My 2012 Book Reading List

2012

The Goal

One of my recurring annual goals is to finish reading at least 26 books for the year. In 2012, I managed to finish 36. Although, 6 of those were lighter reads. So maybe I should discount those and bring it down to 30. In any event, I exceeded my goal. The full list is below.

Reviews

Some of the titles will look familiar since I gave them a longer write up here. I also mentioned a few on Wired.com’s GeekDad and on Compliance Building. There are links that will take you to my reviews.

GoodReads versus LibraryThing

I’m still tracking my books in two parallel systems. Library Thing has a superior platform for cataloging books. GoodReads has a better platform for interacting with other readers, sharing reviews, and sharing booklists. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. I’d like to jettison one of them to quit duplicating efforts. So far, neither one has made a compelling move to improve and elbow the other out of the way.

2012 Reading List

Title Author Rating
How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything
Dov Seidman ***
Review
Defending Jacob: A Novel
William Landay ****
Review
The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways Earl Swift ***
Review
Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot Joseph Cummins **
A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five George R.R. Martin ****
Why the Law Is So Perverse
Leo Katz **
Review
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Charles Duhigg *****
Review
A Visit from the Goon Squad Jennifer Egan *****
The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family
Liza Mundy ****
Review
Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston
Michael Rawson ****
Review
The Walking Dead, Book 7 Robert Kirkman *****
Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War Megan Kate Nelson ****
Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2) Suzanne Collins **
Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, Book 3) Suzanne Collins **
Show Time
Phil Harvey **
Review
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
T.J. Stiles ****Review
Cutting-Edge Cycling Hunter Allen ****
Gone Girl Gillian Flynn *****
Pines Blake Crouch ****
Amazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale Dan Dye ***
The Age of Miracles Karen Thompson Walker ****
Sharp Objects Gillian Flynn ***
Already Gone John Rector ***
Nine Steps to Sara Lisa Olsen **
The Walking Dead, Book 8 Robert Kirkman *****
The American Alpine Journal 2012 John III Harlin ****
Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author,Who Went in Search of Them Donovan Hohn ****
Apocalypse Z: The Beginning of the End Manel Loureiro ***
The Dead Room Robert Ellis ***
Make Magic! Do Good!
Dallas Clayton *****
Review
xkcd: volume 0 Randall Munroe *****
Save Yourself, Mammal!: A Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Collection Zach Weinersmith *****

The Physics of Wall Street: A Brief History of Predicting the Unpredictable
James Owen Weatherall ****
Review
The Most Dangerous Game: A Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Collection Zach Weinersmith *****
The Remaining D.J. Molles ***

No-Man’s Lands: One Man’s Odyssey Through The Odyssey
Scott Huler *****
Review

The Power of Habit and How to Hack It

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We are creatures of habit. We may like to think that our daily actions result from deliberation and willpower. But mostly they are the products of our unconscious habits. The same is true for our kids. Most of what they do is based on habit.

One of the keys to success in life is instilling good habits. Habits are about organic efficiency. They do not distinguish between what is good for you and what is bad for you. Does that leave us out of control? Or can we hack our habits by exploiting the habit-forming routine?

Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, presents an exploration of this subject in his latest book: The Power of Habit. Duhigg has loaded the book with information on how habit patterns work in the brain and suggestions on how to change them. Biologists have investigated the habit-formation aspect of the brain, but it’s the marketers who have pushed the envelope. They realize that creating habits means products moving off the shelf. That’s where retailers can really get their hooks in you and your kids.

One of the anecdotes in the book is the controversial story of how Target can identify when a customer is pregnant and then focus related advertising on the soon-to-be mother. Target realized that lucrative baby supply purchasing habits are already formed by the time the baby arrives so the retailer wanted to change habits before the baby came. The sooner customers started coming to Target for their baby needs, the better. Target figured out to hack habits.

Or take the background story on the crafting of Febreze, the odor eliminating spray, as an example of how our habits drive us to buy products. Procter & Gamble came up with a powerful product. One test subject was a park ranger who regularly had to wrangle wayward skunks. Her clothes, her car, and her home all stunk of skunk. Febreze changed her life. Less odoriferous customers loved the product, but ended up rarely using it.

Then the marketing scientists focused on the habits of cleaning. Febreze was scent-free. A person would spray it, but the application wouldn’t produce a sensory trigger to create a habit from using it. They added a fresh scent and advertised it for use as the final step in cleaning. “No one craves scentlessness. On the other hand, lots of people crave a nice smell after they’ve spent thirty minutes cleaning.” The addition of scent turned Febreeze from a smart product into a billion dollar product.

The Power of Habit is divided into three parts. The first focuses on individuals and how habits shape lives. Duhigg includes stories on how habits can be broken, reset, and persist. You can be trapped by a predictable cycle: you feel tired in the afternoon, you head out to Dunkin’ Donuts, and then you get the reward from the sugar and caffeine and feel much better. Marketers reinforce these routines by fiddling with the Pavlovian rewards.

The second part looks at the habits of organizations. Duhigg argues that managers can change entire firms by changing habits. The book’s third part looks at the habits of societies. Duhigg argues that some of the greatest social reformations have in part been produced by rewiring social habits. He links the pressure of weak ties and social norms with habit.

Not all habits are good habits — you probably feel trapped by your bad habits. Duhigg argues that you can also escape from the trap of the routines that trigger bad habits. Alcoholics Anonymous has proved so successful in part because it replaces one routine (drinking to feel better) with another (going to meetings and talking about your addiction to feel better). You re-wire your mind to appreciate and seek out the new routine.

That all sounds interesting, but can reading The Power of Habit help your life or help you better control improve your kids? Yes. I’m rethinking some of my approaches (and own personal behaviors). The book is filled with techniques to help focus on habits and how to change habits. “Once you break a habit into components, you can fiddle with the gears.” To change a habit, you need to keep the old cue and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. The hard part is discovering the cue and reward.

Some habits are keystone habits that appear to trigger other good habits. Studies show that families who eat together seem to raise children with better homework skills and higher grades. Making your bed each morning is correlated with better productivity. It’s not that these keystone habits themselves cause the the other good habits. They just seem to help the other habits to form.

If you’re interested in more of the research, the book’s notes go on for 50 pages citing hundreds of primary sources and research papers. The book is full of interesting ideas and based on an impressive collection of research. But it does a great job of balancing intellectual seriousness with practical advice. Even better, it’s written in a lively style, making it easy to read and digest. (The book was on my to-read list before the publisher sent me a review copy.)

 

This story first appeared in Wired.com’s GeekDad.

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