Summer Book Recommendations

As of today, it is officially summer! Time to start — or continue adding to — your comprehensive and often aspirational Summer Reading List.

We charged ourselves with the almost impossible task of recommending two books each, regardless of topic or genre. We are always on the hunt for suggested reads, so further below we have included not-to-be-missed curated recommendations from other organizations.


The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker
Who hasn’t spent some time recently thinking about what it means to gather? Priya Parker is looking to help us “create collective meaning in modern life, one gathering at a time”, and thanks to her, some of us continued to do just that amidst a sea of recent virtual socializing. Whether you consider yourself an expert host or a novice convener, this book will provide you numerous “ah-ha” moments about what should and could happen to make any group of humans coming together feel productive and connective. Parker’s rules call on us all to “make purpose your bouncer” and allow us to exert “generous authority” as a host. I will re-read this gem as we all navigate coming back together in various forms, in both the workplace and our personal lives.

Here For It by R. Eric Thomas
After an extended period of prioritizing heavy nonfiction, I took a departure into nonfiction grounded in humor — sharp, profound humor — and I highly recommend it. Daily humor columnist and playwright R. Eric Thomas’s collection of essays recount his childhood in Baltimore (bonus: his recountings of attending a progressive independent school there), into young adulthood, early career and beyond. He weaves the themes of his black, gay, and religious intersecting identities through his craft of commentary, while also sharing other formative identities, growing up as a fairly sheltered bookworm with ever-supportive parents and an early knack for a well-timed joke. Throughout, Thomas provides a gamut of literary and pop culture references that are spot-on and fresh.


The Privileged Poor by Anthony Abraham Jack
In this fascinating read, Anthony Jack draws upon dozens of interviews with undergraduates at elite colleges and universities to understand their experience post-admission and expose the ways that poor students struggle due to long-held university policies and cultures. Jack also shares the road to elite institutions, and how students of color who arrive from prestigious independent schools are able to adjust in ways students who have not had those experiences have not.

The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee
This book dives deep on the history of Asian Americans in the United States, sharing stories that are not well-known but are critical to our understanding of this country’s overall history. Rooting back to the 1500’s, stories are shared about the first Asians to arrive in the United States as well as pivotal moments in United States history over time.


The Imagination Machine by Martin Reeves, Jack Fuller

This book examines Imagination and how it creates a sustainable advantage in the corporate world, but the lessons can be valuable to schools and social enterprises as well. In addition to case studies from organization leaders, the book delves into the neuroscience behind imagination. The authors lay out six steps for taking an idea from concept to reality, and discuss three ways new ideas are typically created: correlative thinking, causal thinking, and counterfactual thinking. To find enduring success at innovation, organizations should constantly question their success versus accepting it and must celebrate the creation of the future versus the past.

The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer by Steven Kotler
After reading this book earlier this year, I could not stop telling family, friends, and coworkers about it. Kotler, a best-selling author, and Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective, describes the neuroscience behind the chain of events that allows people to accomplish the impossible, whether that be big “I” impossible – the things nobody thought could be done – or little “i” impossible, the things you never thought you could do. While not specifically written for educators, I feel this book provides valuable guidance to help students use curiosity to find passion and purpose, and then seek to find a state of Flow, which is where the accelerated learning takes place that allows us to do hard things. It includes a very practical list of 22 triggers to find Flow.


What is Strategy?: An Illustrated Guide to Michael Porter by Joan Magretta
If you are really thinking about, “What strategy should we pursue in the next few years?”, this is a book to read. Simply a terrific primer on strategy. Porter, a strategist par excellence, has been translated by Magretta in a way that even those without a business background can understand. Great common read for a board and administrative team.

Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life by Adam Phillips
“The unexamined life is surely worth living, but is the unlived life worth examining?”, and thus begins Phillips’s elegant and extraordinary exploration of the lives we wish we had and what they can teach us about who we are. Drawing on his own clinical experience and artists and authors across generations, Phillips examines how frustration might be the key to a life fully lived.


Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo

When was the last time you left a meeting thinking, “That was really generative!”? This resource contains a unique collection of tools and strategies for “examining things deeply, exploring new ideas, performing experiments, and testing hypotheses, to generate new and surprising insults and results.” Whether you are a classroom teacher looking for a new conversation structure or a Chair seeking to activate your next department meeting, flip through this book and explore how visual thinking exercises will unlock your team or student’s creative thinking.

Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators – Elena Aguilar
I love books that work as both a cover-to-cover read or as a flip-open-to-any-page and start there. Aguilar’s Onward is both. Page 142: Happy people do better work, and “appropriate challenge” makes us happy (true for our teams and our students). Page 187: Reflecting on personal strengths and limitations can foster many of the competencies associated with resilience, particularly improvements in self-awareness, and in coping and problem-solving skills. (What is one of your strengths?). Page 297: Send a text message appreciation. Gratitude fuels more gratitude and well-being. If you are compelled to appreciate others, go ahead and do so! (Who could you appreciate in a short text? Send it now and see how you feel.)


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing from Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk

While it has been a mainstay for myriad readers for over five years now, a friend who works in the field of trauma only recently recommended it to me. It could not have found better timing to join my reading list. I am only part-way through; however, the realization that what decades of research reveal is that trauma in its many forms and contexts requires nuance. For me this insight is similar to my sense that mourning is both a communal experience when a loved one dies but also a remarkably individual process. There is far more for me to learn, but I feel like in this book I have found a trusted guide.

The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors by David Haskell
Writers who can combine both close scientific observation and a poet’s eye for detail and synthesis fascinate me. They are rare! I love this work, as well as Haskell’s prior work The Forest Unseen. Haskell reminded me in this work that in the close observation of a single object of nature we can gain insight into it whole and importantly into ourselves and our relationships to all that surrounds us. This insight from the Chicago Tribune captures my thoughts: “Haskell trains his breathtaking observational skills, his eloquence and his capacity for hours long contemplative practice on 12 trees around the globe . . . Haskell’s sentences drip with poignancy and poetry. It’s as if the whole world–every dust mote, every molecule of air, each reverberation of birdsong, rainfall or urban jackhammer–is slid beneath his magnifying lens. We see and hear beauties otherwise unimagined.”

For further ideas to spark your summer literary journey, check out these lists:

Behavioral Scientist’s Summer Book List 2021

Smithsonian Juneteenth Reading List

Napa Bookmine Pride Reading List

NAIS 21 Books for your Summer Break