The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker - Pinker is one of the few people who has earned the ability to tackle incredibly controversial topics very publicly without discussion devolving into mayhem. Here, he obliterates the doctrine that the mind is born as a blank slate with no innate traits. I write and speak about innate traits, and his book impressed upon me the importance of having read essentially everything in a field if you plan to deconstruct deeply held and intuitive beliefs--including your own.
The Challenge of Pain by Ronald Melzack and Patrick D. Wall - The authors' detail their own paradigm shifting work that essentially created a field of study that researches the perception of pain. Among the startling conclusions are that the individual experience of pain is partly genetic but also has components that are learned and culturally dependent. The fact that pain has to be learned at all is pretty shocking.
Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green - I’m ridiculously biased because the author and I just got married. However, I truly did find fascinating her exploration of the futility of the most common political arguments on improving public education: fire bad teachers or give all teachers more autonomy. Well, there aren’t enough teachers waiting to step in if many thousands are fired, and autonomy isn’t helping teachers get better. Teaching, it turns out, is a specific skillset with best practices that often have little to do with the degree of content knowledge in a subject. And, to my surprise, research has failed to any suite of personality traits that predict who will be a good teacher.
The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia by Bernard Suits - Prior to Suits, prominent philosophers had determined that games are indefinable, not connected by any common thread. Via a storytelling grasshopper (seriously), Suits concludes that there actually is a thread that binds all games: “the voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles.” The book is a profound and often hilarious work of philosophy. And as much time as I’ve spent thinking about sports, games are constantly on my mind.
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera - It contains what I think is one of the most profound lines in literature: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” It’s a little strange that the book calls itself “brilliant and original,” but at least it is. I’m very attuned to rhythm in writing. And Kundera has a great sense for rhythm in his writing.