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President's Bookshelf

Read reviews of President Hall's favorite books and follow him on Goodreads at:

Latest Review:

“The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis is another of the authors I regularly read.  “The Fifth Risk” is his hymn to the beneficial powers of government, especially the federal government.  It is a rebuke of Trump-style anti-government sentiment.  Lewis gives detailed examples of government programs and processes that address some of the larger problems of our national life, problems incapable of being sufficiently addressed by local action.  The weakness of his one-sided account is that it doesn’t turn the power of his journalism to the cases where large-scale government action can weaken the bonds of civil society or the cases where more localized solutions to public issues, such as state actions embraced by the principle of federalism, out to be preferred.  But for our particular political moment, this is an important book.

“Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh

I read “Delivering Happiness” in preparation for a visit I made to Zappos, the online shoe company, toward the end of 2018. I traveled with a number of other college presidents interested in discovering what we might learn from such a company about service to our students. We weren’t interested in studying this kind of service because we thought of our students as “customers.” The tendency to think of every one in every context as a “customer” is one of the unsavory consequences of the “consumer-ification” of society. It will be a sad state of affairs if it ever happens that the only vibrant notions of service we can come by are those requiring the exchange of money. Colleges have a special word to describe the objects of their service: we call them “students.” Unlike customers, they aren’t always right, but they deserve the best that we can offer them in terms of service. Inadequate service to our students can derail their higher education dreams. Tony Hsieh’s emphasis is on the kind of culture which produces extraordinary service, a culture I was able to witness first hand when I visited Zappos. For example, after new employees at Zappos finish their orientation period at the company, a period in which they learn the core values the company stands for, they are offered the chance to walk away from their jobs with a $2,000 check. Such is the company’s focus on building a community of people who share its values. Tony also described how customer service calls at Zappos are not viewed as irritations to be disposed of quickly, but opportunities to expand the company’s relationship with a particular caller through delivering extraordinary service to its callers. The first half of the book is interesting, in that it describes Tony Hsieh’s journey on the way to becoming the CEO of Zappos.  For readers in a hurry to discover what makes Zappos successful, though, I recommend jumping immediately to the second half of the book.

"Educated" by Tara Westover

One of my favorite books I read in 2018 was "Educated" which tells the story of a young woman from a dysfunctional family overwhelmed by mental illness, who first sets foot in a classroom at the age of 17. She eventually goes on to earn a doctorate from Cambridge University. Her journey of learning is full of moments from which I wanted to look away but which celebrated the power of education to transform a human life. I know of no more powerful demonstration that life is more than just living, but learning.