Reading List for the Holidays from Head of School, Jeff Leahy

by Jeff Leahy

Just in time for the holidays, here is another selection of books that I have been reading recently that might be of interest.  If you are looking to give a book as a gift – knowing how personal these choices can be – I would lean towards Keefe, Erdrich, White, and Gilbert.  Each is an incredible story and, for the right recipient, likely to provide entertainment, enjoyment, inspiration, or all three.

The Eloquent President book cover Big Magic book cover

Patrick Keefe’s Empire of Pain – another title could be the “rise of the Sackler family fortune through the pain and addiction of others.”  The Sackler family has fulfilled the great American dream through its rise from impoverished immigrants to one of the most powerful families in the country.  The path they have taken to their riches begins with the noble exercise of hard work and the importance of education, but the family slowly loses its way, and as a result, a great many people suffer.  Behind the philanthropy and scientific discoveries associated with the Sackler name are questionable ethics that drive their path toward riches.

Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: within a complex world, a concept that has been a part of our human experience through the ages, the checklist becomes increasingly more important.  Gawande’s narrative shares diverse stories of the value of ensuring basic steps are taken and the life-saving results.  The notion of a checklist can make grand-scale projects more manageable but is also applicable to our own lives and businesses.

Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities: if you are a progressive in search of a cheerleader, then you have found your book.  Celebrating the small wins that ultimately lead towards a larger transformation is what drives most of this narrative, as Solnit reminds us, “This is earth, we don’t live in heaven.”  Born in the summer of 1961, when the Berlin wall goes up, no one imagined at that time that they would see it torn down within their lifetime, but it happened.  Solnit is short on concrete solutions but shares stories of hope that will give inspiration (and possibly new energy) to those who are fighting for human rights, the environment, and other important causes.

Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman: Somehow, this Pulitzer Prize winner was a pleasant surprise for me, and given all the accolades it has received, it is clear that I just wasn’t paying attention.  Erdrich is a well-known and successful author who shares a fictitious version of her grandfather and his fight to thwart Native dispossession by the U.S. government, as she portrays characters navigating the identities of each and the complex relationships taking place on the reservation.

Ronald White’s The Eloquent President, a Portrait of Lincoln Through his Words.  Honestly, this is one of the best books I have read in recent years.  White takes us through the turbulent time between Lincoln’s inauguration and his death through his speeches and letters.  His narration of the words and phrases within the important documents that Lincoln creates helps us to understand the emerging eloquence of this famous president and the formulation of his ideas, beliefs, and, ultimately, his power as a statesman.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: recommended to me by a CRMS staff member and from the author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” this is an inspirational book about pursuing your artistic dreams and advice on what it will take.  For those in the creative industry, this book will likely keep you focused on what is truly important about the work that you are doing and some practical thoughts on how to get there.

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Book List, Head of School

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