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2.5 Years of Audio-Books

May 6, 2016

the life changing magic

I moved farther away from my workplace about three years ago. Enter the commute, which has ranged from 25 minutes to 90 minutes depending on location and time of day. Thus, audio-books.

My Audible subscription has made many a crawling freeway more bearable. So here’s a rundown of my top five for your listening and reading pleasure.

  1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo has been my favorite book so far, surprisingly. As a former design student, I thought I’d seen enough home and lifestyle books, blogs, and magazines to last a lifetime. I was wrong. This was a lovely book to listen to for two reasons. First, the content is inspiring. Although I haven’t konmaried my house yet (aka, used the ‘konmarie’ method of tidying), it has changed my relationship with stuff and happiness in a way that has nothing to do with organizational tips and tricks. Second, the female narrator, Emily Woo Zeller, has a voice I could listen to forever. During my drives with her, I did not bother to switch it up with music, as I often do for my evening commute. I would seriously listen to this book again, maybe on an annual basis.
  2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was my very first audio-book. If you’re an introvert or you love someone who is, this book is wonderfully explanatory and empowering. In contemporary American society, introverts are often pressured to be ‘less shy’ or ‘more outgoing,’ and while there are benefits to adaptive extroversion, Susan Cain also lays out the case (as only a lawyer can) for the true strengths that introverts bring to the table. There’s a healthy dose of social science and neuroscience thrown in for good measure.
  3. American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by ColinAmercan Nations Woodard is a cultural history of the United States that has helped me better understand the many ‘nations’ of my country and why we are often at odds with ourselves. While covering American history from pre-colonial and colonial days to the present, Woodard skips most of the prestigious names and battles in favor of talking about the people who make up America, who they were, where they came from, what values they brought with them, how those values influenced their decisions (including the government they set up), and how they’ve continued into the present day. It thoroughly debunks the myth of any essential monolithic ‘American’ culture, while also explaining what common themes brought us together as a country and what still tries to pull us apart. I wish this had been required reading in high school (even though it hadn’t been written yet).
  4. Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity by David Christian is my favorite of the Great Courses audio-books I’ve listened to so far. Like American Nations, it provides a completely different take on history, starting with the history of time and space itself. In the midst of lectures on cosmology, physics, astronomy, geology, biology, anthropology, and (eventually) human history, the author also explains the history of how we know these things. He dives into the theories behind them, alternative theories, and the evidence that supports our current understanding of the universe. It’s a history of knowledge and science as much as a history of everything and well worth the 24 hour investment. (Warning: As an astronomy professor, he is critical of religion as an explanatory or authoritative source on the creation of the universe. Take that as you will.)
  5. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt explains moral psychology in a way that has helped me better understand why people do what they do, especially when they themselves can’t explain it or their explanations seem to defy their actions. Haidt argues that we are governed not by rationally developed ethical norms, but by moral emotions.We do what feels right and then try to rationally explain it after the fact. Moreover, these moral emotions bear several common features across cultures. Which moral emotions are emphasized helps explain political and religious divisions. A self-confessed life-long liberal, Haidt admits that through this work he’s come to understand his conservative counterparts better, sympathize this their deepest motives, and de-vilify/re-humanize his political adversaries. From a Buddhist psychological perspective, I find that Haidt is bringing empirical evidence and a clear social sciences framework to something that sounds deeply familiar.

Finally, a few honorable mentions, in no particular order.

  • The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (yes, that William James) probably took me the longest to complete because the antiquated language makes it hard to pay attention to, but this classic is well worth the time.
  • The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by former USC president Steven Sample is full of wise advice for leaders, especially those outside the for-profit business environment.
  • The Happiness Hypothesis is Jonathan Haidt’s first book and lays some groundwork forhappiness hypothesis The Righteous Mind.
  • The brothers Dan and Chip Heath build on Haidt’s ‘rider and elephant’ metaphor with concrete guidance in their book Switch, which is about behavior change.
  • The Blue Zones Solution by Dan Buettner explains how people live to over 100, with particular emphasis on diet, but some of the social components he describes were also very interesting to me.
  • Make it Stick by Peter Brown is a must read for all college students as it covers the neuroscience of learning, what really works, and what just feels like its working.
  • Finally, two books by my favorite social sciences researcher of all time, Brene Brown. The first, Daring Greatly is about vulnerability and living a wholehearted life.  The followup, Rising Strong is about what happens when we get knocked down and still want to keep ‘daring greatly.’ If you want a little taste, check out her TED talks.
  • I slogged through Thoughts Without a Thinker by Mark Epstein, which I found fascinating and frustrating by turns. I don’t know enough (or want to know enough) about Freud to bring a critical perspective to much of Epstein’s work.

Now you may ask “Why so few Buddhist books, Dharma Cowgirl?”

Most of the Buddhist writers available on audio-book are teachers I tore through years ago, great folks like Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron. After a while, their books start sounding the same. While the Dharma is always welcome, I have a bad habit of zoning out when it’s something I’ve already heard. I prefer to revisit these authors in text, when I can be more deliberate.

Otherwise, the Buddhist books I’m reading now are all too obscure and academic to merit an audio version. I also prefer to listen to books I don’t have to worry about remembering, annotating, or citing later. Maybe that will change after my dissertation is finally submitted.

Either way, I’m sure I’ll continue to enjoy my Audible in the meantime. I hope you also enjoy some of these books, in audio or print.

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