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My 10 Favorite Books (on Unlearning) for 2011

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Dear Readers:

Every year I’m humbled by how much I have to unlearn and this year was no exception.  My never-ending journey down the path of unlearning was facilitated and, in many cases, made enjoyable by these 10 books. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite books on unlearning for 2011:

1. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. “The problem with being wrong is that it feels like being right.” This is just one of the many nuggets I gleaned from this wonderful book, which also makes this powerful but paradoxical point: “What makes us right is what makes us wrong.”  If that last statement doesn’t make sense to you, it will after you read the book.

2. Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan Watts. If you don’t believe that “common sense” can inhibit your understanding of the world, you will after finishing this book.

3. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn by Cathy Davidson. Among the many compelling points made in the book is this one: Unlearning demands we think of knowledge not a thing but, rather, as a process; or, as Davidson says, “not as a noun but as a verb.”

4. The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis. What do you see when you look at the ocean? If you’re like me, you just see water and waves. What if I told you, however, that there are people in Polynesia who can look at the same scene and discern the direction and distance of an island well beyond the horizon? After reading this profound book, you’ll appreciate how many of our senses have become dulled by modern society.

5. On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not by Robert Burton. If you are 40 years or older you probably have a vivid memory of where you were when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. The surprising truth is this: You are most likely wrong! Don’t believe me? You will after finishing this book.

6. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Would you stop eating a bucket of stale and greasy popcorn when you became full? Would the size of the bucket influence how much you consumed? If you said “no” you need to read this book because, often, what we perceive to be as a “person problem” (e.g. a person eating too much popcorn) is instead a “situation” problem (e.g. a “size-of-the-bucket “problem).

7. The Flinch—an eBook by Julien Smith. Any book that can convince me to take a cold shower for a whole week must be on to something. In this case, the idea of taking a cold shower is an exercise designed to remind the reader of his or her predisposition to resist tackling obstacles. If the idea sounds stupid or pointless it won’t after completing this life-changing book. (As an added benefit the eBook is free and it’ll take less than an hour to read.)

8. Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions are Next to Worthless and You Can Do Better by Dan Gardner. As a futurist and as someone who makes predictions, you might think I’d hate this book but I didn’t—I loved it. Here’s just one helpful hint I took away from it: The less confident an expert is about his or her predictions, the more accurate they are likely to be. The corollary: Beware of the confident expert!

9. Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie. A brilliant little book. For a sample of its wisdom, I will recite Chapter 19 in its entirety: “Orville Wright did not have a pilot’s license.”

10. The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Taleb. The author begins the book with this insight: “The person you are most afraid to contradict is yourself.” It only gets better from there.

There are dozens of other books I’d love to cite and, of course, there are literally thousands more that could have been mentioned but I didn’t have the time to read. I would, however, like to highlight one book that probably would have made the list but I haven’t yet purchased and that is Daniel Kahneman’s new book, Thinking: Fast and Slow. I say this because, in one way or another, almost every book mentioned in my list draws on Kahneman’s extraordinary research.

Here’s to wishing you and yours a healthy and prosperous 2012! And, remember: keep unlearning–and growing your anti-library.

P.S. If you’re interested in my 2011 book, Higher Unlearning: 39 Post-Requisite Lessons for Achieving a Successful Future the price of the eBook is now just $2.99.

Interested in Jack Uldrich Favorite Books on Unlearning from 2010 or 2009? Check these old posts:

 My Favorite Books (on Unlearning) for 2010

My Favorite Books (on Unlearning) for 2009


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