Like with Blink, it’s important to remember that Freakonomics is pop-economics and probably won’t actually solve any of your, or the world’s, problems. It probably won’t even help you figure out why things are the way they are but it might at least help you see a way that things could be figured out. The book uses economic tools and calculations to analyze trivia from all areas of life including the business plan of crack dealer, choice of names for new babies and who is most likely to win a game show. Don’t expect too much to be relevant to your understanding of the world but some of the unlikely connections the book draws between pieces of our lives are still very cool.
4 Teacher Man
If you were ever in high-school you probably know the classic tricks used to get teachers to lower the amount of educational material they cover, the most obvious of which is getting them to talk about themselves. In the third installment of his memoirs, Frank McCourt reviles that some teachers at least, are giving into the trick knowingly because telling stories is a lot less pressure than actually teaching anything. Similar revelations are sprinkled throughout the book as McCourt stumbles from a life of Poverty in Ireland and into a fairly rocky teaching career. Although this lacks the heart wrenching drama of Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis it keeps the same self-deprecating humor. Although this book may not be the book that will give information to throw around to sound knowledgeable, you can try quoting some of the lessons that McCourt learns as your own and hope you come off sounding wise.
3 The World Is Flat
An Indian software executive once told Thomas L. Freidman, the author of The World is Flat, that the global economic playing field was being leveled and Freidman took the metaphor and ran with it for the book’s title. You wouldn’t think that a book about the world’s global economic framework could be all that interesting to the non-economists among us but Freidman does a great job of bringing a tough subject down to ground level. Rather than simply doing his research and presenting his findings, Freidman takes you along to do the research with him. So instead of the pure numbers, you also get the view from a bridge outside a factory in China, or Friedman’s initial reaction on landing in India. He uses examples from companies that many Americans interact with on a daily basis and lets you see how this phenomenon affects the global economy as well as the average American consumer and employee.
In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explores the mental processes that can happen in a single instant and the kind of information we take in and decisions we make spontaneously. He uses a lot of fun and interesting examples from everywhere from marriage counseling, archeology and medicine, to fire-fighting, speed dating, sports and military strategy.Gladwell argues that sometimes snap decisions are more reliable than thought-out well-researched ones. I bet you can guess what the criticism on this idea is going to be. As long as you can remember that this book is pop-science and not necessarily a guidebook for life, you should be ok though.
Of the books on this list, this one takes the most concentration. Which doesn’t mean it’s only for ivory tower academic types. As histories go it’s pretty easy to get through but it is a history with no excuses and no angles. David McCullough simply sets out to tell us what happened in America in the year 1776. Here’s the catch: A lot happened. McCullough doesn’t follow any one person or group so that he ends up jumping around locations. And some of those founding fathers weren’t considerate enough to just stay put in one location either, so overall it can be a little bit hard to follow if you aren’t paying attention. Nonetheless, McCullough is today’s leading writer of popular histories and this book makes it very clear why. Despite the attention to detail and accuracy and the complicated subject matter, the narrative flows nicely and makes you wish you’d been there.
Think your favorite 2005 bestseller can make you sound even snootier than these gems? Give it your best shot here: