Here are just a few of our favorite nonfiction titles for January. See more of our nonfiction picks, and all of the Best Books of the Month.
Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
What don’t you like to say? "I don’t know"? "I was wrong"? "I love you"? How about "No"? For Tell Me More, Corrigan steps away from pure memoir of her previous well-loved efforts (Glitter and Glue, Lift, The Middle Place) by adding a dash of self-help to her mix of self-deprecation and self-examination. The result is a thoughtful and occasionally funny rumination on the things we say, and especially the things we don’t say but should. As it turns out, sometimes "No Words at All" is the best option.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
How many of us come back from a lunch break with the best of intentions for an industrious end to the day, only to suffer the dreaded post-lunch slump? With When, Pink lays out the scientific case for this phenomena, a peak, trough, and then recovery of energy levels and productivity seen in people worldwide, across all cultures and geographies. By being aware of one’s own chronotype, i.e. when they tend to experience peak and diminished performance, (for the record, I’m writing this review right before lunch), Pink argues readers can be more effective in choosing when to tackle a new project at work, when to give a big presentation, or even when to schedule a surgery. –Matt Fyffe
Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children by Sara Zaske
First there was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo’s hugely successful treatise on Japanese housecleaning. Then came The Little Book of Hygge, in which we learn to be as happy as Danes. How about expiring like a Swede? For that we have The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.
Talk about outsourcing.
Now comes Achtung Baby. While I might have advocated for a different title, Sara Zaske’s advice for raising capable, independent kids—based on her own research and experiences as a mother in Berlin—offers an antidote to the unfortunate phenomenon of "helicopter parenting" so apparent to observers on this side of the pond. As a parent, I know how counterintuitive it can feel to let your children handle sharp knives or walk themselves to school, but what if your fears are holding them back?
The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam by Max Boot
How’s this for an admittedly controversial thought*, if not a new one:
America loves war. We know we shouldn’t, but it’s a compulsion. We manage the dissonance through the words we use to justify it. Sometimes we “stumble” into conflict, other times we’re “lured.” Once we’re there, the “quagmire” traps us, sucking at our boots along with millions, billions, and trillions of dollars, and thousands of lives. We’ve seen versions of this is Afghanistan and Iraq, but the template is Vietnam. Max Boot’s biography of CIA operative Edward Lansdale shows us that it didn’t necessarily have to turn out this way. Lansdale, AKA “the T.E. Lawrence of Asia,” had favored a “hearts and minds” approach in adversarial political landscapes, eschewing pure militarism as a panacea in global policy by introducing social and economic strategies to the mix. He’d experienced success with his philosophy in the Philippines, but in Vietnam, the deck—in the form of powerful generals and diplomats—was stacked against him; America doubled down on bombs and napalm, shoving Lansdale and his ideas to the margins. The Road Not Taken recalibrates the argument, and its strengths are (at least) three-fold: Boot’s research is deep and seemingly impeccable; the material is complex and dense, but it reads like a novel; and maybe most importantly, Boot—no liberal himself–refuses to bind himself with ideological constraints, opening nuanced pathways for reassessing this difficult history, especially in the context of current and looming conflcts. The only question: Is anybody listening?
* h/t @adamjohnsonNYC