My Year in Books – 2016

As is usually the case, in 2016 my reading list was a mixed bag. Just over half were books that I stumbled onto and oddly enough I enjoyed those books more on average than the books I sought out. Here’s my year in books:

Illuminae: The Illuminae Files 01 (Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)

At first the format of Illuminae seems gimmicky; the story is told through a series of interview transcripts, action reports, chat sessions, memos, and computer system logs. But the result is a powerful exploration of information freedom, transparency, and the boundary between technology and humanity set against the backdrop of a thrilling space opera.

The End of Education (Neil Postman)

Postman’s thesis is astoundingly simple: education must have a compelling narrative to support it (an end, if you will) or it will end. Two decades later his thesis has still gone largely unheeded. Education debates center on teacher salary, standards, and testing. Few people talk about why we are educating in the first place. The question of why is usually brushed off casually with an answer about career readiness or transmission of culture. As someone who works in schools, I can tell you these are profoundly uninspiring narratives for many students. Postman put it this way:

“Any education that is mainly about economic utility is far too limited to be useful, and, in any case, so diminishes the world that it mocks one’s humanity. At the very least, it diminishes the idea of what a good learner is.”

Gray Work: Confessions of an American Paramilitary Spy (Jamie Smith)

This is billed as a memoir but is almost definitely more fiction than fact. It’s a shame because it seems to be well-researched (excluding some of the most incredible parts) and is certainly a captivating story. If it had been marketed as a novel it might have done better. Smith did have one important nugget buried in the end of the book though. He noted that the “War on Terror” is a misnomer. We are not at war with terror. We are at war with an ideology (radicalized Islam) and the counter is not bombs and bullets, it’s an ideology (democratic pluralism).

The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques (Margaret Wehrenberg, PsyD)

I read this for work to use with students but I found a lot of useful tips for myself.

In the Company of Prophets (Heidi Swinton)

A really cool inside look from the personal experiences of D. Arthur Haycock with seven presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)

This book came highly recommended by friends and colleagues. It did not disappoint. Though I must admit that despite being a product of the 80s myself, I didn’t get most of the cultural references in the book.

A Whole New Brain (Daniel Pink)

This book deserves its own post. I think I’ll do that.

The Martian (Andy Weir)

This book should not work. It has so much math and science and procedural detail. Somehow Mark Watney’s moxie, gallows humor, and near-constant flirtation with death make this book move instead of bog down.

Everything That Remains (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus)

Everything That Remains is a memoir (or maybe self-help autobiography?) that chronicles how Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus left behind the excesses of their lotus-eating, corporate ladder-climbing twenties to pursue a meaningful life with less. It is a good book that sags a bit in the middle.

I probably would be much more enthusiastic in my review if I hadn’t already learned about their journey from listening to their podcast, reading their essays on, and watching their documentary Minimalism. Truth be told, that’s on me. I had the mistaken assumption that, “I’m a minimalist, so I’ve got to read this book too.” I will say if you’re new to the concept of minimalism, want to live a meaningful life with less, and like to read this book is a good place to start.

Foreign Agent (Brad Thor)

This is one of those books I stumbled upon while at the library with my kids. It reminded me of Tom Clancy’s books (just much shorter) which I have really enjoyed in the past. So I checked it out and almost could not put it down. There’s a reason it’s labeled as a thriller. As a side note: I would hate to be the casting director for a movie adaptation of Foreign Agent. Every woman is exceptionally attractive. If you’re the flight attendant, you’re really good-looking. If you’re the German cop, you’re really good-looking. You’re the senator’s chief of staff? Yep. You’re really good-looking. Main character’s girlfriend? You’re crazy off-the-charts good-looking.

Creative Schools (Ken Robinson, PhD)

This book deserves its own post. I think I’ll do that.


I’m calling 2017 “The Great re-Read”. I’ve winnowed my personal library down to roughly a dozen of my favorites. This year I’m going to read them again and see if they’re worth keeping or if I’ve gained all I can from them. So be looking for What Happy People Know, Naked Economics, the Harry Potter septology, If You Can Talk You Can Write, and (if time permits) The Lord of the Rings.