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November 20, 2018

13 must-read books for your holiday travels, according to Advisory Board experts

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was updated on Dec. 21, 2018.

    If you're among the 112 million Americans hitting the road (or the skies) this holiday season, you'll need a good book to keep you company.

    Here's Advisory Board's winter reading list, offering 13 recommendations from our experts on how to improve your memory, feel heartened about the state of the world, and explore contemporary issues within and beyond health care.


    What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back by Jim Haudan and Rich Berens

     David Willis

    David Willis, Executive Director, Research

    Jim Haudan and Rich Berens have written the most important leadership book of 2018. In my work with executives from health care organizations, I consistently see examples of these blind spots in action, as organizations struggle to engage their people in change initiatives. The authors make a compelling case that all organizations need to do a better job articulating and living their purpose. Too often we assume that since our clinical professionals are, by their nature, mission-driven, we as leaders do not need to do much to engage them. Reality check for health care executives: Your organization's mission, vision, purpose, and values are often completely undifferentiated—and are not helping you engage your people. Haudan and Berens challenge you to do the hard thinking around what exactly makes your organization unique and special, and how you can communicate that in a way that builds trust, engagement, and long-term commitment.

    Leading Change from the Middle by Jackson Nickerson

    Craig Pirner

    Craig Pirner, Managing Director, Talent Development

    There are a lot of books on leading change; I appreciated Nickerson's because it focused not on how change is lead from the top of an organization, but from those "in the middle"—i.e., mid-level managers. Especially as consolidation accelerates, the fate of many initiatives in health care will depend on the mid-level leader's abilities to navigate change. Through a couple of parables about mid-level leaders trying to steer change in complex organizations, Nickerson gives practice tips on identifying stakeholders, communicating with them, and how to avoid the stimulation of negative emotions that derail success.


    The War of Art: Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

     Matt Cornner

    Russell Davis, Executive Director, Research

    The dusty violin, the half-written screenplay, the unfinished painting: We all have these artifacts of our never-quite-completed creative efforts. The self-imposed obstacles that prevent us from exercising our creativity–which Pressfield terms "the Resistance"–deprive us of our individual fulfillment. "If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony ... and you don't do it," Pressfield argues, "you not only hurt yourself, ... you hurt your children." He gives shape to the Resistance and describes how you can professionalize your creative process to overcome it.

    Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

    Brian H. Yokley, Senior Marketing Director, Research

    Ever forget what hotel room you're staying in? The last couple items on your grocery list? The first 22,514 digits of pi? 

    Moonwalking with Einstein is a delightfully easy read that outlines the author's transformation—in one year—from a normal person with a normal memory to a top mental athlete. Joshua, a journalist who was investigating intelligence, came across the 2005 US Memory Championships and was fascinated. So much so that he dedicated the following year to documenting and learning the techniques that mental athletes use to remember staggering amounts of information. By 2006 he was at the same memory competition, but this time as a contestant.

    Half story of Joshua's journey and half education of how to remember everything, this book explores how our brains are hardwired and how professional mental athletes exploit that knowledge. The techniques are remarkably easy to implement. While reading the book, I memorized my grocery list by creating a variety of mental images that were pictured in each room of the house I grew up in—and I remembered that list six months later. That is nothing compared to what Joshua trained his mind to memorize—such as the order of each card in 27 shuffled decks in an hour and the names and faces of 99 people after just having met them.

    Want to learn how to memorize everything? Anyone can learn how and this book will teach you.


    Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

     Amanda Berra

    Amanda Berra, Senior Research Partner

    If you've seen reviews of Educated, you know it's the story of how the author escaped from her abusive family. But what I loved most about this story is that its not a physical jailbreak, it's an intellectual one.  Her family wasn't keeping her in the basement; they had her trapped in an alternate "us against the world" type reality, and the only way out was to help herself to the education she wasn't given. 

    Westover finds and tugs on the slenderest of threads—a few random books here, a standardized test prep guide there—to pull herself free. Every step along the way, she finds concepts that clash with what she was taught, forcing her to sort out what reality is, and confront the implications about herself and the way she was raised. Some of the most powerful weapons she picks up along the way are basic study skills—you  want to stand up and cheer at the moment when (spoiler alert!) she discovers she can save herself from failing exams if she … wait for it … reads the textbook. If you take your education for granted now, you will never do it again.   

    Contemporary Issues

    Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond


    Gillian Michaelson, Consultant, Health Care Advisory Board

    In Evicted, Princeton sociologist and MacArthur Genius Grant winner Matthew Desmond explores the policies and practices of eviction and affordable housing in the United States through the struggles of eight families in Milwaukee. His work offers a nuanced perspective on the impacts of eviction on the health and wellbeing of families and communities while also providing a framework for solving one of our most pressing public health problems.

    Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling

     Thomas Seay

    Thomas Seay, Editor-in-Chief, Daily Briefing

    To say that Bill Gates is a fan of Factfulness, by the late Swedish physician Hans Rosling, is an understatement. Not only did Gates call it "one of the most important books I've ever read," but he offered to buy a copy for every U.S. college graduate in 2018. I figured that such a powerful endorsement warranted a read, and I wasn't disappointed. It's a quick, accessible, and often entertaining overview of 10 common cognitive errors that humans—especially humans in wealthy Western nations—make when thinking about the world, along with prescriptions for how to think smarter.

    What will stick with me most is Rosling's urging to think of countries throughout the world not as "rich" or "poor" but as existing along a spectrum of four levels. After all, by American standards, people living on $1 a day and $16 a day are both "poor"—but that shorthand obscures dramatic differences in lifestyle, life expectancy, and economic prospects. Rosling forces readers to truly internalize the distinctions between the four levels, and that literally has changed the way I see the world.

    The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer by Charles Graeber

    Craig Pirner

    Jim Kane, Senior Director, Talent Development

    I had the opportunity to meet Charles Graeber when he was doing a keynote regarding his first book The Good Nurse and was struck by how he's mastered the art and science of journalistic curiosity. His understated manner draws you in and captivates with crumbs of intrigue, while his personal manner is seconded only by the captivating dance he performs with prose. The Good Nurse is a must-read for all in health care. Spoiler: It's not "feel good" nonfiction.

    The same manner captures the reader in his newest, The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer. Written in the style of a mystery novel, Graeber relays both the science and interpersonal intrigue involved with the complex physiology of cancer and our immune system. He compellingly dives into the lives of the scientists who discovered immunotherapy—and won the Nobel Prize just days after the book hit the press. You'll leave understanding more than you thought possible and, at this time of gratitude, expressing thankfulness for the work of these scientists at your holiday events.

    The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

     Amanda Berra

    Natalie Trebes, Consultant, Health Plan Advisory Council

    Most businesses assume their customers want more choices—and most customers would say the same. But while having some choices is better than having none, having too many choices actually often leaves us worse off. Psychologist Barry Schwartz compiles a clear, well-researched, and often humorous look at the science behind how we make decisions in a modern world of ever-expanding options. Using accessible anecdotes ranging from selections in grocery stores to university course offerings, Schwartz will make you think differently about how limitless your everyday choices are becoming.

    This challenge seems particularly vital for health care organizations that, as they seek to offer more personalization options for their customers in an age of new entrants like Amazon, might want to learn more about what truly makes a difference for consumers' overall health and happiness. Even if you don't want to think about work, read for a compelling and easily readable review of all the principles at play—that will stick in your mind from the grocery aisle to the doctor's office.


    How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

     Craig Pirner

    Veena Lanka, Senior Director, Research

    If you're like me, and much of your Thanksgiving weekend is spent seeking entertainment while your family of football enthusiasts is happily occupied, I have just the book for you. In How We Got to Now, Steven Johnson takes you on a fascinating journey through the history of six things whose existence we take for granted—glass, refrigeration, sound, sanitation, time, and light—and reveals the incredible ways they've impacted humanity at large. Perhaps none of them sounds particularly exciting on its own, but allow yourself to discover firsthand the riveting history how isolated events created a perfect storm for their invention—and how they changed the course of societies and nations in a way no one could have predicted. Johnson's engaging style will keep you hooked from the first page to the last, and take you around the world and across time, all without leaving your comfy spot on the couch. In the end, whether your team wins or loses, you'll end the day feeling thankful that all is well with the world and mankind is winning overall.

    The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World by A.J. Baime

     Megan Tooley

    Megan Tooley, Practice Manager, Cardiovascular Roundtable

    If I'm not reading about health care on my Thanksgiving vacation, I'll likely turn to recent history—the books that get deeper into the stories we didn't fully explore in high school history classes, but provide insight into how history shaped the way we are today. This book covers a span of just four months, beginning with the presidency of Harry S. Truman, but it's written more like a novel. Read for a well-written and fascinating look at a man who was thrown into the arc of a story his predecessors had written, and who had to make a decision that ultimately changed the course of war and international diplomacy. An enlightening and enjoyable read.


    Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

     Jenn Stewart

    Jennifer Stewart, Executive Director, Research

    For a break from all things health care, I would recommend Code Name Verity. There are several reasons you might question this recommendation: It was published in 2012, it was (inexplicably) published as a young adult novel, and the cover art is a little off-putting.

    But here's why I recommend this book to everyone: It is an intricately plotted spy novel set in both Britain and Nazi-occupied France during WWII. What's more unusual, the book is told exclusively from a woman's point of view, and explores (in a non-cloying way) the power of friendship. It also delves into all the different forms bravery can take—from large heroic acts, to small quiet acts done day-after-day. 

    To make my final pitch: I thought this was as well written (and frankly contained more of a woman's perspective) than All the Light You Cannot See (which I also loved). And as an added bonus, the audiobook version (read by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell) is lovely. It's perfect for getting through long commutes or dark, post-daylight saving time dog walks or runs.

    Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

     Megan Tooley

    Deirdre Saulet, Practice Manager, Oncology Roundtable

    As I've just started digging into Becoming by Michelle Obama, I'll reserve that recommendation for a later date. For now, and for an escape from your never-ending to-do list, I recommend Where the Crawdads Sing. I'm a sucker for coming-of-age stories and whodunits, and this novel is a fantastic blend of both. It's a beautiful mystery with romance and evocative descriptions of the North Carolina coast. I guarantee it'll be a fantastic way to decompress after stressful holiday shopping or lengthy stays with extended family.

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