Top Books for February

February may be the shortest (and coldest!) month, but it has a lot going on, with events like Valentine’s Day, the Oscars, and Black History Month. Our most romantic pick of the month may shock you. Our pick for Black History Month may enlighten you. You might like the short story the Oscar-nominated movie Arrival is based on more than the movie. And no matter what, you’ll finally figure out what the heck this “hygge” thing everyone’s been talking about is.

The Undoing Project

Alex K.: In many ways, The Undoing Project is the string that unites Michael Lewis’s mega-bestselling catalog — from Moneyball to The Big Short to The Blind Side. Why did baseball managers and big banks alike miss the math that was right under their noses? That question leads Lewis to research about psychological bias conducted by two Israeli psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Their stunning, Nobel-prize winning insights into irrationality would revolutionize psychology and economics. That alone would be enough for any author to dig their teeth into — and indeed, many have. But what sets Lewis apart is how he balances the research’s immense impact with the stories of the psychologists themselves. The book unfolds much like a love story without the romance — there is infatuation, distancing, and heartbreak. Ultimately, The Undoing Project illuminates one of the 20th century’s greatest collaborations, and the power of two minds becoming one.

The Little Book of Hygge

Alex P.: I think many would agree that this has been a particularly difficult winter. After years of drought, the Bay Area is finally experiencing the winter storms it’s supposed to, leading to cold rainy weeks (and a renewed interest in umbrella technology). For Meik Wiking, though, this type of weather is absolutely ideal. As the founder of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, Wiking has adopted a very Danish attitude: When life gives you lemons, make a hyggelig glass of lemonade.
Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is one of those words that seems to have come out of nowhere and now is everywhere. It’s often used as a synonym for coziness, but Wiking takes the definition much farther. Hygge is a way of life in Denmark, comprised of intimate friendships, attitudes of mindfulness and gratitude, and lots of candles and cake. Other hyggelig things: cozy sweaters, fireplaces, coffee, stylish minimalism, and cooking with friends. Is it any surprise that a country that focuses so much effort on engineering lovely moments tends to be happier than others? One of the benefits of listening to The Little Book of Hygge, though, is that it makes you feel pretty happy, even when you aren’t curled up with a mug of cocoa. Plus, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself when you get to hear Wiking say something is “hyggelig” — pronounced hoo-ga-ly — over and over again.

The New Jim Crow

Ashley: Long after its initial 2010 release, civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander’s debut about the mass incarceration of black men as purposefully racially discriminatory and analogous to Jim Crow–era legislation continues to chart on the New York Times bestseller list with good reason. Alexander makes her case that the War on Drugs foiled most of the civil rights victories of the ’60s and ’70s by creating a new racial caste system in a highly readable and compelling way. In the introduction, Alexander admits she found these arguments preposterous until only recently, but now argues criminal justice reform is the number one civil rights issue faced by the black community. In 2017, the arguments laid out in The New Jim Crow no longer seem far-fetched: Many people now agree that the War on Drugs was misguided, and marijuana is being legalized in many states across the nation. If you still need some convincing, allow Alexander to be your tutor this Black History Month.

Also available as an audiobook.

Stories of Your Life and Others

Niree: Ted Chiang is a sci-fi master capable of making the alien feel entirely human. Take, for example, this anthology’s titular story, “The Story of Your Life,” which is also the basis for the Academy Award-nominated film, Arrival. A linguistics expert recounts tender and painful memories with her deceased daughter while working with the U.S. government after unidentified foreign heptapods make contact via mysterious two-way looking glasses. Informed by his background as a software technical writer, Chiang incorporates physics and language with musings on free will and destiny in attempting to understand that greatest of unknowns: death. 

Fixing his lens on such concepts as heaven and such ideas as self-perception and post-humanism, Chiang develops characters and worlds that read like fantasy but feel like truth. His first published story, the Nebula Award-winning “The Tower of Babel,” sets the tone for the collection, with characters clamoring ever upwards, motivated by curiosity. The pursuit of knowledge within the framework of technological advances impacts each remaining story, all of which land so heavily, they beg a momentary meditation on the meaning of life before going on. 

The Vanishing of Flight MH370

Niree (again!): Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared without a trace on March 8, 2014. What followed was an international hunt for wreckage and an investigation into the plane’s path, the cargo within, and the passengers’ and crew’s personal lives. The conclusion seemed to be that this was an exceptionally unexceptional flight that should not have done anything other than land safely in Beijing. But without debris or a black box, family members grew frantic, the Malaysian government scrambled for answers, and the airline took a huge financial hit. Cue the conspiracy theories. 

A mere two weeks earlier, CNN’s Aviation Correspondent Richard Quest had flown with MH370’s First Officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid, for a Business Traveller segment. After the flight’s disappearance, Quest found himself in the middle of many a conspiracy theory while attempting to report on the breaking news story. The Vanishing of Flight MH370 is Quest’s riveting, minute-by-minute account of the aftermath, from the initial discovery that the plane changed course to the satellite pings that continued for hours after the plane lost contact with air traffic control. Quest digs deep into the events of that night, verifying facts and acknowledging misinformation, not to draw any conclusions, but in the hopes of uncovering some learnings that will prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. 

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