Now that your favorite coffee shops and summertime pools are opening back up, it’s time to pick up a new book and dive in. We gathered a list of nine recommendations from Advisory Board’s experts on what you can read this summer. Whether you are looking to expand upon your political history knowledge, learn how to make better decisions, or want to enter the world of Greek mythology and fantasy novels, we know there will be something for you in this list.
Noise by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein
Thomas Seay, Managing Director
"Noise" is one of those books that could sell itself solely on the strength of its authors.
Daniel Kahneman is, well, Daniel Kahneman: the guy who wrote "Thinking, Fast and Slow," who somehow won a Nobel Prize in economics despite not technically being an economist.
Cass Sunstein is, among many other things, the coauthor of "Nudge," a book about gentle-but-effective behavioral interventions that helped inspire "nudge units" everywhere from Penn Medicine to the UK government.
Now, together with Olivier Sibony, they've written "Noise," which explores an underappreciated way that our judgment often goes awry. In short, we humans tend to make "noisy" decisions, influenced by all kinds of factors and flaws that shouldn't matter but often dominate our judgments.
Noise is, in the authors' formulation, distinct from bias. A sharpshooter who keeps firing to the left of the bullseye is biased. One who just randomly scatters their shots around the target is "noisy"—and noise, the authors argue, is a shockingly pervasive and pernicious phenomenon in fields from criminal sentencing to medical diagnosis to hiring.
To share a few of their health care examples:
- One study "found that the diagnostic accuracy of melanomas was only 64%, meaning that doctors misdiagnosed melanomas in one of every three lesions";
- Another study discovered "that the range of false negatives among different radiologists varied from 0% (the radiologist was correct every time) to greater than 50% (the radiologist incorrectly identified the mammogram as normal more than half the time)"; and
- Perhaps most strikingly, doctors who are asked to review the same case twice often disagree with themselves. "When assessing the degree of blockage in angiograms," the authors write, "twenty-two physicians agreed with themselves between 63 and 92% of the time."
So how can we cut down on noise? The authors offer a menu of options to improve "decision hygiene," some fairly straightforward (like asking multiple independent experts to weigh in) and some a bit of a mouthful (can you say "mediating assessments protocol" or "dialectical bootstrapping" three times fast?).
Ultimately, I wasn't quite convinced these solutions will always prove practical or effective, at least in the most difficult—and consequential—cases. But "Noise" is still a sharp, compelling read that gave me a more nuanced vocabulary for discussing flaws in decision-making, as well as a handful of tools to minimize noise in my own thinking.
Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington
If you are looking for a casual book to read poolside with a cocktail in hand, this is probably not it. As the title implies, author Harriet Washington examines the dark, often untold history of racism in the medical field. The chapters serve as a comprehensive history of medical experimentation on Black Americans (and yes, it’s a lot more than Tuskegee) and details how structural racism persists today, even among the most well-intentioned institutions. If you launched anti-racist book clubs in 2020, this is a great book to add to your rotation. Your stomach may turn as you turn the pages, but no one in the health care industry can afford not to read this book.
The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Vidal Seegobin, Managing Director, Advisory Board International
In January 2021 I started the “ultra-marathon” of fantasy novels. Across 14 books and well over four million words, Jordan immerses you in an incredibly detailed world. I often describe it as a mix of “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones.” It has some of the best world building (you will refer to the maps), political intrigue, and plot twists I’ve read in a series. I’m on the very last book right now and most in the series became my daily treat and reward. If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys world building, character progression, and aren’t shy about exclaiming out loud “I knew it!” while reading, then consider the investment in time. I think you’ll enjoy it.
The Great Dissenter by Peter S. Canellos
Alicia Daugherty, Managing Director, Service Lines and Technology
A timely and inspiring biography of John Marshall Harlan, the Supreme Court justice who went from being an enslaver to being the lone dissenter in Plessy v. Ferguson, among other civil rights cases. Justice Harlan’s Black half-brother Robert Harlan was a major influence on his thinking and career, emerging as a political leader and helping John land his Supreme Court appointment. Their stories offer a unique window into the Reconstruction era / Gilded Age and its parallels to our society’s challenges today.
Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek H. Murthy, MD
Andrew Mohama, Senior Analyst
Nearly two years ago, I listened to a podcast episode from "Everything Happens with Kate Bowler" in which Dr. Vivek Murthy and Kate shared a conversation on the epidemic of loneliness. Previously, I had not given much thought to loneliness as a public health concern and certainly did not know about its ‘epidemic’ levels. But by the end of their conversation, my mind was racing with emotion and curiosity. So, when Dr. Murthy mentioned his new book coming out in the Spring of 2020, I knew I needed to read it.
Fast forward to the day I picked up this book—we were sheltering in place due to the Covid-19 global pandemic. Almost overnight, it seemed, we completely altered our lifestyle to increase our physical distance from one another. I think it's safe to say we all felt some acute effects of loneliness. For me, it begged the question of how many individuals felt this way much before the pandemic. The answer may surprise you. What Dr. Murthy discovered during his time as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States under President Obama was that loneliness is responsible for more suffering, sickness, and death than just about anything else. To highlight a shocking comparison, people who struggle with loneliness live shorter lives, and the amount by which their life is shortened is nearly the same as the amount by which smoking 15 cigarettes a day shortens your life.
In this timely book, Dr. Murthy explores the healing power of love and connection through stories from the past and present—with a hopeful look at the future. It is now overwhelmingly clear to me—community is medicine. And Dr. Murthy offers heart-warming insight on how we can harness the power of community to heal one another. To be loved and to be known. This experience, as is so beautifully interwoven throughout the book, is when we can truly flourish. "Together" is essential reading, especially as we adapt to the new world we live in. Rather than moving through life as a separate self, this book encourages us to embrace the power of the collective. I think there is something in this book for everyone.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Deirdre Saulet, Expert Partner
Of all the books I’ve read this year, this is easily my favorite. But I’m late to the party as Homegoing received a number of awards across 2016-17. I can see why. This novel begins with two half-sisters in 17th century Ghana who never knew of each other’s existence and whose lives go in completely opposite directions. One marries an Englishman while the other is sold into slavery. The book follows these women and their descendants through the generations from the Gold Coast to Harlem. I found this a powerful, compelling, and heart-wrenching tale of the legacy of slavery and what it means to find your way home.
Mythos by Stephen Fry
Elizabeth Grimes, Managing Director, Internal Partnerships/Growth
As a life-long lover of Greek mythology, this more modern retelling of the classics is actually very deep on detail and genealogy. The author’s background as a comedian shines through and I found myself laughing out loud at some of the descriptions. I’m looking forward to the next two books in the series—Heroes and Troy.
Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis by Sam Anderson
Darby Sullivan, Research Consultant, Executive Insights
At first glance, this non-fiction book ranked one of the best of 2018 by the New York Times seemed to be about nothing that actually interested me. I love reading fiction that gets at central questions of identity, power, relationships, and the human condition—I have little interest (at least pre-Boom Town) in weather patterns, professional basketball, or Oklahoma.
Now, I'm a changed woman. Anderson's dry wit and unique vantage point had me hanging on his every word, whether it be about the impossible establishment of the state itself (google the Land Run), suspect urban planning decisions (did you know that Oklahoma City is the largest city by geographic area in the world?), or the intricacies of the OKC Thunder's strategy for the 2015-2016 NBA season. And yes, Anderson grappled with identity, power, relationships, and the human condition.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Heather Bell, Senior Consultant, Health Policy Research
There are few books I find myself able to re-read, but Bill Bryson's dry humor as he navigates the challenges of the wilderness is a gift that keeps on giving. I've read this book several times and I decided to revisit it last year when the national and state parks in my area were overflowing with people looking to safely escape their homes. If I couldn’t be out among the trees myself, why not read about someone else's endeavors—and get a few good laughs along the way.
The autobiographical book follows travel author Bryson and his old friend as they attempt to hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. The comedy almost writes itself as the two men struggle with their equipment, their fitness, and the natural elements. But at his core, Bryson is a travel writer, and along the way he shares a lot of history about the trail, as well as information on the larger ecosystem. Even if you are not looking to hike all—or even a portion of the Appalachian Trail—the book is a great way to unfold from your day, quiet (at least for a moment) the 24/7 news cycle, and have a good laugh while learning new information.