Category Archives: non-fiction

“I want to show you the world, as it is all around us, all the time.”

How does Karl Ove Knausgaard’s collection of letters for his unborn daughter compare to Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me? All three are beautiful explorations of ideas; all are meant to guide, … Continue reading

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“When McGraw-Hill Education polled more than 600 college faculty in 2017, 70% said students were less willing to ask questions and participate in class than they were five years ago.”

I’m with the 70%. At some point in every class, I say, “What questions do you have about this?” Seldom do students respond. However, if that same question is included in a quiz, about a third ask for more information … Continue reading

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“Science needs its adventurers.”

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting scientific adventure than the one described in Altered Traits.  Forty years ago, when Ritchie Davidson and Daniel Goleman were grad students, their advisors told them that studying meditation would be a career-killer. But … Continue reading

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“Rock and roll when first encountered seemed to represent two fears: a fear of the future and a fear of the past.”

Some feared, Christopher Hill notes, that this new kind of music had the power to lead Americans to radical decadence in the not-too-distant future. Others, who had experienced gospel music, recognized “the testifying quality, the clear sense that there were … Continue reading

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“In 2016, for the first time, the majority of entering college students described their mental health as below average.”

If you teach college students, stop what you are doing and get your hands on this book. The data collected here will change how you see the people who sit in front of you. Twenge argues that the generation born … Continue reading

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“He didn’t fit in.”

Even though he was wealthy and influential, Charles Dickens didn’t fit into middle-class life in Victorian England for many reasons. Here are three: He made fun of “society” people in his novels. Instead of writing anonymously, as the other novelists … Continue reading

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“Who is it you are writing for? It surely could not be the average person who just enjoys a good read.”

The reader who asked Jonathan Franzen this question touched a nerve. Franzen’s answer — a 30-page essay titled “Mr. Difficult” — describes two models for relationships between writers and readers. In the “Status” model, writers aim to create great art, … Continue reading

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“Education, when rightly understood, will be found to lie in the art of asking apt and fit questions…”

Bronson Alcott continues, “…and in thus leading the mind by its own light to the perception of truth.”  Using discussion questions to develop ideas instead of using the rote learning method to reinforce “the” right ideas was considered outrageous in … Continue reading

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“More often than we think, our limits are self-imposed.”

I once asked the director of our program for non-traditional college students what the biggest challenge was for these students.  Was it ability?  “No,” she said. “It’s their perception of their abilities.  They don’t think they’re smart enough. Then they … Continue reading

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“When I was younger, anxiety sometimes flat-out crippled my ability to work.”

In every class I teach, there is at least one student who will talk with me at some point about how high levels of anxiety are preventing him or her from completing assignments. This memoir by Andrea Petersen provides a … Continue reading

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So what about Dylan’s song “Blowin’ in the Wind”?

Tony Beck, who wrote his dissertation for Cambridge University on Bob Dylan, notes that Dylan “borrowed extensively” from the English poets Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley and Bryon, who also used the “wind” as a central image in their poems. For them, … Continue reading

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“It tells the stories of two revolutions.”

Revolutions, indeed. This book is about Revolutionary War era hero Alexander Hamilton, whose picture is on our ten-dollar bill.  It’s also about the revolutionary way his story is told by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who uses hip-hop, harpsichords, and a largely non-Caucasian … Continue reading

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“Until recently, we simply didn’t know how immense this problem was, or how serious the consequences, unless we had suffered them ourselves.”

When Matthew Desmond was growing up, money was tight.  Sometimes the gas got shut off, and his parents eventually lost their home to foreclosure. This week, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his nonfiction book Evicted, which is about eight … Continue reading

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“Always do what you are afraid to do.”

This famous assertion from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Heroism,” published in 1841, floated to the top of my mind while – of all things! – attending a technology conference. The keynote speaker, author of the upcoming book Strive: How Doing … Continue reading

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“By and large, art both instructs and entertains us.”

George Anastaplo continues “It instructs us partly by entertaining us; it entertains us partly by instructing us.  We are likely to learn from that which amuses us; we are likely to enjoy that which seems to teach us something” (1).  … Continue reading

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