When you’ve got a little bit of vacation time coming up, there’s no better way to spend it than with the kind of book that will get your mind moving and your creativity surging.
These titles, which cover a diverse range of topics including parenting, shame, education, and dating, all came out this year, and all promise to change the way you think about the world. Some are business-centered, others will inform your personal life — but any one of these would make the perfect in-flight or poolside companion.
The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos, by Leonard Mlodinow
If you’ve ever wondered how human beings got the way we are, this inspired look at the evolution of our species is exactly what you need. It’s pretty heavy on the science, but not in such a way that the average person feels left out. Think of this book like what you wish your biology class had covered.
Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education, by Sir Ken Robinson
Ken Robinson’s TED talk, How Schools Kill Creativity, is one of the most-viewed talks that the organization has ever hosted — and for good reason. Robinson’s approach to education (and views on the current state of it) are not only fascinating, but actionable. In this book, available for your Kindle or in actual book form, you’ll get more arguments and anecdotes supporting the idea and practice of more creative education at every step of the learning process.
Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool, by Jennifer Jacquet
Public shaming is a hot topic right now — Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is one of the most talked-about books of the year — but is it possible that we’re looking at shame all wrong? Could shame actually be used to better society overall?
Musician and artist Brian Eno praised Jacquet’s approach to shame, noting that, in the book, she has “identified and articulated the social tools by which it might just be possible to encourage better long term behaviour from those big players—like corporations—who are otherwise able to find their way round the law.”
How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, by Kevin Ashton
Kevin Ashton is a startup guy, but this book isn’t about startups as we currently think of them. Instead, this is a historical deep-dive through the many businesses and ideas that have shaped today’s inventions and innovation. From the Wright brothers to the woman who essentially discovered DNA, this educational piece of nonfiction shatters creative cliches and challenges the idea of “genius.”
We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program, by Richard Paul and Steven Moss
So much of history — and especially the history of exploration — is told through a lens of whiteness, which does us all a great disservice. “The Space Age,” write the authors of this compelling account “began just as the struggle for civil rights forced Americans to confront the long and bitter legacy of slavery, discrimination, and violence against African Americans.” This important book has huge echoes in today’s still largely homogenous tech world, where race and gender equity are battles being fought every day.
Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World, by Matthieu Ricard
Ricard’s 2007 book Happiness (and subsequent TED talk) have become required bits of inspiration for anyone struggling with the drudgery of their jobs or lives. In Altruism, Ricard uses the same tender, educational approach to discuss an even bigger topic — how to care for others, both personally and globally. In Altruism, Ricard makes the case for the genuine concern for others as a potential salvation for the world’s economic and political woes. It’s powerful stuff.
The Well-Tuned Brain: Neuroscience and the Life Well Lived, by Peter C. Whybrow
So much gets blamed on technology these days, but maybe the real source of our digital dilemmas is how our brain responses to everything we’ve built. At least, that’s what Whybrow argues in this combination of neuroscience and pop psychology. As social creatures who are also wired for survival, the way we interact with social media and each other might not be the fault of Twitter and Facebook, but rather, our own unexamined motives and wiring.
Michelle Obama: A Life, by Peter Slevin
If you’re not so much a science person, but love a well-told story about an inspirational, powerful woman, look no further than political journalist Peter Slevin’s intimate, heavily-reported account of the life of the First Lady. From her upbringing on the south side of Chicago to her Princeton and Harvard education, to her life in the White House, Slevin truly tells a compelling story in this rich narrative. Who needs fiction when we have public figures this fascinating?
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell
The latest from bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath reexamines one of the oldest narratives we tell ourselves. In this exploration of challenges, confrontation, and who we think of as “the underdog,” Gladwell addresses some of the barriers and battlefields we encounter every day — and helps reframe the way we think about them. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the man who brought us The Tipping Point and Outliers.
Child, Please: How Mama’s Old-School Lessons Helped Me Check Myself Before I Wrecked Myself, by Ylonda Gault Caviness
There are acres of pixels written about modern parenting, but what if your mom had it right all along? In this funny, engaging memoire, Caviness revisits the advice she got from her own mother and applies it to her modern struggle to raise her children. If you’re looking for a book about parenting that isn’t the traditional “parenting book,” this is a great pick.
Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari
Aziz Ansari’s “Parks and Recreation” character, Tom Haverford, may not always have the best insight on romantic relationships, but Ansari himself sure does. Much more than just a memoir, for this book, Ansari actually teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, which included poring over internet message boards, consultations with leading social scientists, and “hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita.” This is much more than just a dating manual — it’s an exploration of dating as we know it today.