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Read My Mind ©

Jan 01, 2021 08:56PM ● By Michael Harris

Thank You For Reading My Mind©

Dear Reader, It is bittersweet that I’m writing my final “Read My Mind” column for Community Focus. I remember meeting its publishers years ago to discuss the possibility of a local “feel-good newspaper.” I was enchanted with the idea and excited by the passion, enthusiasm, creativity, energy, and time they spent bringing our community together once a month. As an avid reader, I was delighted when they gave me the opportunity to share my love for reading with you in a book review column.


I’m not a professional writer and have no training as a reviewer or critic, although I’m sure my wife would disagree.  But I’ve been an educator- scientist for 55 years and have written several professional books and hundreds of scientific papers. Even so, this was an entirely new chapter for me.


I was reading by my third birthday. I’ve been an avid reader ever since. As an adult, I’ve read at least one book a week. Since my official retirement as a professor at UC Berkeley, I’ve read several hundred books a year. Now that has all changed.


As I wrote several years ago, I am slowly going blind from macular degeneration. As my vision deteriorates, I’ve had to rely on audiobooks to keep up with my voracious reading appetite. I’ve found this extremely frustrating as it takes me 10 times as long to listen to a book as to read one. So, it is indeed bittersweet and timely that I end this column at the same time the Focus discontinues publication.


During the past nine years, I’ve written over 100 columns. To find just the right books to review for your enjoyment, entertainment, and education, I’ve read some 2,000 books during this period. If you’ve enjoyed my columns half as much as I have enjoyed writing them, or if you read a book you might not have read without my recommendation, my efforts to extend my love of learning have been fulfilled.


I love biographies. My first column featured Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs. Writing this column has forced me to expand my comfort zone to books and authors I never would have read if left to my own devices. I have learned so much from these books and expanded my horizons far beyond what I would have if I’d just stuck to genres and authors I loved. I hope you felt the same way when you read these books.


As this is my final book review column, I’d like to leave you with recommendations of my favorites. To make it easy for you to find a good book you may have missed, I’ve organized the books by category. Hope you enjoy. 


INSPIRATIONAL: Mitch Albom Tuesday with Morrie; Randy Pausch The Last Lecture; Harold Kushner When Bad Things Happen to Good People

HUMOR: Dave Barry The Worst Class Trip Ever; any book by Bill Bryson, especially The Road to Little Dribbling

BIOGRAPHY: Walter Isaacson Leonardo da Vinci; Doris Kearns Goodwin Team of
and Laura Hildebrand Unbroken

WHO DONE IT: Ruth Ware The Woman in Cabin 10; Megan Goldin The Escape Room; Paula Hawkins The Girl on the Train; Gillian Flynn Gone Girl; Emma Donoghue Room; Michael Chabon The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

HISTORY: Any book by David McCullough, especially The Path Between the Seas and The Wright Brothers; Ron Chernow Alexander Hamilton; Bill Bryson A Short History of Everything

PARENTING: Paul Tough How Children Succeed; Ethan Hawke Rules for a Knight; Lesley Stahl Becoming Grandma

SPORTS: Larry King Why I Love Baseball; David Halberstam The Teammates; Daniel James Brown The Boys in the Boat

MEMOIRS: Doris Kearns Goodwin Wait Till Next Year; J.D. Vance Hillbilly Elegy; Tara Westover Educated; Trevor Noah Born a Crime; Michelle Obama Becoming

SPY THRILLER: Daniel Silva The English Girl and The English Spy; Robert Harris Munich; Alan Furst A Hero of France

HISTORICAL FICTION: Ken Follett The Kingsbridge series; David Benioff City of Thieves; Markus Zusak The Book Thief; Brad Meltzer The First Conspiracy, Nelson DeMille The Cuban Affair; Amar Towles A Gentleman in Moscow

ROMANCE:  Isabell Allende The Japanese Lover and Daughter of Fortune

COURTROOM DRAMA: John Grisham The Reckoning and The Runaway Jury; Bryan Stevenson Just Mercy

LOCAL AUTHOR: Roger Chapin The Dragon of God

SOCIAL COMMENTARY: Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point, Outliers, and Blink; Colson Whitehead The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad; Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me; Daniel Kahneman Thinking, Fast and Slow; Jonah Lehrer How We Decide

HEALTH  & LIFE LESSONS: Dave Barry Lessons from Lucy; Michael Pollan The Omnivore’s Dilemma; Oliver Sacks Gratitude; Michael Kinsley Old Age

COMING OF AGE: Kristin Hannah The Great Alone and The Pathfinder

SCIENCE: Stephen Hawking Brief Answers to the Big Questions; Neil deGrasse Tyson Astrophysics for People in a Hurry; Carlo Rovelli Seven Brief Lessons on Physics; Rebecca Skloot The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens

LEADERSHIP: Doris Kearns Goodwin Leadership in Turbulent Times; Sheryl Sandberg Lean In; Ernest Shackleton Will We Survive?

POLITICS:  Bob Woodward Fear & Rage; Madeline Albright Fascism; John Meacham The Soul of America; Barack Obama A Promised Land

COURAGE: Madeline Albright Prague Winter; Candace Millard Hero of the Empire; Andrew Grove Swimming Across

PRESIDENTS: Edmond Morris Theodore Roosevelt trilogy; Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns The Roosevelts; John Meacham Thomas Jefferson

COMMENTARY: Thomas Friedman Thank You for Being Late; Charles Krauthammer Things That Matter

OUTER SPACE: Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures; Andy Weir The Martian

YOUNG READER: J. K. Rowling The Harry Potter series

WORLD WAR II: Anthony Doure All the Light We Cannot See; Heather Morris The Tattooist of Auschwitz

INVENTORS: Walter Isaacson The Innovators; Andrew Hodges Alan Turing: the Enigma

AUDIOBOOKS: Billy Crystal 700 Sundays; Jerry Seinfeld Is this anything?


And now, as I end this chapter of my life, I want to thank the Community Focus publishers, Becky, Jen, and especially Elena, for allowing me the privilege of writing for their newspaper. I also want to thank their entire team for their help, particularly my official editor, Alison, and my unofficial editor, wife Dawn, for catching all my dictation typos.


I urge you to keep reading and emphasizing the importance of books to your children and grandchildren. Our community is blessed with a wonderful library and Friends of the Library Bookstore. I hope you will visit them often. And I look forward to spring 2022, when I can welcome you to Pleasant Hill’s brand-new state-of-the-art library. Until then, thanks for allowing me the privilege of writing for you. Take care and stay safe. Michael