The Five Best Books I Read in 2018

The texts that rocked my world this past year.

Introduction

when I decided to become a college professor, I knew that I’d still be able to retain much of the flexibility that I enjoyed as an independent speaker, writer, and advisor. Make no mistake: Being an effective professor requires a great deal of time and effort. Those who think that doing the job right entails just showing up to give a lecture are delusional. Still, my lifestyle allows things outside of work that give me a sense of balance—and reading is one of them.

Depending on what else is going with my professional life, I read anywhere from one to three books per month. I used to review them more frequently on my site and HuffPo but I’ve been slacking in that regard as of late.

Here are my five favorites from the past year in no particular order.

Understanding Our Children

I often speak to my ASU colleagues and professor friends at other colleges and universities about the state of academia. It doesn’t take long for the subject to turn to students and how they’ve changed.

Wanting to know more, I blew through The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The authors do a fantastic job of explaining how we are preparing the road for the child—not the reverse. Rather than just decry the status quo, however, they propose rational if difficult solutions. Put simply, there’s no quick fix to this nuanced problem.

Revisiting My Favorite TV Show

I can’t believe that I missed Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion by rock-star TV critic Alan Sepinwall when it came out a little more than a year ago. I rectified that problem pretty quickly.

I had read many of Sepinwall’s reviews on Breaking Bad over the years but there was something special about seeing them all in one place. What’s more, the illustrations really jumped off of the page. Less than a day after receiving the book, I finished it. It’s that good.

Corporate Greed on Steroids, Part 1

I had heard stories about foul play and questionable ethics at Theranos, but I didn’t realize how morally bankrupt its leaders were until I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.

In a word, wow.

Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani belong in prison for their repeated and willful acts of corporate malfeasance. Anyone who argues against the very idea of government regulation should read this book.

Anti-Intellectualism on Steroids

For centuries, many Americans and institutions have viewed intellectuals with more than a fair bit of skepticism. To say that the problem has exacerbated in the last decade is the acme of understatement. Exhibit A: Just look at the rise of the Anti-Vaxxers.

Against this backdrop, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols is riveting. He meticulously explains the sources of the problem and offers some solutions that, by his own admission, are unlikely to really help given the current political environment.

Corporate Greed on Steroids, Part 2

Books like Flash Boys shed light on the lengths to which hedge funds will go in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Michael Lewis’ book hardly portrays saints, but by comparison his characters appear far less evil than billionaire Steven A. Cohen.

Sheelah Kolhatkar’s Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street painstakingly details how Cohen built his empire—ethics be damned. Unfortunately, it’s not a piece of fiction.

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What books moved you this year?

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