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.
The 11 books we recommended in the summer
Here's Advisory Board's latest reading list, offering 10 recommendations from our experts on how to escape hidden "mindtraps," empower yourself and others around the world, and explore contemporary issues within and beyond health care.
Become a Stronger Leader and Thinker
Mastering the Moment by Tim Pollard
David Willis, VP, Health System Strategy
How many truly great presentations have you heard in your life? As you think about that, ask yourself two questions: What were the specific points the speaker was trying to make? And did I do anything differently because of what I heard? My guess is that if you're like most people, you'll struggle to answer the first question. At best, you remember the main topic the speaker was talking about, or that the speaker had high energy. And I also expect that your answer to the second question is also a "no." Consider then, was the presentation really great?
Tim Pollard is the foremost thought-leader today on what makes for an effective presentation. And his new volume, Mastering the Moment, is entirely about teaching you, as a speaker, how to change the answers to those two questions. His thesis in one sentence: the job of the speaker is to powerfully land a small number of big ideas. That's the best articulation I have ever heard of what should be the goal of every presentation.
I have previously reviewed Pollard's book on presentation design, still my go-to source on that subject. In Mastering the Moment, Pollard turns his attention to presentation delivery, and the output is simply the best book I have ever read on the topic. Full of both frame-breaking insights and practical tips for the many real world challenges you run into as a presenter, the book pays dividends many times over. My favorite chapter is the one on understanding—and really dissecting how to use—the classical tools of rhetoric. You'll learn some new words in that chapter (e.g. anaphora, litotes), but you will also learn how to get people to really remember your key points.
Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity by Jennifer Garvey Berger
Craig Pirner, Managing Director, Talent Development
What’s a "mindtrap?" In her book Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity, Jennifer Garvey Berger, writes that they are "cognitive and emotional shortcuts … part cognitive bias, part neurological quirk, part adaptive response to a simple world that doesn't exist anymore."
The book tackles five such "mindtraps"—simple stories, rightness, agreement, control, and ego. She offers simple solutions for ways to notice and escape the traps, and illustrates each one through both anecdotes and descriptions. Although the concepts are quite complex, Berger's synthesis and application makes them easy-to-understand, and I suspect you'll find yourself operating in at least one of the five traps and emerge with better self-awareness.
Adaptive Capacity: How Organizations Can Thrive In A Changing World by Juan Carlos Eichholz
Matt Cornner, Managing Director, Talent Development
An increasingly common story across the health care industry is the growing recognition that "what got us here, won't get us to the future." In addition to an unprecedented convergence of industry forces challenging our basic economics, we are experiencing seismic disruption to the business and care models upon which we have relied for decades. To thrive in this complex and dynamic future, organizations must develop what Juan Carlos Eichholz calls "adaptive capacity." They must go beyond operating strongly within a static model in order to account for dynamic ecosystem and market forces. Essentially, when the world around us is changing, leaders and organizations must be able to change themselves. Adaptive capacity is the collective ability to notice the ways in which current operations no longer effectively serve our larger purpose; and organizations with it are able to notice that the gap between goes beyond execution and orients to a larger sense of purpose.
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Heather Bell, Editor-in-Chief, Daily Briefing
I've always been a big believer in making data-informed decisions, and when it comes down to the wire, trusting one's gut instinct. But in recent years, I've been challenging myself to look beyond those two common decision-making fallbacks and, in the process, have gravitated toward research and books that explore what motivates everyday decisions. In Decisive, Chip and Dan hit the nail on the head. They clearly outline how our everyday decision-making processes can lead to poor decisions, and take a four-step approach that challenges you to reframe the question being asked, and reduce unconscious and conscious biases from the decision-making process. This book is a must-read for everyone from industry leaders to entry-level staff. We all make hundreds of decisions each day, and whether you consider yourself a poor or strong decision maker, Decisive likely holds something for you.
Escape through Fiction
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Amanda Berra, Senior Partner, Research
Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem is the first book in an award-winning Chinese science fiction adventure trilogy. The title refers to a math problem: how to predict days, seasons, and the occasional global freezing or melting event on a hypothetical planet that bounces among three different suns. This math problem is a matter of survival for a civilization stuck on such a planet and continually getting wiped out. You may not think it is your problem, since your planet revolves in a pleasantly predictable way around just one sun—but it will become your problem if the Trisolarans detect your planet’s presence …
I almost missed out on The Three-Body Problem due to a review that said, ‘if you love computers, you will love this book.’ Fortunately, I found no such prerequisite. Computers are important, but not the main attraction. This is a riveting story about people, culture, and crazy turns that history can take, mixing with sci-fi content about space travel, alien sociology, and what happens if you fold things up into the 11th dimension. Anything the reader needs to know about computer science, physics, or math, a helpful character will explain.
If you choose this book, your reward will be spending your upcoming vacation in the most refreshing possible way: comfortably seated, tuning out family, travel, and life as we know it here on Earth, with a thought bubble hanging over your head that says “Whaaat?!” I will keep you company, as I’m about to crack open book number three. The second book was called “The Dark Forest,” and—spoiler alert—that title turned out to refer to THE UNIVERSE! The UNIVERSE is a dark forest! Crazy. No idea why book three is called “Death’s End,” but I am going to find out.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Deirdre Saulet, Practice Manager, Oncology Roundtable
As the days have gotten shorter and colder, I've finally started to make headway on the pile of novels amassed in my living room which were recommended and lent to me by friends and family. This novel has been my favorite by far. It's an enchanting story of love and death following a recently widowed fossil hunter, Cora, who breaks societal norms in Victorian England. If you're a sucker for historical novels like I am, this will be a pleasure to curl up with during the holidays.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, narrated by Tom Hanks
Sarah Schultz, Managing Director, Research Sales
After vehemently stating the case for "real books" for many years, I meekly made the leap to an e-reader a few years ago and have never looked back. I still find great joy in surrounding myself with books, browsing independent bookstores, and filling my queue at the public library, but having my Kindle at my side means there is never a five minute break that can't be filled by a book! In addition, since I'm largely a fiction reader, and have always said I "can't" listen to fiction—I have to read it.
Leave it to Tom Hanks and Ann Patchett to tell me how wrong I was! There is something so luxurious about being read to, and this book is a perfect starting point. The Dutch House tops the list of books I am buying for gift exchanges this year, but even better than that, I am gifting the audio version narrated by Tom Hanks (No wrapping paper! No shipping deadlines!). The story is a gorgeous fairy tale set in modern times, complete with all the expected characters (Orphans! Evil stepmother! Heroes!), drawn out in lovely detail. The Dutch House itself is perhaps the most carefully crafted character; Patchett captures primacy of place in a way that will speak directly to anyone that has a home—real, imagined, or somewhere in-between—they wish they could get back to. Grab this audiobook and settle in for Hanks' melodic telling (but set it on 1.25, trust me, regular speed is a tad too slow.)
Discover our Contemporary World
The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates
Megan Tooley, Practice Manager, Cardiovascular Roundtable
I've always been impressed by Melinda Gates. She's carved an impactful role for herself in the world of philanthropy—both independently as well as in partnership with her famous husband. So when I saw a book not only by her but also about women's empowerment throughout the world—an issue I feel very passionate about and which I support through my volunteer efforts—I knew it was a must-read.
In The Moment of Lift, Gates provides inspiring stories of how empowering women around the world can lift entire communities. Importantly, she backs up these stories with startling, data-driven evidence of the impact of these efforts—providing the type of data that is necessary to inspire true change in societies and within governments. Gates also chronicles her own journey in discovering the potential impact of women's empowerment, as well as the missteps she and other philanthropic leaders have taken in supporting it along the way.
I learned that it wasn't an easy path for Gates to get to where she is now. While a secondary focus to the stories and initiatives she focuses on throughout the book, Gates' own experiences as a woman in a male-dominated tech world and her efforts to carve out space in her organization are present throughout. Gates allows herself to be vulnerable in order to further support the women she is fighting to empower.
The Moment of Lift is beautifully written, but painful to read at times. Child marriage. Abuse. Abject poverty. The fact that 17 countries still have laws that limit when and how women can travel outside the home. But Gates speaks with hope. She explains what works, what doesn't, and what our blind spots are when entering a community to try to help. She'll challenge and inspire you as a reader to find your own way to help empower and lift.
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch
Thomas Seay, Executive Editor, Daily Briefing
There's an easy way to find out whether Gretchen McCulloch's Because Internet is your kind of book: Just read a sampling of her old "A Linguist Explains" columns from The Toast, and see whether you find them as delightful as I do.
- What is it about the phrases used in the ubiquitous doge meme, like "so gif" or "many happy," that makes them so instantly recognizable? As McCulloch explains, it's all about "selectional restriction."
- How do writers on the internet, which is devoid of familiar cues such as body language and tone of voice, make clear when they're being sarcastic? Among other ways, via some very specific uses of ~punctuation~, Capitalization, and dileberate mispellings.
- Are emoji really killing the English language? Of course not, but in McCulloch's hands, the question still offers an intriguing way to explore what language death really looks like.
As these columns illustrate, McCulloch excels at applying the tools of formal linguistics to the gleefully informal, rapidly evolving world of online communications. In Because Internet, she has the space to more fully explore how the internet has created a new dialect of written English, governed by its own hidden linguistic rules.
Among the questions she explores: Why do older generations so often write in ALL CAPS, or use a series of periods or dashes rather than line breaks to separate their thoughts in emails? Why is "sounds good lol" normal netspeak, while "sounds lol good" or "I love you lol" are creepy and off-putting? What can the language changes ushered in by past technologies, such as the telephone, tell us about the future of internet English
If any of those questions intrigue you, you'll find Because Internet to be a charming, provocative, eye-opening read. Many happy, very interwebs.
When Life Gives you Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People by Jeannie Gaffigan
Megan Clark, Managing Director
Jeannie Gaffigan's name might sound familiar—she co-authored and executive produced many of her husband Jim Gaffigan's comedy shows—and I picked up the book because I like his books and their TV show. But this book runs much deeper—it's Jeannie's story of being diagnosed with a pear-shaped brain tumor, and her subsequent surgery and recovery.
There have been a recent slate of excellent books written by physicians who have been patients, detailing their experience navigating the health care system. And those have been valuable. But it was also good to be back in the land of a patient that doesn't know the system. I was laughing and groaning at observations like the one on page 22: "I have a theory that the paperwork at doctors' offices is total busywork to distract you from the fact that after rushing to get to your appointment on time, you are forced to wait forty-five minutes before you can see the doctor." I also appreciated how she was able to relay how her "medical disaster" reverberated through different aspects of her life—and how she thought of herself, and her roles as a wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter, etc. along the way. I found myself laughing out loud and crying multiple times (much to the chagrin of the rest of the folks waiting for our flight).
Patient stories are powerful reminders of how time spent on making the system work better translates to an individual patient's experience. Here you can read about the good, the bad, and the funny.