At Greater Good, we often learn of books that we don’t end up reviewing for one reason or another. Sometimes they come to us too late or they don’t exactly fit with other editorial content. Sometimes, we just have too many books to review. Here are some of the worth-checking-out books we overlooked this year.
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are, by Frans de Waal (WW Norton & Company)
Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal makes a compelling case for why we should stop measuring animal intelligence by comparing it to our own. Too often we humans assume we are on the most evolved beings on the planet, and we discount and mistreat our fellow animals. Yet, science shows many of the assets we think set us apart—tool use, recognizing ourselves in a mirror, planning for the future—are also found in other species. Instead of trying to uphold our view of ourselves as special, de Waal suggests we learn to appreciate the ingenious ways animals adapt to their environment on their own terms. In this way, we can avoid hubris and encourage respect and caring for all of life.
Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World, by Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen (MIT Press)
Many of us are enamored with modern technology, finding it hard to put down our cell phones or resist obsessively checking Facebook posts. But this behavior can make us inefficient, socially isolated, and unhappy. In Distracted Mind, psychologists Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen explain how our minds are easily hijacked by technology and why we’re not capable of efficient multitasking, despite our belief to the contrary. They suggest strategies for dealing with multiple distractions, including mindfulness meditation, exercise to reduce stress, and blocking accessibility to our devices when trying to concentrate or participate in social encounters.
Be The Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, by William Gentry (Berrett-Koehler Publishers)
The climb to the top is all about “me”—how can I get ahead, what is in my way? But as William Gentry points out, leadership is about the “we.” When you get promoted in an organization to management, you’re no longer working just for yourself, but for the good of the whole group and the people you supervise. That demands a whole new mindset and a whole new skill set. Gentry walks readers through the specific, concrete steps they need to take to “flip the script” from being out for yourself to focusing on the needs of other people and the goals of the group. “Ultimately as leaders, we are called to serve others, help others grow, and make the world around us a better place,” he writes. “You have the potential and ability to be the boss everyone wants to work for.”
Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, by Tim Harford (Riverhead Books)
In the aptly-named Messy, economist Tim Harford suggests that orderliness is antithetical to creativity and innovation. Following rules, having a neat desk, and trying to avoid chaos may be more comfortable for many of us, but they can interfere with producing our best work. Instead, Harford shows why embracing disorder can heighten alertness and help us build new connections between disparate ideas, thereby increasing our ability to problem-solve, innovate, and become more resilient. His book is filled with entertaining examples of how a little disorder made for great collaborations among artists, politicians, and business people. Messy might not be for everyone, but even those of us who need more order can benefit from Harford’s insights.
Mindful Games, by Susan Kaiser Greenland (Shambhala)
Our children live in a complicated world, full of distractions, which leave them stressed and uncertain. Susan Kaiser Greenland, a pioneer in bringing mindfulness practices to children, has written a very practical book for teachers, parents, and caregivers who want to bring more focus, calm, and kindness to children in their care. It’s full of exercises that teach the “ABC’s” of Attention, Balance, and Compassion, such as sensory awareness, focused breathing, and visualization. She especially emphasizes that consistency and repetition is more important than perfection or duration. If adults try to help kids do just a little bit every day, she writes, they’ll gradually gain the tools they need to manage their emotions and their setbacks, and they may be able to improve learning, have stronger relationships, and feel happier in their lives.
The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline, by Jonathan Tepperman, Tim Duggan Books
Journalist Jonathan Tepperman gives an optimistic view on solving seemingly intractable world problems. He spent years interviewing leaders from around the world who’ve made huge strides in solving difficult challenges facing their communities—problems like inequality, economic stagnation, civil war, political gridlock, corruption, and Islamist extremism—by creating innovative, often small-scale, social programs to address them. Most often their solutions involved compromise and a willingness to be strategic rather than dogmatic or ideological. Thoroughly researched and highly engaging, the book provides a roadmap for social change and a necessary antidote to the hopelessness we may feel because of current political divisiveness.