Really Necessary Reading

A growing Bucket List for the Well-Informed Citizen who desires to overcome both an active Confirmation Bias and the passive Availability Heuristic feeding it, in no particular order (links updated March, 2019)

(By the way, “As an Amazon Associate I ‘can’ earn from qualifying purchases.”  I say ‘can’ as so far this has not happened, even though the only things I include that are qualified are books that are Really Necessary Reading.  Thanks.)

  • Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Coleman.
    (March 26, 2019)  This is the tenth anniversary edition (2005) of the book that reveals that our common view of human intelligence, an IQ number, is far too narrow and ignores a crucial range of developable abilities that immensely affect how we succeed in life.  Since the book was originally published in 1995, the term “emotional intelligence” has become part of our daily language, but unfortunately the understanding of what it is and how to develop it and incorporate it in our lives has not.  Too few people, including peers, parents, teachers, workers, bosses, management, and executives are fully able to apply their emotional intelligence to life broadening advantage.  The hint that there is a lack of development of or understanding of emotional intelligence is noticing when people of high IQ flounder while those of seemingly modest IQ do surprisingly well – which occurs relatively often.  Relying on updated brain and behavioral research, the book affirms that the emotional potential we inherit at birth, including self-awareness, self-discipline, and empathy, is not fixed but each are capable of being intentionally developed in childhood and continuously strengthened (and successfully applied) throughout adulthood.  This should be mandatory reading for anyone contemplating a career of any type and in particular for anyone hoping to eventually entering the ranks of paid leadership (i.e., management.  We’re all already leaders by how we influence others, which is a little recognized condition that would also be greatly strengthened by reading the book.  So it’s for everyone.)


  • The End of Alchemy, Mervyn King.(image added)
    Mervyn King is a former governor of the Bank of England (with some responsibilities equivalent to our Federal Reserve Bank, among additional ones) and currently a professor at NYU and the London School of Economics.  Going beyond the “what happened” and ”who done it” analyses after the financial meltdown of 2008, King addresses one of the underlying flaws in the entire banking system (what banks do with their deposits and the financial “alchemy” that results from these actions).  It is an enjoyable and easy read providing not only an understandable explanation of local and global financial activities and their impact, but charts a new way forward for healthy banking activities in the global economy.
  • Guns Germs, and Steel- The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond.
    First published in 1997, this is a Pulitzer Prize winner and probably one of the major books of the 20th century.  It is actually a short history of 13,000 years of human civilizations, in one reviewer’s words, “a short history of everything about everybody,” that provides a convincing narrative as to the how and why human societies of different continents followed widely divergent pathways of development.  Diamond traces the spread of ancestral humans from Africa to the other continents and why human societal development got a head start in some places compared to others. His research digs below easily identified “proximal factors” to find ultimate causes for these divergent paths: food production, geographical influences, germs and diseases, and the development and spread of writing, ideas and inventions.

I have now read Diamond’s book twice, once when it first came out, and again last year.  It lays the groundwork for a so much better understanding of the development of and differences in human societies and provides a rock-solid alternative to the simplistic racist answer.


  • A History of Science, W. C. Dampier.
    I originally purchased this book during college and not for a course.  I have to admit that it then seemed a daunting read, but I couldn’t depart with it over the years because it “related” to my chosen field of study.  I read it recently and truly wish I had engaged with it much sooner. It not only encompasses the salient aspects of important scientific discoveries, but ventures into the impact these had on the people and cultures of the times.  It bridges an important but little generally recognized divide: it is not only a very readable and scholarly book that is one of the (still) best popular histories of science, but is also “a better history of philosophy than some that have appeared.”  “A great book which it has been a privilege and an experience to read.  It combines in an amazing way wide historical scholarship with profound knowledge of modern physics, a really comprehending outlook on modern biology, and a natural gift of religious feeling” (From the review in The Guardian).


  • Unpopular Essays, Bertrand Russell.
    This is a delightful book whose essays, covering what were considered delicate topics when it was published in 1950, are perceptive in a prophetic way.  Much of what has developed in society today is presciently described essay by essay, both the polarization of viewpoints as well as the strengths of a now minimized liberal arts education.  Russell was the latest in a long tradition in British philosophy going back through John Stuart Mill, David Hume, Bishop Berkeley, to Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon.  He garnered the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 because one did not then and still does not exist for Philosophy.


  • The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt.
    This is a stunning book, first published in 2012, that probably escapes attention due to it seemingly provocative title (to say nothing of the original cover for the UK version).  I came late to discovering and reading it, especially since reviews described it as, “An eye-opening and deceptively ambitious bestseller … undoubtedly one of the most talked-about books of the year” (WSJ), and “A landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself” (NYT Book Review).  Haidt takes the reader along a deliberately paced (it’s an easy, enjoyable read) development of Moral Foundations Theory and the six foundations upon which systems of Values are built (referred to as moral matrices, valid for all cultures).  The net result is a challenge to our conventional (and narrow) thinking about morality, politics, and religion.  Haidt explains why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and demonstrates why each side is actually right about out many of its concerns.  Understanding the theory should help all of us realize how value systems arise, where ours came from, recognize other’s value systems and what they are built upon, and be able to constructively dialog for the benefit of overall society while maintaining and respecting our individuality and values. Without the book, we can’t; with the book, we should.   With a bit of effort.  Further thoughts can be found in a series of posts beginning here.


  • Games People Play by Eric Meade.
    First published in the 1960s, Meade primarily analyzes the negative games and destructive behaviors that people play with each other or in groups.  It includes games such as, Wooden Leg, Debtor, Alcoholic, Kick Me, NIGYSOB, If It Weren’t for You, Ain’t It Awful, Schlemiel, Why Don’t You – Yes But, Stupid, and others.  It opened up the area of Transactional Analysis in psychology, but even more so, it opens up the possibility to recognize both the positive “games” or approaches to constructive behaviors as well as the seemingly benign “zero-sum games” that on first sight do not appear to be negative at all.  Further thoughts on the Game People Play can be found in a series of posts beginning here.


  •  Game Theory and the Humanities by Steven J. Brams.
    A very reasonably approachable discussion (but one will have to work at this) of the use of Game Theory in analyzing classic situations from life and literature including the Bible (God and Abraham), Shakespeare (Macbeth), Theology (Pascal’s Wager), the Civil War, the New Deal, and Jury Selection, to name more than a few.  Probably best first to read a number of warm-up exercises on the internet through a Google search on Game Theory.


  • The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong by Lawrence Peter and Raymond Hull.
    This is the book that explains why we constantly encounter incompetence in the workplace (and nearly everywhere else). Still valid and humorous 40 years after its first publication in 1970, this is an updated edition.  Considered a classic, with copies published in the 1970s still available.  Further thoughts on The Peter Principle can be found in a series of posts beginning here.



  • Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.
    Once I read in the book review that the “ignorance hypothesis” – the assumption that people in power would do right by their citizens if only they knew better – “still rules supreme among most economists and in Western policy making circles,” this had to go on my must read list.  The authors’ thesis is that “nations fail because those who have power make choices that create poverty. They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose.” Sounds like Incompetent People Managers straight out of The Peter Principle practicing the First Commandment of Hierarchies. In any case, it confirms my suspicions that The Peter Principle is more prevalent than thought, and extends well beyond the workplace.


  • It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, by Colin Powell and Tony Koltz
    An incredibly impactful memoir from a man of lasting integrity.  Particularly useful are Powell’s comments on information, decision making, passing bad news to the boss (do it sooner rather than later: “bad news, unlike wine, doesn’t get better with time”), and that leaders should never shoot the messenger.



  • The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen.
    First published in 1997 when, as a trade version of Dr. Christensen’s doctoral thesis, it jumped onto the New York Times Best Seller list.  It relates the journey of discovery into why well managed and outstanding market-leading companies very often miss out on new waves of innovation (disruptive technologies) and fail at retaining their profitability and market leadership.  Provocative is the observation as I read it that the discoveries presented here are much more broadly applicable in scope socially and culturally and should be elaborated.  A classic.  A later edition is available.



  • Jay Heinrich’s Powers of Persuasion
    Excellent article from Businessweek about the tools of rhetoric applied to persuasion, which is exactly what one wants to do when one is interacting with people (especially through one of the three Games People Play). (For the book, see Thank You for Arguing, in Books above).



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