I once had a philosophy professor at Luther College who spoke of his “read immediately list.” That is, a list of books he felt were so important that to die without reading them would be a tragedy. “Read immediately” was meant tongue-in-cheek and, as you might guess, his list was so long that no one could ever hope to get through it in a lifetime. But that was not the point. The list itself was a kind of touchstone for his intellectual life.
I too have a read immediately list and, like him, mine has also grown beyond what I am likely to have time for, but what a glorious list it is. There are works of fiction, classics, philosophy, musicology, politics, history and all sorts of stuff, including books related to work. Of the eighteen books from that much larger list I have committed to for this year, here are five work-related titles that I look forward to in 2020.
True to Life: Why Truth Matters – by Michael P. Lynch
Much to the dismay of many, Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” to be the 2016 word of the year. This came at a time when America was grappling with one of the most divisive presidential elections of recent memory. The dictionary defines post-truth as “relating to, or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I bought Lynch’s book years ago, and even put it on my list for 2017, but still have not gotten to it until now. As truthfulness is so important in relationships, and alumni/development work is all about relationships, perhaps it is worthwhile to read some clearheaded thinking about the nature of truth and why it matters.
The Promise of a Pencil – by Adam Braun
I teach an undergraduate course in philanthropy, and this book was recommended to me by an alumna who wanted to take the class, but couldn’t because of scheduling issues. Adam Braun details his story of traveling around the world, asking children what they most wanted. While in India, he encountered a boy begging on the streets, and when asked what he wanted, he replied that a pencil was what he most needed. Braun gave the boy his own pencil, an act which ultimately transformed the boy’s life. This experience prompted Braun to start a charitable organization called Pencils of Promise, which aims to make education accessible to all children in impoverished countries.
Giving 2.0 – by Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen
The philanthropy class above is also my inspiration for reading this book, as I am considering adopting it for the course next fall. The author presents a step-by-step approach that donors can use to evaluate nonprofit organizations, and position their time, talent, and treasure where it will do the most good. This is more important than ever for, as I discuss in the class, the IRS is now approving an average of 10,000 new 501(c)3 entities a year. That is unprecedented in U.S. history. While it might seem like we are experiencing a “golden age” of philanthropy, the truth is there are a lot of people with their hands out, and not all of them are trustworthy. My hope is that this book will give students the tools they need to make prudential judgements about how and where to give.
Philanthropy in America – by Olivier Zunz
This is more of a scholarly text that details the history and development of philanthropic activity in America, with a special emphasis on changing attitudes and trends in the 20th century. Zunz looks at the rise of mass philanthropy with figures such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, to the emergence of more targeted organizations like the March of Dimes and Red Cross. Zunz is the Commonwealth Professor of History at the University of Virginia
Daring Greatly – by Brené Brown
This is one I picked up from the team at Michael Hyatt and Company. Brown talks about the dangers of a scarcity mindset and how that, coupled with an unwillingness to be vulnerable and take calculated risks, shortchanges one of great achievement. Brown talks about how America’s culture of “never enough” is actually stifling creativity and innovation in both the workplace and in our personal lives, and how “disruptive engagement” is the key to ending the scarcity cycle.