Top 10 Books

January 12, 2024

As we usher in another year, I’m happy to share with you my second annual, “Top 10 Books” list. Reflecting on last year’s list, I am heartened by the positive response and engaging discussions it sparked among web site visitors and friends. Your feedback was not only encouraging but also offered fresh perspectives that enriched my own reading experience. It’s clear that this community cherishes the power of a good book as much as I do.

This year, my selection is a tapestry of genres and themes, chosen for their ability to challenge, inspire, and provoke thought. From the intricate emotional landscapes of teenagers to the philosophies guiding major global projects, each book has left a mark on my understanding of the world. In a time when our perspectives are continuously evolving, these books offer both a mirror and a window – a reflection of our current selves and a glimpse into worlds and ideas beyond our immediate experience.

  1. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living
    By: Krista Tippett
    Publisher: Penguin Press
    Publication Date: April 5, 2016

“Wisdom is not about answers; it’s about asking the right questions.”

I was first introduced to Krista Tippett through a friend who steered me towards her podcast, and I quickly fell in love with her style and ability to bring out the most from her guests. In “Becoming Wise,” Krista Tippett presents a variety of conversations with a diverse array of thinkers and seekers. Her interviews with individuals such as playwright and activist Eve Ensler, philosopher Jean Vanier, poet Elizabeth Alexander, civil rights leader John Lewis, and writer Pico Iyer, provide a rich exploration of the “superstar virtues” of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Tippett discusses five core concepts—words, flesh, love, faith, and hope—that emerge as raw materials for these virtues, advocating for a kind of “generous listening” that embraces surprise and sheds preconceptions.

  1. How Big Things Get Done
    By: Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner
    Publisher: February 7, 2023
    Publication Date: Signal

This insightful book delves into what makes some large-scale projects succeed while others fail. Flyvbjerg and Gardner provide essential lessons for managing ambitious projects: Understanding the odds of success, emphasizing thorough planning followed by rapid action, starting with the end goal and working backwards, building big projects from small components, fostering strong teamwork, preparing for unexpected challenges, and being aware of personal biases. These principles are illustrated through examples like the Sydney Opera House, Pixar films, the Empire State Building, and Apple’s iPod. By contrasting these successes with failures like Boston’s “Big Dig” and California’s high-speed rail project, the authors offer valuable insights for anyone undertaking complex and large-scale endeavours.

  1. Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well
    By: Amy Edmondson
    Publisher: Atria Books
    Publication Date: September 5, 2023

Amy Edmondson’s “Right Kind of Wrong” delves into the complex world of failures and their impact on learning and innovation. The book explores various types of failures through real-world instances. It discusses preventable failures, exemplified by the 1982 crash of Air Florida Flight 90 due to a lapse in activating de-icing instruments. Edmondson also examines complex failures, like the 1967 Torrey Canyon disaster, highlighting how interconnected systems and modern technology can compound failures. Additionally, the book addresses intelligent failures that lead to significant insights, as seen in the development of Eli Lilly’s chemotherapy drug, Alimta. These examples collectively illustrate the diverse nature of failures and emphasize the importance of understanding and leveraging them for success.

  1. The Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail
    By: Ray Dalio
    Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
    Publication Date: November 30, 2021

Ray Dalio’s “The Changing World Order” offers a profound analysis of the historical patterns and cycles in the rise and fall of nations. In this book, Dalio identifies five key forces that have driven and will continue to shape the world: 1) The credit/debt/market/economic cycle; 2) The internal peace/conflict cycle that influences domestic order; 3) The external peace/conflict cycle impacting international order; 4) Acts of nature; and 5) Human inventiveness and technology. These forces collectively weave the tapestry of global geopolitical and economic shifts, providing a framework for understanding past trends and predicting future changes. Dalio’s insights are especially relevant in today’s rapidly evolving world, making this book essential for understanding the dynamics of global power and prosperity.

  1. Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future
    By: Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers
    Publisher: Crown Currency
    Publication Date: January 15, 2008

“Presence” is a collaborative exploration into the depths of human potential and the future of organizational leadership. The authors, each a thought leader in their respective fields, present a compelling vision of a world where individuals and institutions operate from a state of ‘presence,’ a deep attunement to life and its possibilities. The book interweaves personal anecdotes, case studies, and theoretical insights, offering a transformative approach to personal development and systemic change. The authors argue that modern practices are often hindered by outdated perceptions and behaviours, which can be transcended by fostering deeper learning and consciousness of the interconnectedness of systems. “Presence” is enriched by insights from over 150 renowned figures across various fields making it a groundbreaking and optimistic narrative. This book ultimately outlines the innate abilities we all possess to envision and manifest new realities for ourselves and the collective future.

  1. The Fight for History
    75 Years of Forgetting, Remembering, and Remaking Canada’s Second World War
    By: Tim Cook
    Publisher: Penguin Canada
    Publication Date: October 5, 2021

Tim Cook’s “The Fight for History” is a critical examination of Canada’s role in the Second World War and the ways this history has been remembered and forgotten. This book delves into the stories of numerous Canadian heroes, including Sergeant Tommy Prince, one of the most decorated Indigenous war veterans in Canada. Prince, a member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, distinguished himself as a member of the “Devil’s Brigade,” performing extraordinary feats of bravery and skill. In one notable instance in Anzio, Italy, Prince maintained a communication line under enemy fire, ingeniously disguising himself to repair the line and contributing to the destruction of four German tanks. His remarkable journey, facing discrimination yet serving with unparalleled valour, exemplifies the untold stories of heroism that Cook brings to light in this essential retelling of Canada’s wartime history.

  1. The Emotional Lives of Teenagers
    By: Dr. Lisa Damour
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    Publication Date: February 21, 2023

In this seminal work, Dr. Lisa Damour explores the nuanced emotional landscape of adolescence. She examines how teenagers’ feelings are shaped by their physical, social, and psychological transformations. Dr. Damour provides insight into the erratic nature of teenage emotions, stressing the importance of empathy and effective communication in guiding them through these formative years. The book offers a balanced view, acknowledging the intensity of teenage passions and their potential for creativity. With expert advice grounded in psychological research and clinical examples, this book is helpful resource as I navigate the world of raising two teenagers. In essence, this book is a guide to understanding and nurturing the emotional well-being of young people as they journey toward adulthood.

  1. L’Amour dure trois ans
    By: Frédéric Beigbeder
    Publisher: Gallimard
    Publication Date: January 1, 2007

“On se demande parfois si la vie a un sens… et puis on rencontre des êtres qui donnent un sens à la vie.”

It had been years since I picked up a French novel, so to choose Frédéric Beigbeder’s, “L’Amour dure trois ans” was both out of the ordinary and a delightful little guilty pleasure. The book is a provocative and humorous exploration of modern love and relationships. Set against the backdrop of contemporary society, Beigbeder challenges the concept of everlasting love, suggesting that romantic love has a three-year expiration date. The narrative is filled with irony and cynicism, yet it resonates with anyone who has experienced the highs and lows of love. The novel is not just a story about relationships; it’s a laugh-out-loud commentary on the fleeting nature of love in the modern world, making readers question the very foundation of their romantic beliefs.

  1. Poet-librarians in the Library of Babel: Innovative Meditations on Librarianship
    By: Shannon Tharp and Sommer Browning
    Publisher: Library Juice Press
    Publication Date: April 12, 2018

As a Trustee of the Ottawa Public Library, I chose “Poet-librarians in the Library of Babel” to deepen my understanding of the librarian’s realm. This book is an imaginative exploration that intertwines librarianship with the infinite possibilities presented by Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel”—a metaphor for the universe, filled with endless books containing every possible combination of letters, symbols, and knowledge. The authors contemplate the librarians’ role as navigators through vast realms of information, presenting them as poetic stewards of an ever-expanding world of literature and human narratives. It reflects on their profound connection to the preservation and dissemination of knowledge, capturing the essence of librarianship as both a noble calling and an art form. This work is a philosophical and poetic tribute to the vocation of librarians, celebrating their unique position at the crossroads of civilization’s stories and secrets.

  1. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
    By: John Koenig
    Publisher: Simon & Schuster
    Publication Date: November 16, 2021

John Koenig’s “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” is a mesmerizing collection of invented words, each capturing a specific emotional state or aspect of the human condition that traditional language often overlooks. From the poignant longing of ‘sonder’ to the bittersweet traces of ‘nostalgia,’ Koenig’s creations offer a profound vocabulary for expressing deep-seated feelings and experiences. The book is not only a linguistic treasure but also a compassionate lens through which to view our emotional complexities. A couple of my favourite new words include:

n. the fear that the role you once occupied in someone’s life could be refilled without a second thought, which makes you wish that every breakup would include a severance package, a non-compete clause, and some sort of romantic placement program.

n. the self-contained pajama universe shared by two people on a long weekend morning, withdrawing from the world and letting the hours slow to a crawl, coming as close as they’ll ever get to pausing the flow of time, even as they know it’ll eventually rush back in all the faster.

As we close the chapter on this 2023 list, I am filled with gratitude for the authors who have shared their insights and imaginations with me. Their words have the power to transform, challenge, and comfort, particularly in times of uncertainty and change. I hope this list resonates with you as profoundly as it did with me.

I look forward to discovering a world of new books in 2024, and hope some of you readers will reach out to me with your favourites. Which ones sparked new ideas? Which ones resonated with your personal journey? Your engagement last year was truly enriching, and I am excited to continue these conversations. Together, we can explore the depths and diversities of these literary worlds and, perhaps, uncover a bit more about ourselves in the process. Here’s to another year of reading, learning, and growing together.