Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Few Books To Make You Think

Human nature is imperfect. That's what makes it interesting. Its the diversity of human nature that can have some of the most significant impacts on decisions we make. We're influenced by everyone we meet. Everything we see and do. We are influenced by the music we listen to and the movies we see. And of course, everything we read
I've been thinking a lot lately about how we think about the world around us and why people interpret situations in different ways. I read books with perspectives I agree with and those I don't. I think the best non-fiction books are those which make you think about issues in a different way.

Here are a few I think are worth a read. This is not a list of the best non-fiction books I've read, or even the best our there. Just a few I think are worth a read.

We get wrapped up a lot in trying to be successful. But how can you be successful if you can't define success. Malcolm Gladwell's book offers the stories of people who have been hugely successful by almost any measure but importantly he looks at why they were successful. He explores how there are many things that come together to make someone successful and tries to answer the question why some people are successful beyond what appears ordinary. The book makes you realize that anyone has the capacity to be successful and success is the result of being able to identify opportunities.

What the dog saw.jpgWhat The Dog Saw
Malcolm Gladwell

This book is really at the heart of understanding human nature. The stories of people, places and why they do the things they do. Ever wonder how the Showtime rotisserie came to be? Or how to solve the problem of homelessness? Or how people make decisions in job interviews? Gladwell explores these and other issues. This book is a collection of some of Gladwell's articles in the New Yorker Magazine. 

I interviewed Benj Gallander a few years back. for a magazine article He's made a fortune investing against the grain. Investing in small companies and understanding when to stay in and when to get out. A lot of books offer the solution that will make you a millionaire. Gallander doesn't promise to make you a millionaire but his method of investing has worked for many people and his most important message is to avoid the noise and the newspaper articles because by the time a stock is in the paper its probably too late to make money on it (remember Facebook?)

Is That It
Bob Geldof

Bob Geldof is probably best known for his song I Don't Like Monday's with his band the Boomtown Rats. But he also created Live Aid, the precursor to We Are the World, Tears Are Not Enough, and Farm Aid. He was Bono before Bono became the entertainment voice for supporting Third World countries. This is an autobiography which is at times painfully honest. He talks about being a sinner meeting the saint when he meets with Mother Theresa. Its a good read if you are interested in foreign aid. Or in entertainment. It will definitely make you ask yourself why you aren't doing more to help those in need.

Steve Jobs
Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs died before this book was published. This book gave me a completely different perspective on the Apple empire. More important this book offers a deep perspective on Steve Jobs the good, the bad, and the sometimes very ugly. It makes you think about the balance between the drive to succeed and how that drive impacts others.You won't finish this book wishing Jobs was a friend of yours, but you might have a new perspective on good and bad bosses.

Robert Herjavec
For a completely different perspective on success, Herjavec's book is counterpoint to the Steve Jobs biography. You have to assume that this, being an autobiography, is perhaps more flattering than it would otherwise be. But it is an interesting comparison of a man - known as one of CBC's Dragons - who believes fiercely in compassion, family, and helping others and Steve Jobs who seemed willing to mow down anyone in his way in order to succeed.

Its easy to pretend that kids are kids everywhere in the world. They should be. But they are not. I've worked in countries where kids stand by the side of the road with machine guns. Little food but plenty of ammunition. This can be, at times, a tough read. But Dallaire's story about his experience in Rwanda is compelling and an important contribution to understanding human nature.

On South Mountain: The Dark Secrets of the Goler Clan
David Cruise and Alison Griffiths

This is an older book but an interesting and detailed account of a part of Nova Scotia history for which there are many rumours but the facts are often less understood. More than that this is a rare and balanced insight into human nature in this relatively closed community of South Mountain.

Spirit Of The Web
Wade Rowland

This book is a bit dated now as it was written before Facebook and Twitter however it offers a good history and analysis on how changes in communication technology over the past century have changed how people understand the world and the people around them. Rowland discusses the democratization of communication. While a bit dated, his book correctly foretold how the internet would change conflict - as we saw in the Arab Spring.

History books are written by the winners. This is not a new book, but its important especially in the Nova Scotia context, understanding a different, and perhaps more accurate, history of the First Nations in Nova Scotia.

My memory is good for certain things and terrible for others. Its why this book interested me. Joshua Foer explores memory by following, and ultimately training for, international memory competitions. You're likely to finish this book with some crazy ideas that actually work to remember things that have always been difficult. And a better understanding of how your mind works.

There are many books about urban myths. This book tackles some of the things which are understood commonly to just be fact, but in reality are not. It will make you question what else you think you know, that maybe you don't. For example, did you know that tulips are not originally from Holland? They are from Constantinople (now Istanbul) and didn't arrive in Holland until 1554. And Santa is originally from Turkey, not the North Pole (or a creation of Coca-Cola).

When Do Fish Sleep
David Feldman

This is one of many books by David Feldman which tries to answer what he calls the "imponderables". Those things that come to mind while we're sitting in traffic, or when we see something we don't understand. Things such as, when do fish sleep? He has some other titles in the same series including When Did Wild Poodles Roam the Earth? and Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise?

This book comes from the New York City Public Library. Their reference desk is one of the best in the world and this is a reference of some of the more interesting questions that people have called the library to ask. Its a good glimpse of what people think about on a day to day basis.