The Little Book of Confusables

The Little Book of Confusables: Simple spelling and usage tips to help smart people avoid stupid mistakes

by Sarah Townsend

This book disambiguates 600 commonly confused words. Examples include: aggravated, agitated; a lot, allot; assume, presume; coherent, cohesive; discreet, discrete; enervate, innervate, innovate; faze, phase; feasible, plausible; flaunt, flout; fortuitous, fortunate; historic, historical; hoard, horde; indolent, insolent; literal, littoral; loath, loathe; sleight, slight; tack, tact; tortuous, torturous; unkempt, unkept; vain, vane, vein; and wet, whet.

I was happy to learn that French quotation marks are called « guillemet ». I’ll be careful not to confuse that with guillemot, “a sea bird that nests on cliff edges.”

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Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception

Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change York Life

by Amy E. Herman

“Leonardo da Vinci attributed all of his scientific and artistic accomplishments to the same concept, which he called saper vedere—‘knowing how to see.’ We might also call his gift ‘visual intelligence.’”

Amy Herman, who has degrees in law and art history, teaches a course called the Art of Perception to police officers and FBI agents. The book is about how to assess, analyze, and articulate what we observe. To practice these skills, the author presents numerous works of art. She also discusses real-life crime and business cases.

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Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide

Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide

by John Cleese

The central theme of this short book is tapping into your subconscious thoughts for ideas which you can then develop consciously and analytically. Cleese writes, “I began to realize that my unconscious was working on stuff all the time, without my being consciously aware of it.”

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Broken Windows, Broken Business

Broken Windows, Broken Business: How the Smallest Remedies Reap the Biggest Rewards

by Michael Levine

Broken windows theory came up in a recent conversation. The person I was speaking with said he read the book, but it quickly became apparent that we were talking about two different books. I was talking about Fixing Broken Windows, a book about crime control which I have previously reviewed. He was talking about Broken Windows, Broken Business, which takes the premise of the crime theory and applies to it business.

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Coach the Person, Not the Problem

Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry

by Marcia Reynolds

Marcia Reynolds trains leaders how to use a coaching approach. “Coaching should be a process of inquiry, not a series of questions. The intent of inquiry is not to find solutions but to provoke critical thinking about our own thoughts. Inquiry helps the people being coached discern gaps in their logic, evaluate their beliefs, and clarify fears and desires affecting their choices. Solutions emerge when thoughts are rearranged and expanded.”

“When people are overwhelmed, stressed, and angry, coaching reminds them of their purpose, visions, and power to move forward.”

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On Writing Well

On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction

by William Zinsser (1922-2015)

William Zinsser taught nonfiction writing at Yale and he was editor of Book-of-the-Month Club. In a nutshell, the message is that good writing is clear, simple, and unpretentious. My father gave me a copy of the third edition of this book when I graduated from high school in the 1980s. While recently rereading it I was amused by Zinsser’s description of a new invention called a word processor—almost like someone describing their car as a horseless carriage. But otherwise the book stands up to the test of time (and there’s a newer edition available).

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The Fifth Discipline

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

by Peter M. Senge

Senge writes, “I believe that, the prevailing system of management is, at its core, dedicated to mediocrity. It forces people to work harder and harder to compensate for failing to tap the spirit and collective intelligence that characterizes working together at their best.”

The subtitle is about the learning organization, but the book is also very much about systems thinking. 

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WBCN and the American Revolution

WBCN and the American Revolution: How a Radio Station Defined Politics, Counterculture, and Rock and Roll

by Bill Lichtenstein  

WBCN was a Boston rock and roll radio station from 1968 to 2009. It was instrumental (pun intended) in launching the careers of major bands. It was also part of the social fabric of the Boston college scene. This book and a companion video documentary tell the story of the early years of the station in the context of the era.

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