Head of School Bookshelf, 2017-2018

Each term as head of school at Phillips Academy, I’ve put out a series of books for the faculty to enjoy.  Colleagues are free to keep the books, pass them along to others, or bring them back to the bookshelf in the head of school’s office.  I choose titles that relate in one way or another to the mission of our school and conversations underway on our campus.  I thought I’d post the list for all three terms at once this year:

Spring, 2018 main selections:

Julia Alvarez (Abbot Academy ’67), In the Time of the Butterflies (Algonquin, Reprint edition, 2010)

Mary Beard, Women and Power (Liveright, 2017)

Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing (Vintage, Reprint edition, 2017)

Chris Hughes (Phillips Academy ’02), Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn (St. Martin’s Press, 2018).

Alex Soojung Kim Pang, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (Basic Books, 2016)

David Schwartz (Phillips Academy ’72), The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of The Nuclear Age (Basic Books, 2017)

Bonus choices for Spring 2018 (a few copies of each set out for faculty):

Danielle Allen, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (Liveright, 2015) (we bought 1000+ copies to share with all on campus interested in reading it in advance of Prof. Allen’s May 9, 2018 All School Meeting, one in the year-long series of discussions of citizenship)

Malinda S. Blustain and Ryan Wheeler, Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology (University of Nebraska Press, 2018) (Congrats to the team at the Peabody!)

Michael Lewis, Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life (W.W. Norton, Reprint edition 2008)

Craig A. Miller, This is How it Feels (CreateSpace, 2012) (trigger warning: about surviving suicide; mentioned by Riverside Trauma Center suicide prevention trainings on our campus.)

Winter 2018 Main Selections:

Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (One World, 2017)

Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacometti Bono, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character (Templeton Press, 2015) (h/t to faculty member Allen Grimm who gave me an inscribed copy)

Julie Lythcott-Haims, Real American: A Memoir (Henry Holt, 2017)

Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) (editorial comment: I think it is safe to say that this book has not resonated as fully with our faculty as many of the other titles I offered have.  I thought the perspective of a Republican US Senator on raising young people in this country was worth offering all the same.)

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel (Random House, 2017)

Eli Shafak, Three Daughters of Eve (Bloomsbury USA, 2017)

Winter 2018 Bonus Selection:

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014) (this book appeared on a previous HOS Bookshelf as careful watchers of this space will recall; Prof. Rankine spoke at Andover in January as part of our MLK, Jr., Day celebration)

Fall 2017 Main Selections:

Danielle Allen, Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. (Liveright, 2017)

Robert Gottlieb, Avid Reader: A Life (FSG, 2016)

Ian Haney Lopez, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class (Oxford University Press, 2015, rev. ed.)

John McPhee, Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process (FSG, 2017)

Jessica Shattuck, The Women in the Castle (William Morrow, 2017)

Fall 2017 Bonus Selections:

Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Scribner, 2016) (why: previously on HOS bookshelf; brought back with additional copies given her visit to campus early in the Fall)

Erwin Chemerinsky & Howard Gilman, Free Speech on Campus (Yale University Press, 2017) (why: alternate take on the book I just wrote)

Sigal Ben-Kamath, Free Speech on Campus (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017) (why: ditto)

I also put out copies of the book I wrote, called Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education (MIT Press, 2017).

Head of School Bookshelf, 2016-2017 edition (combined)

Last academic year I kept up my tradition of putting out free copies of books on a bookshelf outside my office each term for the faculty to take and read but I didn’t manage to post the lists here on this blog as I went along.  (Not that anyone complained!)  I thought I’d put the lists out all at once before we launch into a new school year.

Fall 2016

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010)

Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World (Yale University Press, 2016)

Roberto Gonzales, Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America (University of California Press, 2015)

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014)

Lauret Savoy, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape (Counterpoint Press, 2016)

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow (Viking, 2016)

Winter 2017

Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power and Passion of Persistence (Scribner, 2016)

Note: Prof. Duckworth visited with Tang Institute fellows and staff last Fall and will be back again on September 13 for a public engagement at PA. We expect to make many copies of her book available again courtesy of one of our trustees.

Nicholas Guyatt, Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (Basic Books, 2016)

Joi Ito and Jeff Howe: Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future (Grand Central, 2016)

Zadie Smith, Swing Time (Penguin, 2016)

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (Harper, 2016)

Bonus entry:

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

Note: Astute observers will know that Mr. Coates’ book appeared on a previous HOS bookshelf.  It flew off the shelf at the time. I brought it back again as it was meant to be the subject of a town-wide reading program this spring.

Spring 2017

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (Knopf, 2017)

Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown, 2016)

Hisham Matar, The Return (Knopf, 2016)

Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays (Penguin, 2016)

Anne-Marie Slaughter, The Chessboard & the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World (Yale University Press, 2017)

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel and Grau, 2014)

I am working on this fall’s list and always welcome ideas of things to read!

Head of School Bookshelf, Spring, 2016 Edition

This Spring term, I’m putting out on the bookshelf outside the Head of School’s office copies of the following books for the Andover faculty.  The idea is that the books can go and stay home, come back to the bookshelf, or end up as a gift to someone else.  The Spring, 2016 list includes:

Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café.  This book is not of the sort that I often include on this list — which tends to be focused on matters of education, child development, and digital media — but I read it over Spring break and hugely enjoyed it.  Ms. Bakewell takes the reader on a jaunt through the lives of leading existentialists, beginning early in the 20th century and extending through the end of the life of Simone de Beauvoir, one of the main characters.  There’s a fair amount of resonance with current cultural and political debates in the themes she takes up.  Anyone who read the existentialists as a young person and was intrigued will enjoy coming back to them via this book.  The story is a blend of the lives of the philosophers and the way in which the author (Bakewell) experienced their works.  It’s a lot of fun.

Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.  Such a powerful, sad story.  A précis can be found in this New York Times review. Those of us who work in academic settings that seek to bring together talented young people from everywhere (“youth from every quarter,” in our charter), the issues that this narrative raises are essential to consider.  Actually, anyone who lives in America should read this book and consider the hard issues that this account of Mr. Peace’s life and death pose for us as a society.

Jessica Lahey, The Gift of Failure.  Ms. Lahey takes aim at how many of us parent and educate today — and tells us that we need to let our students fail more often.  This book is in line with many of the faculty meeting conversations we have at Andover, as we consider how we can support all our students in both their successes and their inevitable adolescent failures.  As young people perceive they need to be “perfect” to get into their “dream schools” for college, the job of enabling them to fail safely and recover well is increasingly important.  Though not entirely new as a message, readers will enjoy Lahey’s perspective as a middle-school teacher, someone on the front lines of this ongoing debate about how best to raise a generation.

Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker.  I seek to include at least one work of fiction on each Head of School bookshelf list.  This novel is a few decades old (1995); it still resonates in terms of the cultural issues it raises, and it holds up well as an enduring work of fiction worthy of study in its own right.  Our English teachers at Andover often teach it.  The characters are beautifully wrought.  And the use of language (itself a theme in the book) is lovely.

Liz Murray, Breaking Night.  This book is not new, either (2006) — and many will have seen the made-for-TV special about Ms. Murray’s life.  The story is both challenging and uplifting.  For those of us in boarding schools that have students from every socio-economic bracket, some of the lessons in this book are hugely important.  There are many powerful messages in this first-person account of an extraordinary life, written by a young person early in her career.  (Murray’s book is paired with the book about Robert Peace, above, in terms of the challenges faced by those who bridge cultural gaps in coming to elite educational institutions.)  With a h/t to my colleague Heidi Jamieson at Andover for passing along a copy of the book last term.

Leonard Sax, The Collapse of Parenting.  Dr. Sax is a practicing physician and author who writes based on his long experience seeing patients and advising families.  His latest book, The Collapse of Parenting, quickly hit the best-seller list when it came out a few months ago.  I admired his previous book about Girls on the Edge (including on a previous HOS bookshelf list).  Some parents and educators will love his no-nonsense approach; others will consider it too confining.  The book is easy to read and prompts important discussion.  (I’ve paired it on this list with the Lahey book, above.)

As usual, I’m also putting out additional copies of books by recent speakers on campus.  Two of these: danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (on a previous HOS bookshelf list) and Moustafa Bayoumi, This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror, both well worth the read.

Links to a few recent lists: here (mostly on tech and sexuality), here (innovation), here (teaching, talent, and testing), here (fiction), and here (a mix, as this Spring’s is, too).

Head of School Bookshelf, Winter, 2016 Edition

For the cozy Sundays in New England, with snow lying all around (as it is this morning in Andover, MA), here’s the line-up of books I have put out on the Head of School bookshelf for faculty at Phillips Academy:

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time.  I re-read it over the winter holiday break and was glad I did.  Originally published in 1963, The Fire Next Time seemed an apt choice to pair with Coates’ Between the World and Me.  Michelle Alexander linked the two in her elegant August, 2015 piece in the New York Times Book Review.

Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney, Slut: A Play and Guidebook for Combating Sexism and Sexual Violence.  The cast of “Slut” performed on the Phillips Academy campus for our students, faculty, staff, and parents last month.  They were astonishing.  As we educators and parents all grapple with how to contend with sexual violence, ongoing changes in adolescent culture, and the power of both silence and speaking up, this work is powerful.

Ta Nehisi-Coates, Between the World and Me.  So much has been said and written about this book and why it is important that I probably can’t add anything meaningful, other than encouragement to read it.  It’s not easy or optimistic or pleasurable (other than in appreciating the prose itself and the power of the narrative).  Its critical and popular reception speak to its timeliness and resonance.

Michael B. Horn & Heather Staker, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools.  I am a believer in a future of education that connects the traditional, offline mode of teaching and learning with the best aspects of the online, often informal modes.  This book is a helpful resource for those interested in what a blend of the disruptive with the tried-and-true could look like.

Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd, Participatory Culture in a Networked Era.  This book is fun: the experience is of listening in on a dinner-party conversation between three of the leading scholars of the digital age.  In an interactive way, they each reflect on the work they’ve done in this fast-changing field and on what they think is most salient about it.  I make it a point to read just about everything they write.  Here, they are all together in a single text.

Janice Y.K. Lee, The Expatriates.  Before my last Head of School Bookshelf, a faculty colleague at Andover challenged me to add fiction to the mix, so I’m planning to include at least one each time.  I chose Janice Lee’s second novel for the expatriate experience it describes.  The themes will sound familiar to those who have lived abroad or whose children are living abroad — say, at a boarding school.  Pair it with Lee’s first novel, The Piano Teacher, for a great education on Hong Kong expat life between the end of the second World War and today.  Maggie Pouncey, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called Lee “a female, funny Henry James in Asia.”

Head of School Bookshelf, Fiction Edition, Fall, 2015

A few times a year, I share a booklist with the Phillips Academy faculty and offer up copies of the selections on a bookshelf outside my office.  I’m going with an all-fiction Head of School bookshelf for Fall, 2015. Last Spring, a faculty colleague suggested that I try a fiction list next, because that might encourage participation by those who might have found my non-fiction-heavy (not exclusively non-fiction, but mostly…) lists in the past a bit dense. That was all the encouragement I needed — and it also meant that my summer reading inclined more toward fiction than it ordinarily does.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (Anchor Books, 2013).  Adichie’s novel about identity, race, love, and learning has been showered with praise and awards — for good reason.  It’s a wonderful, funny novel and also full of insights about topics we talk about all the time at Andover.

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, 2014).  With a special nod to the history faculty and students, I chose Doerr’s account of lives during occupied France for reasons similar to the choice of Americanah.  It’s truly engaging fiction that also presents a human story with many lessons about empathy, love, and understanding.

Johanna Lane, Black Lake (Little, Brown, 2014).  We are so excited to have Johanna Lane with us at Andover as our Writer in Residence and Instructor in English at Andover.  She’s written a masterful novel about a family handling loss of multiple forms.  Lane writes beautifully — a great inspiration to all Andover students (not to mention those of us on the faculty who try to write, too!).

Tobias Wolff, Old School (Vintage, 2003).  I was tempted to list A Separate Peace here, even though it’s (a) quite old and (b) famously about Exeter.  I figured that might be a step too far back toward my own alma mater, so I decided on a more recent novel very much in the genre of A Separate Peace, but less likely to be based on Exeter and more intriguing in some respects (at least, on p. 168, there’s a reference to Exeter that makes it plain that the school depicted is another school).  It’s a great story and introduces a whole pile of the themes we struggle with (and often overcome!) every day in boarding school.  It’s also about writing, literature, and competition among boys — lots of fun.

Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (Square Fish, 2006).  I wanted to include on this list a novel that takes an inventive form of some sort, and Yang’s story about Asian identity in America (among many other things) fits that bill.  It’s a clever, engaging graphic novel about assimilation, difference, and the perils of growing up in America today.  Warning to those easily offended: it is edgy and most certainly un-PC in parts; that’s what makes it worth reading, actually, to my mind.

Additional Selections.

I find it hard to limit myself to five selections for a Head of School bookshelf, so I tend to cheat and add some “additional selections.”  These choices happen to be non-fiction, and failed to make the official list solely for that reason.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All be Feminists (Anchor Books, 2014).  Super-short!  Packs a punch.  Self-explanatory.

David Brooks, The Road to Character (Random House, 2015).  You may have read parts of this book in Brooks’ New York Times column and elsewhere over the last year.  The full book adds to the texts that were published elsewhere; gets you thinking about Resume Virtues vs. Eulogy Virtues in new ways.

Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (Beacon Press, 2015).  Both when I was a student and then as a faculty member at Harvard Law School, I admired very much the scholarship and teaching of Prof. Guinier.  Everything I’ve read of hers has been highly worthwhile, including her most recent book on what we mean when we talk about “meritocracy” in the context of education — a big theme as we went through strategic planning at Andover.

Tony Wagner & Ted Dintersmith, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era (Simon & Schuster, 2015).  Two of the most forward-thinking people I’ve met have come together to write a book on innovation and education.  Both Wagner and Dintersmith have visited Andover recently and left us with much to contemplate.  Their book challenges all of us in education to press forward faster and with more ambition.  Worthy text to engage with, from start to finish; they pose lots of hard questions.  They also have a documentary out of the same name, which is inspiring.

Fareed Zakaria, In Defense of a Liberal Education (W.W. Norton, 2015).  I loved this book as a step away from the day-to-day conversations about teaching and learning.  Zakaria’s text brings the reader to a higher plain about the point of education and how we go about it, in conversation with contemporary work such as Andrew Delbanco‘s College, which I included on a previous list.

This week, I am putting a pile of copies of each of these books out for the faculty on the bookshelf outside my office, free for the taking, and I encourage those from afar to get copies at your local independent bookstore or library, if you are interested.  I’d love to hear what you think of them.

A few previous editions of the Head of School Bookshelf can be found here: Innovation; Adolescence, Tech and Sexuality; and Tech and Learning for Secondary School Educators.

Head of School Bookshelf: The Teaching, Talent and Testing Edition, Spring 2015

The long flights to and from East Asia this Spring Break afforded time to catch up on a stack of books I’ve been meaning to read for a while.  For this Spring’s Head of School bookshelf, I’ve selected a series of titles focused on psychology and policy relevant to the secondary school field in education.  There’s a lot of great work that’s been done in the recent past and some new books highly worth reading.

Spring 2015 List: Teaching, Talent, and Testing

Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. (Bantam, 2009).  Published a few years ago, this book examines the question of how to develop talent.  Coyle considers the question that has probably occurred to most everyone at some point: how is it that some communities, at some moments of time, produce a disproportionate number of geniuses or other types of extremely high performers?  Coyle examines the conditions necessary to produce “greatness” at a collective level (or “hotbeds”, including in schools, as he calls them).  He also considers the specific commitments of individuals necessary to reach high potential and to help others reach high potential.  This book considers academic success of the ordinary sort, but also athletic, musical, and artistic prowess, among other areas of growth.  Coyle also keeps up a website with lots of good examples — such as the practice routine of Odell Beckham Jr. — that illustrate his point.

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2014).  Along similar lines to Coyle’s book, Duhigg takes up the question of how habits are formed, broken, and reformed.  Though perhaps more geared toward a business audience than toward educators per se, the premise is highly relevant to us at teachers.  How do students (or adults) learn to learn?  What is the cycle by which habits are formed, which lead to effective learning?  There’s a good section on Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (chapter 8), which leads to a discussion of how movements come about (relevant to the section of US History I am teaching this year!).

Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine, 2007).  Prof. Dweck’s crucial book on the growth mindset is not new, but it is as good and relevant as ever.  At Andover, many of our faculty are focused on how we can promote and develop a growth mindset among our students.  Prof. Dweck is joining us in early May, 2015, as a guest of the new Tang Institute and to speak to our faculty.  Prof. Dweck also posts more information on mindsets on a helpful website.  The book and the website are both very clear and well-written, with loads of specific examples for how to understand and deploy her findings.

Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession (Doubleday, 2014).  This book, which came out last year, is a terrific history of 175 years of the teaching profession.  (If we do not learn our history, we are bound to repeat it, right?)  Journalist and author Goldstein gives a strong sense of who has gone into the teaching profession, especially in America, and why; what has happened to teachers and the teaching profession during several key periods in American history; and how we might empower teachers in the future.  (Side-note: Goldstein includes some interesting observations of the role of faith and gender in education, both of which are important, much-debated topics on our campus today.)

Anya Kamenetz, The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have To Be (Public Affairs, 2015).  Everyone is talking about testing these days. It’s a great blessing at Andover not to worry about “teaching to the test,” but our society at large seems testing-obsessed — and our students, of course, take plenty of standardized tests along the way.  This account, by NPR journalist and author Anya Kamenetz, takes both an historical view and one that points us to a future that doesn’t have to be all about high-stakes testing.  It’s a very timely and interesting book, and we have an invitation out to the author to encourage her to come to campus soon, too.

Special Mentions: Other Fascinating New Books — not all exactly on the topic of the list, but included as recommendations:

Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (Norton, 2015).  Prof. Foner, of Columbia University, is a truly great US historian of Reconstruction and other 19th century themes.  I’ve been teaching from his college-level textbook (“Give Me Liberty!”) for my section of US history at Andover this year; it’s very good.  This new history of the Underground Railroad includes several stories never before told in a major book, and draws on archival material that was certainly new to me, and will be to virtually all readers.

Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (Basic Books, 2015).  Written by a computer software developer, this book examines the question of the effect of Moore’s Law (the premise that computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months) on the labor market.  What kinds of jobs might our kids expect to have during their lifetimes?  How much skill will be required for various tasks in a world where artificial intelligence has continued to increase at an exponential rate each year?  As educators, it is worth our giving these hard questions some thought.

Susan Greenfield: Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains (Random House, 2015).  A renowed UK neuroscientist, Dr. Greenfield explores whether our “minds” (not our “brains”, as she stresses at the start of chapter 12) are changing as a result of our vast social media usage and other digital stimuli. The answer is surely “yes,” but with an important call to all of us to define what we want out of the digital revolution and to aim ourselves toward it.  I like her “balanced and comprehensive overview of the scientific research” (Preface, XV) into this important area.

Carrie James, Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap (MIT Press, 2014).  From Carrie James, the Good Play Project, and the excellent Digital Media and Learning series at MIT Press comes this new book on kids and their development with respect to ethics in the digital world.  James draws on her deep research experience as well as new conversations with kids aged 10 to 25 to bring us up to speed on their thinking about privacy, property, and participation online.  She covers important well-known cases (e.g., Tyler Clementi) as well as examples of the “ethics gap” that have been less extensively covered.

Ron Lieber, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money (Harper Collins, 2015).  I loved this book: it’s filled with super-practical, serious advice for how to raise our kids with respect to their relationship with money.  My own kids have already started the system that Lieber recommends (jars for “Give,” “Save,” and “Spend”) and the advice from him and other parents on his Facebook page is terrific.  Lieber is a journalist with the New York Times who covers personal finance.  He’s agreed to join us in the fall at Andover as a guest speaker.

Please consider buying each of these titles at your local independent bookstore.  I bought the copies for the Head of School bookshelf, (in my office, where faculty can come get them anytime), from the Andover Bookstore in Andover, MA.

P.S.: Pointers to previous Head of School bookshelves: Adolescence, Technology and Sexuality; a set geared toward Secondary School Teachers interested in Learning and Technology; and The Innovation Edition.

Head of School Bookshelf: The Innovators Edition

On October 17, 2014, we are launching the Andover Institute at Phillips Academy.  The Institute will be a hub for innovation at PA, where our students, faculty, and others come together to explore new ideas in teaching and learning at the secondary school level.  The idea is to have a “Bell Labs” here at Andover that will help improve learning on our campus and beyond.  Congratulations to Caroline Nolan, Trish Russell, Eric Roland, and all those who have worked very hard to prepare this new initiative.

Inspired by this upcoming launch, I devote this fall’s Head of School Bookshelf to recent books on innovation and its application to how we learn.  As with previous versions of this list, it’s not meant to be exhaustive, but instead a series of pointers to books I’ve read recently and especially enjoyed.  (On campus, for faculty at PA, I make a stack of copies of each book available outside my office; also, we partner with our friends at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library to make multiple copies available to everyone in the community.  As ever, I encourage trips to your local independent bookstore to buy copies, too!)

We revere innovation.  And today, there’s great promise for innovations in teaching and learning.  But do we really know how it comes about?  These five authors take a crack at explaining how innovation works, from various angles.  Three of the books are about innovation, fairly broadly conceived (Isaacson, Gertner, and Shenk).  The other two are focused on learning and how the brain works (Carey and Brown et al.).

Walter Isaacson, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 2014).  There is no one writing today who understands the human side of the technology revolution better than Walter Isaacson (author of the epic, blockbuster Steve Jobs biography and president of the Aspen Institute, among many other accomplishments).  His sweeping history of the digital revolution is packed with insights about how we got to the digital present and who deserves the credit along the way.  For purposes of this list, Isaacson also reveals many lessons about how these innovations took place at such a break-neck speed, which continues unabated today.  To his credit, Isaacson also goes out of his way to unearth untold stories about the female pioneers of the too-often-male-dominated field of information and communications technologies (something I have not done well in assembling this list, I admit).

Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (Penguin, 2012).  Gertner’s book tells a story parallel to Isaacson’s, but its emphasis falls in an earlier era of innovation and on a limited set of actors within a single firm.  Bell Labs is often held out as the best example of industrial research and development in the United States during the 20th century; Gertner helps to make that case plain.  There are many interesting contrasts to Isaacson’s new book: consider how they each treat William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor and winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Joshua Wolf Shenk, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).  The story of innovation, at least in the case of the digital revolution, has in the past often been reduced to the image of solo inventor in his or her garage, paradigmatically in Silicon Valley.  Shenk takes aim at this truism and highlights the power to be found in creative pairs working together toward breakthrough innovation.  Think Marie and Pierre Curie; Lennon and McCartney; Jobs and Wozniak and you get the idea.  (Not surprisingly, Walter Isaacson wrote one of the blurbs: “We sometimes think of creativity as coming from brilliant loners. In fact, it more often happens when bright people pair up and complement each other.  Shenk’s fascinating book shows how to spark the power of this phenomenon.” I agree.)

Benedict Carey, How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why it Happens (Random House, 2014).  There is a great outpouring of research about education and how the brain works these days.  Carey, who has covered the topic for many years as a journalist, brings us some of the best of that research.  He is particularly struck by surprising findings about how to make learning more effective.  The New York Times Magazine ran an excerpt recently, under the provocative title: “Why Flunking Exams is Actually a Good Thing.”  Carey refers here to the notion that taking an exam at the outset of a course that students are unprepared for can lead to better learning outcomes over the course of a term.  The book brings forward a series of similar findings in compelling ways.

Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel, Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Harvard University/Belknap Press, 2014).  In a similar vein, these three authors introduce a whole pile of interesting findings about how the brain works and how learners and teachers can put this science to work day-to-day.  I’ve long been a fan of the work of one of the authors — Roddy Roediger — who has been investigating the powers of frequent testing for the purpose of formative, rather than summative, assessment.  (Basic idea: it’s a good idea to quiz students frequently, to prompt recall and retention, rather than to rely upon heavyweight, high stakes tests at the end of the term or the year.)  This book build out findings of this sort in a highly readable style.  I think parents, students, and teachers all might find this book fun and worthwhile.

Though not formally on the list for this fall, a few other things — an eclectic bunch — from my summer reading that I loved and highly recommend:

Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick (Pantheon, 2012).  I loved this first-person account of an extraordinary life in science.  Mandelbrot’s many breakthrough concepts tended to fall between fields — mathematics, physics, biology, art.  His experience in academia, in and out of university settings and corporate R&D labs, points to the risks inherent in a purely discipline-based view of organizing intellectual inquiry.  Mandelbrot’s mode of innovation is somewhat in contrast to the team-based approach highlighted in the books above.  The New York Times published this review a few years ago, which provides the gist of the book, if you are tempted.  Kudos to Doron Weber at the Sloan Foundation who funded the book’s production.

Robert Darnton, Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature (Norton, 2014).  Robert Darnton is one of the foremost historians working today.  He makes stories from the past come alive in extraordinary ways.  In his most recent books, he explores the history of the censor and how he and she has gone about his or her work.  Darnton employs the methodology of a comparative historian (easier said than done, as he points out in his introduction), going deep on three case studies of censorship regimes.  Darnton’s primary cases are Bourbon France; British India; and Communist East Germany.  He frames the entire work in bookends about the current censorship regimes of the Internet era.  (In full disclosure: I co-taught a seminar with Professor Darnton on this topic at Harvard University a few years ago.  I was far more a student than a teacher for that term, which was both a privilege and a wonderful treat.)

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press, 2014).  I devoted several weeks of reading time this summer to Piketty’s huge book, and I’m glad I did.  Throughout the spring, it was hard to avoid the many reviews of Capital and the firestorm of debate it provoked.  I figured I should read it so that I could have an informed view on the debate.  I found myself agreeing much more than disagreeing with Piketty’s careful, serious look at the perils of the growing gap in income and capital assets in wealthy societies.  I am not yet convinced about his primary proposed fix — a global tax on wealth — but, even a few months after finishing the book, I am still trying to work out if I disagree because it’s impractical or because it would in fact be a bad idea for society at large.  We ignore the trends to which Piketty directs our attention at our peril.  (One clear lesson from his impressive volume of research: world wars matter, a lot.)  There’s a terrific Wikipedia entry already about the book.

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (Little, Brown, 2013).  Also long, also quite wonderful.  It’s a beautiful story (one of two works of fiction on my list) of a familiar modern tragedy, a lost work of art, and the lives of a few young people growing up mostly on their own.  Worthy of all the attention and awards.  Once every ten years, Ms. Tartt seems to come out with a new book, and I’m always glad to see it.

Ian McEwan, The Children Act (Doubleday, 2014).  As in the case of Donna Tartt, I find myself reading everything McEwan writes as soon as it comes out, which I suppose I should admit before going further.  The Children Act, also a work of fiction, proved to be timely: it explores the journey that adolescents must travel with respect to their faith, something that we are discussing at great length at Phillips Academy.  The book touches on many other themes (the role and limits of the law; aging; sex and relationships), but the exploration of faith and its connection to life and death stood out for me.

Zephyr Teachout, Corruption in America (Harvard University Press, 2014).  Zephyr Teachout — a law professor and activist I much admire — just ran a spirited and important campaign for Governor of New York.  Though she came up short in the primary, she attracted enormous attention and raised central issues of institutional corruption in her run against incumbent Andrew Cuomo.  Her book echoes, and builds out, the themes she developed with such skill and resonance during the campaign.  One tiny excerpt: “I am trying to bring corruption back. Not as a societal ill.  As you have read, we have enough of that already.  But as an idea, something we fight and worry about.”  That’s how she starts Chapter 16, “The Anticorruption Principle,” p. 276.  One of the blurbs is from Lawrence Lessig, whose Republic, Lost is a crucial text in much the same spirit: “Teachout’s beautifully written and powerful book exposes a simple but profound error at the core of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision.  The originalists on the Court forgot their history.  This is that history — and eventually it will provide the basis for reversing the Court’s critical error.”  I’m thinking hard about how to introduce this concept and text into my History 300 course this year, US History for Andover students.

I hope one or more of these books might appeal.  (As an aside: as I reflect on this list, I note the several great books published recently by Harvard University Press — bravo!)

P.S.: Pointers to a couple of previous lists in the Head of School Bookshelf: Adolescence, Technology and Sexuality and a set geared toward Secondary School Teachers interested in Learning and Technology.