The Best Books That Connect The Dots By Weaving Together Disparate Facts To Tell A Story Previously Untold

By Nelson Johnson

The Books I Picked & Why

The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

By Niall Ferguson

The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

Why this book?

Ferguson’s book “connects a lot of dots” to help make sense of where we are with regards to the influence of social media and the dramatic changes unleashed by the digital revolution as it transforms our society. Ferguson does an excellent job explaining that “networks” have always been with us, but how/why the more complicated/intricate our societal networks become, the more vulnerable we are. He places the role of Facebook into a sorely needed but sobering context. I have re-read many entire portions of this book and have viewed the PBS documentary on this book twice.


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A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America

By David K. Shipler

A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America

Why this book?

Shipler’s book is as timely today as when written nearly 25 years ago. Slavery is our nation’s founding sin and was responsible for racism being written into America’s DNA. I spent years researching my book The Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City. Shipler’s research was an invaluable aid in understanding where we are today regarding race relations. In everything from pay differentials, education and housing, to healthcare, drug addiction, and death at the hands of police, the chasm between whites and many black Americans is virtually intractable. Shipler does a yeoman’s job of putting race and racism into perspective, making sense of a complex and disturbing issue.


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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

By Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Why this book?

This book highlights the broad patterns of how modern history unfolded. Diamond explains how some fruits of the Age of Enlightenment, particularly steel, weaponry, and explosives all but guaranteed that Europeans would build empires with large footprints ‘round the world. When combined with the germs brought to the “new world(s)” by adventurers bent on plunder, the results were catastrophic. The indifference to the lives and well-being of “natives” was a by-product of the invaders’ notions of superiority and divinely sanctioned entitlement. Diamond paints with a broad brush yet provides all the necessary small details to tell an extraordinary story.


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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

By James W. Loewen

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Why this book?

“LIES” are only the half of it. Distortions, misleading narratives, and unnecessary false re-writes diminish the public education of our children. Though written more than 25 years ago, Professor Loewen’s book remains provocative and timely. In my other life, I was immersed in electoral politics (successful in 4 of 5 elections) and one of my early political mentors advised me on seeking voters’ support: “Don’t confuse them with the facts, don’t scare them with the truth.” Though it is true that all countries rely upon myths to sustain a civil society, as a nation, we are a very immature country, fearful of the truth.


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Michel de Montaigne (Translated By J.M. Cohen)

By J. M. Cohen, Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne (Translated By J.M. Cohen)

Why this book?

For me, Montaigne’s thoughts on life and human foibles compare favorably with those of St. Augustine. His insights on the human condition are valuable to anyone inclined to self-reflection on one’s own frailties. Montaigne’s advice on coping with one’s mortality is worth heeding. He counsels that in order to deny death its sting, “…let us deprive death of its strangeness; let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more in our mind than death.” Yet our mortality is only one of many issues he discusses. Montaigne offers up wisdom on everything from fear, prayer and solitude, to the virtues of social intercourse, avoiding unwanted relationships, and educating children.


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