Books I “Read” in 2016

Here is a brief recap of most of the books I “read” in 2016. I put “read” in quotes as I listen to most of these via Audible as I workout, commute, or travel. Perhaps you’ll add some of these to your reading list and make a suggestion or two that you think I should add to my list for 2017.

Positive Psychology

Mindsight by Daniel Siegel

This was one of the best books I read this year. The first part is a tremendous, fascinating, and clearly articulated explanation of the human brain, neuroscience, and its connection to our lived experiences. The second part is a collection of stories of how Siegel has applied this science through his own life and his practice as a psychologist. It’s a book about some of the most complex things being explored in the world of science today, all explained so clearly and concisely with wonderful examples, stories, and mental models to help make it easy easier to understand. More here.

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

This was another one of the best. One of the misunderstandings of mindfulness, meditation, Buddhism, and positive psychology is that it avoids negative emotions or pretends they don’t exist. Tara Brach, a teacher of meditation and Buddhism and a counseling psychologist, explains the power of Radical Acceptance of all the human emotions and the power of this acceptance to bring greater peace, connection, and agency into our lives, our relationships, and our communities. This could also be in the Zen category as well. More here.

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership by Marcy Levy Shankman, Scott J. Allen, and Paige Haber Curran

This book and the next one were part of a Higher Ed Live episode I was able to guest host. This book is written to help student leaders develop 3 main consciousnesses for practicing emotionally intelligent leadership; Consciousness of Self, Consciousness of Others, and Consciousness of Context. Each has it’s own components. Consciousness of Self includes emotional self-perception, emotional self-control (or self-regulation), authenticity, healthy self-esteem, flexibility, optimism, initiative, and achievement. Consciousness of Others includes displaying empathy, inspiring others, coaching others, capitalizing on difference, developing relationships, building teams, demonstrating citizenship, managing conflict, and facilitating change. Consciousness of Context includes analyzing the group and assessing the environment. More here.

The Neuroscience of Learning and Development edited by Marilee J. Bresciani Ludvik

This was another book I read for this Higher Ed Live episode. This book outlines the science of what goes on in the brain during the learning and development process. This neuroscience foundation becomes the basis for making the case for a reimagining of the very structure of higher education both inside and beyond the classroom. What do the concepts of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity mean for how we structure, organize, sequence, and facilitate learning inside and beyond the classroom? How can we help students learn the skills of attention regulation, emotional regulation, and cognitive regulation? How can we build in reflection and develop the tools of mindfulness to help students enhance well-being, resilience, creativity, compassion, empathy, integration, and critical thinking? And how do we make all this central to the curriculum as tools that facilitate all the other learning? More here.

Integration by Ann Betz and Karen Kimsey-House

Integration is about applying neuroscience to coaching strategies and approaches. Karen Kimsey-House is one of the founders of the Co-Active Training Insitute (CTI), the largest in the world. In this book Karen brings CTIs co-active coaching model and Ann provides the brain science supporting these strategies. If you’re interested in brain science, coaching, or just living a more integrated life, this is a short, clear, and useful read. This could also be in the leadership category.


Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better by Pema Chodron

This is a written version of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s 2014 graduation speech at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado with some additional content from an interview. This is a wonderful and very brief (many pages are just one sentence) book about being present, letting go of outcomes and perfection, and embracing the messiness of life for the richness it has to offer us. I recommend pairing this with the collection of three of Pema Chodron’s teaching on Audible. Brilliant stuff explained with humanity (sharing her anger at grandkids as an example) and simplicity.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu translated by Stephen Mitchell

This short book (90 minute audiobook) deeply explores the spiritual path outlined by Lao Tzu, a 500 BC Chinese writer about whom little is known. This book digs deep into letting go and embracing nothingness to open up your world. The three primary lessons are simplicity (by letting go), patience (with self and other), and compassion. If you are having a hard time letting go of control, I think this book would be a wonderful push to do so. It was hard for me to listen to in full as it required so much focus due to the short and poignant sentences. I’ve ordered a written copy to turn to small snippets for perspective and inspiration.

Where I Lived and What I Live For by Henry David Thoreau

I doubt Thoreau anticipated being included in the Zen category, but he’s dead so he has lost his say in this. I’ve had this book for nearly ten years but only read it this summer on vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Some of it is dated, yet some of it is as applicable for today’s time as it was 150 years ago. It grounded me in the timelessness of our struggle for presence, simplicity, and meaning in our lives. More here.

Social Justice

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I had the opportunity to push my practice of what he calls “muscular empathy” by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates book Between the World and Me, which is written as a letter to his 15-year-old son. Coates understands broad sociological concepts like the social construction of race, intersectionality, and systemic power but he is able to write about them without the distance of the intellectual analysis but with visceral closeness of a father’s pride and fear for his only son. More here.

Turning the Tide by Kathy Obear

I had the wonderful opportunity to read a preview copy and offer a testimonial. Here is the testimonial I wrote for this wonderful book: “Turn the Tide is a wholehearted look at what goes on when we are triggered, particularly around issues of oppression, so we can navigate those triggers more effectively to bring about greater understanding, justice, and authenticity in the workplace and in our lives. Kathy brings together positive psychology research, a deep understanding of social justice, and decades of coaching and consulting experience to help connect and be a helpful guide to the reader.” More here.

Can I Kiss You? by Mike Domitrz

I also had the opportunity to read a preview copy of this book and offer a testimonial. Mike does great work on sexual violence prevention. Here is the testimonial I wrote: “Can I Kiss You? is a great primer on consent in dating and intimate relationships. Mike has an ability to explain things in simple and accessible ways that are also powerful and memorable. He not only describes ways of communicating and interacting, but he also points out the absurdity of not doing so. This is a great resource for those wanting to learn about consent and those who want to be able to teach others about consent – including parents and educators of all kinds.” More here.


Co-Active Leadership by Karen Kimsey-House and Henry Kimsey-House

The authors of the co-active leadership model think deeply about leadership and bring in great research and thinking from many different realms. Their model explores leading from within (self), in front (visioning and guiding), behind (supporting and servant leadership), beside (in partnership), and in the field (paying attention to the big picture and the energy of the moment, situation, or people). I found this very accessible as it is short and full of relatable leadership challenges and successes. It has also helped me pay more attention to aspects that I tend to less. For example, after reading the book I was headed to lead a training. As I began I took their advice and focused on how I could as a leader, “bring the weather.” This helped me be less focused on me and the participants opinion of me and more focused on setting the mood, tone, and environment that would make this a better experience for all. This is a good addition for those with lots of experience with leadership concepts and models.

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Sivers is the founder of CD Baby and now a regular TED Talker. He’s an unconventional thinker who isn’t doing so just to be contrarian. I loved his two interviews (first and especially his shorter reloaded version) on the Tim Ferriss Podcast. Sivers book explains the lessons learned from his successes, failures, and unconventional ways of thinking from starting, growing, and then getting rid of CD Baby. It’s a fun, punchy, short, and though provoking. More here.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

The first Ryan Holiday book I read was The Obstacle is the Way, which is a explanation of Stoic philosophy and application of it in modern life. Ego is the Enemy explores the role of ego (selfishness and self-centeredness) and how to move away from ego to live a more fulfilling and more successful life. Ego is the Enemy did not resonate with me the same way The Obstacle is the Way did. It seemed to be a collection of quotes and stories to support Holiday’s thesis and perspective, rather than vice versa. Still there were several good take-aways that connected to other learning. More here.

Rebuilding Blocks by Garrick van Buren

This was a gift from the author, who I’ve seen in the neighborhood from time to time and then just happened to notice on Derek Siver’s Now, Now, Now page. Turns out we ended up chatting over our kids swimming lessons and we had lots in common. This book is Garrick’s story of family man and entrepreneur and the role of the game of Kubb in his growth. Garrick generously gifted this book to me and I really enjoyed learning about his journey working on his own, as someone new to this same challenge. I’ve also enjoyed some Kubb games since then.

Untrue Story of You by Bryan Hubbard

Not very good. I love the idea of moving beyond the stories about ourselves based on our past experiences, hurts, traumas, privilege, and successes to have a more realistic and accurate picture of ourselves. However, this book took a way too mystical and out there approach to this than I could stomach. This is certainly not positive psychology grounded in research. I would not recommend.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Diaz weaves amazing prose through a multi-generational story of a Dominican family. I was mesmerized by his descriptions and references that unapologetically weave references to Lord of the Rings, Modern Language Association panels, comic books, and hip hop to make the story sing. As great as the prose was the story itself just didn’t pull me in.

Coming Up Next

The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Any suggestions to add to my list for 2017? If so, leave a suggestion in the comments.

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