Books To Get You Thinking Holiday Edition I

Books with Twine
Along with the cool crisp air of November and the brilliant red hue of the falling leaves, thoughts inevitably turn to the approaching holiday season and the stress of picking out gifts for people on your list–people with widely diverging passions and interests. I found out that a wonderful solution lies in picking up books for just about everyone. A trip to your local bookseller would reveal an amazing variety of offerings in a diverse range of genres, subjects and moods–from a fascinating science book for a favorite niece to a book about mindfulness and meditation for your best buddy to a fresh exploration in history for an uncle. As in previous years, we continue our holiday tradition of compiling a list of suggested books that would likely pique the interest of our readers and help them wrap up the challenge of selecting holiday gifts. This month we highlight selections in nonfiction, biography and memoir to be followed by titles in fiction, cooking and entertainment in December.

Nonfiction

The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline by Jonathan Tepperman
In this engaging book, the editor of the journal Foreign Affairs, Jonathan Tepperman, focuses on some of the most rampant problems and issues dominating the world today–including income inequality, unemployment and political gridlock–which in turn have fueled the growth of extremism and despair. Based on extensive research and hundreds of interviews, Tepperman travels to different countries and finds ten different instances where effective leadership, creative thought and bold action have helped fix a challenging problem of the region. In Brazil, a novel program to eradicate poverty involved a monthly grant given to mothers to feed and educate their children, while Indonesia was successful in instilling a moderate political system that undercut Islamic fundamentalism. What remains important to determine is whether such solutions are portable between countries and scenarios.

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
An understanding of genes lies at the heart of the human quest to comprehend life and evolution over millions of years. The harnessing of the science and technology of gene functions is also one of the most active areas of research today, with the potential to revolutionize the practice of medicine and discover new treatments for fatal diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. The author provides an extraordinary narrative of a multi-faceted story, capturing key scientific developments and insights that were pivotal in uncovering the complexity and significance of genes. The writing is exquisite and riveting, integrating a vast body of complex subjects like the structure of DNA and the quest to map the human genome. It also engages the reader at a very personal level with its focus on how disease disrupts human life and the struggle involved in overcoming such challenges.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan
Peter Frankopan, Director of the Center for Byzantine Research at Oxford, pens this deeply researched, groundbreaking book that spans the vast history of the world from the rise and fall of ancient majestic empires to the more recent Gulf Wars and conflicts in the Middle East. What makes the book unique is the fresh perspective that the author provides on world history while keeping his fascinating narrative directed to a popular audience. He does so by turning the focus away from Europe to the Silk Roads–the vital corridor encompassing parts of Minor and Central Asia, China and the Middle East that linked the East with the West. It was here that trade, exchange, communication and a vibrant commerce gave rise to the earliest civilizations and the evolution of new ideas and religions, making it the vital engine that would influence the future course of world history.

A Truck Full of Money by Tracy Kidder
In his latest work, Tracy Kidder, the Pulitzer prize winning author of The Soul of A New Machine, brings to life the fascinating character of Paul English, the software entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the travel related search engine Kayak and sold it for two billion dollars. It is Kidder’s powers of peeling away at the layers of complexity and delving into the core that makes this an enthralling read. Kidder traces Paul English’s journey from a poor working class family in Boston to his rise as a technology genius in an age where the Internet was just starting to spread, while at the same time he was afflicted with bipolar disorder. Kidder also provides a nuanced view of how evolving technology, startups and big money are permeating the culture of the modern world.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
Two great spiritual and moral leaders from two very different parts of the world share a deep friendship and team up here to explore the deep mystery of finding inner peace and happiness in the face of life’s harshest adversities. On the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday, Archbishop Tutu travelled to the small town of Dharamsala, nestled among the foothills of the Himalayas in India that is home to the Dalai Lama. The two leaders spent a week together sharing their lives' experiences and thoughts, translated into this book by Doug Adams. It includes some rare insights shared by the spiritual leaders–“While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances …. joy comes from an internal state of being.” The key to lasting joy lies in practicing mind training that focuses on lessening one’s self-absorption.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
A psychologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Duckworth is also a recent recipient of the McArthur genius fellowship. The basic premise of her work is that success in life is more often determined by grit, passion and perseverance rather than by talent or IQ alone. The focus on aptitude often detracts from the effort factor which is a critical component for any accomplishment. The author believes that grit is a trait that all individuals have the power to develop and make a part of their thought process and she lays out a four step process to help achieve this–identifying a passion, practicing it, developing a sense of higher purpose, and a growth mindset. Her research has stirred up a lively discussion in education policy circles with a renewed emphasis on character building and a tough love approach to raising children.

Biography and Memoirs

Holiday Time
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
A compelling, much anticipated memoir penned by America’s legendary rock and roll singer and songwriter, the book provides a vivid glimpse into what has inspired Springsteen’s lifelong passion for music and for creating songs that were a reflection of what mattered most to him. For Bruce Springsteen, his music echoed the reality of the world around him. In the book, Springsteen chronicles his early years growing up in a working class family in New Jersey, his youth as a homegrown musician on the streets of Asbury Park, his often complex relationship with his father, and his close camaraderie with his E Street Band. Readers get to share the musician’s special connection with his wife Patti, their two sons, Evan and Sam, and daughter Jessica. Especially fascinating are the special insights the musician shares about the creation of his many hit songs and albums.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis, author of previous runaway bestsellers including The Big Short and Flash Boys returns this time with the story of a friendship and collaboration between two psychologists, Daniel Kahnman and Amos Tversky, and the groundbreaking ideas that their teamwork produced. Both had worked for the Israeli military and their research was based on their life experiences. Their decade-long collaboration laid the foundation of behavioral economics and culminated in the publication of the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnman (who won the Nobel Prize in economics for his work on human decision making). The premise of their work was that decisions made by humans suffer from a large element of irrationality as people often make decisions based on instinct without accurately weighing the risks and rewards of an uncertain situation.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Hope Jahren, a geobiologist and professor at the University of Hawaii, has combined her passion for plants and science into this beautifully articulated memoir of her life as a female scientist and the triumphs and disappointments along the way. In this compelling book, Jahren has skillfully interwoven her personal life experiences and relationships with fascinating facts drawn from the science she is so passionate about–nature and how seeds, plants, flowers and trees have grown and evolved over some four hundred million years. The books abounds in intriguing details about plants and trees including how plants retain memory–a seedling taken from a parent tree growing in a harsh cold environment transplanted to a warm place will grow into a tree that continues shedding its leaves much earlier than surrounding trees in anticipation of the harsh winter it “remembers” from the place of its origin.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
At age thirty-six, Paul Kalanithi, a young doctor working at Stanford, was on the brink of completing ten years of grueling training as a neuroscientist–his dream of become a neurosurgeon was now finally becoming a reality. It was at this time that he received the diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. In that instant, everything he had imagined for his future changed forever. This gripping and remarkable memoir is Paul Kalanithi’s poignant reflections on his life, his childhood, on becoming a doctor, and then transitioning from a doctor to a patient. One of the most powerful moments in the book is when Paul first holds his baby daughter–an affirmation of life even as his is quietly ebbing away. The book is about hope, courage and, in the end, about what makes human life meaningful even in the face of mortality.
Books to get You Thinking Gift Box

—Nita Mathur

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