Bitter Brew by William Knoedelseder

Of the 3 big, domestic beer brands, I’ll drink Miller first, then Coors, and, if for some reason no alternative exists, then Bud. Still, I’m always game for an interesting non-fiction story, so I gave William Knoedelseder’s Bitter Brew a chance. I was rewarded with a surprisingly tasty story.*

I had no idea the family behind the rise of Anheuser-Busch  was so dramatic and troubled. While providing a detailed history of the Anheuser-Busch company, Knoedelseder incorporates insider perspectives and the reality-show-worthy details of the Busch family. Knoedelseder focuses on the main family patriarchs and CEOs, creating a story primarily centered on the father-son combinations of the August Anheuser Busches (Sr., Jr., III, and IV) – each of which spent time running the company.

The hard-drinking, wealthy, womanizing Busch men aren’t a lovable group of protagonists, but Knoedelseder weaves the (often distant) father-son relationships into the company’s history so smoothly, each chapter of Bitter Brew goes down easy. *

Check out Bitter Brew if you’re interested in the history of beer, business history, or dysfunctional families.


Before Happiness by Shawn Achor

For a historian, I have some real chronology issues. I watched Better Call Saul before Breaking Bad. I watched season 2 of The Crown before season 1. I’ve only ever seen season 2 of Stranger Things. Basically, I’m a monster.

So it didn’t phase me to read Shawn Achor’s Before Happiness, which was published after The Happiness Advantage, first. It shouldn’t phase you to do the same, either. Though he references back to The Happiness Advantage a couple of times, Before Happiness is less a sequel than a book in the same niche, positive psychology.

Achor focuses on “positive geniuses” who are able to change their perspective to increase their happiness and the happiness of those around them. One example he uses is the brainteaser where you need to connect each dot of a 3×3 grid only once, with only four straight lines. While our brain naturally draws a box around the grid, the solution requires you to utilize the white space around it.


Achor delves into research and shows different ways to apply psychological insights to everyday life. One of my favorites is the fact that we work faster and harder the closer we are to a goal. People who start a free drink punch card with two punches will return more reliably and more frequently to earn a free drink than those who start from zero when the number of drinks needed is the same (so it’s better to offer customers two punches and require ten instead of starting at zero and requiring eight).

Achor mentions he taught at Harvard a lot, but that’s my biggest critique so I can’t complain. Achor makes psychological research approachable and relevant. It’s worthwhile read if you’re interested in new ways of thinking.

Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

The more you enjoy basketball, the more you will enjoy this book. The book picks up in 1980 (Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s first year in the NBA) as the beginning of the modern NBA and runs through the 2016 finals. Each chapter is in a Question and Answer format where Serrano explores interesting topics like who are the best fictional basketball players – I cracked up when he was breaking down Air Bud. This format allows you to pick it up and put it down at will as the chapters are mostly unrelated.

I have a decent grasp of basketball’s last 20 -25 years so I got most of the references, though the 1980s were a little hit or miss. Most of the book relies on callbacks to famous plays, players, and teams, so having at least some idea of basketball history (or ample time to YouTube basketball history) is required to get something out of it. I did find the book a fun read – or rather listen. I listened to the audiobook which was still enjoyable, but “illustrated” is in the subtitle, so I’d probably recommend reading the physical book if you can.

If you don’t like basketball, you probably won’t get much out of it though, but it’s a great book if you like basketball and a good gift for the person in your life that likes basketball.

Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper

Contextualize was one of my go to words as an academic. I loved adding “context” to historical events and I loved reading authors who did the same. Outside of academia, there’s little use for the word. Sure people still add context, but no one ever said “Wow, Bob Costas contextualized that luge competition really well.”

Eloquent Rage is a book that provides context for the experiences of a gifted black girl growing up poor in the South. A mix of memoir and social analysis, Brittney Cooper blends her personal stories, like when her grandmother told her she needed to have more sex, with academic analysis on a variety of topics including feminism and race, politics, and popular culture. Overall, it felt like a collection of essays, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can start and stop if that’s your reading style.

Brittney Cooper is one of a very select few – academics who write truly enjoyable, interesting, and relatable prose. She takes the only good thing about academic writing (clear structure and argument) and leaves the rest behind. Though you can see her academic background at times, it’s something that will probably go largely unnoticed – because her writing is so entertaining.

Eloquent Rage is a compelling memoir, a collection of essays that analyze social and cultural norms, a master class on writing for a public audience as an academic, and a peek into the life of a black woman in the US.

Read all the books!

It was one of those New Years Resolutions that I probably wasn’t going to keep (like all the others made at the beginning of this year). Still, by the end of June, I finished my 50th book of the year. I recently completed my 51st book and one book over six weeks shows how slowly I go through books when I’m not listening to audiobooks (the 51st was only the 2nd physical book of the year). To consume so many books, I just switched to audiobooks and sped them up (shout-out to the Omaha Public Library’s Overdrive subscription!).

I enjoyed most of the books and some authors stood out – most for good reasons, and just a few for not-so-good reasons. I summarize why I liked (or didn’t) these authors below.

Clean all the things meme but with read all the books written and books instead of a broom

Business and Productivity

Laura Vanderkam – She writes with a pretty specific audience in mind – people (and particularly women) who have children and work in demanding jobs. I’m not this audience at all, but I still liked I Know How She Does It so much I quickly followed it up with 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. Vanderkam is a master of showing you how to better use your time and she’s well worth a read.

Angela DuckworthGrit is the hot idea in education right now, but it’s useful to know about for life in general. Duckworth balances talking about important academic research with stuff that interests and applies to regular people nicely.

Chip and Dan Heath – These brothers produced a trilogy worth reading for making yourself better at work (or home). Decisive studies decision-making and how to improve it. Made to Stick looks at presentations and making yourself more memorable. Switch dives into habits and how to change them.

Charles Duhigg – Speaking of habits, this is your man if you want to understand them: read Smarter, Faster, Better and The Power of Habit.

Liz Wiseman – I loved Multipliers. Great for managers to see how they can improve. Great for people who are managed to recognize how their boss works and what that might mean for you and your career.

Jack ShaferThe Like Switch has fantastic, practical advice from an FBI agent on how to get people to like you quickly. Good examples, useful tips, and interesting backstories on how and why it all works.

Daniel Kahneman – Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow is an approachable summary of leading research on decision-making and behavioral economics. He’s one of the people who literally invented the field so he’s a pretty good source. Another great read is The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis, which tells the story of Kahnerman and Amos Tversky, their research, and their relationship as they pioneer the study of decision making and its impact on economics.

The Like Switch has good examples, useful tips, and interesting backstories on how and why it all works. Click To Tweet

Don’t bother: Who Moved My Cheese and I Moved Your Cheese are short, heavy-handed allegories that are better off left unread. I also stopped 48 Days to the Work You Love and One Big Thing because they were making bad arguments from the beginning and I didn’t want to waste time on them. I don’t want to write off Amy Wilkinson entirely but The Creator’s Code had issues – one of her main examples is Theranos, the medical tech company that ran into a lot of trouble for its claims and methods, so it’s an outdated read and I found it tough to get past that.

Memoir and Memoir Adjacent

Shonda Rhimes – I think Rhimes’s shows are a good guilty pleasure watch, but I thought the whole Year of Yes thing would be a little hokey. In reality, the book is excellent and inspiring.

Hannah Hart  I knew Hart from My Drunk Kitchen, but I didn’t know anything else about her. Turns out – she is amazing and her life is interesting and intense and her book, Buffering, is a compelling read.

Issa Rae– I didn’t know who Issa Rae was before The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl , but I still enjoyed it. I also read Shrill by Lindy West  on a whim (though it turns out, I had read some of her articles). It’s also worth a read.

 Phil KnightShoe Dog only focuses on the early days of starting Nike so it conveniently skips all the child-labor and sweatshops parts, but it is a close up look at a unusually very successful (though not always at first) business. Lots to learn but keep a skeptical eye when going through.

I thought the whole Year of Yes thing would be a little hokey. In reality, the book is excellent and inspiring. Click To Tweet

Don’t bother: Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass is book that espouses a secular prosperity gospel and not all that useful. #GIRLBOSS is a close up look at a modern startup but, halfway through it, my wife reminded me that Sophia Amoruso’s company had already failed in spectacular fashion, which colored her advice.

General Nonfiction that doesn’t fit anywhere else and other books

Nancy Jo SalesAmerican Girls is full of powerful stories of girls using social media that back up solid research and its findings. It terrified me a bit to hear about the impact social media has on kids, but it’s important to know.

Mark Kurlansky – So the history of frozen food doesn’t lend itself to a sexy pitch but its history and the life of the man who invented it make for a good read in Birdseye.

Jon Krakaeur – Read all his books. He tells a great story and picks topics that get at the heart of important issues. Like American Girls, Missoula is terrifying as it reveals the fucked up world that is the criminal justice system’s treatment of rape and other sexual violence, but it’s very important, particularly for college students and educators.

Missoula is terrifying as it reveals the fucked up world that is the criminal justice system’s treatment of rape Click To Tweet

Don’t bother: America’s Bank by Roger Lowenstein should have been my jam. Gilded Age / Progressive Era history about the founding of the federal reserve. The story has some really compelling parts too – I just struggled to pay attention. I don’t know if it was too long or too bland but listening to it was just a drag at times.

The history of frozen food doesn’t lend itself to a sexy pitch but it does make for a good read in Birdseye Click To Tweet

The List

  1. The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver – Audiobook
  2. Spark Joy by Marie Kondo – Audiobook
  3. Yes Please by Amy Poehler – Audiobook
  4. Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakaeur – Audiobook
  5. Bossypants by Tina Fey – Audiobook
  6. The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu – Audiobook
  7. Missoula by Jon Krakaeur – Audiobook
  8. Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett – Audiobook
  9. The Story Teller’s Seceret by Carmine Gallo – Audiobook
  10. Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan – Audiobook
  11. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson – Audiobook
  12. The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis – Audiobook
  13. Grit by Andela Duckworth – Audiobook
  14. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – Audiobook
  15. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff – Physical Book
  16. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Audiobook
  17. Birdseye: The Adventures of A Curious Man by Mark Kurlansky – Audiobook
  18. Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg – Audiobook
  19. I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam – Audiobook
  20. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau – Audiobook
  21. 168 Hours: You have more time than you think by Laura Vanderkam – Audiobook
  22. The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae – Audiobook
  23. American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales – Audiobook
  24. I Heart My Little A-Holes by Karen Alpert – Audiobook
  25. America’s Bank by Roger Lowenstein – Audiobook
  26. Buffering by Hannah Hart – Audiobook
  27. Shrill by Lindy West – Audiobook
  28. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero – Audiobook
  29. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – Audiobook
  30. Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath – Audiobook
  31. Multipliers by Liz Wiseman – Audiobook
  32. #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso – Audiobook
  33. The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin – Audiobook
  34. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes – Audiobook
  35. Linchpin by Seth Godin – Audiobook
  36. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – Audiobook
  37. Switch by Chip and Dan Heath – Audiobook
  38. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – Audiobook
  39. Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss – Audiobook
  40. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daneil Kahnerman – Audiobook
  41. The Creator’s Code by Amy Wilkinson – Audiobook
  42. Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port – Audiobook
  43. Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath – Audiobook
  44. Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson – Audiobook
  45. I Moved Your Cheese by Deepak Malhotra – Audiobook
  46. The Like Switch by Jack Schafter – Audiobook
  47. The One Minute Entrepreneur by Ken Blanchard, Don Hutson, and Ethan Willis – Audiobook
  48. Make Your Idea Matter by Bernadette Jiwa – Audiobook
  49. Fascinate by Sally Hogshead – Audiobook
  50. Pitch Perfect by Bill McGowan – Audiobook
  51. Augsburg Confession – Physical Book

Lifehack: How to Read More Books

So on New Year’s Day I randomly decided that I would try some resolutions. Normally, I don’t make resolutions or, if I do, I give up before the end of January (like everyone else). And this year, I made an outrageously bold one: Read 52 books. I’m sure reading one book per week isn’t that big of a resolution for many people, but I read fairly slowly. And my consumption of books is feast or famine. I managed to read a bunch of books last summer, but haven’t really read much since then. So I took a swing and so far, I’m #crushing it. In about 6 weeks, I’ve logged 11 books.

How did I double a reading pace that I thought was going to be a long shot to even maintain?

Cheating (of course)

Well, I mean, it’s not really cheating. It’s just audiobooks. My library has audiobooks that I can download onto my phone through the OverDrive app. I like it because it’s as easy listening to podcasts but after I’m done I get to feel like I’m a well-read person.

Sidenote: If your library doesn’t have audiobooks through a service like OverDrive you can always try Audible through Amazon (you’ll get two free audiobooks) and then keep it around and pay for it if you like it.

Ok, so listening to audiobooks seems like a pretty dumb lifehack (which isn’t saying much because most lifehacks are pretty dumb), but my real secret has been playing the audiobooks at 1.5, 1.75, and occasionally 2 times the speed of the recording. Why waste 10 hours listening to an audiobook when you can do the same in 5-7 hours? Audiobooks are generally read to emphasize clarity — which translates to most of the talking being slower than natural conversation, so it’s not a huge jump up to 1.25x or 1.5x normal speed. Once you’re there you become accustom to the faster speed and find yourself working your way up.

Now I find most audiobooks at regular speed sound painfully slow. I’ve noticed people talk faster in podcasts (probably because they’re talking more naturally), but after a few weeks I’m now cranking those up to 1.5x the normal speed.

So if you want to read more, don’t. Listen more. And listen faster.

And now for Brian’s Books (which is also the name of a bookstore where I grew up — no relation)

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver
Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakaeur
Missoula by Jon Krakaeur
Read all his other stuff if you haven’t already
The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu

Funny and Memoirish
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Books that I read last year so they don’t count but are good and straddle the line between Nonfiction and Funny and Memoirish
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Self-Improvement and Self-Improvement-adjacent
Spark Joy by Marie Kondo
Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett
Joy on Demand by Chade-Meng Tan
The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo

Children’s Books for Nerdy Parents

A couple of months ago, my brother Peter shared a list of his favorite baby books. Though I don’t have any kids yet, my wife Marie and I enjoy buying books for our niece and nephew (and you guessed correctly, we will be the weird aunt and uncle that always get them a book each holiday) and we wanted to share some of our favorites.

For a board books, Sandra Boynton has been our go-to author, but I’ve found there are many good options out there. We just sent our nephew Moustache Up!, a quirky little book that goes over opposites by talking about moustaches (and it comes with little moustaches to affix on the book’s characters!). Likewise, the Code Babies series is cute and a must get for new web developer parents.

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts team up for a series of well-written and beautifully illustrated books that encourage important educational foundations (like curiosity) as well as serve as an introduction to different kinds of careers.

Ada Twist, Scientist

Iggy Peck, Architect

Rosie Revere, Engineer

Some other enjoyably quirky books I’ve found include Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type — a book about farm animals going on strike and engaging in labor negotiations with the farmer and We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) (I just can’t resist good media that breaks the fourth wall).

Marie added one that every history enthusiast needs to buy: Imogene’s Last Stand

Let’s just check out the first paragraph of the description on Amazon:

Meet Imogene Tripp, a plucky girl with a passion for history. As a baby, her first words were “Four score and seven years ago.” In preschool, she finger-painted a map of the Oregon Trail. So it’s not surprising that when the mayor wants to tear down the long-neglected Liddleville Historical Society to make room for a shoelace factory, Imogene is desperate to convince the town how important its history is. But even though she rides through the streets in her Paul Revere costume shouting, “The bulldozers are coming, the bulldozers are coming!” the townspeople won’t budge. What’s a history-loving kid to do?

Marie also recommends two by Hark! A Vagrant author Kate Beaton
The Princess and the Pony and King Baby.

Because Marie was an English major, she thinks reading is important or something and has more suggestions that I’ve listed below. (Though an English major, she also majored in History, which is why I married her). [Editor’s note: This sentence was updated for grammar at the request of the author’s wife]


Stem Women

Social Studies


Now if you’re not into books and/or you don’t actually like the person who has a young child, you’ll want to buy them a Code-a-pillar. It’s great fun for the child. It’s bright and colorful and teaches the kind of thinking that you need to code. It’s also loud. Really loud (in a fun way though!). And their kid will want to have the Code-a-pillar move loudly across the floor all the time.

Consider it educational revenge for that parent you don’t like, but whose kid you have no beef with.

Try to shop your local independent bookstore. They’re good things to have in the community and you should support them! But if you click on one of the links above and order an item, Brian might get a small kickback from Amazon. Consider it selling out if you must, but someone has to pay for all the books Brian buys.

What Three Months of Reading Business Books Taught Me

Over the last few months I read a bunch of books, mostly business-related. Here’s the business-y ones:

So what did I learn? Three months of reading business books taught me that I love reading books by white men.

Wait, what?

I like to think I’m sensitive to issues of race and gender. I need to double check this.

Let’s run through my list. The authors are: white, white, white, white, white, white, white. Shit.

Let’s look at gender. They’re written by a man, edited by a woman, written by a man with a female co-author, written by men, men, men, and a man. Shit.

Well, I didn’t exclusively review business books. What about the other things? Two books and a podcast. Three male authors. Two white. The books I had noted to read in the future? Written by white dudes.


I made an all male panel.

Maybe it’s “the system’s” fault. The publishing industry favors men and discriminates against women. The publishing industry is overwhelmingly white.

Sure, there are systemic issues, but it’s easy to ignore race and gender as a white man. I can peruse the bookstore, only pick up books by Adam, Ed, Don, Jake, Stephen, and Chris and pretend like this is normal.

Simply put, I did not value diversity when deciding what to read next. Sure I can rationalize it: “Oh, I didn’t put much thought into what I was reading” or “I just picked what looked interesting” But I didn’t pick these books at random. If it had been random, I would’ve had more non-white authors and read more books written by women.

If I had tried for one minute, I could have found books written by people other than white dudes just as easily:

What did three months of reading mostly business books teach me?

Race and gender are always there, whether I pay attention or not. If you don’t value diversity, you’ll never get any.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

J.J. Abrams. Sir Richard Branson. Arianna Huffinton. Sheryl Sandberg. Peter Thiel. The blurbs on the back cover of Originals are impressive. The list of awards the book has won is impressive. Adam Grant’s research is impressive. But for a book on originality and creativity, Originals is shockingly formulaic and derivative. If you’re dying to get an overview of management psychology, read this book. Otherwise, the irony of the author constantly quoting other people’s work on how to be an original thinker will drive you crazy. The formulaic, academic structure compounds this bland writing style to create a book on originality that is lacking in creative inspiration.

The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. (7)

The book covers a wide breadth of examples. Too wide. There’s something that didn’t quite sit well when Grant moved from Skype on one page to youth activists seeking to use nonviolence to overthrow a dictator on another. It’s jarring to jump from business case study to autobiography to psychological study to real world experience. And the way they’re all jumbled up makes it seem as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement are just another case study you read about in business school.

I want to debunk the myth that originality requires extreme risk taking and persuade you that originals are actually far more ordinary than we realize. In every domain, from business and politics to science and art, the people who move the world forward with original ideas are rarely paragons of conviction and commitment. As they question traditions and challenge the status quoe, they may appear bold and self-assured on the surface. But when you peel back the layers, the truth is that they, too, grapple with fear, ambivalence, and self-doubt. (16)

I know I’m being harsh, perhaps even overly harsh. The book isn’t bad. But it could have been so much better. The idea is stellar. The execution is average. There is solid advice in the book. Go to a bookstore read the “actions for impact” section. It’s an appendix that summarizes the main points in list format and it’ll tell you everything you need to know from the book. I was left with a bunch of interesting tidbits, but to dive into the fascinating stories I’ll need to look up the original research that this book only samples.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

Next time: What Three Months of Reading Business Books Taught Me

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind

When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly. (35)

There’s a pervasive myth of the genius creative person. Breakthrough inventions, great pieces of writings, and works of art seem to come out of thin air. Created by an inventor, writer, or artist that stumbled upon the right inspiration at the right time. Anyone who has done creative work for a long period of time, knows this isn’t the case. Manage Your Day-to-Day gathers a number of successful writers, thinkers, entrepreneurs, and others who make creative work into their career, to share the wisdom of becoming more productive, encouraging creativity, and making a living out of work they enjoy.

“The most successful creative minds consistently lay the ground work for ideas to germinate and evolve. They are always refining their personal approach to hijacking the brain’s neural pathways, developing a tool kit of tricks to spark the mind like flint on steel.” (184)

The book is written in easily digestible chunks of writing. Each author writes only a few pages, making this book great for people who like to read a little at a time. In fact, the book is likely more effective if read over a long period of time. Read in one straight shot, the advice starts to get a bit repetitive. Not as a mistake, but because managing time has a few very key points that most of the authors agree upon.

    Don’t wait for inspiration to start working
    Do lots of work regularly, everyday if possible
    Minimize email, social media, and other distractions
    Be mindful of your time and activities

The editors carefully crafted the design of the book, interspersing relevant quotes and summarizing the main points of each author before moving onto another section. Physically small with a durable plastic cover, the book is perfect for traveling as well as sitting on a work desk or nightstand for inspiration.

“Truly great creative achievements require hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work, and we have to make time every single day to put in those hours. Routines help us do this by setting expectations about availability, aligning our workflow with our energy levels, and getting our minds into a regular rhythm of creating.” (23)

“For a long time I wasn’t doing certain projects, but I thought I would love to do them if I had the time. Then, when I had the time, I avoided doing them because of all the other stuff that I still needed to do, like e-mail. And it’s just so much easier to do e-mail than to actually sit down and think.” (197)

The ultimate advantage of Manage Your Day-to-Day is the ease in which you can return to the advice. Feeling stuck? Read a few pages on jump-starting your work. Need inspiration? Browse a few of the quotes before getting down to work. An ease read that you can return to again and again, this book is well worth your time if you are working on any long term creative activities.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind

Next time: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World