Below are the books I read in 2019. There are many more books I started and either haven’t finished yet (A Dance with Dragons) or I stopped reading altogether (Ask the Dust). I believe it’s important to discard a book if it bores you, and I did that many times over the past twelve months. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish reading twenty-six books.

While I enjoyed all the books on this list, none of them stood out as my absolute favorite. There’s one novel I liked the most out of the fiction I read, but nothing captivated me as much as my favorite books from 2018.

I added some commentary below to the books I especially liked. I hope you find this list helpful; let me know if you have any questions! (FYI: These books are in the order I read them–only backwards. In other words, Awareness is the last book I read.)

1. Awareness by Anthony de Mello

A lot of helpful ideas are shared for being aware and disconnecting from everything that makes us unhappy.

2. Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

Great book; I’ll read anything by Holiday.

3. New X-Men by Grant Morrison: Ultimate Collection, Book 1

4. A Summer with Montaigne: On the Art of Living Well by Antoine Compagnon

5. Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson

Not as good as his first book, but definitely worth reading.

6. Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon

I read this in one afternoon in Barnes & Noble. It was the perfect book for me in the moment that I needed it. I love it when books are there for us like that.

7. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

This book really helped me understand the value in pursuing knowledge within multiple fields. I like the idea of following interests, no matter how divergent they may be.

8. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt

9. Leverage Leadership 2.0: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

The most influential book on this list that’s influenced my approach to instructional leadership over the past year. The two most important items to focus on for new principals is data driven instruction and student culture. This book taught me that and more.

10. The Lessons of History by Will Durant and Ariel Durant

11. Driven by Data 2.0: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

I liked it, but you can get by with reading just Leverage Leadership 2.0.

12. Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail by Michael Fullan

Not as good as Coherence, but still really good.

13. Don’t Suspend Me! An Alternative Discipline Toolkit by Jessica Hannigan and John E. Hannigan

An important book in that it gave me a good start in developing my own alternative discipline toolkit.

14. Cherry by Nico Walker

The best novel I read in 2019. I really enjoyed this, although it’s definitely not for everyone. I heard they’re making a movie out of it, and I can’t wait to see it.

15. The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey

I’ve used excerpts from this book for quite a few conversations and meetings recently. I have a feeling this book will be a resource I return to for years to come.

16. Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great by Jim Collins

Not really a book (it’s a monograph), but I’ll include it here anyways. I found myself almost a year later referring to this book during a recent meeting. You know a book is pretty good if that happens.

17. The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact by Michael Fullan

Fullan is the only Edu-Hero I have.

18. The One Thing: The Surprising Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller

19. Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology by Cal Newport

If there is one book I could force every person in the modern world to read, this would be it.

20. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

I’m ashamed to say this is the only autobiography I read in 2019. The good news is if I only could read one, this would be at the top of my list.

21. Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People From Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers by Todd Whitaker

This is a must-read for all school administrators. The main idea Whitaker teaches is something that’s taking me a while to develop within my own leadership capacity.

22. Pet Semetary by Stephen King

The 1989 version of this movie petrified me. I have vivid memories of being frighted on the trundle bed in my friends room back when I was ten-years-old. Finally reading this book at thirty-eight-years-old was no where near as horrifying, but it was damn creepy.

23. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald A. Heifetz

This book is probably one of the best leadership books I’ve ever read–primarily because it focuses on the difficulty of being a leader and the importance of knowing what you’re getting into when you lead people.

24. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable Patrick Lencioni

It was interesting reading this after reading The Ideal Team Player; some of the main characters are in both.

25. Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

This book can be viewed as a cautionary tale, exploitative, entertaining… possibly all three. I think it’s a good book to read as a parent. I finished it before Tiger’s comeback in 2019, so I think it’s a complete different read now.

26. Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov

Great resources. I wouldn’t recommend reading this cover to cover–better to understand the structure and refer to the strategies you want to learn about at any given moment.

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 2020!

Books I read in 2018

Below are the books I read in 2018. This list doesn’t include the titles I’m currently reading, nor does it include books I began and never finished. I believe it’s important to discard a book if it bores you, and I did that a few times over the past twelve months. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to finish reading twenty-four books–all of which I enjoyed.

I added a little commentary below to the books I especially liked. I hope you find this list helpful; let me know if you have any questions!

One last thing… In 2018 I completed the first draft of a book entitled Rise and Converge, which you can access here: . I can’t say it’s better than the books you’ll find below, but I can say it was heavily influenced by many of the following titles.

1. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Timothy Ferriss

I like to call Tim Ferriss my mentor, even though I’ve never met him. This book is a treasure trove of helpful information, and it encouraged me to do a lot of writing this year. You can’t go wrong with any of Ferriss’s books.

2. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

I started The Daily Stoic in October of 2017 and finished it a year later. I highly recommend reading a meditation a day if you’re interested in stoicism. The philosophy has helped me to live both a more peaceful and productive life.

3. A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) by George R.R. Martin

4. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris

5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Author) and Dave McKean (Illustrator)

I really enjoyed The Graveyard Book. Both devastating and hopeful, this story beautifully captures a good person not just surviving, but also loving others in a very dark world. I’ll definitely re-read this novel again.

6. Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Skin in the Game was the best nonfiction book I read this year. Like all of Taleb’s work, this tome will be remembered for years to come, and I will re-read it as I have his other books (i.e. Antifragile and The Bed of Procrustes). I can’t think of another nonfiction author who has influenced and challenged me as much as Taleb.

7. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey

8. Deep Learning: Engage the World Change the World by Michael Fullan, Joanne Quinn, and Joanne J. McEachen

9. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

My second favorite nonfiction book of the year. No doubt Peterson is a controversial figure in the media; don’t let this stop you from reading 12 Rules for Life. It contains a lot of wisdom.

10. The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

11. Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday

Super entertaining and informative–especially if you’re not familiar with how this true story played out.

12. What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagen

Kate Fagen wrote a book that is difficult to read because of its subject matter, but I highly recommend it for teachers, coaches, and parents. Many important questions are raised, but I can’t help but think some stones were left unturned.

13. A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) by George R.R. Martin

14. Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Excellent. Most of my books are in storage right now because my family and I are in the process of moving. This is one of the books I’m most interested in revisiting as soon as I can access my library once again.

15. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Rowling completed an incredible feat in writing the seven Harry Potter books, and I will forever be thankful to her for the time my daughter and I have spent reading her wonderful tale.

16. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Walther Isaacson is currently my favorite biographer, and this might be my favorite biography. If there is one founding father I would most like to emulate, it’s Franklin.

17. The End of Diversity As We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed by Martin N. Davidson

I enjoyed this book and learned a lot. As a matter of fact, I wrote a blog post about what I took away from Davidson here. To read all my thought from my visit to the University of Virginia, you can check this out.

18. City of Thieves by David Benioff

19. Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger, Expanded Third Edition by Peter D. Kaufman, Ed Wexler (Illustrator), Warren E. Buffett (Foreword), and Charles T. Munger

Some people may not read this book due to its $61.92 price tag, and that would be a shame. This book was worth the cost and more.

20. Get Better Faster: A 90-Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

21. Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes. by Jimmy Casas

22. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni

My team at work read through this book together, and it was a great help as we created our mission statement, vision statement, purpose, and core values.

23. Driven by Data: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

24. Edward Hopper: Portraits of America by Wieland Schmied

Edward Hopper is my favorite painter. I viewed his painting Nighthawks in Chicago last spring and couldn’t stop staring. This book is a brief but satisfying summary of his work.

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 2019!


“Take from the margin to rethink the whole.”
–Lani Guinier

Over a month ago I met with a group of educators for the purpose of planning English Language Development (ELD) professional learning sessions. As we discussed the importance of good instruction during designated ELD, I was reminded of a post I wrote a while back entitled Macro from the Micro. Here’s an excerpt:

In Tim Ferriss’s book Tools of Titans, he explains a principle used by chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin called “learning the macro from the micro.” This approach avoids the common way of learning by focusing on a single component (the micro) in order to learn and understand the whole (macro).

The ELD planning group discussed how refining one’s practice for designated ELD has the potential for producing a better teacher in all content areas. The eventual title of the ELD session would become Get Good at ELD to Get Good at Everything.

I was reminded of this planning session as I recently finished reading Martin N. Davidson’s excellent book The End of Diversity As We Know It in which he writes:

The marginal voice is the one that holds the seed of the next great idea, the next powerful invention. We can’t create and innovate without the voice and vision that challenge our familiar and comfortable way of thinking and operating.

Davidson then gives two examples that show how the “marginal voice is the one that holds the seed of the next great idea.” First, he describes how a company named MedTown installed touch screens at a new distribution center because the technology was more advantageous for individuals with developmental disabilities. Turned out the touch screens, once installed, helped workflow for all employees, so all the old keyboards were replaced with the touch screen technology.

Second, sidewalk ramps were built across the country as a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These ramps allowed people in wheelchairs easy access to curbs. Today, almost all walkways have ramps, but you’ll notice not just people in wheelchairs use the ramps. Skaters, bikers, parents pushing strollers, and many other people use the ramps to access walkways.

As the quote at the top of this post states, the margin was used to rethink the whole in the examples Davidson provides. For those of us in the field of education, it’s important we ponder two things:

  1. How can building my own personal capacity in ELD instruction make me a better teacher overall?

  2. How can we take from the margin to rethink the whole so all students benefit?

11 fictional books than can improve empathy

I’ve written about empathy recently here, here, and here. In this post, I’d like to share some books I think can help cultivate empathy. Notice they are all fictional. If you see an article that says: “Come see the 11 best how-to books on strengthening your empathy!”, you should be leery. Explaining to someone how to be empathetic–or even why they should be empathetic–is ineffective. People care by hearing stories. This is a tried-and-true method that’s worked throughout the centuries. Facts often fail in creating empathy. Tell me the statistics of what’s going on in Syria, and I’ll feel sorry for the people who are suffering. Tell me a story about a family’s journey from their home in Syria to their place of refugee in a different country, and I’ll cry and want to know where to donate.

Empathy helps in many professions: medicine, law enforcement, paramedics. Teachers need it on a continual basis, especially at the end of January. Studies have shown that teachers’ morale is at its lowest point January and February. If this is true for you, hopefully a book or two on this list will be a reminder about how important you are in the classroom:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The character Atticus Finch has probably done more to show me how to be a good human being than I’ve found in most other American literature. From his bravery in the face of danger to his tender love for his children, Atticus Finch is someone you need to know if you’re actively seeking a more empathetic heart.

2. The Karamazov Brothers (also known as The Brothers Karamazov) by Fyodor Dostoevsky

A masterpiece. I won’t explicitly state that about the other books listed here, although some of them very well are. Similar to Atticus Finch, the character of Alyosha is an example of goodness in a sometimes dark and confusing world. There are many themes that run through the novel, but the ones that stuck with me concern life, death, loving those around us, and living a moral life so that when we die, people are sad that we’re gone and rejoice for having known us. The last page of the book is the best I’ve ever read, and all the love that brims the readers’ hearts at the end of the story is a testament to Dostoevsky’s genius.

3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This book is special to me because I’m a son and a father to a son. Understanding the love your parents gave you, and realizing how difficult it is to raise a child, is humbling and naturally leads to empathy. The Road displays this truth during the harshest of conditions. Both my dad and I read this, and I included an example from the book in the eulogy I wrote for his funeral. (Here it is if you’d like to read the eulogy in its entirety.) The Road encapsulates the father/son relationship very well in this excerpt: ‘He knew only that his child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.’

4. Stoner by John Williams

Stoner is not a novel for everyone. The main character, William Stoner, is not as lovable as Atticus Finch or Alyosha, but he shows the reader a way to live in a world where nothing goes smoothly. Even when Stoner makes mistakes, you empathize because John Williams describes him so perfectly. The world is unforgiving–sometimes we make decisions that reap terrible consequences, and sometimes bad stuff just happens. If you make it all the way through Stoner, you’ll feel like you got to know a man whose story pulls you in, breaks your heart, and sets you off wanting to avoid similar mistakes.

5. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Like The Road, Gilead is about a father and a son–but that’s where the similarities end. Gilead is the story of a Congregationalist minister named John Ames who, at an advanced age, writes his thoughts concerning life to his young son. This book also struck a cord with me because of my relationship with my dad, which I wrote about extensively beginning with this post. Here’s what a great book does: It helps you see other people in a different light and love them more. Gilead does this and more.

6. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Similar to To Kill a Mockingbird, you probably read this novel during high school. If so, you may remember it for depicting the depravity that humanity can fall into given the opportunity. The same can be said for The Road, but I’d argue that even though both novels leave you feeling almost hopeless because of the cruelness of people, you nevertheless walk away from the stories with the understanding that the tiny spark of your existence can make a difference in making this world kinder. Reading The Lord of the Flies and The Road together, which are both short books, would be a powerful dosage of empathy serum.

7. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

This is probably the best book concerning war that I’ve ever read. After reading it, you’ll find yourself empathizing with characters you may have never thought possible.

8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner will probably not be remembered as a classic in the same sense that all the other books listed here will be, but the whole story is about redemption and caring for the well-being of others. It’s also an entertaining read, and if you’ve never seen the movie or heard about the plot, you should go to Amazon and buy it ASAP.

9. Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

The quintessential story of empathy. Twelve men, serving on a jury, have to decide whether a young man is guilty of murder or not. Their decision has grave consequences, but it takes a lot of talking to soften their hearts enough to care. If there were ever a fictional story that was a microcosm of humanity, this is it.

10. The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy

The Border Trilogy consists of three different books: All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain, which follow the lives of John Grady Cole and Billy Parham; two men who exemplify and redefine what it means to be people of integrity. John Grady Cole may very well become your new literary hero, and Billy Parham’s kindness and decency in the face of loss and loneliness will inspire and break your heart. Taken together, these three books are elevated to the same level as The Karamazov Brothers in how they depict good people traveling through life in a beautiful and unforgiving world.

11. Adventures of Huckleberry Fin by Mark Twain

Like Atticus and Alyosha, Huck is my hero. I said I wouldn’t call any other books on this list a ‘masterpiece’, but I’m sorry–Adventures of Huckleberry Fin is most definitely a masterpiece. The one scene that elevates this story above most others is when Huck makes the choice to save Jim. I’ve written about this here, and I recommend reading about this portion of the book if you’re unfamiliar with Huck’s dilemma. Ernest Hemingway said, ‘All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.’ I wholeheartedly agree.


That’s it! I hope you find value in the list above and give at least one of the books a try. Of course, not every book above will speak to you as it spoke to me, but I’m certain there’s at least one novel here that’ll inspire you and strengthen your empathy muscle. If this post led to you reading one of the books, please send me an email at and let me know how you liked it. Happy reading!