Books of 2019
This year was a challenging one for reading as I started a new business, Griffy Creek Studio LLC, an architecture firm focused on zero-net-energy resilient buildings. I also got back into teaching graduate-level classes for Indiana University. One, Sustainable Communities, I started teaching in 2010 for the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. The second, Energy and Environmental Design, was a new course for new the J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program in Columbus. Some of the books I read this year helped me find more time to read, work, exercise, and teach. Many were deeply challenging, causing me to reflect on why I do what I do. I hope you will find something on my list for your reading list in 2020. Let me know what you think I should read in 2020.
I'll start with the books that helped me better organize my time.
Elevate: Push Beyond Your Limits and Unlock Success in Yourself and Others– by Robert Glazer
This little book is a great place to start. It is a quick read but filled with gems. He shows how you can develop your capacity in four areas - spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional – to elevate yourself and those around you. Each chapter ends with action steps that include challenges and resources, which led me to some of the books on this list. The author's website has a set of tools to help you determine what is most important, which is key to elevation.
Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life Before 8 am– by Hal Elrod
It's hard to elevate if you can't find the time for capacity building. What could you do with an extra hour each day? The miracle morning is a routine Elrod developed to make the most of the time reclaimed by getting up earlier. Unlike my wife, who naturally bolts out of bed at 5:30 am, I am not a morning person, but Elrod does a great job of breaking the challenge down into workable steps. I took his advice and started getting up an hour earlier to read, write in a journal, meditate, and exercise. I'm not sure how I would have gotten through this past Fall without this routine to anchor me each morning.
Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose YourLife – by Nir Eyal
The author's first book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, was a best-seller that inspired many of our current digital addictions. The key to both books is an understanding of internal and external psychological triggers and how to use them to our advantage to focus on what is most important. Eyal outlines a practical set of guidelines for keeping our eye on the ball when submerged in an environment of enriched distraction. Master Eyal's step-by-step process, and you will reclaim valuable time you can use for elevation and elation.
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Busy World– by Cal Newport
What price do we pay for our addiction to social media, email, news, and other digital distractions? According to Newport, one price is solitude in an age when we are almost always connected and distracted by the digital realm designed to hook us at every turn. Another price we pay is trading mindless distraction for what we value most, including our relationships and our most important work. Newport offers some pretty radical hacks, including a 30-day technology break and phones that aren't smart. He includes less drastic steps, like changing the settings on your technology, to avoid distractions and focus on what is essential in your life. This book is a natural companion to Indistractable, and both feature psychological research.
Send: Why People Email So Badly, and How to Do It Better– by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe
Send is one of those books I wish I had read a long time ago. Email is such a critical tool for communication, but it can also be a great time sink, and it can get you in a lot of trouble. This book is an essential guide to when to use email and how to use it wisely. Required reading!
Running to the Edge: A Band of Misfits and the Guru Who Unlocked the Secrets of Speed- by Matthew Futterman
I've been toying with the idea of running another Boston Marathon 40 years after my first one in 1982. Running to the Edge is an inspiring story about a legendary high school coach who discovered a unique approach to bringing out the best from his runners, starting with a band of misfits, but eventually including an Olympic Marathon champion. Futterman made me lace up my shoes and start jogging again. If you are a runner or an aspiring runner, this will be a joy for you to read.
Run for Your Life: How to Run, Walk, and Move Without Pain or Injury and Achieve a Sense of Well-Being and Joy– by Mark Cucuzzella
Dr. Cucuzzella is a pioneering running doctor who developed the Air Force's Efficient Running program after three decades of marathon and ultra-marathon running, treating runners, and studying how to run well without injury. His book is a well-illustrated guide to flexibility, balance, and strength-building exercises, and other strategies for getting out of our deadly chairs and out onto the running paths. I am using this book to attempt to get through some knee, hip, and back issues that have interrupted my running comeback. Unlike many doctors, Cucuzzella doesn't have a problem with older runners staying in the game. Just the advice I needed. Now, if I could only find a doctor like him in Indiana.
A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters– by Stephen C. Hayes
My wife, Linda, is a clinical psychologist, and one of the tools she uses is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Dr. Hayes is the originator of ACT, which is a series of skills we can use to turn toward the thoughts that are holding us back "with curiosity; opening to our emotions; attending to what is in the present; understanding the art of perspective-taking; discovering our deepest values; and building habits based on what we deeply want." The power of ACT derives from the decades of research that led to the skills, and much of this book is a deep dive into that research, but it also outlines some specific skills you can use every day. As this new book makes clear, ACT is not a quick fix; it is a lifelong practice. He convinced me ACT is a practice worth pursuing to "pivot toward what matters."
Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts- by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Tavris and Aronson, both social psychologists, wrote this stunning book about cognitive dissonance and how we routinely stretch reality to balance two opposite beliefs. One only had to watch a few minutes of the impeachment proceedings to see how far the truth can be stretched to fit a set of firmly held beliefs. Their anecdotes and examples run from the justification for the Iraq war to that last inexplicable argument you had with your spouse. Our brains have blind spots, and this book made me more aware of mine. Be prepared for moments of shocking insight into your behavior and insights into societal dysfunction that is damaging all of us and the planet upon which we depend.
Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?– by Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben's 1989 book, The End of Nature, hit me like a truck with the reality of global warming, and it was one of the inspirations for my decision to devote my life and professional practice to sustainable architecture. I hated to pick up his latest book, though, because I was afraid it would be a major downer. Since 1989, we have recorded the 20 hottest years on record, and the last five have been the warmest. As the question mark in the title implies, McKibben remains an optimist, in spite of the immense challenges we have created for ourselves. He goes beyond climate change, a threat greater than even he imagined in 1989, to include the impact of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. His central question is what it means to be human on this planet in the rest of this century. I dare you to read this book, but be sure to get to the end where McKibben provides his rationale for urgent optimism.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming- by David Wallace-Wells
This was another hard book to wade through but written with vivid examples that riveted my attention. Our current path, "business as usual," will lead to catastrophic consequences, but not necessarily just in the distant future. We are already experiencing major disruptions to life on this planet as his chapters document: heat death, hunger, drowning, wildfire, disasters no longer natural, freshwater drain, dying oceans, unbreathable air, plagues of warming, economic collapse, and climate conflict. Wallace-Wells also explores how we got here and where alternate futures may lead us. He is a parent of a young child, and, like McKibben, he sees a way out of this chaos. Again, this is a hard book to get through, but it is worth the synthesis and the hopeful outlook. It is a wake-up call.
Losing Earth: A Recent History– by Nathaniel Rich
As this gripping true story begins, "Nearly everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979. . . the main points were already settled beyond debate, and attention turned from basic principles to refinement of predicted consequences." Rich looks at the decade from 1979 to 1989 when policymakers snatched defeat from almost certain success in formulating effective global climate policy based on science. Forty years later, science hasn't changed, but the climate has. Losing Earth is a book every policymaker and voter should read. We have run out of time to repeat this tragic history of inaction. Mistakes were made.
The Green New Deal: Why the Fossil Fuel Civilization will Collapse by 2028, and the Bold Economic Plan to Save Life on Earth– by Jeremy Rifkin
I have found economist Rifkin's other books, The Third Industrial Revolution and The Marginal Cost Economy, to be full of insight about the future, and much of what he predicted in those two earlier books has already come to pass. He bases his provocative prediction of a carbon bubble bursting by 2028 on the fact that renewable energy technologies, like solar and wind and battery storage, are rapidly becoming cheaper than fossil-fuel-based technologies. As a result, some sectors of the economy are already decoupling from fossil fuels. He predicts that fossil fuel reserves will be soon be stranded assets leading to disruption in the global economy. Rifkin has worked in Europe and China on strategies to make the transition less disruptive, relying heavily on an intelligent electrical grid that will connect distributed energy generators and consumers in real-time. I'm not yet convinced that the kind of global societal transformation envisioned by Rifkin can happen in the divided world we find ourselves today, or that we are all prepared to be part of an internet of things. Still, at least he does have a plan, and we should get all the proposals on the table and evaluate them with open minds.
Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man– by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
I listened to this incredible book on headphones while working around home and farm, and I still associate specific places with the horrifying scenes painted by the authors from the first-person accounts of survivors. As the famous scene from the movie Jaws suggested, crew members had to deal with sharks for four days after their ship was sunk at night by a Japanese submarine after delivering the nuclear material for the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan. But that wasn't the only source of riveting tension or horrifying detail in this book. For that ship to get sunk that night and for the rescue to take so long, mistakes were made. It is a story of legendary courage and persistence by brave men facing impossible odds. It is also a story about how dysfunctional a vast, complex bureaucracy can be, especially when it experiences cognitive dissonance and is not open to listening to disagreement. Justice is not always served, at least not in a timely fashion.
Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster– by Adam Higginbotham
By now, you may be wondering about my psychological state after reading this list of dark books about past and future disasters. I will consult with my psychologist.
This last selection is my book of the year recommendation. I can't imagine the depth of research that went into this masterful work, which included an examination of radioactive documents from the scene. I devoured this book at bedtime, losing enough sleep to endanger my Miracle Mornings, but it was hard to put down. I read this after seeing the Chernobyl mini-series detailing the disaster on HBO. What was not clear to me from the mini-series was that the faults of this reactor were already known to the Soviet nuclear scientists, but they were not allowed to share the information. The deadly coverup after the explosion was equally unbelievable. It was helpful to have Mistakes Were Made in my head as I read this to see how cognitive dissonance can lead to disaster, coverups, innocent scapegoats, and even more damage than should have occurred in the first place. Midnight in Chernobyl is another cautionary tale about a fear-based organization trying to protect its world view in spite of science and the startling facts in front of their eyes.