

Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing is a dense book that will inspire you to slow down, turn off the TV, and let your mind wander. For most of us, that's something that we definitely need more of. It's well-researched and clearly written.

What about you? What did you read this summer? I'm always looking for more books to add to my queue and would be happy to add your favorites. Share them in the comments below!

Photo by Chris