Enders Game - My favorite book of all time is Ender’s Game. I read it in middle school (for the first time) and it really challenged my mind about the possibilities that exist out there. I had never read any science fiction before and my best friend’s Dad gave this to me because he knew I absolutely loved space. As my first exposure to science fiction, I loved the idea of amazing scientific breakthroughs that could potentially happen in the future.
The Right Stuff (which I also read for the first time in middle school) - Being a space buff from the time I was about 3, this book has always captured me. The story of the Original Mercury 7 Astronauts as well as Chuck Yeager breaking the Sound Barrier is so intrinsically linked to the base of human spaceflight that it has always been a cornerstone for how I look at the original days of manned spaceflight since I wasn’t alive to actually experience it.
The Martian - I love that this book humanizes spaceflight and makes every person who reads it feel for this astronaut who is stuck on Mars. It’s a great thought-provoking book that space geeks and the non-space person can enjoy. Andy Weir did a great job of getting a lot of the details correct about Mars and space travel so that even the technically minded love it!
The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr 2014 - Insightful and highly readable discussion surrounding the emergence, impact and implications of smart machines and automation
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair 1906 - Timeless historical novel on the harsh conditions and other aspects of the US meatpacking industry during the early part of the 20th-century
Creativity: The Perfect Crime - High-wire artist Philippe Petit (and former IF presenter) delves deep into the subject of creativity from his very unique perspective.
To Kill A Mockingbird - Had a tremendous influence on my thinking as a child and adult...to this day. The imparted wisdoms - right versus wrong, defending justice in the face of adversity (Atticus Finch), the wonders of curiosity (Scout), the power of widespread myth and prejudice (Boo Radley and the town-folk)...I pined for a father like Atticus as a child. As an adult, I strive to be Atticus-like: fair, measured, standing up for what is right.
Holidays in Hell - I see this theme played out repeatedly in war zones: Hierarchies and chains of command created spontaneously due to immediate need. The subsequent breakdown of these hierarchies, infighting, fragmentation of humanitarianism, basic human nature. Reading this novel was horrifying as a child - seeing it play out in adult life in the real world, even more so.
It’s What I Do - I am reading this now. Lynsey, a war photographer, has been kidnapped, held at gunpoint, threatened, etc. while covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, Libya, etc. I relate to Lynsey's drive, her inner push to continue covering war zones, trusting her inner voice, sporadic lack of motivation...Inspiring
Lord of the Flies - I see this theme played out repeatedly in war zones: Hierarchies and chains of command created spontaneously due to immediate need. The subsequent breakdown of these hierarchies, infighting, fragmentation of humanitarianism, basic human nature. Reading this novel was horrifying as a child - seeing it play out in adult life in the real world, even more so.
Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss - A classic that's all about inspiration, believing in a dream and reaching for that dream even if it sometimes drags you into frightening, lonely and not-so-great places. A wonderful "can do" work for children and adults.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - The imagery, fantasy and themes of humility versus greed, gluttony versus frugality, the message that life is rife with imperfection while being perfect just the way it is...And of course, sumptuous descriptions of chocolate rivers, Everlasting Gobstoppers, the anticipation of finding a golden ticket and the glass elevator shooting through the ceiling. I "consumed" this book as a child, reading it in a single day.
The Velveteen Rabbit - Through love, we become real. Even if it is sometimes painful. The external sometimes belies the internal. And once we become real, we cannot go back to being unreal. Beautiful, poignant and painful.
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.
Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakaa - Neon Vernacular was probably the first collection of poetry I read. Komunyakaa's work gave me a new way to see and to think about my war service. As poets often say, he [Komunyakaa] gave me permission to write about and think about Iraq.
What It Is Like To Go To War by Chana Bloch - Came to me a recommendation from a friend and fellow veteran. It is one of those books whose lessons I think about regularly. The nature of personal evil, what it takes to come home from war and begin life again. Marlantes taught me coming home is a journey, and in some ways I see myself reflected in his narrative. It has helped me to take care.
The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai - I found Amichai's work by accident, but I'm glad I did. He has a poem entitled "The Diameter of the Bomb" which shows the global and to a degree the spiritual dilemma of even one death caused by direct human action. I had this poem in my head as I was writing my play "Dijla Wal Furat, Between the Tigris and Euphrates," which looks at the fallout from a short mortar round fired by a team of Marines in Iraq.
The Collected Poetry of Jack Gilbert - I go to Gilbert when I need to write about highly emotional topics. He is gentle but direct. I love his work for that especially the poems about Michiko, his deceased wife.