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2019 summer reading list: 7 books that are gonna make me smarter

Smarter. That’s the goal.

Most of you already know about the History Tech summer reading program. For years, I’ve been intentional about selecting a stack of books to read through the summer months. Mike Ortmann, amazing teacher, social studies superhero, and unofficial mentor, encouraged me to use June, July, and August as a time for personal professional growth. Use the summer to build content knowledge and teaching chops with some individual book study.

It was great advice then. It still is. Getting better at what we do should always be a focus. And what better time to do that than right now? You’ve got a little free time. I’m guessing there’s an easy chair by an AC vent or an Adirondack set up outside somewhere.

I’m still a fan of print but feel free to go the e-book or audio route. Heck . . . there are great podcasts out there as well. But Mike was right. Summer’s the perfect time for personal professional growth.

Here’s what I got going. What’s on your list?

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.

How often have you heard that we really don’t need history? That what kids really need is more STEM and math? That the liberal arts and humanities aren’t that important? We know we’re creating great problem solvers and critical thinkers in our social studies classrooms. This looks like it can provide some additional support for what we do every day.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
I love everything Sarah Vowell. She’s got just enough snark to make things interesting and more than enough detail to make them educational. But for some reason, this is one of her’s that I’ve missed. And she always does a great job of connecting past and present. Here she spends her time sharing her take on the American Revolution through the lens of Marquis de Lafayette and his friendship with Washington. She chats about the relationship between the Americans and their French allies and between Lafayette and the American people. The book ends with the 1824 presidential election in and Lafayette’s sentimental return tour of America.

The British are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777
Rick Atkinson’s World War II trilogy was amazing. So I’m assuming his three part series on the American Revolution will be just as good. Covering the first few battles of the war, Lexington and Concord to Trenton and Princeton, Atkinson highlights the story of Continental Army as it takes on the world’s most formidable fighting force. The story is also told from the British perspective, making it all the more compelling.


D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II
I had the chance to spend time at the Eisenhower Library and Archives during it’s 75th D-Day anniversary celebration. So it seemed appropriate to go back and re-read Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day book. Ambrose portrays the faces of courage and heroism, fear and determination that shaped the victory of who Ambrose calls “citizen soldiers.” I love how he incorporates more than 1,400 interviews with American, British, Canadian, French, and German veterans into his story. Ambrose reveals how the original plans for the invasion had to be abandoned, and how enlisted men and junior officers acted on their own initiative when they realized that nothing was as they were told it would be.

Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide
Tony Horowitz is one of my favorite writers. A Pulitzer prize winning journalist, he hooked me years ago with his amazing Confederates in the Attic. I’ve been through all of his stuff and was pumped when I saw his latest. Spying on the South follows the path taken in the 1850s by Fredrick Olmstead, NYC’s Central Park designer. Olmstead documented his travels for the New York Times, highlighting the similarities and differences between North and South.

Tony rediscovers Olmsted amidst the discord and polarization of our own time. Is America still one country? In search of answers and his own adventures, he follows Olmsted’s route and often his mode of transport, including a painful several days on mule back. Horwitz’s insights and hilarious journey through the 2019 South is a must read.

Fact Vs. Fiction: Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in the Age of Fake News
The advent of the 24-hour news cycle, citizen journalism and an increased reliance on social media as a trusted news source have had a profound effect not only on how we get our news but also on how we evaluate sources of information, share that information, and interact with others in online communities. When these issues are coupled with the “fake news” industry that intentionally spreads false stories designed to go viral, educators are left facing a new and challenging landscape. This book will help you address these new realities.

Fact vs. Fiction provides tools and resources to help students discern fact from fiction in the information they access not only at school but on the devices they carry in their pockets and backpacks.

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever
My BB friend, Tamara Konrade, founder of VentureIn and co-creator of Inspired Leadership, is one of the smartest people I know. She always has a lot of brillant things to share but one I that I never forget is that “we are all leaders.” And as a leader, one of the things we all need to get better at is helping others get better. Personal coaching strategies are the key to that. So I’m looking forward to using the suggestions in The Coaching Habit.

Drawing on years of experience training more than 10,000 busy managers from around the globe in practical, everyday coaching skills, author Bungay Stanier reveals how to unlock peoples’ potential. He unpacks seven essential coaching questions to demonstrate how – by saying less and asking more – you can develop coaching methods that produce great results.

The odds of me actually finishing all seven? Pretty slim. I’m always way too ambitious with my book list. I get distracted by a new topic or end up not liking a book well enough to finish it. We’re right in the middle of the Women’s World Cup so that’s gonna hurt the reading focus. But I’m pretty sure that I’ll still end up smarter than when I started.

What’s on your list? What podcasts are you listening to? How are you planning on getting smarter this summer?

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