My Year in Books (Part 2: Nonfiction)


Just like yesterday’s fiction post, this graphic shows you the nonfiction titles I read in chronological order. I love research and good journalism. Good nonfiction educates me, makes me change my mind or think differently about a topic, and so many of these books did.

It’s worth noting that some of these books border on memoir (I’m looking at you, Anne Lamott, Oliver Sacks, and Sheryl Sandberg), but the books on tomorrow’s memoir list are truly billed as such (they include the word in the title and/or are classified that way at book stores).

Books that taught me something new

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant – I read this while attending the Creative Problem Solving Institute in June, so the selection was particularly relevant and served as a primer for the value of creative thinking. I loved how Grant referenced some of the people in Feiler’s book (see below in “Surprises”), which I had finished just before this one.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer – Foer makes his decision clear (he’s a vegetarian), and it’s hard to finish this book and not agree that is the only choice. (In fact, I recommitted to vegetarianism after reading this, as did my husband.) But the philosophical discussion he engages in, and the facts he presents and different points of view he includes does reflect the complicated, conflicting beliefs involved in one’s decision whether to eat animals.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba – I would love everyone to read this excellent, true story of creativity and innovation, and the power of education. The story chronicles how 14-year old Kamkwamba taught himself how to make a windmill to save his family from famine. (There is nothing “adult” about this book, but there is a shorter, easier young adult version of this book, too.)

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates – I missed many of these pieces in The Atlantic the first time around, but the real power of this collection are Coates’s “Notes” that precede each article AND the Epilogue, which is Coates’s take on Trump’s ascension to the presidency. I heard Coates speak shortly after Trump’s election, and he didn’t deliver the speech I thought he would. The Epilogue is the speech I wanted.


What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro – I wanted to like this because the premise – that you can learn volumes about someone by investigating what they eat – intrigues me. Shapiro claims women in history are typically studied by their romantic relationships, so she attempts to look at their diets, but I learned more about what the men in their lives ate than the women, and the interpretation of those diets was even lacking.

Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba – I like the messages in here, but Borba gives a bit too many acronyms and “5 simple steps” lists for my liking.


The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us by Bruce Feiler – I enjoyed Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families and didn’t realize he was the author of this one until I had it in my hands. I really appreciated his (feminist) interpretations of The Bible and the various connections he made to current society. It was Malcolm Gladwell-esque in that regard.

Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, A Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater by Michael Sokolove – I grabbed this on Curtis Sittenfeld’s recommendation (author of Prep and American Wife). It is journalism that reads like fiction, and it is essentially about the power of good teachers and the value of the arts. Gotta love that! (P.S. This book/true story is the basis for the upcoming television series Rise.)

The rest…

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister – An impressive work of research and insight far-reaching in scope, All the Single Ladies combines law, history, feminism, social policy… I feel smarter having read it.

Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond – This eye-opening and heart-breaking ethnographic work follows various tenants and landlords in Milwaukee in 2008 and exposes the sociological, legal, ethical, and psychological implications surrounding evictions. It reads like fiction, and it’s too bad it’s true. In the epilogue, Desmond suggests ways to address this crisis.

Inspiring Creativity and Innovation in K-12 Inspiring Creativity and Innovation in K-12 by Douglas Reeves –There is a lot of wisdom in this small volume that is a very easy but insightful read for educators and school leaders looking at creativity.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey – I would put Bessey’s writing in the style and tone of Glennon Doyle’s. I appreciated her earlier chapters outlining Jesus’s interactions with women in The Bible (hint: He treated women as equal to men) as the underpinning of her “Jesus Feminist” brand of feminism. I did find later chapters a bit repetitive and not as informative.

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott – As with all of her other books in this series, Anne Lamott gives medicine for the soul. Oddly, this one was essentially free of politics, too, which is unlike her. 

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks – A short, powerful read of Sacks’s last essays, most written when he was aware his days were numbered.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant – Sandberg and Grant presented some concepts on resilience and trauma that I had not heard before, such as the 3 Ps and post-traumatic growth. Is it ground-breaking? No. But, it is ultimately an uplifting book that encourages resilience.

 A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer – It’s not earth-shattering, but it was interesting. I liked Grazer’s discussion of creativity & innovation vs. curiosity. I also love the idea of “curiosity conversations,” though certainly the average person would not have the connections Grazer does to have conversations with, say, Oprah and Fidel Castro. 

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie – An easy, inspiring read for business owners, managers, and everyday folks looking for a larger purpose. I think anyone could take something away from this.

The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book about Living by Ira Byock – The stories are a bit too syrupy, a little too “neat,” and somewhat redundant, but the repetition of the “4 things” clearly stuck in my brain, and I do see the value to them.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown – I have to be honest and say I liked Rising Strong better than this one, mainly because I felt this one was a little lighter on the research and a little heavier on repeating some earlier concepts. But, it is a good book, and it reads like the literary version of a few of her recent Facebook live posts, specific to our current political climate. It has valuable advice for sure.

The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Kenneth H. Blanchard – A fast read with easily applied lessons and analogies. This book was recommended to me by another school administrator as the best management book he’s read. I can see why.

Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker – I picked this up because it was recommended a few places, not the least of which was one of Brene Brown’s posts. It did make me laugh in places, and while her concept of friendship and sisterhood is not one I have much experience with, it did inspire me to write more.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss – I can’t remember how this book got on my reading list – who recommended this or what other book referenced it – but its ideas are intriguing. It’s certainly easier for those working in cubicles (non-service/non-education) to put into action, but I’m going to ponder this.

The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss – After reading the 4-hour Work Week, I thought I’d see what Tim had to say on these topics. He is not a guy I’d get along with for many reasons, but I do appreciate his philosophy of doing the bare minimum to get results (in both books).

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein – I liked the concepts of libertarian paternalism and “choice architects,” and I appreciated how the authors chose topics like education and insurance to illustrate the ideas. But at some points, the book seemed more like a treatise on those subjects than the concepts they were illustrating.

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