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Whether you're looking for a good book recommendation or wondering which authors help shape the thinking of WGU's senior leadership and students, you've come to the right place.
Love in the Ruins, by Walker Percy
Written in 1971 but set in the future somewhere in Louisiana, it's a bit wacky, philosophical, and surprising. I have a signed first edition, as well as signed copies of all of Percy's novels. He's best known for his first book, The Moviegoer, a National Book Award winner considered an "important" work of 20th-century fiction. Clearly, I was a fanboy for Percy! I even met him toward the end of his life. Find this book >
Dream Work, by Mary Oliver
This is a collection of 45 poems from this Pulitzer Prize winner. Two of my favorite poems are in this book (and many more). Mary Oliver is a poet who finds beauty in simple things, and I reach for her work for inspiration all the time. Poetry can be read one poem at a time, and it can give us different meanings for different times in our lives. Also, she loves dogs and writes poems about them—there is an entire book of her poems about dogs (Dog Songs) that I give as gifts to my dog-lover friends. Four of the poems in this book should be required reading for all of us, and I recommend them for comfort during a pandemic:
"Wild Geese": “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination . . . “
"The Journey": “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began”
"Sunrise": “What is the name of the deep breath I would take over and over for all of us. Call it whatever you want, it is happiness, it is another of the ways to enter the fire.”
"Sunflowers": “The long work of turning their lives into a celebration is not easy”.
And even though "The Summer Day" is not in this collection, it should be required reading for us all: “Tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?” Find this book >
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
This book is a short novel about an Andalusian shepherd embarking on a journey to find treasure—but it is really about finding purpose. This book was given to me by a friend, and I often give it to others as gifts. And while the messages are simple, they are often those that we need to hear when we are striving to be our best selves. Several of my favorite quotes are:
“When you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you to achieve it.”
“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.”
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist
As a fundraiser, this should be required reading. I provide it to each member of my team. But it also is written for all of us—to help us examine our own attitudes toward money and how it shapes us. This book helps us to see the way money plays into our ideas of scarcity and abundance, and that by looking at money as another way to express our values and intentions, we can see it more as something that flows through us and helps us to express purpose and meaning.
“Money is like water. It can be a conduit for commitment, a currency of love. Money moving in the direction of our highest commitments nourishes our world and ourselves. What you appreciate appreciates.”
“Money carries our intention. If we use it with integrity, then it carries our intention.”
“Absent the commitment to confront the challenges we face together as a human community, charity doesn’t solve problems. It separates us from the problem temporarily and gets us off the hook.”
“We have to be willing to let go of that’s just the way it is, even if just for a moment to consider the possibility that there isn’t a way it is or isn’t. There is the way we choose to act and what we choose to make of circumstances.”
The Power of Moments—Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
This is a book I’ve returned to many times. It’s my personal reminder to slow down and recognize people’s experiences. Moments matter. They create memories, share meaning, strengthen ties, and anchor relationships. Find this book >
End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness, by Todd Rose
Harvard professor Todd Rose—my favorite high-school dropout—makes the case that we need to end our obsession with the “average” person, or in the world of education, the typical student. At WGU, we believe in deep personalization and serving students “one by one.” This book is a treatise on why that matters and how to take on the work of meeting diverse students where they are and helping each one achieve their dreams. Find this book >
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein
This book by David Epstein challenges the ubiquitous and all-too-facile 10,000-hour rule about mastery and encourages us to learn well, but learn broadly and differently if we want to take our work, and our lives, to the next level. Find this book >
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling
Rosling was arguably the best storyteller with data I have ever seen and heard. Indeed, his data visualizations are breathtaking. In this book, however, it is his broad view about human progress and the data-driven, focused work that has made it happen that stand out. Especially in this time of challenge and despair around the pandemic and social justice tragedies, this kind of hopeful, long view on how we can work together to continue to change the world for the better is a must. Find this book >
Second Mountain: The Quest for Moral Life, by David Brooks
Second Mountain is a favorite for so many reasons but one of the many is attached to the fact that I read it at a time in my life that helped me validate choices as well as confirm some of my life decisions. The book includes a chapter on vocation (Chapter 12: Vampire Problems) and a quote by C.S. Lewis that reads:
"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."
This quote couldn’t bring more confirmation to my life. I hope it’s useful to you, too. Find this book >
Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by Joseph Aoun
The book combines two topics of interest to me—technology and higher education. It asks how we can prepare students for a new economy that will be transformed by technology. In my favorite chapter, Chapter 3: "A Learning Model for the Future," it discusses the new literacies of technology, data, and human. The chapter focuses on where humans can do what they innately do best and the importance of further developing those skills. Find this book >
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Shelley’s life was fascinating, and so many elements of Frankenstein were influenced by her life and experiences. Frankenstein has so many themes that we grapple with 200 years later. The ethical dilemmas of science and technology are as important today as they were then. The story of Frankenstein is important for me because it explores what it means to be human and complexity of discovery, innovation and life.
My favorite quote from the book is "Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.’’ Find this book >
Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, by Bob Chapman
My favorite quote this book: “Treat each employee the way you would like your kids to be treated where they work.” Find this book >
Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson Find this book >
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
My favorite quote: “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” Find this book >