2014 Book Review: Transformative, Highly Recommend, It’s Complicated, and Terrible.

I read mostly by listening via my audible account. It allows me to be engaged and learning while working out, commuting, or passing time in airports. I’ve written my takes on the books for 2012 and 2013, so here’s the 2014 edition sorted into the following categories; transformational, highly recommended, complicated, and terrible.


Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Essentialism is a wonderful, thought provoking, informed, enjoyable, and short book. I often worry that I am letting the immediate get in the way of the important in my day, my career, and my life.  Essentialism advocates for and illustrates the power of setting priorities. McKeown explains using personal stories of his own and examples from corporations and start-ups, while mixing in snippets from Greek mythology and Buddhist philosophy. He has one big and simple idea, but breaks it down into many very tangible and applicable components. He applies this to being a CEO, leader of a team, parent, improving your health, and more. Great for those who find themselves pulled in too many directions.

Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

A wonderful book with big philosophical ideas and concrete direct strategies about ways to build communities from staff meetings to campus communities to entire cities. The framing is transformational in that it urges us to engage community building in entirely different ways. A wonderful book for anyone looking to take the development of their team or large community. I’ll be using this to rethinking how I facilitate staff meetings, retreats, and gatherings large and small, formal and informal. Wonderful for those interested in thinking deeply about how to build community.

Highly Recommend

Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson

A paradigm shift in thinking about the emotion of love and how we experience it. Scientifically based analysis with excellent recommendations for expanding the experience of love in your life, including many suggestions for loving kindness meditation. Great science, analysis, and practical recommendations for expanding love in your life.

Thrive by Ariana Huffington

Thrive is a (surprisingly to me) terrific overview of positive psychology and well-being research told by a solid writer who blends academic research with personal stories to help make the ideas stick. This is a great introduction to positive psychology or an overview for someone looking to read just a single text. Scientifically grounded but very accessibly written. I’m often asked for a good introduction to positive psychology, this would now be my answer. I’ve given two copies as gifts already.

The Universe in a Single Atom by Dalai Lama

Analysis from HHDL of major scientific ideas and the intersections with Buddhist philosophy. Includes scientific process, quantum physics, consciousness, positive psychology, and more. HHDL is a great succinct explainer of complicated scientific ideas and deep exploration of Buddhist philosophy from an open and undogmatic perspective. Also, short and the audiobook is read by Richard Gere.

Total Leadership by Stewart Friedman

Encourages examining your life’s 4 different components; self, home, community, and career and trying to develop strategies that don’t “balance” these but bring them more into alignment or “create four way wins.” This is a a great book for those looking to move their lives forward – either because they are stuck, overwhelmed, or ready for a new challenge. Full of very practical exercises to encourage reflection. A great book for coaches to use with clients or for reflections for leaders who want to make their whole life better, not just one aspect of their life better.

Understanding White Privilege by Frances Kendall

I was invited to review the second edition of this for JCSD. I’ve likely learned more about Whiteness, White privilege, and White supremacy from Frances Kendall’s sessions at NCORE and her visits to campus than I have just about any other single person. This book is deep exploration of White privilege from the intellectual to the personal. If you are familiar with White privilege and want to push yourself deeper to expand your own life and be a better ally, then this is a great pick-up.

The Zen Leader by Ginny Whitelaw

This is a great book for experienced leaders who have at least an initial understanding of Zen ideas. It would not be a good introduction to Zen for leaders. It focuses on how to apply foundational Zen principles to leadership. Great concepts applied to real life leadership challenges like leading meetings, providing feedback, managing priorities, and more. I found this to be an exceptional read and very pragmatic in its suggestions and recommendations. Definitely a good read for leaders looking to implement Zen practices.

It’s Complicated

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

A short novel with a metaphor for seeking and finding the meaning of life. Interesting with some good words of wisdom but not transformative for me. I just don’t think this is my style of writing/learning.

The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

I both loved and was turned off by this book and the author. On one hand the author makes compelling arguments for stepping outside what everyone else expects of you and finding your own life path based on your priorities. His explanation of the “new rich” who don’t want more money but only want as much as they need to get freedom has had me thinking quite a bit about my own priorities. On the other hand his coaching about ways to make money with little to no effort seemed hollow and almost manipulative. If you can sort through the “make money quick” approach, I think there are some real insights about re-prioritizing and designing the life that fits your values rather than trying to fit your values into the life you get.

Life Coaching by Dave Ellis

I’ve twice attended weekend long coaching retreats by Dave Ellis and found them transformational in helping me to gain insight about my priorities and better aligning how I live my life with my values. I look forward to doing engaging with them again. In this book, Ellis outlines his approach to coaching which is about asking powerful questions, pushing the client to invent solutions, and avoid giving advice. I found this to be a useful tool for helping others identify and move through their challenges. If you are new to coaching and looking for a new model of helping different than counseling, this could be very helpful. If you are familiar with coaching, then this may be a book you can quickly review and add a few good nuggets to your repertoire.

Man Up by Carlos Andrés Gomez

We hosted Carlos on campus at Macalester this September. He was amazing on all levels. He was very open and personable with every staff member and student he met throughout the day. If you ever have the chance to host hi on campus, I couldn’t recommend him more highly. It was a professional and personal joy to get to spend the day with him. This book is a memoir of his experiences with masculinity. He is incredibly honest and doesn’t hold anything back. I connected with lots of what he shared about the pressures society places on men and the troubles that causes for us and those in our lives. At times, I think Carlos’s let his critical analysis get away from him and became self-flagellating in his effort to be unflinchingly honest.


The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz

I was so excited about this book because I love the idea in the title and it was recommended in 4 Hour Work week, a book I both enjoyed and struggled with. This book is super cheesy and poorly written. The core ideas are more maxims than real insight. When an author simply states “several studies have shown” without a mention of what those are or references for them, you know you’re in trouble. The overly gendered language and examples are also distracting. The only upside was that it was short and over quickly.

I’m off to start my 2015 “reading” with a second listen to Adyashanti’s Falling Into Grace. What are you reading? Any suggestions?

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