I met Bob Sitze years ago when I was in graduate school. Over the years he has served as my mentor, friend, project manager, fellow author, and book recommender. Bob’s here today to talk about the nonfiction books you might want to take on your summer vacation or to the park. Comment on the blog by next Wednesday for a chance to win a signed copy of his new book, It’s NOT Too Late: A Field Guide to Hope. Winners will be announced on next Friday’s blog.
In Praise of Non-fiction by Bob Sitze
As an author of non-fiction works dedicated to the proposition that the institutional church can operate smarter and simpler than it has in the past, I rarely fill my reading moments with praise-worthy fiction. Although I am aware of the well-established neurobiological benefits of the consumption of fiction, I’m also fascinated by the range of exciting topics that pop up in the world of non-fiction. That’s why, in the following paragraphs, I offer my recommendations for five commendable books that I hope bring value to your lifework.
Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience by Stephen S. Hall (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010). Hall is one of those writers whose take on any subject makes a worthwhile read. Here he picks up the subject of wisdom and applies his considerable skills to a subject that lies at the heart of much of our personal yearnings. The book delivers on its subtitle’s promise, opening up the subject of wisdom to the author’s historical and horizon-scanning eye. This gives readers the chance to look at the matter of wisdom with the broadest possible lens, not shying away from any tradition, science, or field of human endeavor that might lend accuracy or utility to its thoughts. Hall leads readers through a tightly structured expansion of “wisdom” as a category of categories, and thus helps us understand the components, correlatives, and causes of wise thinking and behaving. One strange outcome from reading the book is the secret question many of us—especially writers and leaders—face as part of our work: “Am I really all that wise?” (And the follow-up question is likely even more plaintive: “Am I worthy of others’ attention?”) This book has a permanent place in my must-read and must-reference collection.
The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era by Jeremy Rifkin (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995). This is one of those re-reads whose long-ago prescience demands another look in these times. Renowned economist—and de facto futurist—Jeremy Rifkin wrote this book when it appeared that technological innovations might severely diminish the need for skilled workers. In his view, a larger and larger share of the manufacturing work force— replaced in his time by robots—would be unemployed and not able to purchase the very products they used to make. What sparked my interest a few decades ago and tweaks my curiosity now are the solutions that Rifkin suggests. Among them are his reasoned appeals for a shorter average work week (with no overtime), an increased valuation of human services that contribute to the greater good, and a tax structure that could provide the monetary support for this large-scale shift in human enterprise. Aside from its dated historical references, the book still carries weight—and hope—for the economic fortunes of all of us, especially those of us who don’t produce or consume stuff .
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012). You’ve probably read the reviews about this best-seller, but I hope you haven’t missed the fact that this book’s relevance might extend way past how companies do business and organizations find and reward their leaders. Cain’s measured approach to the sometimes-hackneyed introversion/extroversion scale is fresh, deep and wide. For her conclusions, she draws on neuroscience along with wave’s edge management theory. She also includes frequent anecdotes about real-life folks who have come to terms with the value of their supposedly-flawed introverted personalities. Because of that, Quiet steps ever so gingerly into readers’ brains, asking how they might correct an acknowledged imbalance of influence and decision-making power wielded primarily by extroverts. Because she avoids the temptations of screed-writing, Cain offers hope for individuals and enterprises who want to reform their ways of thinking and behaving so that the good they hope to achieve will be available to all people. And yes, you’ll find you’ll find yourself in many parts of this book!
Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Perception by Charles Seipe (New York: The Penguin Group, 2010). This quirky little volume attracted my attention as I meandered through the “new books” section of my local library early this year. It impressed me as an update to the classic How to Lie With Statistics, only with a lot more biting specificity applied to today’s culture. Seipe does not hold back when he illustrates, in painstaking detail, how an election or two was stolen or how polls are constructed, taken, and presented. He shows how mathematical sleights-of-hand—such as Potemkin numbers, dis-estimation, apple-polishing and cherry-picking of data, casuistry and causuistry—contribute to build up fake edifices of cause-and-effect, pseudo-events, “normal,” “average” and “true.” (For Seipe, the “dark arts” are skillfully engaged for purposes that are also dark.) Although I would never claim to be a mathematically astute kind of guy, this book hooked me because the author showed how easily I can accept as verifiable truth what is, in fact, a pack of lies!
Hope in the Age of Anxiety: A Guide to Understanding and Strengthening Our Most Important Virtue by Anthon Scioli and Henry B. Biller (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). From the title, I expected the usual semi-boring philosophical or theological treatise on “hope.” (In preparation for writing It’s NOT Too Late: A Field Guide to Hope, I had encountered way too many of these volumes, and unfortunately read this book only after writing my own!) But this doggie barked differently, and parked itself in my brain like an old pet who just wants to keep you warm. The authors draw together hope-directed wisdom from thinkers and cultures throughout time and around the world, and forge a wonderful amalgam of insights about hope. The authors’ reach extends into psycholinguistics, theology, sociology, neuroscience, social psychology, evolutionary sociology, and psychology to present a credible theory of hope that is both approachable and actionable. An added bonus: Because they are spiritually minded—which tradition remains unspecified in the book—they do not hesitate to include “faith” as a substrata of hope and an ingredient in a hopeful life.
The Book(s) I’m Looking Forward to Reading
Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011). This one seems like a must-read for we neuro-ecclesiologists, and not just because renowned neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga wrote it. Here he takes up a matter that theologians and philosophers have debated for centuries, a topic that has most recently become the purview of behavioral economists and marketing gurus. Church leaders—who guide vast enterprises that purport to do good—might want to sit down and read this one several times through!
Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters by Gordon M. Shepherd (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012). One of my relatives hit her head in a nasty fall several years ago, and since then has not been able to smell or taste anything. I’m reading this book for her, to understand and possibly commiserate with her. Because the brain science in this book purports to encompass current findings, perhaps some tiny particles of hope will peek out of the book—a good reason to read any non-fiction!
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (New York: Random House, 2012). Investigative reporter and professional curious person, Duhigg is one among many who are sniffing out better answers to the deeper motivations and brain functions that correlate with our decision-making behaviors. Of special interest in this book are the hopeful possibilities Duhigg uncovers regarding our overcoming the small addictions that plague all of our lives. A nuerobiological and sociological approach that I think will cut through any narrowly focused or shallow treatment.
About the author. BOB SITZE comes to this blog by way of a long career in church-related ministries, particularly in matters of neuro-ecclesiology—how brain science instructs the godly enterprises of congregations. A native Californian, Bob has lived and worked across the nation, most recently as part of the Chicago-based staff of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, where he developed and produced resources and programs in Christian education, stewardship and hunger education. A published author (The Alban Institute, Herndon, VA), Bob has written four books, including his most recent, It’s NOT Too Late: A Field Guide to Hope (2011). He currently blogs about simple living at www.thelutheran.org/blogs/simpleenough. With his elementary school teacher wife, Bob lives and writes from Wheaton, Illinois.