"The impact on your life will be largely from the people you meet and books you read" -Rick Warren from Thinking. Loving. Doing.

I consider myself a humble man, there is not a lot I like to boast about, however I do take pride in the books I have read. Reading can be such a transformational act. Though it may only take a week to read a particular book, its words will stay with me forever. My mind can wrestle with certain ideas and concepts for eternity.

Though I remain loyal to a certain style of books, I do appreciate different genres, authors, and ideas that challenge my thinking.

Please click on the links below for my humble reviews.
Arranged by 
reviewed year, title, author, or category

Previous Years: 2017  //  2016  //  2015  //  2014  //  2013

currently reading:

2018 reviews
(for earlier reviews please click on the title, author, or category link above)

2018: 27

review date:
Presence by Amy Cuddy

“A confident person - knowing and believing in her identity - carries tools, not weapons.”

When I walk into a room, you probably won’t notice. I like to remain quiet and unassuming. I know when to step up but I believe strength must be used sparingly to stay potent.

I picked up Presence after reading the recommendation from Susan Cain, who wrote Quiet which is one of my favorite books of all time. I found this book to be interesting but not impactful. I liked hearing about Cuddy’s research but after a while it got boring. Most of the research she shares are quick lab experiments with people. These lab experiments definitely hold value but I wanted to something deeper, meaning I was left unconvinced on some things. Presence is an important thing but I definitely think it is only a fraction of the reality.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book or not. I am kind of on the fence about it. I’m glad I read it.

2018: 26

review date:
Soul Searching by Christian Smith

This thorough work by Christian Smith is an enormous research study on the spiritual lives of American teenagers. I was fascinated by the unexpected results of this study. If I had to sum up the entire study in one sentence, it would be this: American teenagers are not that different from their parents.

Here are a few facts I found very interesting:

The United States is not religiously diverse. It is mostly Christian with a smattering of atheists and smaller religions. Additionally, there is only a 10% difference in religious beliefs between teens and their parents. Almost 90% of teenagers believe that one or more religions are true, though very little practice multiple religions.

Over two-thirds of teenagers do not believe they need to be a part of congregation.

Mainline Protestants were the least articulate about their faith.

Teenagers fear being labelled “too religious” thus downplay their spiritual behavior.

Teenagers are highly influenced by individualism even from organized religion.

Parents have the biggest impact on a teenager’s spirituality.

This was a very informative and interesting work. I loved this concluding quotes from Smith: “Adolescents may actually serve as a very accurate barometer of the condition of the culture and institutions of our larger society.”

Anyone working with teenagers or emerging adults will find a lot of value in this work.

2018: 25

review date:
Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

“You have to be comfortable not knowing exactly where life is going”

When I picked up The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, I had low expectations, but when I finished, I was dumbfounded. The book was interesting, concise, informative, and entertaining. So when I picked up Smarter Faster Better by Duhigg, I had high expectations and yet I was still flabbergasted. Smarter Faster Better is somehow even better.

In this book, Duhigg asks the question: why are some people so productive? Throughout the chapters, Duhigg digs deep answering this question. He finds stories from around the world, delicately breaking down each story while tying them together.

We find the basics of motivation and turning chores into meaningful decisions. We learn the foundations of teams. We learn the vital difference between small important goals and big audacious goals. We learn the counterintuitive simplicity of creativity. And, of course, we digest the true value of understanding data.

My favorite quote from the book comes from Pixar executive, Ed Catmull, “People who are most creative are the ones who have learned that feeling scared is a good sign. We just have to learn how to trust ourselves.”

This is not a self help book. This is a book about how people get things done. There is no single way to do things. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of smart work.

“Every choice we make in life is an experiment. Everyday offers fresh opportunities to find better decision-making opportunities.”

2018: 24

review date:
Bums by Peter Golenbock

What’s the difference between sporting events and reality television? Nothing. Both add nothing to society, but I enjoy baseball nonetheless.

I’m a big Dodger fan. That is probably one of the first things you would know about me if you met me. I love going to Dodger Stadium, purchasing an overpriced hot dog, and watching twenty five grown men wearing crisp white uniforms with blue hats compete playing a sport that is meant for kids.

In addition to watching games, I love the history of the Dodgers. From their days in Brooklyn to the Guggenheim Era.

Bums is an extensive work on the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. You get wonderful stories from everyone: players, coaches, wives, batboys, owners, etc. It is a quite impressive work on the storied Brooklyn Dodgers.

The book is, however, a little bit too long in my opinion. My frustration with oral histories is the lack of editing. I do not want to hear five sides to the same story, I want someone to edit these narratives and find me a polished story.

I think you will enjoy this book if you love baseball history. If you lean more to a casual fan, then I think this book is a pass.

2018: 23

review date:
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

“Academic intelligence offers virtually no preparation for the turmoil - or opportunity - life’s vicissitudes bring”

There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is about the facts. Wisdom is about understanding and applying those facts. Miles Kington quipped, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."

Without understanding, everything we know is useless. We need more understanding and that is where emotional intelligence comes in.

I love working in higher education because I get to interact with so many students majoring in a variety of fields. I get to learn about so much just by association. But I also get to see students connect the dots throughout their liberal arts education. The English major may not like his chemistry class and the Biology major probably abhors here art class, but I enjoy seeing these students expand their minds and gain perspectives connecting academic fields together.

Additionally, I enjoy seeing students live in community, learning to connect their academics to the lives. In life changing moments to the mundane of the everyday, this is where students learn emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is one of those foundational works that everyone needs to read. It simply shapes how you think about everything you do and everything you are.

Though the whole book as great, I greatly enjoyed the section on optimism. How optimistic you are about life has a huge impact. Your sense of optimism is more predictive of your success than your intelligence. Giving someone optimism is crucial. “People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property”

I also found the section on dealing with tragedy or difficult memories particularly interesting. I already knew about the chasm between our emotions and the inability to communicate them effectively. (This is why it is hard to explain the reasons you love someone and why listing pros and cons seems absurd). But I never thought about the importance of communicating terrible emotions into words. “People’s emotions are rarely put into words; for more often they are expressed through other cues.” This is probably why just going to therapy just once can be beneficial. Putting horrible memories into words can help you confine and control the emotion.

This book is a new favorite. It is a must read.

2018: 22

review date:
What the Best College Students Do by Ken Bain

So what doe the best college students do?

They are more interested in improving themselves than learning for the test. They are more interested in discovering their purpose than finding a well paying job. The best college students want something more than a college degree. The best college students have a higher calling.

You could read these few sentences I just wrote or you could read a few hundred pages. Which one do your prefer?

I love stories about students fighting the odds, working hard, and finding their purpose and passion, but after a bit these stories can get redundant. And that’s what happens in Bain’s What the Best College Student Do.

I was hoping for some practical steps and deeper research, instead there is a trove of anecdotal stories that get boring after awhile. This book wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t helpful.

2018: 21

review date:
Who's on Worst by Filip Bondy

Baseball can bring out the best in us. It can bring out the worst in us. Though sabermetrics can help settle some arguments, the sport is still a conundrum.

Most of the time we argue value added: the most valuable player on a team, who is the best clutch player, who is the most dominant pitcher, etc. Rarely, we debate the worst of the worst. Who’s on Worst? is journey through the foibles of Major League Baseball. From players who couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn to owners who didn’t know the difference between left field and right field.

If you are into the idiosyncratic world of baseball, this is the book for you. At times, the stories are interesting, but many times, the stories are lackluster and boring. Most great baseball stories of yore have been exhausted, so finding something novel is difficult.

This book was fun and relaxing, but not riveting. If you love baseball, you will love this book. If you enjoy baseball, you can probably pass.

2018: 20

review date:
Getting to Graduation edited by Andrew P. Kelly & Schneider

When I first stepped onto a college campus, I had one goal in mind: to become an athletic trainer. Four years later, I was walking across the graduation stage completing my bachelors degree in Theology ready to enroll in graduate school to seek my masters degree in higher education. What in the world happen to me? How did things change so dramatically?

Even though I lived it, I am amazed at my college journey. I am surprised I finished college (especially in only four years) and then I went on to get my masters degree (the first in my family). College was an amazing experience, but it was also one of the most difficult journeys in my life.

In college I fought rejection, depression, failures and more. If it was not for some amazing students, staff, and faculty in my life, I am confident that I would have never finished. When I graduated college, I had one goal in mind: to help college students the way I need help. That become my calling.

The title Getting to Graduation says it all. Over the past few decades, colleges and universities have had trouble getting students to graduation. The graduation rate for first-time, full-time students getting their degree within six years hovers just under 60%. That means 40% of these students most likely do not finish their degree, driving up their debt with no accomplishment. For colleges, this challenge is growing in urgency as the population of high school graduates decreases.

So how do we fix the completion rates? Well, the book said it simply, “we do not know much about how institutions can improve the success of their students.” This book goes through various means including effective remedial education, financial aid reform, improving community colleges and associate degrees, and even changing the definition of success. The book ends with debate between small, incremental tinkering versus comprehensive overhaul. The book concludes in favor of comprehensive overhaul. Though I like the concept of thinking differently and critically, I cannot endorse rebuilding the whole system. One, we do not know what works and what does not, so I would not want to work on trial and error through the entire process. Two, there are a lot of things that do work, we just do not know why. There are plenty of schools with significantly better than average completion rates. These schools would benefit more from small experiments than reinventing the wheel.

I do not know what colleges and universities will look like in ten years. For centuries, experts and pundits have predicted the fall of American higher education and they have all been wrong. I expect things to get more efficient. I expect more data. I expect more options, especially online. All said and done, I still expect higher education to be important to the fabric of our society.

2018: 19

review date:
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

I am not much of list guy. On the other hand, my wife loves lists. With much excitement, she will break out a new piece of paper and meticulously create an elegant to-do list. There is so much satisfaction when she checks one of those empty boxes. I, however, like to make a working document. I write various items and work through them as necessary, prioritizing and re-prioritizing as the day goes. Obviously, if you ask us which process is most effective, we will defend our own (though objectively, my wife’s to-do list is probably more successful). A working document and a to-do list are both underdeveloped compared a expertly crafted checklist.

I first heard about The Checklist Manifesto on a few podcasts and I was intrigued. I consider pilots and surgeons to be extraordinarily brilliant people, and if they use checklists everyday in order to ensure their success, maybe it is something that warrants my attention.

Here’s the basic concept of the book: some work is becoming extremely complex. For example, we have made amazing advances in surgery, aircraft, and construction in the past century. It is foolish to think that we can train individuals to be sole masters of these crafts. When performing an operation on a patient or preparing a million dollar airplane for flight, there are literally hundreds of things that can go wrong. Missing one step can be disastrous. Therefore, a simple checklist can help even the greatest genius.

The idea of a checklist is simple, creating a good checklist is difficult. Looking around my work, I see a lot of places where a checklist can help but I am stuck in creating an effective one.

I think this book offers a lot of great insights. You learn a lot about the history of some complex professions. This is a great book.

2018: 18

review date:
Leading People from the Middle by William P. Robinson

“When you’re dealing with the customer, you become the CEO”

I met Bill Robinson a few years ago at the CCCU Leadership Development Institute. It was a great honor to meet him and learn about his leadership. He is personable and passionate. I was given a copy of his other book Incarnate Leadership and I gobbled that book up in seconds. It was a quick and honest portrayal of leadership.

Robinson is a highly successful leader. I believe his authenticity has made him successful. Because of him, Whitworth University is well known for being one of the best organizations to work for. Additionally, I think Robinson is a highly successful leader because he is a student of leadership. In Leading People from the Middle, Robinson breaks down the heart and mind of leadership. He introduces us to different leadership studies while disclosing tales of his leadership journey.

He is frank and honest. He does not try to hide the silly and ugly side of leadership. I really appreciate his words on leadership and I hope I get more opportunities to practice my leadership in my every day. I highly recommend this great book.

2018: 17

review date:
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

The brain is a silly thing. You like to think of it as a supercomputer that runs your life, but it is far from that. The brain does not store memories like a hard drive. Its recall process seems completely ineffective. Compared to other animals, our brains are huge and they take up an unfathomable amount of energy. Yet, your brain is better at thinking than any computer on earth.

Stumbling on Happiness is a fun stroll through brain studies throughout history. Over and over again, Gilbert introduces another study that shows you the silliness of your brain. By the end of the book, you will wonder how we have accomplished so much as humans.

This is fun read. It is not a deep book but a great light-hearted look at the silly side of our humanness.

2018: 16

review date:
My Way by Colin Gunderson

Unlike most professional sport teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers do not have a mascot. But they do have Tommy Lasorda. No one bleeds Dodger Blue like Tommy Lasorda. I think history can debate his effectiveness as a strategist. I think history can debate his managerial approach. But the one thing it cannot debate is his energy, devotion, and passion for Dodger baseball.

My Way is a great book. It does not try to be anything more than a simple book about a simple man. This book is far from pretentious or flowery. It does not try to psychoanalyze Lasorda or parallel his managerial years to the ongoing identity of American society - trust me, these are common narratives in baseball books.

This book is about Tommy. It is told by the people who love Tommy - which is everyone who has ever met Tommy. If you love Tommy Lasorda, you will love this book. If you love the Los Angeles Dodgers, you obviously love this book. If you love great sport stories, you will love this book.

2018: 15

review date:
The Idea of a Christian College: A Reexamination for Today's University by Todd C. Ream & Perry L. Glanzer

“The purpose of the university should be to develop human beings or persons to their full capacity.”

Christian higher education seems to have always been on the defense. As small liberal arts colleges gave away to land grant and research universities, Christians had to create their own realm of higher education. As society changed through the tumultuous twentieth century, big universities were on the forefront of this change while Christian schools lagged behind. When Christian campuses did change, it was met with great reluctance and resentment.

There have been plenty of books written about the purpose and mission of Christian higher education, yet, to me, they all seem to give the same message: Christian schools are better than non-Christian schools because they have the real truth in Jesus. Now, of course, no one says it that bluntly or absurdly.

While reading The Idea of a Christian College: A Reexamination for Today’s University, it like the authors were being very defensive, as if their book was responding to the accusation that Christian colleges and universities were inferior. To me, there was a strong us versus them mentality.

Although, I understand their defensiveness; Christian higher education has been a bit under fire as of late. I guess I am just getting tired of the war between Christian higher education and public universities. I don’t think one is better than the other, but they do serve different – yet both important – roles in our society.

In the end, I didn’t feel like this book was a great addition to the work published by Holmes back in 1975. I want to see a book dive deeper into the practices of a Christian university rather than just the soul and mission.

But there were a couple good quotes…

“Failure to place Christian worship at the center…of the Christian university, at the center of our common educational experience is to allow us to run the risk of being re-enslaved to gods of our own creation.”

“This side of eternity, we may never have all the answers. However, we will know the questions we should ask and trust in the wisdom God offers us to live faithfully in the meantime.”

2018: 14

review date:
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Memory, when you really think about it, is bizarre. There have been times I have forgotten a close friend’s first name but I can in great detail describe to you my desk in first grade. It is like my mind enjoys playing tricks on me. I can remember everything and recall nothing at the exact same time.

Our memory is really the only way we interact with our surroundings. We live our lives in expectation of things occurring in a pattern, that is why things shock us (good or bad) when things are different.

Moonwalking with Einstein is n fascinating journey in remembering. Joshua Foer, who has written about memory competitions, decides to try it out for himself. He wants to know if remembering things is something any one can do or is it just for brilliant.

This book is his journey from interested bystander to national champion. He shows us the unique and interesting methods of memory champions. He walks us through the history of memory and how our ancestors valued and devalued memory.

For such a simple concept, this book was really interesting. I actually tried one of the methods in the book and it does work (pickled garlic, cottage cheese, smoked salmon, six bottles of wine, three pairs of socks, hula hoops, dry ice, so on). I have not committed to using any method in my life – this book is not a how to guide – but there are references to many methods used in the past that have proven to work. It is very interesting.

2018: 13

review date:
An Unhurried Life by Alan Fadling

This is less of a book review and more of a rambling of thoughts…

“My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered the interruptions were my work.” -Henri Nouwen

I used to be quite a hot head. In high school, I would explode in anger without notice. When I played baseball, no equipment was safe when I struck out. I would slam my bat, throw my helmet, and blame everything around me. My anger was easily my biggest flaw. 

Luckily, I never did anything outrageous during my anger spells, which is probably why I held onto to anger and frustrations for so long. In fact, I felt like my frustrations were completely justified. I was angry because I felt wronged by life. I was a good kid who worked and when bad things happened to me I was upset; I didn’t deserve this.

My parents and mentors constantly challenged me on my anger. I knew my anger was unbecoming and a growing problem. I didn’t want to be angry but, again, I didn’t think it was my fault. But one day I remember reading my Bible and I came across these simple words in Matthew 6,

“Do not worry”

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

I’ve read these words probably a few dozen times in my life. I felt like I knew this passage like the back of my hand. But this time, things finally clicked. I was angry because I was not in control. If I give up control, I could let go of my anger. 

People close to me saw the sudden change. I wasn’t perfect. I still get angry, but something changed then. I realized that the more I let go, the better I am. The less I control - or the more I realize how little I actually control - the happier I was. From that moment, I started to slow down. I worry less. I stress less. I am angry less. 

I am a total believer in the unhurried life. The unhurried life is not just about slowing down, it is about removing the unnecessary. It can be unnecessary possessions, unhealthy worry and thoughts, damaging relationships, or pointless technology. 

As a society, we greatly value productivity. As Christians, we want to make sure we are productive for Christ. This can be a very dangerous journey, when we decide that the more we do the better as if everything relies on us. 

There is no formula to the unhurried life. Everyone has different temptations, vices, and faults. In An  Unhurried Life, the author gives us many examples from his life and ministry. He gives practical solutions, but this book should only be an example and a launching pad. Waking up before dawn to do quiet time can be great, but that would not help me. Finding extended periods of solitude can work, but I don’t believe it’s essential. 
I think the author expressed it best when we talked about stepping outside of ourselves and watching from the outside. A little distance from ourselves can show us a lot. From a distance, you can see what controls you. 

What hinders you from slowing down? 

2018: 12

review date:
Everybody, Always by Bob Goff

“I want people to meet you and me and feel like they’ve just met everyone in heaven.”

Several years ago I read Love Does by Bob Goff and I was simply blown away by Bob’s energy and enthusiasm. Sometime later I was able to hear Bob speak at a student leadership conference and I was just in awe of him.

Why do I find Bob Goff so fascinating? Because he lives life with such passion and zeal. His love seems so authentic. He is not just putting words on the page or speaking goodwill to the masses. He is capturing life at its fullest and throwing it back to us.

I am very cynical person. I typically view Christian authors as opportunistic over authentic, but with Bob, I see genuine love for all.

Everybody, Always is a perfect follow up to Love Does. The book is full of amazing stories and beautiful calls for action. This book is a great challenge for a guy like me, who can become numb and disillusioned with the world.

I highly recommend this work to everyone. And, of course, here are some amazing quotes:

“Love isn’t something we fall into; love is someone we become.”

“Loving people means caring without an agenda.”

“What a shame it would be if we were waiting for God to say something while He’s been waiting on us to do something.”

“Most of us don’t need more instructions; we simply need someone who believes in us.”

“We don’t need to be the hero in everyone’s story. Jesus already landed that part.”

“Grace never seems fair until you need some.”

2018: 11

review date:
Diversity Matters edited Karen Longman

“If someone is blatantly racist, at least I know where the person stands. Someone who has unconscious biases and attitudes but thinks he or she is actually helping to make a positive change can do a lot of damage.”

This sentence struck me pretty hard. It hit me hard because I have to come to the realization that I probably do more damage than I could ever imagine. I like to think of myself as a well-adjusted, educated, and enlightened person that can easily identify racism – conscious or not – but in reality, my perception is probably way off.

This realization leads to fear and this fear leads to inaction which only leads me to more enabling. It is a cycle that harrowing and unwanted. It is hard to not feel powerless, even though my measurement of powerlessness is absurd. I feel this is white fragility at its core.

I wanted to read this book because I wanted to learn. I want to move forward. I want conversations to happen. I want to enhance the world I am in. This was a perfect book for me at this time. The authors of each chapter spoke with authenticity. They shared their pains, frustrations, hopes and joys. At the very least, these got me to think again about things I haven’t thought about in years (obviously a sign of privilege when you can go long spans of time without thinking about your race).

Another quote from the book that hit me hard, “How much will I have to give up to succeed?"

It seems so counterintuitive to sacrifice something to succeed, but this is a reality for many when they enter college especially a predominantly white, private, Christian college. I have heard these stories from my students; they have talked about giving up their identity, abandoning their families, losing their heritage all in hopes of fitting in to the campus culture. Though I see and understand their frustrations, it is difficult for me to feel and empathize their loneliness.

I think this this a fantastic book. It ought to be a must read for higher education administrators.

Here are a few more quotes that I stuck with me.

“When we face adversity and failure, a caring community can be a source of strength to deepen our resolve and provide the courage to continue.”

“Diversity work and leadership is about relationship, relationship, relationship”

“When we honor God by serving our institutions well, despite their imperfections, God will honor us.”


review date:
Fundamentalist U by Adam Laats

“…an evangelical Christian community of disciples and scholars who seek to advance the work of God…”

“...a University that fosters wisdom, faith and service through excellent academic programs within a Christ-centered community.”

“...liberal arts community serving God's kingdom by cultivating thoughtful scholars...”

These are just a few snippets from some school mission statements I have worked for in my career. They are heavy and quite wordy, but they all say the same thing: the Christian faith is the foundation of our school. Writing a verbose mission statement is one thing, executing your mission statement is an entirely different thing. Why is it so difficult? Simply put, Christian institutions have a hard time defining what “Christian faith” means.

Fundamentalist U by Adam Laats is a unifying work on disunity. Christian universities were mainly built on a foundation of disagreements, be it a disagreement with a specific doctrine, a disagreement with modern education, or a disagreement on the direction of American culture. The heart of Christian higher education is built upon a sense of rebellion. As whole, the history of Christian higher education has been better defined by it antagonistic ideals than it Christian ideals

Laats layouts the rocky history of fundamentalist schools such a Bob Jones University, Moody Bible Institute, Biola University and the like. Each school faced a near continuous line of criticisms from students, alumni, donors, church leaders, faculty and even other administrators. With every criticism, schools had to double down on their holy image.

Administrators condemned alcohol, sex, dancing, playing cards, going to the movies, and (at many times) thinking independently. As society shifted and culture changed, Christian schools were slow to change. Their rebellious nature taught them to only to be reactive and never proactive.

I have lived and breathed Christian higher education for over a decade and half now. I am in the trenches of these fights. I think someone from the outside would be amazed that Christian higher education has been so successful for so long when the foundation seems so shaky. Thus I think this book could have benefitted from a little more positive conversation. A lot has gone wrong, but what has gone right?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a great history lesson and I think it is vital to understand this history.

2018: 9

review date:
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Over the years, I have had a passing interest on women’s issues in America. This obviously hit me harder when I saw my wife being mistreated at work because of her gender. How do I know she was treated unfairly? Because later that day I approached the same situation she did and I did not receive any pushback, even though I was lower on the organizational chart and had less experience than her. Now I have two daughters. They are both young and have not experienced any overt sexism, but I know those days are just around the corner. I hate the idea that they will be treated differently just because they are female.

I picked this book up at my school’s library as they were giving away free copies as part of a reading program. I was interested in hearing about Hope Jahren in the laboratory world; a world that is infamously known to be lacking in diversity.

What did I gain from this book? Not much. Some of the stories were interesting, many were not. Relationships seemed to be the only running theme in the book. She grew up in an emotionally detached home and then for years the only other person you hear about is her lab partner Bill. Her relationship with Bill is frustrating. She adores Bill and treats him like a brother, but she treats Bill like her middle school brother in loving but degrading way. Additionally, undergraduate students are heard from rarely and they are usually problems awaiting to happen. She and Bill have this fixed mindset about students. She only values students who come prepacakaged with no egos.

I think this is a classic case where I decided to put unfair expectations on a book. That was unfair. But I can’t escape the notion that I did not find the book to be great. It is interesting at points with long stretches of blah.

2018: 8

review date:
Becoming Nehemiah by David McKenna

Oh biblical leadership. Anyone who has been in the church long enough has heard a sermon (or sermon series) on biblical leadership. You learn about the management skills of Moses, the folly of Saul, the righteousness of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the tasks of each prophet, and of course, Jesus and his board of advisors.

But in reality, we would never allow any of these biblical leaders near any of our churches. Moses stutters. Saul is conceited. David is an adulterer and a murderer. Solomon is a ladies man. The prophets are crazy. And this Jesus fellow is to radical, even his trusted disciples rejected him.

David L. McKenna is one of my favorite authors. He is a well-respected, Christian leader that does not give you spiritual clichés. The book Becoming Nehemiah is the leadership story of Nehemiah, but McKenna does not gloss over the ugly parts. Nehemiah had a very usual journey into his role. Nehemiah’s journey was long and tedious with very few moments of success. Nehemiah failed at times.

Being perfect is not an attribute of a great leader; getting results while being faithful is the sole trait of a great leader.

This is a good book. It is not my favorite McKenna book but it is still good. He keeps things short and sweet. His brevity makes is very appreciated.

2018: 7

review date:
Mindset by Carol Dweck

“The top is where the fixed-mindset people hunger to be, but it’s where many growth-minded people arrive as a by-product of their enthusiasm for what they do.”

If you work in education, whether you are working with toddlers or doctoral students, chances are you are a proponent of growth mindset. It seems logical: if you work in a field that is all about developing people and their minds, you ought to believe in the ability to change, develop, mature, and so on. But what we say and what we do can be very, very different.

I fall into this trap of hypocrisy. I believe that education is valuable to all and everyone has opportunity to benefit but many times my actions or thoughts do not support this thinking. I judge people based on their experiences and not their potential. I have caught myself determining a student’s success based on weak assumptions. I even do this to myself. Countless times I have decided that I am not gifted at certain activities such as music, art, and math with minimal effort.

I think most educators would claim growth-mindset yet practice fixed mindset towards themselves and their students. 

In Dweck’s book, Mindset, she not only breaks down the science of mindsets but how this mentality can affect the aspects of our lives: work, relationships, parenting, and school. This book helped me shed an unbecoming light on my faulty thinking and how I can change them. Changing my mindset is a journey and not a one moment, one-day step.

There are many things in my life I am passionate about and I definitely have a growth-mindset in those areas. Bouncing off these activities can help me develop my outlook on every aspect of my life.

This is a great read. Another great installment in the library of positive psychology and peak performance.

Growth-mindset reminds me of this great quote from the venerable Conan O’Brien:

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It's not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.”

2018: 6

review date:
Quiet Leadership by David Rock

I’ll be honest, I do not like to write bad reviews. I feel like a fraud writing a negative review thinking “Who am I to judge?” But this my turn to have an opinion, so I guess I’ll give it a go
This book was simply not good. The main theme of the book is this: leaders need to teach others how to think. That’s a great theme and truly a great foundation to great leadership, however his “six steps” are convoluted and overbearing. In the book there is an image that attempts to demonstrate the “six steps.” In the image the leader is standing on a five-step platform (confused already?), three words emit from the leader, then in front of leader is a slightly ascending arrow with three stacking discs. There is even more on the image than I have described. It does not make a lot of sense, nor does the book. 

Actually, I do not understand why the book is titled Quiet Leadership. I don’t feel like that was explained at all. Sure, to be a thinker you need to internalize a bit but that does not simply equate to quietness. 

David Rock appears to have a lot of experience. I do not want to take that away from him, but this book was just not worth the read. This is a hard pass for me. 

2018: 5

review date:
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

When I graduated high school, I felt smart. When I graduated college, I felt dumb. Today, I feel utterly useless. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know.

This book is a general introduction to generally everything. It is a fascinating read.

If you read A Short History of Nearly Everything you will be completely perplexed. On one hand, you will be amazed at all the discoveries mankind has made in just a few centuries; within just a few decades we went from harnessing reliable energy to putting a man on moon. On the other hand, you will be bewildered by what we do not know; we know what DNA is and what it does, but why? Clueless.

Bryson kept me focused throughout the entire book. There are no fly over chapters or a boring middle section. I was engaged the entire time. He covers the evolution of the universe from the big bang to the rise of life to the presence of humans. I did not expect to like this book as much as I do.

It’s a great read, long but very, very good.

2018: 4
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God of Tomorrow by Caleb Kaltenbach

“Since tomorrow belongs to God, we can graciously offer hope to people today”

Growing up, the place where I found the most despair was church. Everyone there thought the world was going to hell, a march led by movies, music, and drugs. The only hoped offered was heaven. Somehow thinking about tomorrow was the only way to get through today.

It was depressing. It made being a Christian depressing. The “good news” was hard to sell.

God of Tomorrow is about reclaiming that God is the God of Hope. He is not a God of political issues, religious debates, and divided arguments. It our goal as Christians to beacons of hope to our neighbors. This is the way to show the love of God, not just knocking on random doors asking people to come to church. We should live in a way that has people knocking our doors asking for stuff.

Caleb Kaltenbach writes clearly and bluntly. This is a great follow up to his last book.

Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Combativeness without compassion is always going to be counterproductive”

2018: 3

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Smart Baseball by Keith Law

I remember years ago hearing about “Moneyball,” that somehow computers could put together a more perfect team. It seemed like hogwash and I dismissed it immediately. How can numbers predict who would hit the game winning homer? How can a spreadsheet determine the intangibles of a team leader?

Fast forward a few years and now I am a believer. Now I ask more advanced questions. Who still believes in the concept of a clutch hitter? Who cares how many wins a pitcher has? Why did the Yankees spend so much on Derek Jeter?

Smart Baseball is the best introduction I have ever read for baseball and data. First, Keith Law simply reveals the inconsistencies and outright flaws in popular stats: batting average, earned run average, clutch hitting, etc. Then, he introduces new stats that show a better (yet incomplete) picture of the game.

Anyone who doubts the authenticity of sabermetrics should read this book. If they are still not convinced, then there is clearly something wrong in the logical reasoning abilities.

Now, saying all that, there are definitely limitations to everything. There are human variables that will throw off everything. Numbers cannot do everything, but we can obviously do better with smart baseball.

This is a must read.

2018: 2

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Letterman by Jason Zinoman

Johnny Carson was a force that knew no bounds. He was a celebrity among celebrities. Carson’s Tonight Show was the pinnacle of entertainment. Unfortunately for me, I grew up in the post-Carson era. During my younger days, I admired Jay Leno. His rumor was topical and straightforward. I even remember watching the infamous Hugh Grant interview which today is considered the turning point in the late night wars.

I remember being a kid and not really understanding the appeal of David Letterman. His show was silly but the silliness was so rampant it was borderline obnoxious. It took a few years to finally understand the joke. The Late Show felt like a show within a show. It was like a giant inside joke.

As time wore on, it was interesting to see David Letterman become the de facto ambassador for funny. I was glued to his show after 9/11, after his heart surgery, and after the birth of his son. Letterman has the incredible ability to be serious and silly at the same time. He never makes light of a serious situation but he never takes himself too seriously.

In this book, you get to see the evolution of David Letterman as an entertainer. You don’t really get to see the personal side of Letterman (I am not even sure there is a personal side of Letterman). You will read about his college days, his weatherman days, his morning talk show and of course the two late night shows that made him a household name.

This book was very interesting and a definite recommend. Many of the stories and anecdotes came straight from source. This book is real and authentic.

At the conclusion I came to a realization: between the two, Leno is probably the better friend, but Letterman is the better entertainer.

2018: 1

review date:
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I think we all have those moments; when you are focused and everything is coming together seamlessly. When you are working, it is referred to as “in the zone”; when you are playing, often people say, “time flies when you are having fun.”

Now I know that this is “flow.”

In a world filled with distractions, it can be difficult to find flow. There are a lot of items fighting for your attention, always trying to interrupt you. Blaming these outside forces is the easy thing to do, however we not only allow these interruptions, we actually crave them. Why? Probably because we are not enjoying the task in front of us. The task could be a spreadsheet, a dreadful email, or even just boredom itself.

This book came to me after I saw it cited multiple times in other books I was reading. Csikszentmihalyi is the leading expert in optimal experience and his expertise shows.

I found this book very interesting yet not riveting. By the second half, I was looking forward to finishing it and moving on. His writing is not as compelling as others but still his knowledge is phenomenal. Finding that spark inside you can make the difference. No challenge will be too tough. No setback will be too big.

Reading this review, this probably sounds like a lame self-help book, but it is not. It is an expert talking about the real evidence that shows what makes us flow.

Here are some of my favorite nuggets from the book:

“People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”

“Of all the virtues we can learn no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.”