Can I have your ATTENTION, please? Novelist and polymath Joshua Cohen presents his first collection of nonfiction, organized around the theme of distraction. In a world of ceaseless information and ever-evolving technologies, Cohen shows the vitality of nuanced consideration and the folly of constant diversions.
How The Other Half Learns
Robert Pondiscio spent a year inside the highly controversial Success Academy, a network of New York City-based charter schools created by Eva Moskowitz. Her methods are completely unorthodox, yet the schools allow low income families of color to give their kids an education on par with that of wealthy families—when the system works. It’s an engrossing read that asks difficult questions about who’s allowed to succeed in this country, and what happens when schooling isn’t enough to right a long history of wrongs.
The Personality Brokers
Whether you’re an INFP, an ESFJ, or you just DGAF, Merve Emre’s The Personality Brokers will offer an important look into our obsession with reductive identity labels and the concept of self-definition. In a culture hoping to break away from simplistic categories of who a person can be, Emre’s book is an essential step forward.
21 Lessons for the 21st Century
Yuval Noah Harari
Yuval Noah Harari’s past books were nothing short of histories of mankind. Turning his erudite attention to the overwhelming present, Harari gives us blistering insights into some of our most pressing conundrums, such as the relevancy of nation states and religions, and what we should teach our children (who, you’ll recall, are going to back to school as you read this).
Palaces for the People
NYU professor of sociology Eric Klinenberg posits that rather than shared ideologies, it’s our shared spaces like libraries, churches, bookstores, and parks that are America’s keys to coming together. The current climate of extreme division must be amended, but Klinenberg believes we must step out of our heads and into the real world, to the physical places we communally utilize, to find our literal common ground.
The Knowledge Gap
Education journalist Natalie Wexler pulls back the curtain on a fundamental issue in our educational system: elementary school curriculums that put on an emphasis on reading skills without the context—that is, curriculum that teaches kids how to read, but fails to teach them any actual knowledge they need to succeed. Mixing research, reportage, and the inspiring stories of innovative teachers, The Knowledge Gap is a crucial read for anyone invested in education.
Sons of Cain
This one’s less about the educational sphere and more in the spirit of fascinating cautiousness. The world can be full of grotesque and tragic ugliness, and Peter Vronsky’s Sons of Cain depicts the most horrifying part of the human condition: serial murderers. From the earliest recorded killers to the coining of the term “serial killer” in 1981, Vronsky tours the darkest aspect of civilization.
An Audience of One
Host of the Unmistakable Creative podcast Srinivas Rao argues that the best way to ensure success in creative work is to please yourself first, everybody else second. Her point is that the pleasures of making art you love will transfer into the art itself, which will be evident to its intended audience. Rao teaches the reader all they need to know about increasing productivity, and even one’s own happiness, by focusing on pleasing that ever-critical audience of one: the self.
The Poison Squad
Did you know that milk used to kill thousands of children every year because it contained formaldehyde? And that was just in New York alone? Before the Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906, food manufacturers had no oversight and could basically peddle whatever they wanted and call it “food.” That is, until Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley became chief chemist of the agriculture department and began testing food on a group of men known as “the Poison Squad.” Wiley, along with others, like Upton Sinclair, waged a war against unsafe food and saved generations of Americans from eating poison.
Give People Money
Maintaining a continuous self-education would be a lot easier if, every month, the government deposited money into your account without expecting you to repay or work for it, right? That’s the argument of economics writer Annie Lowrey’s Give People Money, which examines the idea of universal basic income, a practice she argues is necessary in our age of inequity. It’s already been instituted in places like Kenya, so why shouldn’t it be expanded to America? The world?
Fraud has become—especially today—a normal part of life, but it isn’t new by any means. In 1917, a small-time con artist and vaudeville performer set his sights on much bigger game and turned himself into Chief White Elk, a Native American fund-raiser. What follows is a world-hopping, cop-dodging tale of a brazen imposter, all told in page-turning style by Paul Willetts.
Award-winning journalist Mimi Swartz takes us on a journey through five decades of one of the greatest struggles of modern scientific innovation: the artificial heart. What seemed like an achievable task turned out to be a Sisyphean enterprise, and Ticker shows how O.H. “Bud” Frazier and a large cast of characters worked to recreate the complex, life-giving muscle of humankind. At once a heart-stopping (or should I say heart-starting?) thriller and a portrait of passion, Ticker should inspire us to our own endeavors (which are surely less ambitious than creating an artificial heart, right?).
The Schoolhouse Gate
Did you know that since the 1970s, the Supreme Court—according to constitutional law scholar Justin Driver—has undermined the rights of American public school students? In his alarming and necessary book, Driver examines the ways in which our schools have been entrenched in legal battles that have severely hindered the education of our children.
The Last Palace
When Norman Eisen was the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014, he made a troubling discovery: hidden under the furniture in the ambassador’s residence in Prague were numerous swastikas. This led him to research the previous occupants of the place, and the result is The Last Palace, a book that uses the lives of the past residents to tell the story of the dark and complicated history of 20th-century Europe.
The Next American City
As the four-term mayor of Oklahoma City, Mick Cornett knows what he’s talking about when it comes to midsize cities. In his book The Next American City, Cornett uses his own policies in OKC to demonstrate the independent power of places like Des Moines, Indianapolis, and Charleston, and how the future of America doesn’t necessarily rest in the hands of New York, LA, or even Washington, D.C.
Heather Won Tesoriero
Imagine a class with no curriculum, no tests, and no textbooks. In The Class, Heather Won Tesoriero recounts a year of Andy Bramante’s classroom in Greenwich High School in Connecticut, where such a course does indeed exist. Tesoriero shows how Bramante’s unconventional methods have lead to some extraordinary results. A class without tests or lectures? Kind of sounds like real life, doesn’t it?
Winners Take All
There is a certain sector of highly wealthy people who use their resources to fight for equality and other social issues. Yet, as Anand Giridharadas argues in Winners Take All, they don’t really change anything. When it comes to real change in, for instance, the social order, these elites don’t want their positions (or their wealth) threatened. As Giridharada writes, though these select few “may be among the more socially concerned elites in history,” they are “also, by the cold logic of numbers, among the more predatory in history.” A deeply disturbing and fascinating look at our broken system and the exploitation of our awareness of its brokenness, Winners Take All is a must-read for the lowly 90% of Americans who aren’t rich.
Young Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was a hardworking fellow: a prodigious writer, a ceaseless inventor, and a dogged founding father. Pulitzer-finalist Nick Bunker dives deep into Franklin’s youth to figure out just where he got all that fiery assiduity. Anyone who has ever read Franklin’s one-of-a-kind but totally self-serving autobiography (a staple of high school curriculums) will relish this, let’s say, less biased view of one of America’s most ingenious (and eccentric) figures.
Every September there appears—in stores, in advertisements, in themed issues of magazines—a bewildering profusion of all things “back to school.” These are aimed, obviously, at children: to sell supplies, fashion, food, and whatever other product can somehow be categorized into the seemingly forever-growing category.
But here at Read It Forward, we thought, “What about everyone else? Are we not continually educating ourselves? Isn’t it our duty (especially right now) to always remain students? Shouldn’t we, in some sense, go back to school, too?”
In this spirit, we present to you 16 books for those of us who won’t be stepping into hallowed halls this fall, for those of us for whom the only bell we ever hear chimes from a nearby church, and for those who haven’t been to school in ages, or who never went, but who know the importance of educating ourselves.