I read eleven books over the past two months. One hardback, two paperbacks, three Kindle ebooks, and five audiobooks. For me, that’s a lot of books, so here was my method:

  1. I listened to Audible books while running or lifting, which I typically do six days a week. This kills two birds with one stone. I’ve found it’s important to chose a book that’s conducive to working out. For me, this is a high-interest nonfiction book with ideas that inspire me.
  2. I read fiction on my Kindle after getting in bed for the night. The light from my Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t seem to negatively affect my sleep. On the contrary–I find that reading novels on the Kindle helps me fall asleep.
  3. When I have time to myself, I read in the front room of my house near my personal library.

The following list is possibly the most eclectic I’ve shared, so there’s bound to be at least one book for most readers. It includes fiction and nonfiction… Positive thinking and hardboiled, unsentimental plots… How to be an effective leader and westerns that make your skin crawl… Yeah, that’s all below. Here we go.

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek (Paperback)

Simon Sinek put a lot of work into writing Leaders Eat Last, and even though it’s a long book with many interesting tidbits, it falls short of his TED Talk, which is how I first came across Sinek. He meanders across various topics so chapters read as individual blog posts that have been cobbled together under the main idea, which can be summed up as so: leaders must take care of those in their charge.

The portion of the book I found the most interesting happened to be one of those meanderings in which Sinek describes the chemicals in the body: endorphins (which mask physical pain), dopamine (goal oriented, addictive), serotonin (reinforcing bonds), oxytocin (love, friendship, trust), and cortisol (stress). I’ve found it worthwhile to think about how these chemicals affect both the leader and the people they are leading.

I also enjoyed the portion about boomers and millennials because I find it entertaining to read about how different generations approach life.

The Unfinished Leader: A School Leadership Framework for Growth and Development by Michael Lubelfeld, Nick Polyak, and PJ Caposey (Paperback)

The only thing that’s permanent in life is constant change. The authors of The Unfinished Leader write, “Society continues to change at an exponential rate. As society changes, families change. And as families change, children change and have different needs. As children change, so too must the schools that serve them. So, no matter how fast you feel you are leading change, be aware of the fact that your school is changing slower than the world our kids live in, and therefore we need to pick up the pace.” In the four years I’ve been a principal, I can vouch that children and families are rapidly changing, and I concur that, ideally, schools must evolve quickly to meet these ever-changing needs. But change is hard. The authors explain why:

“Let’s start off by acknowledging why change is so hard. Change is incredibly hard for four reasons. First, change represents loss. Second, our brain desires certainty and is risk-averse, and change is anything but. Next, leading change is expensive. It creates a large emotional toll and is costly to the political capital you have worked so hard to earn. Lastly, in order to lead change, you must have the talent or skill to see things for better than they currently are.”

Sense of loss, lack of certainty, expense, and talent… These are legitimate reasons for why change is difficult; especially for a large organization.

Near the end of the book there’s a great summation of being a school administrator: “We would like to believe that the role of a school leader is more like an orchestra or band director rather than a ‘boss.’ The leader works to get large groups to ‘play’ together in beautiful ways. Perhaps an architect is also an appropriate analogy.” This is so true. A topdown approach doesn’t get people to play well with each other. You can’t mandate for coworkers to agree, and you definitely can’t will your staff into getting along. As the authors state, being a leader at a school is very similar to being a conductor, and you have to elegantly guide the different instruments and harmonies into music conducive to student achievement.

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor (Audible)

Shawn Achor does a great job synthesizing a lot of ideas about happiness and positivity that I’ve read in other books. He has a data-informed approach, which I appreciate, and his main thesis is this: Happiness must come before success. Most often, young people are told to work hard and happiness will follow. As Achor points out, it’s more beneficial for a person to focus on happiness and positivity, because it is these factors that will cause success in life.

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni (Hardback)

I read The Advantage about five years ago and revisited it this past school year with my Admin Team. What I appreciate about the book is its focus on the importance of organizational health. We can have the most skilled and knowledgeable people on our team, but if good communication is lacking, everything will fall apart. Patrick Lencioni doesn’t just say an organization needs clarity, he repeats that leaders must over communicate clarity. Oftentimes leaders don’t over communicate the message because of various reasons: time-restraints, boredom, apathy, etc. What’s important is having a clear purpose, sticking to the purpose, and continually communicating the purpose.

Richer, Wiser, Happier: How the World’s Greatest Investors Win in Markets and Life by William Green (Audible)

I love reading the wisdom from investors such as Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. Richer, Wiser, Happier definitely shares principles from Buffet and Munger, but it also shares truths from many successful investors. Some of these lessons include: don’t chase fads, buy low-cost index funds, don’t try predicting or controlling the future, buy low/sell high, avoid instant gratification, only invest in what you understand, take care of yourself both physically and mentally, and love trumps all.

Richer, Wiser, Happier would pair well with Poor Charlie’s Almanack and Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger.

This is the best book I read over the past two months.

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill and Dan Piepenbring (Contributor) (Audible)

At 528 pages (which translates to 16 hours, 15 minutes as an audiobook), Chaos is overly long. I appreciate the decades Tom O’Neill devoted to this book, and while I’m a fan of true fiction, Chaos revealed to me I have little patience for conspiracy theories. There were multiple times I almost stopped listening to the book altogether because of O’Neill’s meandering narrative.

Chaos is a worthy addition to the Manson canon, but you have to be pretty interested in the history of Manson and his “family” in order to find this long read worth your time.

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann (Audible)

After finishing one of the Zahler books described below, I searched on Twitter for other horror books and read a tweet in which someone recommended You Should Have Left. What I should have done is kept scrolling, because I found this book insipid. Fortunately, it is very short–basically a novella–so I finished listening to it without wasting too much time.

Books by S. Craig Zahler

I always recommend S. Craig Zahler with a grain of salt. His novels are brutal and not for the faint of heart. In March I read his Wraiths of the Broken Land, which was pretty intense.

The violence in Zahler’s books and films is either a result of a character’s bad choices or to show the seemingly capriciousness of evil in the world. He describes scenes most authors wouldn’t dare, and I appreciate that he pushes the envelope by making books you can’t put down (for the most part).

I wrote my thoughts about each book after letting some time pass so I could process what happens to the characters. With stories like the ones below, it’s important for me to allow the stories to settle before trying to make sense of them. Bottom line: if you like Stephen King and are up for some horror and gore, Zahler will fit the bill for your summer reading.

A Congregation of Jackals by S. Craig Zahler (Kindle)

I read this while in San Luis Obispo for spring break and could barely but it down. It builds and builds until a harrowing conclusion where all debts are paid. If you like westerns, pair this with Wraiths. Also, you can never go wrong with the Lonesome Dove Saga by Larry McMurtry (which is possibly the best series of novels I’ve ever read).

The Narrow Caves by S. Craig Zahler (Audiobook)

The description on Amazon states this is an Audiostate production in which Zahler’s words are read by actors, music is included, and the listener is provided an “ear-movies” experience. I found it effective. The quality is top notch, and the the cast includes famous actors including Vincent D’Onofrio, Will Patton, and Lili Simmons. I listened to portions of The Narrow Caves while running early in the morning while it was dark outside. There were times when chills ran down my back based upon what was being described, and the music is unnerving. I used this shot of adrenaline to propel me forward through the darkness, but I was definitely scared as hell about what was in the shadows. A stray cat would have probably given me a heart attack.

(Note: I used an Audible credit to purchase The Narrow Caves, but I believe you can download every chapter for free on the Apple Podcast app.)

The Slanted Gutter by S. Craig Zahler (Kindle)

The novel is titled appropriately: the plot is designed as a slanted gutter, and the characters are on an inexorable slide toward horrible fates. The fact there aren’t any likable characters makes each demise more palatable, but not by much. Before reading this novel I saw a review on Amazon in which someone asked who hurt Zahler to influence him to write a book like this. I wondered the same thing toward the end of the story.

Mean Business on North Ganson Street by S. Craig Zahler (Kindle)

This is the slowest burn of the four Zahler books I read over the past two months, and I really didn’t like it, although, it does have a pretty cool title. At times it was boring, and at others it was horribly violent. Maybe reading four Zahler books in quick succession was just too much for me; they’re dark, dark. dark. I need a break. As Nietzsche wrote, “if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

That’s it–hopefully there’s something above you find interesting. Happy reading!

Books I’ve Read, February and March 2023

It has been two months since my last post, and during those two months I’ve finished reading six books consisting of one hardback, one Kindle ebook, and four audiobooks. As I’ve stated in the past, I find a lot of value in all three formats. I usually listen to audiobooks when I’m working out (two birds with one stone), physical books when I’m relaxing during the day, and ebooks when I’m in bed about to fall asleep. Maybe that’s a lot to manage, but it works for me.

Per the norm, the list below is pretty eclectic. I’m not sure if there’s a connection between the books–at least that I’m aware of. I liked them all, and I gladly recommend each one. Warning: the fiction is not for the faint of heart, but I found the nonfiction beneficial and thought-provoking. At any rate, if you see a book below that looks intriguing, I recommend giving it a read.

Never Finished: Unshackle Your Mind and Win the War Within by David Goggins (Audiobook)

If you read Goggins’ first book, Can’t Hurt Me, then you already know what to expect from Never Finished: profanity, tales of physical pain, and a lot of tough love urging the reader to push through adversity to attain seemingly unreachable goals. Never Finished provides additional insight into Goggins’ life and the progress he made since finishing Can’t Hurt Me in 2018.

I respect Goggins. His work ethic and the way he won’t let his past trauma determine his fate is highly commendable. I find much of his writing inspirational, and I highly recommend listening to his books while running or lifting because they will give you an extra dose of motivation. Goggins is gifted at retelling his successes and how he learns from failure, and if you’re reading his book for pure motivation, then you’ll find what he shares beneficial. If you’re looking for a way to balance professional successes along with raising a family, then Goggins’s musings aren’t for you. After reading two of his books, I’ve found that I can adopt certain aspects of his thinking such as the 40% Rule, while keeping in mind I need to be present for my wife and children.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino (Audiobook)

As time has passed since the film version of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was released, I find it to be more and more of a masterpiece–particularly Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances. DiCaprio is quite amazing in the film, and I think it might be the best performance he’s even done.

The novel version of the story contains many of the same scenes as the movie, but it also fleshes out many other parts the film doesn’t cover: How Cliff procured his dog, Brandy; Pussycat terrorizing an older couple in Pasadena; and Sharon Tate’s journey from Texas to California all contribute to bringing a more epic feel to the story. It even answers the question as to whether or not Cliff killed his wife. Spoiler alert… The Manson Family’s attack at Rick Dalton’s house in the movie is only mentioned in passing about a quarter of the way through the story, so if this is a novel in which you’re interested, it might be helpful to know the climax of the film is missing.

As a side note, I really enjoyed Jennifer Jason Leigh’s reading of the story.

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin (Hardback)

This is a beautifully made book containing inspiration for artists. One Sunday morning while reading The Creative Act I was filled with so much excitement regarding the possibilities of what I could create, I began to (poorly) dance around the house with a measure of levity I don’t normally experience. I know art is good when it makes me want to create art.

Less Than Zero by Brent Easton Ellis (Audiobook)

I had never seen a full movie or read a book by Ellis before Less Than Zero. However, I had read a lot of articles about, and interviews with, Ellis, so I felt familiar with his work. Less Than Zero is dark, dark, dark. I’d say it’s even more nihilistic than Cormac McCarthy’s bleakest work. That said, I really enjoy stories about Los Angeles. The Day of the Locust & Miss Lonelyhearts, Chinatown, and Less Than Zero all depict a place where the bright lights can’t mask the emptiness fame and fortune are unable to fill. That doesn’t mean people try to vill the void with attaining stardom, or at least status. Even La La Land‘s song City of Stars reveals a hope the main character longs for LA to provide: City of stars/Are you shining just for me?/City of stars/There’s so much that I can’t see./Who knows?/Is this the start of something wonderful and new?/Or one more dream that I cannot make true?

In Less Than Zero, the characters are so detached, apathetic, and amoral, it wouldn’t even matter if their dreams come true. They still wouldn’t feel much, and the possibility of being happy is about as likely as thriving on Saturn. Nevertheless, Ellis is a gifted writer, and although the vapidity of the characters can be numbing to the reader, the novel is mostly entertaining.

What’s Our Problem?: A Self-Help Book for Societies by Tim Urban (Audiobook)

What’s Our Problem is only available to purchase as an ebook and audiobook. If you aren’t a fan of those formats, I still strongly encourage you to consume this book. It’s a tonic to much of what we’re experiencing in this complex country. Tim Urban has a unique voice. I’ve enjoyed reading his blog, Wait but Why, for years, and What’s Our Problem? is a clarion call cutting through the absurdity of American politics.

Wraiths of the Broken Land by S. Craig Zahler (Kindle)

Zahler has written and directed three incredible movies that have stuck with me over the past few years: Bone Tomahawk (a western horror), Brawl in Cell Block 99 (a grindhouse prison movie), and Dragged Across Concrete (a criminal underworld movie). Each of these films are violent and visceral in a way many movies fail because Zahler makes you care about his characters. They’re real people, with real motivations, and oftentimes really bad things happen to them. Wraiths of the Broken Land is no different.

This is a mean novel, but that’s not meant as a dis. It’s the first novel that captivated me since The Streets of Laredo, and I’m always so thankful for the experience of being excited to read a book. If you like westerns that verge slightly into the realm of horror, look no further. Before finishing Wraiths, I purchased one of Zahler’s other books, which I’m sure I’ll write about in my next post.

Books I’ve Read, January 2023

2023 is off to a strong start for reading, and January was pretty eclectic. The content included stress, irregular warfare, dystopia, and a Cormac McCarthy novel (possibly his last).

The biggest recent change for me has been incorporating Audible into my daily routine. While I ran or lifted in January, I was listening to a book, which killed two birds with one stone. However, I’ll always find time for both physical and Kindle books. From my experience, audio, physical, and digital content can all serve a beneficial purpose when consuming information and learning.

Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy (Hardback)

Stella Maris is simultaneously a prequel and coda to The Passenger, and while I found The Passenger to be a deep and worthwhile read, Stella Maris was much better–so much so that reading Stella Maris helped me appreciate The Passenger even more.

There were times I had to put Stella Maris down and process the portion I had just finished. Maybe “process” isn’t the best word… It was more like wallow in the sadness, bitterness, and (possibly) nihilism McCarthy presents to the reader. There’s a section of dialogue about the cold depths of Lake Tahoe I’ll never forget. In instances such as this, it’s the beauty of McCarthy’s prose that’s the only thing that makes the horror bearable.

The Stress Prescription: Seven Days to More Joy and Ease by Elissa Peel, PhD (Audiobook)

This book was recommended by Wim Hof on Twitter, and based upon that recommendation, it ended up being the first book I downloaded on Audible. The Stress Prescription is perfect if you’re, well, experiencing a lot of stress. Even if you don’t feel overwhelmed, this book can help with the moderate amount of stress (“green stress,” Dr. Peel calls it) that we all face on a regular basis. There are a lot of common prescriptions offered such as cold showers, meditation, breathing techniques, and cultivating a deeper sense of awareness. Even if you’re familiar with these fairly common methods, the book is worth reading in order to be emerged in Dr. Peel’s worldview on how to live a more peacefully life.

Three Dangerous Men: Russia, China, Iran and the Rise of Irregular Warfare by Seth G. Jones (Hardback)

Irregular warfare is not something I’ve heard or read about in the news, but it’s the tactic Seth G. Jones states is happening against the U.S. by Russia, Iran, and China; and he argues the U.S. should conduct more irregular warfare against its enemies. Three Dangerous Men focuses on the following three leaders: Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, the deceased Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, and vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Zhang Youxia. The book discusses the men’s formative years, their rise to power, and the threat they pose (or posed, in the case of Soleimani) to the U.S. At roughly 200 pages, the book is an easy read if you’d like to quickly learn more about the threats that face America in 2023.

1984 by George Orwell (Audiobook)

I first read this novel when I was nineteen, and now I’ve read it a second time at forty-two. It hits a lot differently in one’s middle years. I’m older now than the main character (he’s thirty-nine at the beginning of the story), and I’ve lived long enough to have experienced some of what Orwell describes in his book.

We’re not living in the same world depicted in 1984, but examples of doublethink, newspeak, and thoughtcrime can be found throughout history and even in the present day. If you’re up for a grim and chilling portrayal of a dystopian future (can’t blame you if you’re not), this is the book to read.


I give myself permission to stop reading a book if I don’t find it helpful. In those instances there are times when I’ll return to the book later. Other times I’ll abandon it altogether.

Below are the 17 books I finished in 2022, along with my thoughts. If you’d like to check out the books I read during previous years, you can do so here: 20182019, 2020, and 2021.

I hope there’s a book waiting for you below that enriches your life and inspires you to face the New Year with knowledge in your head and hope in your heart.

1. Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life by Luke Burgis

The main idea in Wanting is based upon the work of French polymath René Girard, who believed humans are taught to want what they want. We imitate each other more than we realize. Our desires are not really our own and understanding this is important for determining what we truly want, or more importantly, what we actually need.

Wanting provides many examples of models that manipulate us into wanting what might not be good for us. An exercise Burgis provides is to read a newspaper that’s at least a week out of date. With hindsight we can better determine how we are unknowingly influenced. Burgis wants us to rely on our own meditative thought, which includes having the patience to allow truth to reveal itself without relying solely on the opinions of others.

2. Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence by Anna Lembke

As the subtitle states, Americans live in a time of indulgence. We are constantly distracting ourselves from the present moment, and entertainment reigns supreme. Unfortunately, the pleasure dopamine provides comes with consequences. Lembke writes that based upon studies conducted by neuroscientist Nora Volkow, “prolonged consumption of high-dopamine substances eventually leads to a dopamine deficit” (page 55). She explains the continual pursuit of pleasure for its own sake can lead to anhedonia, “which is the inability to enjoy pleasure of any kind” (page 57). Every pleasure has a price, and in most cases that price is diminishing returns. The first moment of pleasure never feels as good as the second.

So how do we combat this? Through pursuing pain. There is a connection between pleasure and pain. Lembke quotes Socrates: “… whenever the one is found, the other follows up behind” (page 147). If we attain a fleeting moment of pleasure, pain isn’t too far away. Likewise, if we seek forms of pain, pleasure may arrive as a byproduct.

What are some healthy pursuits of pain? Intermittent fasting, exercise, cold showers, “pro-social shame,” and truth-telling. Of course, experiencing pain can become an addiction on its own, so it’s important to seek balance. This is helpful to know, but it drives home a point with which we’re all familiar: life isn’t easy.

3. Just Keep Buying: Proven Ways to Save Money and Build Your Wealth by Nick Maggiulli

As the title suggests, Maggiulli is a proponent of investing as frequently as possible. With dollar cost averaging and compounding interest, he does a good job explaining the difference between investing and saving, which makes Just Keep Buying a helpful book for those getting their financial house in order. He provides tips I haven’t read in other books, such as the 2x Rule to spend money guilt free (i.e. anytime Maggiulli wants to splurge, he has to take that same amount of money and invest it). Some other rules Maggiulli includes are “saving is for the poor, investing is for the rich;” “save what you can;” “focus on income, not spending;” “save at least 50% of your future raises and bonuses;” “debt isn’t good or bad, it depends on how you use it;” “you’ll never feel rich and that’s okay;” and many more.

4. Peer Power: Unite, Learn, Prosper: Activate an Assessment Revolution by Paul Bloomberg, Barbara Pitchford, Kara Vandas, et al.

Peer Power has a number of contributors, and I found almost every chapter to be helpful. The biggest clarity it brought to my thinking is what “empowering all learners” truly means. For me, being empowered means that students own their learning. You may ask, “What does owning your learning mean?” For me, students own their learning when they can answer the following questions: 1) Where am I going? 2) Where am I now? 3) How will I be successful?

5. From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks

This book’s beginning is pretty gloomily because it discusses the ages at which adults begin to decline, and it’s unfortunately much sooner than you’d think. By the end of Chapter 1, Brooks provides three “doors” one can choose to go through once the decline has begun.

1. You can deny the facts and rage agains the decline–setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. 2. You can shrug and give in to decline–and experience your aging as an unavoidable tragedy. 3. You can accept that what got you to this point won’t work to get you into the future–that you need to build some new strengths and skills.

From Strength to Strength, page 22

The rest of the book is dedicated to door 3, and I highly recommend what Brooks shares.

6. The Outward Mindset: How to Change Lives and Transform Organizations by The Arbinger Institute

This book if for leaders, and I can sum it up as follows: having an outward mindset means you do not use people as a means to an end. Leaders must find ways to garner buy-in, determine win/win scenarios, and produce results.

7. Comanche Moon by Larry McMurtry

Comanche Moon is the fourth book McMurtry wrote within the Lonesome Dove saga but the second chronologically. It provides readers with everything they’ve come to expect in a story featuring Woodrow Call and August McCrae: unforgiving landscapes, the absence of justice, violent and unexpected deaths, love lost, and an enthralling tale.

It took me two years to finish the Lonesome Dove saga, and I’m so thankful I did. After investing so much time in the previous books, passages such as the following approach the reader like a melancholic drift through the prairie.

Several times in his life he had felt an intense desire to start over, to somehow turn back the clock of his life to a point where he might, if he were careful, avoid the many mistakes he had made the first time around. He knew such a thing was impossible, but it was still pleasant to dream about it, to conjure, in fantasy, a different and more successful life, and that is what he did, sitting on a large rock by the river and watching the brown water as it rippled over the rocks where Matty had caught the turtle.

Comanche Moon, page 614

The characters McMurtry created will be with me forever, and I’m thankful for the experience. That’s whey we read fiction, right?

8. Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain

This past spring was a bittersweet time of my life–perhaps more bitter than sweet. I probably wouldn’t have purchased this book if I wasn’t experiencing what I felt then, but I’m glad I did. Cain provides a compelling case for why its beneficial to embrace the bitter portions of life. Pain helps us see clearly. By embracing it, creative people can “look pain in the eye, and… decide to turn it into something better” (page 61).

Cain’s insight is helpful. “Just because someone makes a claim against you doesn’t mean it’s true,” a friend once told her (page 156). Or regarding painful experiences, another person says: “It’s like a cracked mirror now… Something is always missing. The mirror doesn’t get put back the way it was, but if you work, you can get a piece back” (page 202). Or in regard to our life partner: “This means we should stop longing for the unconditional love of our missing half; we should come to terms with our partner’s imperfections and focus instead on fixing ourselves” (page 29).

Bittersweet helps the reader acknowledge that it’s ok to embrace pain and longing because by doing so we can live healthier, richer, and more meaningful lives.

9. The Midrange Theory by Seth Partnow

A good book for hardcore NBA fans. Partnow describes the evolution of the game from where it was, where it is now, and where it might be going. If you’re familiar with Steph Curry, you know basketball has changed a lot over the past decade, and the midrange shot (10-16 feet from the basket) waned as the 3-point shot became triumphant. In addition to delving into this evolution, Partnow shares a lot of additional insight into the game. He discusses what makes teams playoff contenders, the true definition of “good stats,” and how to conduct successful basketball analytics.

Not surprisingly, the data Partnow provides is interesting, but it also does what data is notorious for: providing more questions than solutions. At one point he even writes:

In fact, as models become more sophisticated and precisely tuned, the ‘black box effect’ of not knowing what’s going on underneath the hood grows more prevalent.

The Midrange Theory, Location: 1,751 (Kindle edition)

Although our human brains seek order and certainty, it’s refreshing to read a sports writer who’s comfortable saying he’s uncertain. In fact, at one point he states:

It’s unsatisfying, but ‘I don’t know’ is usually a better answer than the false projection of confidence, and when it comes to defense, there’s much more that we don’t know than that which we do.

The Midrange Theory, Location: 2,873 (Kindle edition)

There are some ESPN pundits that could benefit from this sentiment.

10. The TB12 Method: How to Do What You Love, Better and for Longer by Tom Brady

Most football fans fall into two camps when it comes to Tom Brady. They either think he’s the GOAT or a fraud. I fall into the former group, and this year I finally read The TB12 Method. The book can be described as follows: Brady’s biography, workout (pliability), nutritional plan, and brain training.

The TB12 Method can be helpful if you’re interested in a new framework for becoming more healthy. I haven’t adopted everything Brady outlines, but the two things I have incorporated are his advice on hydration and becoming more pliable through the use of a roller before workouts.

11. True and False: Hersey and Common Sense for the Actor by David Mamet

David Mamet is an American playwright and screenwriter, and he wrote True and False to teach actors how to approach their craft on the stage. In the book Mamet refers often to Konstantin Stanislavsky, who was a theater legend. Here’s my best shot at what both men would say good acting is: Actors leave their personal lives outside the theater, they learn what their character wants and perform the action that’s needed to bring the character to life, they work simply and without unnecessarily flourish, they trust their own common sense and do not read too much into the playwright’s intent, they show courage through fighting self-doubt, they do not complain, and at the end of the show they leave it all on the stage.

You don’t have to be an actor to find wisdom in this book. Yes, Mamet provides constructive thoughts on how to perform well on the stage, but his advice can be applied in any professional field. Take this except:

The greatest performances are seldom noticed. Why? Because they do not draw attention to themselves, and do not seek to—like any real heroism, they are simple and unassuming, and seem to be a natural and inevitable outgrowth of the actor. They so fuse with the actor that we accept them as other-than-art.

True and False, page 79

In other words, work hard and don’t go out of your way to draw attention to yourself–the goal should not be to garner recognition.

Mamet also provides the reader with a salutary reminder about complaining and feeling sorry for oneself.

Such remarks as ‘I am a fraud, I am no good, I was terrible tonight’ are the opposite of effective self-improvement. They are obeisance to an outside or internalized authority—they are a plea to that authority for pity for your helpless state.

True and False, page 48

And later:

‘Oh, how terrible I was.…’ How difficult to keep those words in—how comforting they are. In saying them one creates an imaginary group interested in one’s progress. But give up the comfort of an imaginary group. This ‘group’ that is judging you is not real; you invented it to make yourself feel less alone.

True and False, page 49

One shouldn’t confuse feelings of worthlessness with self-improvement. Instead we must try our best and leave it all on the stage–both in the theater and in life.

12. Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardware Warrior by Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson knows success, and this book is a thoughtful, meditative explanation of his worldview. It also provides great lessons for leaders. Jackson writes:

Albert Einstein once described his rules of work: ‘One: Out of clutter, find simplicity. Two: From discord, find harmony. Three: In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’ That was the kind of attitude I had to have… I had to let go of my compulsive need for order and learn how to stay composed when everything seemed hopelessly out of control.

Sacred Hoops, page 70

I know the feeling. Another feeling leaders know:

An NBA team is a highly charged environment, and players are always grumbling about something, no matter how compassionate the coach is or how well the team is doing.

Sacred Hoops, page 103

Leadership is hard, and there are so many excerpts I could share from this book that I underlined. Jackson knows it takes a clear mind and open heart if you want to be a leader, and this book is a great source of quiet strength for anyone bold enough to lead others.

13. Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates

This is a great book to read if you want a clear understanding of what Balanced Literacy is. For a while I placed excerpts at the end of my morning emails to my staff just to provide some food for thought. Some of these include:

Orthographic mapping is aligning speech to print. Decoding is aligning print to speech.

Shifting the Balance, page 99


In fact, it seems a bit crazy but thirteen little words account for more than 25 percent of the words in print!

Shifting the Balance, page 91

If these snippets sound interesting, then you’ll really like the book.

14. Will by Will Smith and Mark Manson

I mentioned to a few people I was reading this book. Each time I received the same question: Why?

The answer is that during a Dodgers game Mookie Betts was mic’d up on the field and answered a series of questions–one of which was which books he recently read. Will was one of them. (For the record, I’m a Giants fan.)

It would be a shame to avoid Will because of “The Slap.” The book is fascinating because a careful reading helps explain why The Slap occurred. Will was published well before the Oscars ceremony, which makes its revelations even more astonishing. Smith cracks himself open and offers an unvarnished look at his psyche. Because of this, I found Will to be the most engaging book I read this year.

If understanding what makes Smith tick (or explode, for that matter) doesn’t interest you, maybe you’ll find his insights, and–dare I say–wisdom interesting.

In the book Smith refers to himself as “Uncle Fluffy.” Uncle Fluffy is the one who wants everyone to like him. With the help of a therapist named Michaela, Smith begins to understand the destruction that comes from trying to please everyone. Michaela tells him:

We need you to be solid; we need your ‘yes’ to be a yes, and your ‘no’ to be a no. As long as you are twisting and contorting and selling yourself for the affection of others, you will always be untrustworthy.

Will, page 379

She continues:

I want you to have an experience of yourself minus the need to be approved of… Who are you really? What does your heart truly want? What are your deepest values and authentic goals? The problem with Uncle Fluffy is that you are never free to make a pure decision, one that is honest and true for you. You are always forced by Fluffy to compromise and to do the thing that gets the most approval, likes, or sales. Will’s creativity is thwarted by Fluffy’s need for approval. What are Will’s feelings, Will’s opinions, Will’s needs, Will’s ideas?

Will, page 380

Michaela says Smith becomes trapped by the expectations of others because he doesn’t want to let them down and receive their disdain. She ultimately wants him to become a “Freestanding Man.”

…a Freestanding Man is self-aware, self-reliant, self-motivated, self-confident, and utterly unswayed by people’s approval or disapproval. He knows who he is, he knows what he wants. And because of this, he surrenders his considerable gifts into the service of others.

Will, page 381

This is good advice for a people pleaser. It’s also possible this realization planted the seeds of The Slap. Who am I to say? Banishing a people pleaser mentality is healthy, but like anything, every strength has a weakness.

15. The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is my favorite novelist, and this is his first book since 2006’s The Road. A friend of mine and I have talked and texted a lot about this novel, and at the end of each conversation we basically conclude that the book is impenetrable, but we’re thankful McCarthy has given us something new.

The experience of The Passenger is similar to reading a really long poem. Don’t expect a traditional plot or an author who holds your hand during the character’s dialogue (all without quotation marks). McCarthy makes you fend for yourself. If, however, you’re up for the challenge, once in a while you’ll catch a glimpse of, perhaps, what McCarthy wants you to understand–or at least halfway comprehend. Towards the end he writes:

To prepare for any struggle is largely a work of unburdening oneself. If you carry your past into battle you are riding to your death. Austerity lifts the heart and focuses the vision. Travel light. A few ideas are enough. Every remedy for loneliness only postpones it. And that day is coming in which there will be no remedy at all.

The Passenger, page 379

If you’re not interested in what any of that could possibly mean, steer clear of The Passenger.

16. Heat 2 by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner

I was 15-years-old when I first watched Michael Mann’s Heat in the movie theater with my dad. From what I remember I liked it, but it’s really been in my thirties and early forties that Heat has become a staple I watch on an annual basis.

This novelized sequel isn’t as great as the movie, but it is good. Heat 2 takes place both before and after the events of Heat, and it’s entertaining to see how the characters’ pasts and futures weave together. During a podcast interview Mann said he was going to make Heat 2 into a movie. I’m not sure how that’s possible–De Niro, Pacino, and Kilmer can’t reprise their roles. Will Mann recast the actors? Use age reduction technology à la The Irishmen? Make it a CGI film?

Heat is perfect and the sequel is entertaining. Part of me thinks Heat 2 should remain a novel, but I could definitely be wrong.

17. Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins

This is the other book Mookie Betts mentioned when he was mic’d during a game. He said that Goggins makes you feel like you can “run through a wall.” Betts was spot on.

Can’t Hurt Me is an anecdote to a lot of bad advice out there, and its wisdom is a culmination of what’s shared in many of the other books I read this year: embrace pain and suffering to become stronger. Goggins is one hard individual, his difficult upbringing and the many obstacles he’s overcome have built him into a barrier breaking machine. Time and again he asks himself, “What am I capable of?” Then he seeks out the most difficult challenges in order to prove to himself that nothing can hurt him.

Toward the end of the book Goggins mentions The 40% Rule, which states that once we think we’ve hit our limit running, studying, etc., we most likely still have 60% more effort we can give. This is the mindset he has used to complete ultramarathons, break world records, and train within elite military organization.


As I wrote my thoughts for these books, it gradually dawned on me that there’s a theme of pain and survival threading the works together.

Nothing is easy in life, and there’s no guarantee hard times will subside, but books provide us with solace and inspiration, and I’m grateful I was able to read the books listed above.

Here’s to a great year of reading in 2023.


Below are the books I read in 2021. Just like previous annual lists I’ve shared (2018, 2019, and 2020), I haven’t included books I didn’t finish due either to time restraints or because they were boring.

I read 19 books this year, which is lower than my average over the past few years. A wife who’s battling cancer, running an elementary school and opening a second, and raising two kids left little spare time, but I’m thankful for the moments I had to read, which was usually late at night.

The titles have been placed in reverse chronological order, so the first book listed is the last book I read this year. I hope there’s one waiting for you that enriches your life and inspires you to face the New Year with knowledge in your head and hope in your heart.

1. The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees by Ben Mezrich.

In one sense, the world is changing dramatically. In another, status quo reigns supreme. I’m not sure if this dichotomy was a major theme Mezrich considered while writing The Antisocial Network, but it certainly stood out to me .

2. Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates.

This is a helpful primer for differentiation in one’s reading instruction.

3. Dead Man’s Walk by Larry McMurtry.

A wonderful novel by Larry McMurtry that’s first chronologically in the Lonesome Dove saga. (It was the third book written.) Not as epic as Lonesome Dove, but what is?

4. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and and Max Gladstone.

I like the idea of this book, but I found the story impenetrable. I understood just enough to get the gist, but I didn’t fully enjoy the experience because of the constant uncertainty I felt regarding what was occurring on the page.

5. The Coffee Bean: A Simple Lesson to Create Positive Change by Jon Gordon.

A good reminder that we have control over our reactions.

6. The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eger.

My wife read this after me, and she loved it, which is high praise for this autobiography.

7. Exhalation by Ted Chiang.

The inventive short stories in this collection made me think of technology in a way I never had before, which I appreciate, but a few stories went on too long and lost my interest.

8. Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein.

Important ideas in a mediocre book that could have been an insightful article.

9. Freedom by Sebastian Junger.

I’ll read anything by Junger; he opens my eyes to a truth for which I’m thankful.

10. God’s Debris: A Thought Experiement by Scott Adams.

Interesting ideas that are fun to read in an undergrad sort of way.

11. PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, John T. Almarode, Karen T. Flories, and Dave Nagel.

The best thing about books written by Fisher and Frey is the consistency between them. They don’t focus on shiny new ideas and strategies but rather reveal how the same topics can be used within different situations at a school.

12. Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life by Jordan B. Peterson.

Peterson’s books are important to read because they remind us of our own personal responsibility in this world.

13. The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking by Saifedean Ammous.

The best argument for why owning Bitcoin is important.

14. Making Sense of Phonics: The Hows and Why’s by Isabel L. Beck.

This pairs well with the book I mentioned above entitled Shifting the Balance.

15. Kings of Crypto: One Startup’s Quest to Take Cryptocurrency Out of Silicon Valley and Onto Wall Street by Jeff John Roberts.

This book documents the genesis of Coinbase, which is a major platform people use to purchase crypto.

16. Connecting with Students Online: Strategies for Remote Teaching & Learning by Jennifer Serravallo.

This was helpful last year during distance learning… Time will tell as to whether the strategies will be needed in the future.

17. Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin To Munger by Peter Bevelin.

The best book I read this year.

18. Bitcoin Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.

A sequel of sorts to The Social Network (AKA The Accidental Billionaires).

19. The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake by Breece D’J Pancake.

A difficult book of short stories with which to begin the year because I found the narratives hard to track. I would love to discuss the stories with someone… Let me know if you ever read the collection.

That’s it! I hope you found this list helpful. As always, let me know if you have any questions. Here’s to a great year of reading in 2022!