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The Advice Trap

The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever could easily be boiled down to three or four PowerPoint slides. In fact, I suspect the book originated as three or four PowerPoint slides that were puffed up and padded out into a full-length book.  …

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Friends

Ever heard of Robin Dunbar? He’s the guy who famously discovered Dunbar’s Number: 150. Wait, let me clarify that. Robin Dunbar did not discover the number 150. What he did discover is that 150 is roughly the largest number of friendships most of us can maintain at one time. Robin…

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Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible

On the surface, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia is a memoir of the years 2001 to 2010 when the author, Peter Pomerantsev, lived and worked in Russia.  In reality, the book is an in-depth critique – no that’s not strong enough…

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Greenwood

I was on vacation last week and took one of my periodic side trips into fiction. Greenwood, by Canadian writer Michael Christie, is a novel about family and trees and the relationship between them. It spans four generations of the Greenwood family over the course of about 130 years. A…

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On Tyranny

I’ve lived my whole life in democratic countries. I’ve never experienced what it’s like to live under a dictatorship, thankfully. But these days, I’m worried. Democracy here in the US and around the world seems more fragile that it used to, or maybe I’m just more aware of its fragility.…

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The Economic Weapon

This book could not be more timely. Published one month before Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War is about the origins, evolution and uses of economic sanctions during the years between the two world wars. It’s written by…

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The Address Book

You probably don’t think about your street address very much. These days, I imagine you use it mainly to fill out forms or to tell online retailers where to deliver your packages. In reality, your address is loaded with meaning and power.  The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About…

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When We Cease to Understand the World

When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about ideas that defy comprehension told in a way that defies categorization. It’s written by Benjamin Labatut, a Chilean writer born in Rotterdam in 1980. This is his third book, and the first to be translated into English. The book…

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COVID Year 2

A year ago, I posted a reflection on working from home during the first year of the pandemic. A lot has happened in the second year. Back then, I was waiting for my turn to get the COVID vaccine. I got it in April.  Then in the summer I changed…

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The Fabric of Civilization

What are you wearing right now right next to your skin? Do you prefer clothing made from natural fabrics like cotton, wool, or silk?  Maybe you don’t mind synthetics like polyester. If you’re about to start a workout, you might put on something made from a “technical” material like polypropylene. …

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Notes on the Invasion of Ukraine

I read because it helps me make sense of the world. I blog because it helps me distill what I’ve read, and hopefully it helps others make sense of the world too. The events of the past week make all that seem like a futile and irrelevant pastime. How can…

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Entangled Life

When the author of this book about fungi started describing his participation in experiments involving LSD, I wondered if it was going to be a different sort of book than I was expecting. The author is Merlin Sheldrake, a biologist and writer who holds a PhD in tropical ecology from…

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The Big Switch

I’m only halfway through the book I’m reading, so this week I’m writing about a podcast instead. The Big Switch is a terrific podcast about how we switch to a net zero carbon economy to help slow down climate change. It’s hosted by Dr. Melissa C. Lott, Senior Research Scholar…

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Eloquence of the Sardine

As a young boy, Bill François manages to catch a wayward sardine with his toy net and pail while clambering around the rocky Mediterranean coast of his native France. I say wayward because sardines aren’t solitary creatures and they don’t usually swim close to shore. When he lets the glittering…

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The 1619 Project

We’ve all been taught the United States was founded on July 4, 1776, when representatives of the 13 colonies, gathered in Philadelphia, issued the Declaration of Independence. That’s the dominant historical narrative. But what if it’s not true? The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story makes a compelling case that…

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Around the World in 80 Trees

Starting from London and zigzagging in an easterly direction, Jonathan Drori takes us on a grand tour visiting 80 of the world’s most interesting and exotic trees. Literally Around the World in 80 Trees. The book is printed on heavy paper stock and lavishly illustrated by Lucille Clerc. It’s beautiful!…

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The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

Everything you thought you knew about human history is wrong. And that’s a good thing. That’s the key message of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, a monumental work of scholarship by David Graeber and David Wengrow. David Graeber was a professor of anthropology at the London…

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The Power of Ritual

We humans are social beings. We need connection to survive and thrive. The trouble is we’re not getting enough of it these days. One of the cruelest effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it separates us from the people we’re closest to. It’s especially painful at this time of…

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Wintering: A Season With Geese

Over the last couple of years I’ve got into the habit of taking a walk through my neighborhood each evening. On weekends I go for longer walks in a large park a few miles from my home. I suppose it’s a COVID coping mechanism. I’ve gradually become more attuned to…

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Books are just too dangerous

Last week I read a beautiful opinion piece by Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri about the power of books. For context, there’s been an unprecedented rise in efforts by conservatives in the United States to ban books from schools and libraries that deal with topics such as race, class, sex…

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Poe for Your Problems

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most creative and influential American writers of all time. He wrote 70 short stories, published three volumes of poetry, a full length novel plus numerous essays and letters. He invented the detective story. He has a fair claim to inspiring if not actually…

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Nonfiction November Week 5: New to My TBR

Somehow our clever hosts have managed to squeeze an extra week into the month. This fifth and final week of Nonfiction November we’re hosted by Jaymi @ The OC Bookgirl. Here’s the topic: “It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be…

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Dying of Whiteness

There are two main ideas in Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland: Right-wing policies implemented by Republican administrations attract supporters because they align with a fundamental desire of many white voters to preserve their position at the top of an imagined racial hierarchy. …

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Nonfiction November Week 4: Stranger Than Fiction

Nonfiction November is zooming by. It’s now week 4, and this week we’re hosted by Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks: “This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that *almost* don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look…

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