2012 Year End Book List
Quirky Egg-Headed Organizations
Innovative Investment Organizations and Other Investment-Related Links
Nonprofits and Philanthropy
Investment, Business, Behavioral Finance Books
Other Non-Fiction
Novels, Stories and Poetry
What, You've Read All of Those?
Arts of All Sorts
Odds and Ends
Innovative Ventures

Other Non-Fiction

Click on the book cover or title to purchase from Amazon. Full disclosure - Honeybee gets a kickback if you do. Oh, I mean, an associate's fee.

    A NEW WORLD ORDER, by Anne-Marie Slaughter
STEALTH OF NATIONS:  The Global Rise of the Informal Economy, by Robert Neuwirth
To me, these books are a trilogy of tales for our new, webbed-together world:  Slaughter discusses the political and philosophical implications of a system that is no longer structured by nation-states. Gilman explores the awful underside of globalization, where more efficient flow of trade combined with uneven social, economic, and legal conditions have led to an exploitable “moral arbitrage”. Neuwirth examines the gigantic informal economy (NOT the same as Gilman’s – we’re talking street vendors, care providers, agricultural workers…) - $10 trillion worldwide! – that is the basis of economic activity in so many communities, yet still uncounted by most analysis.
  GENGHIS KAHN and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford
Think you know all about Genghis Kahn, heartless warrior?  Well, think again. Weatherford shows us that even in the most straightforward, powerful stories, there is nuance that is way more interesting than the headline. For example, did you know that GK instituted the first fair distribution of wealth amongst soldiers? And the first family benefits for veterans? This is one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” books – you can’t make this stuff up!  In addition to the thought-provoking primary content, the recent availability of Genghis biographical materials – long-hidden by various conquerors of Mongolia – is a tale in itself.
  THE TOASTER PROJECT, by Thomas Thwaites
This is a fun, tiny little book that describes Thomas Thwaites’ quest to build a toaster from scratch (as presented at the PopTech 2011 conference).  It is quirky and funny and self-deprecating, but underneath the lighthearted goofy tale there are some interesting questions about modern manufacturing, consumption, and supply chains.  A neat example of raising issues in an oblique, demonstrative way, instead of preaching about them to folks who don’t yet know they care.
PLENTY, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Jonathan Lovekin
This duo of cookbooks will get you straight through to spring. If you are already dreading the post-turkey overstuffed feeling, you might think an all-vegetable approach is best. In that case, Plenty is the ticket --  love the restaurant(s), love the cookbook(s). Plenty showcases vegetable dishes that are interesting enough to be satisfying, but not so convoluted that you feel they are trying too hard to be hearty (as many veggie cookbooks do). But if you can’t get enough of that cozy comfort food, Long Nights and Log Fires is for you – just spiced-up enough that you don’t feel like you’re re-creating your grandma’s pot roast.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…). A few meals from these books and you’ll be bouncing right out of your football coma – or at least you’ll be ready for some sprightly snowball-making.
    PEMA CHODRON, Various Writings on Fear
There are many helpful Buddhist teachings (and others) related to fear: I find Pema Chodron’s to be accessible, practical, helpful, and comforting.  Among the titles that might be of interest are The Places that Scare You, Comfortable with Uncertainty, and From Fear to Fearlessness.
  THE BOTANY OF DESIRE, by Michael Pollan
Taken at face value, this Pollan book is a solid offering:  neat cases studies of a few key plants and their histories over time.  But pulled up to a slightly more abstract level it’s even more interesting, as it addresses the intersection of human society and the natural world, and examines desire as one form of demand – themes applicable to valuations of all sorts.
If you purchased a big sack of spelt in a fit of wholesome intentions and find it still sitting in your pantry 6 months later, these are the books for you! They are chock full of delicious, uncomplicated recipes that leave you feeling genuinely nourished, without spending all day toiling with obscure ingredients. Really, anything that can get me to look forward to bulgur as much as pasta is genius – and these two do it.
  BAD SCIENCE, by Ben Goldacre
If you are looking to become more science-literate, this book is a good start.  Goldacre (also a columnist for The Guardian) is a funny and engaging writer, but his topic is serious: he shows through a long line of vivid examples just how wrong we have often been on topics of science and health, sometimes through honest ignorance and sometimes through willful ignorance. Putting infants to sleep on their tummies, eating beets as an HIV cure… the list is long and sometimes amazing. Goldacre will leave you feeling a bit more suspicious, but also better equipped to analyze medical and scientific claims of all sorts.  Stop reading those bogus weight-loss ads in the back of Men’s Journal and Us Magazine, and read this book instead!
This book helps to connect science and people – Johnson enlivens the experimenters as well as their experiments.  I remember reading about many of these breakthroughs in school, but even if you thought the science was neat, textbooks rarely gave any glimpse of the people behind the work – what motivated them, what obstacles they faced, what led them to pursue their quirky and path-forging paths…  Did you know that Pavlov intended to become a priest, but then started sneaking into the library to read Darwin?  That he was deeply concerned with the ethical issues surrounding animal experimentation?  If you are a science geek, this is a fun and light skip through history; if you are a humanities lover, this is a great reminder that science and people are not two different subjects.
  Next up for me is a tag-team reading of Johnson’s book about physicist Murray Gell-Mann, Strange Beauty, along with Gell-Mann’s own The Quark and The Jaguar, which deserves more attention than I gave it on the first go-round. Many readers will know that Gell-Mann is a pioneer in complexity science and complex adaptive systems: his work provides the scientific basis for much of the other complexity-related work that we admire.
  THE ATLAS OF SCIENCE, by Katy Borner
Take Tufte’s data visualization and apply it to some of our most interesting scientific questions and you have Borner’s Atlas of Science  - I have only seen excerpts thus far, but can’t wait to get my hands on the whole thing.  Check out the Seed Magazine link below for a map of the intersection of various scientific disciplines, then imagine how this morphs over the course of the decades, with some pieces more and more tightly interwoven and others unraveling before our eyes.  Then ponder the implications.
  SURELY YOU’RE JOKING, MR, FEYNMAN!  by Richard Feynman
This conversational account of Richard Feynman’s development as a physicist is disarming:  you are so busy shaking your head over his goofy practical jokes and constant curiosity that you almost forget this is one of the most brilliant scientists of our time.  No matter what the puzzle, Feynman wanted to figure it out.  A must-read for anyone hoping to solve puzzles of their own.
  Zero Sum Future, by Gideon Rachman
I heard this book referenced last year and have been eagerly awaiting its publication ever since – here it is, hot off the presses!  This is why it is on top of my reading pile: Rachman (of the FT) makes a case here against a zero-sum, protectionist, you win/I lose sort of mindset when it comes to world affairs. When I think of some of the newer things the State Department is doing – more grass-roots outreach, more community investing, more citizen engagement instead of only official-to-official, it fits right into this premise, and yet this is still clearly a contested idea. It is one of those meta-notions that seems to be deeply seated in our minds (and not just regarding world affairs) – the idea of a fixed pie that we need to fight for, as opposed to a cherry tree that we can nourish together to produce many more pies for all.  (Don’t worry, I suspect Rachman does not use corny gardening analogies like that in the book).
  Priceless, by Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling
Last fall I was fortunate to be part of Michael Sandel’s small seminar course on ethics and markets (see our prior commentary on his book, Justice).  This volume touches upon the central question of the class:  are there things that have no price – or that have one, but shouldn’t?  I have long been fascinated by attempts to measure things that are not so easily quantifiable – quality of life, health, environment, social benefits and harms – and there have been some great advances in analytical techniques over the years, with increased nuance, usefulness, and thoughtfulness.  But there are dangers to this measurement too - the dangers of false precision, of measuring the measurable instead of the important, and, most of all, as highlighted by Ackerman and Heinzerling, of de-valuing the very essence of the thing that is so precious to begin with.
  Canal House Cookbooks, by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer
These books are intriguing for several reasons:  1.  They are self-published, which brings a troubling shortage of earlier volumes, but a refreshing freedom of beautiful editorial content.  (This also has some interesting implications for big publishing houses – they are BEAUTIFUL little books, and have a big following – why would you need a publisher?).  2.  They are focused – about 50-60 recipes in each volume, all seasonal and easy to mix and match.  3.  They are written by two women with serious culinary street cred (oh yes, there is such a thing!), but the recipes are easy and accessible.  Their cassoulet recipe, for example, was the simplest by many hours of dozens that I recently compared, without skimping on the essence of the dish.  4.  There are stories and commentary to go along with each recipe – just enough so that you feel you have some context to go along with the food.  5.  Every single thing I have made from these books is delicious.

  LIFE, Keith Richards

Yes, I am spending the holidays with Keith Richards and Jay-Z. I am not usually a reader of groupie-books, but that is the point, these two seem to be anything but that. Jay-Z’s book is a curious mix of biography, art, and lyrics, all tumbling together. And Richards, well, open any given page and you are likely to read something like, “It was in this Church Street period that I achieved my longest feat of Merck-assisted wakefulness – a nine-day epic of no sleep.” How can you not want to hear the rest of that story? Since I lived a few blocks from Church Street in London, and spent many a sleepless night thanks to Merck as well (though mine were stock-driven and not pharma-induced), I figure Keith and I must be two peas in a pod. More to come!
Please see the honeybee discussion above for more details. This was also a featured read from our friends at LMCM this year – that alone is reason enough to recommend it!
  FLOUR, Joanne Chang
I am completely biased as I think Joanne Chang makes the best treats in Boston – this is my favorite cookbook of the year. The recipes are simple (mostly) and clear (always), the commentary is friendly, and the results are delicious! You would not think there are many innovations left in banana bread, but try this version and you will realize you’ve never really had it before.  Joanne is also a real inspiration – she is everywhere! Teaching classes, running 3 restaurant/bakeries, writing this book, and super nice to boot. Plus she has an applied mathematics degree from Harvard, so you know the recipes are all triple-tested for accuracy.
I have written before about my admiration for Maira Kalman – she blends illustration and storytelling in an especially poignant and effective way. This book is the collection of her series for the NY Times last year, where she wrote each month about something American – the Supreme Court, Monticello, Abraham Lincoln… her reports are interesting, educational, and surprisingly touching. And no, that is not your Aunt Mildred on the cover; I believe it is Benjamin Franklin. This is destined to be one of my favorite books of all time.
When I started graduate school this fall, I wasn’t sure how to choose my courses, so I ended up picking mainly classes taught by professors who had focused in their field for longer than I’d been alive. I figured that the subjects were all pretty interesting, but it would be even MORE interesting to hear what someone had concluded after studying an area for decades. This is the same feeling you get when reading Enough – Bogle discusses his views on excesses in many different areas, in clear, opinionated, and thoughtful prose.
  THE POWER OF HALF, by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen
This book chronicles a family’s decision to sell their gi-normous house and put the extra money towards funding a community development project in Africa. The premise is simple – think about an area of your life where you have more than enough, and consider giving half to someone or something who needs it more. Half of your sandwich, half of your bonus, half of your Saturday afternoon… it doesn’t take more than a minute to understand the outline of the story, and really the book could have been a short-ish article instead, but some interesting and unexpected benefits are noted, such as the positive effects on their intra-family communication and decision-making. The author has also been featured in numerous media outlets, so we also include an NPR link here:
  THIS IS WATER, by David Foster Wallace
I hadn’t thought of it until just now, but Wallace is a bit Steinbeck-ian in his conclusions, that the capacity for independent thought is at the heart of all worthwhile human endeavor.  This tiny book is a transcript of the Commencement address Wallace gave at Kenyon College before his untimely death. (The full text is also widely available on the internet).
  MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, by Viktor Frankl
The non-fiction version of East of Eden. (Or vice-versa). “The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose...”
Okay, I admit it, I am one of those people who has worn a t-shirt with a Gandhi quote on the back, without ever actually reading anything he’d written… but no more! This semester I am taking a seminar on Gandhi, which, thankfully, is trying to explore the difficult and seemingly inconsistent parts along with the saintly and noble parts. This book is a good starting point in going from quote-harvesting to a better understanding of context and nuance.
  CONSILIENCE, by E.O. Wilson
This is the longer version of the lecture noted above – a great argument for uniting the various silos of academic and intellectual inquiry, made by one of the few people on earth who has actually done so himself.

THE RED BOOK, Carl Jung (Sonu Shamdasani, Editor/Translator).

There are several reasons to check out this (gigantic, costly) book. First, it is physically beautiful, resembling a 15th century illuminated Bible more than a philosopher’s journal. Second, it is a rare chance to see the source material of a great thinker’s work. Jung himself said of this period and these writings (1914-1930, when he was 38-54 years old): “The years of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life.  Everything else is to be derived from this... the later details hardly matter anymore.  My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream ad threatened to break me… everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. BUT THE NUMINOUS BEGINNING, WHICH CONTAINED EVERYTHING, WAS THEN.” 

Just in case you are an ‘executive summary’ kind of person, here is Jung’s own conclusion:  “I came to my self, a giddy and pitiful figure. My I! I didn’t want this fellow as my companion... I want to live with you, therefore I will carry you through an utterly medieval Hell, until you are capable of making living with you bearable. You should be the vessel and womb of life, therefore I shall purify you.  The touchstone is being alone with oneself. This is the way.”  Interestingly, though the entire book is thick with religious and spiritual discussion and imagery, Jung’s final words are about the self, alone. “My I” !  Isn’t that a beautiful expression, and haunting?  Caring and in opposition, all at once.

There has been a lot of press coverage of this book, as it has never been published before, and it was the center of an exhibit at the Rubin Museum this fall – some of the better articles are bundled together at the NY Times link below.

  ZEITOUN, Dave Eggers
This non-fiction account of a New Orleans family during the Katrina era is a compelling narrative, and also raises some important questions about our society and the structures we’ve created for our own protection (without beating you over the head with moralizing).
  UNCHARITABLE, Dan Pallotta
What I like best about this book is that it challenges those notions of boxes we talked about above – why is there such a vast gap between for-profit and non-profit enterprises in the US?  Are the structures we’ve designed for each really helping to further our goals, or are they creating barriers that make effectiveness more elusive?  (Pallotta’s for-profit company put together some of the biggest nonprofit fundraising events ever).  Reactions to Pallotta’s arguments are often quite emotional, which perhaps indicates that the dysfunction he describes is real.

I am intrigued by the Acumen Fund’s ‘patient capital’ approach, and admire the candor with which they discuss their work. If you have not read founder Jacquline Novogratz’s book, The Blue Sweater, yet, it is a great account of the personal journey that has led to the creation of this innovative organization.

We highlighted Professor Sandel’s Reith lectures in an earlier publication – and here’s the book! He has a great ability to peel apart thorny issues so that we can analyze their squishy insides – Sandel’s even tone and linear (though still nuanced) logic allow for a more thoughtful examination of even the most controversial and emotional issues. His work has helped me to clarify my own thinking and, more importantly, to be more patient and considered in the process.
PARAG KHANNA has done some interesting geopolitical analysis, which is detailed in his book, The Second World. I liked this book because it contained a lot of commentary on countries rarely mentioned in the daily news (except for crisis situations. Though it is always tricky to draw broad geopolitical conclusions in a finite number of pages or minutes, I am also intrigued by the notion of economic and infrastructure boundaries contrasted with traditional national boundaries is worth considering (this is the basis of Parag’s TED talk)

The Atlas of the Real World is a simple concept, but a powerful one. It simply maps data of all sorts onto the ‘land mass map’ we see all the time, and by the resulting puffed-up and shrunken proportions you can see some surprising data at one glance. It is fun (in a sort of geeky way) to flip through this book and stop when you see an especially arresting view, then try to guess what data the view is mapping. Okay, maybe this won’t become your favorite party game, but it is an easy and interesting way to absorb a ‘real’ global view on a wide range of topics.
This is a tough book to summarize, and it is not a cheerful, happy-go-lucky holiday tome. Judith Sherman is a survivor of the Ravensbruck concentration camp, and this book is a collection of poetry and prose about her life, both then and now. I was fortunate to hear Sherman speak this fall and it was an unforgettable experience – amongst the most important points she asks us to ponder is the role of silence, and what purpose words serve in situations when there really are no words that do justice to their subject.
If you like personal narratives, this is sure to become a favorite: Leila Ahmed has lived during a fascinating time, growing up in Egypt as colonialism was ending and nationalism was rising, then going to the UK and ultimately the US to study and teach. Even more than the bare facts of her story, Ahmed’s writing is beautiful, lyrical and poetic, reflective in the way that all autobiographers hope to be, but few are. (In full disclosure, I was a student of Professor Ahmed’s Feminism and Islam course this fall, though we did not read this book for her class).
I strongly suggest the spicy tomato soup and harvest salad from Stir, the honeycomb bars and lemon lemon loaf from Baked, and the endive-trout salad and vanilla macaroons from Bouchon.
  JUST ENOUGH, by Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson
This book was recommended by Virgil Wood (colleague of MLK) and Harvey Cox (Harvard Divinity School legend) - that alone is enough reason to read it. And Nash and Stevenson are from HBS, so if you are usually very impatient with flaky 'improve your life' books this tone might be more familiar and helpful to you. They explore notions of success in a multi-dimensional way, highlighting that a successful life is not quite the same as success in just one arena. (I have to admit that book-length writings on these topics often seem a little wordy to me - if you concur, a short summary article can also be found (for a fee) through HBS at
  HAPPIER, Tal Ben-Shahar 
“We need to escape the cult of the average.” We do not spend enough time studying outliers, and especially positive outliers.  This book addresses this point in an abstract way (interesting) and also provides concrete suggestions for moving beyond average in your own life (helpful). If the advice seems straightforward, that is the point: there is no hidden secret to being more content, it is as much a matter of conditioning as anything else.
WHAT’S NEXT?  Dispatches on the Future of Science, Max Brockman (from
This is a great book for filling small patches of time with thought-provoking content – quick, readable essays by some of the most cutting-edge scientists in the world. It’s as if you were at a big geeky cocktail party and got to ask each person to explain the most interesting parts of their work to you, and why it is important to the world. Why are social insects social? Do humans really have an innate moral sense? What is dark energy anyway?  (no it’s not espresso) – it’s all in there! Note - much of this content is also available on, one of Honeybee’s favorite websites.
This is not really a book you need to buy – you can see tons of the content at the site of its originator: Inspired by the Hemmingway incident (myth?) – when dared to write a story in just six words he responded, “For Sale:  baby shoes, never worn.” Some are hilarious, some feel like a punch in the gut, some make you want to take the writer out for coffee and get more than six words out of them. It is a clever exercise, and a fun one to pursue with friends and family, on long car rides or over a lingering summer cookout.
  WORK HARD, BE NICE, Jay Matthews
I read this book because it was recommended by Bill Gates at a conference talk he gave (the book chronicles the beginning of KIPP, the Knowledge is Power school program).  Plus, the title seemed to reflect a good general rule for life. While KIPP seems to be an innovative organization, the book falls short on two fronts: it does not detail the teaching methods enough to be helpful to teachers, and it does not detail the backdrop of the educational realm enough to be helpful to explain the full context of KIPP. So, while interesting, I was left with questions on both a micro and macro level. It does raise an important set of questions for any organization – how to measure success? And relative to what? These questions often seem tougher for nonprofits since they usually do not rely on ‘pure’ financial measures, but in my mind lots of businesses face the same challenge, as we take false comfort in short-term accounting successes, which are not always the same as durable, real business successes.
  FEAR AND TREMBLING, Soren Kierkegaard

Did I mention that I am beginning my studies in moral reasoning this fall? All I will say is, it is hard to go back to texts like this after many years of bullet points and executive summaries!  More to follow….

[return to top]

Honeybee Capital