Monday, January 23, 2012

Neal's Best Reads of 2011


Neal’s Best Reads of 2011  -- not in any particular order...
Buddha’s Brain, the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom.  Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius, 2009.  This very approachable book soon has you hooked on understanding recent brain research into its function and adaptability.  Science, religion, meditation, psychology and learning theory are all woven into a captivating discussion on what, until recently, has been our most mysterious organ.  This is fun to read for the lay reader, and you want to apply the practices to improve our brain functioning and learning.  An enjoyable and approachable read for anyone.
Eiffel’s Tower, Jill Jonnes, 2009.  A historian’s look at the planning, construction and the life of the Eiffel Tower.  He brings  vibrancy into what could be seen as a sterile engineering project into the life of Paris in 1889 and the World’s Fair.  This actually is a page turner, and draws the reader into the daily life and cultural politics of a very creative and exciting era in Paris.  
How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer, 2009.  This neorobiologist takes us on a tour of the functioning of the brain, and how we are genetically programmed, as well as culturally programmed to sort through the millions of stimuli of a day, and make decisions.  This book is primarily geared to psychology and brain scientists, rather than the lay reader.  The better book on this topic is Buddha’s Brain, at least for me.
Holding Lies: a novel of a river and its secrets.  John Larison.  2011.  You get into the skin of an Oregon fly fishing guide, and his effort to reconnect with his grown up daughter, as well as the river politics of a small rural community.  This promises to really wrap you into the life of salmon and fishing.  Yet, that promise isn’t quite kept and the more important story to the author is the murder of another guide and the remorse of a middle aged man for his inadequacies as a father.  An adequate read, but not great literature.  
Reinventing Fire: bold business solutions for the new energy era.  Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute. 2011.  This is a must read for any entrepreneur and student of trends.  This turns the energy crisis and global warming hand wringing into an optimistic view of the revolutionary approach to 21st century opportunities.  This book offers a fascinating tour of current technology and opportunities that seem to ignored by mainstream media.  Their viewpoints are backed up by research and state of the art scientific and engineering research. 
Back to Work: why we need smart government for a strong economy.  Bill Clinton. 2011.   At his public policy best, President Clinton offers us his clearly written, engaging assessment and argument for where we should be going as a country and as individuals.  Articulate, persuasive and not as partisan or strident, or as lethargic as other political rhetoric this election “cycle”, this is a good read.  He’s provocative, inspirational, and challenging.  This is a worthy book for any voter this year.
Looking Through Water.  Judy Allen. 2011.  My friend’s enjoyable novel of coming of age of a girl with healing powers, on the Oregon Coast.  This is engaging, and she tells a good story of life in rural America and how a family deals with the challenges of poverty and fear of a young girl’s gifts.  Enjoyable, yet the reader is challenged to ponder pre-conceived views of healing powers and the gifts of other cultures.
The Astoria Chinatown Conspiracy, Richard B. Powers. 2011.  A captivating murder mystery set in the West’s oldest American city, in the 1880s, when bigotry against Chinese coolies was at its height.  My friend brings the characters of my favorite Oregon fishing town alive.  I’m halfway through this novel, and am drawn into the story and his colorful weaving of characters and intrigue.  I’m sharing this with my fellow lovers of Astoria history.  
Thinking Fast and Slow. David Kahneman. 2010.  An interesting exploration into our thinking process, our reactions and our two tiered level of analysis, problem solving and reaction to our world.  Interesting, and thoughtful, but not nearly as fun as Buddha’s Brain.  This has stayed on the best seller list for almost a year, so others are finding it worthy.  It is worthy, just not as much fun as Buddha.
Outliers: the story of success. Michael Gladwell. 2009.  This delightful book looks at the lives of some folks who were amazingly successful, and others who didn’t quite get there, and wonders, why?  An inspirational and intellectually satisfying read.
Emotional Intelligence 2.0.  Trevor Bradbury and Jean Greaves. 2011.  An excellent book on being aware and using emotional intelligence as you navigate the world of business and social interaction.  This was so concise, helpful, and insightful, I gave copies to my staff and my fellow managers at work.  An excellent book to hone one’s leadership skills.
Books on My Night Stand
Cleopatra, a Life.  Stacy Schiff.  2010.  A biography of the queen of the Nile, which I understand makes the reader challenge the stereotypes and simplicities of a life of someone who was actually quite complex.
At Home: a short history of private life.  Bill Bryson, 2010.  This hysterical writer promises to entertain me again, this time with a tour of his house in England.  A Walk Through the Woods is the apex of outdoor recreational humor writing, so I can’t wait to read this.
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history.  S. C. Gwynne.  2010.  This history book has been on the best seller list for some time, with reviewers praising its well crafted writing, and interesting tale from the perspective of the vanquished.  
In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: class encounters with addiction.  Gabor Mate’. 2008.  Friends in the know tell me this is the best book written about addiction in the last twenty years, and offers profound insights.  This comes highly recommended.
Neal Lemery, January, 2012.

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