My Summer Reading List

My Summer Reading List

by Nancy Cook

One of the great things about this blog is the exchange of ideas about changes that might make legal education better and law practice more responsive to client and societal needs. In the wake of Best Practices and the Carnegie Report (not to mention the financial meltdown), we are a people in search of new models, meaningful innovation, creative approaches. In that spirit, I offer some choices for summer reading. This is not a review of books, nor am I advocating in favor of any particular ideas that are presented in the following list of books. I won’t even make connections between the ideas in these books and legal education. I do believe such connections to law, law practice, and law teaching are there, but I leave it to you, Dear Reader, to draw them. My only goal is to pique your curiosity and send you in search of good reads to feed the appetite for best practices.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  A tipping point, as the book’s cover defines it, “is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire.” A lot of readers describe the book as an “exploration” of this phenomenon. I’ll just mention a couple ideas that strike me as provocative in the world of lawyers. One is about the significance of context. Here the idea is not so much that context – experience, culture, social environment – affects the way each of us processes and understands events, but that it is the smallest of things in our environment that will trigger contextual associations. So changing small details in the immediate environment can have big impact. Another idea Gladwell plays with is that in order to have a big movement that creates change there have to be, first, a lot of little, autonomous movements.

Imagine by Jonah Lehrer. Lehrer’s book is about how the seemingly serendipitous “aha!” moments of creativity happen. He draws lots of Baby-Boomer readers in with a first chapter about Bob Dylan’s brain (hint: “like a Rolling Stone” was written in “a lonely cabin.”) But I’ll jump to a chapter closer to the end where the author talks about how experts – “people deep inside a domain”—“often suffer from a kind of intellectual handicap.” He argues for an infusion of outsiders to the problem solving realm, whatever that realm is. “Our thoughts are shackled by the familiar.” Use that quote in your next appellate brief.

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer.  This is a book about community in fractured work lives. A central operating principle that Palmer discusses is the “circle of trust.” He advocates an intentional creation of safe space within a workplace or organization where people are free to be open and honest without fear of consequences. It takes the whole book to describe how such spaces might be created and how conversations might be facilitated, but the basic idea is one of integrity and support. Palmer gives examples of meetings that begin with “low stake” questions about participant’s personal lives or that are broken up to give people time for reflection.  He discusses the importance of ambiance and aesthetics, the uses of silence, the significance of laughter.

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. Here’s one idea Johnson examines: in dense networks, “good ideas have a natural propensity to get into circulation.” This is not a “hive mind” concept, but simply the notion that things spread in close quarters. He also looks at why ideas don’t catch on, and one of the concepts he develops is what he calls the “adjacent possible.” This is an argument about timing, how innovations occur at the edges of existing knowledge, and only rarely succeed if too far disconnected from current beliefs and theories. And he validates the notion that sitting around a table, talking shop, is essential to innovation.       

I’m also reading:

100 Diagrams That Changed the World by Scott Christianson

As Long As Trees Last by Hoa Nguyen

Building Stories by Chris Ware

Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton

Creative Conspiracy by Leigh Thompson

inGenius: A Crash Course in Creativity by Tina Seelig

Quiet by Susan Gain

Red Thread Thinking by Debra Kaye   

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One Response

  1. Thanks, Nancy! I hope I can find time to read at least two from your list this summer. And thanks for the reminder that our best ideas often come during those times when we think we are “off the job” and our minds are free to roam and make those connections that happen most when it is in a state of relaxation and reflection.
    Happy July!

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