Posted by: montclairlibrary | March 6, 2018

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Books for Optimists, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

When things seem bleak, sometimes it helps to look at the big picture. Here are 10 books, including Bill Gates’s personal picks and a couple of recent ones that have been getting a lot of buzz, that look at the bright side of a complicated world.

Everything is Going to Be OK (158.1 EVERYTHING) (not at Montclair – Link+) – This one isn’t in OPL but is available through Link+, and I’m including it here because it’s so fun. This book is full of artwork featuring messages of sincerity, optimism, hope and good cheer – like little visual pep talks on every page.

An Optimist’s Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets Out to Answer “What’s Next?” by Mark Stevenson (601.12 STEVENSON) (not at Montclair) – In the tradition of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, Stevenson gives us a smart and entertaining guide to the future of civilization, describing his travels around the world where he learned about climate-proof farming practices and breakthrough technologies with a potential for helping the world.

Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker (303.44 PINKER) – In seventy-five graphs, Steven Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.

It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear by Gregg Easterbrook (not at Montclair – available through Link+) (909 EAST) – Despite the deeply troubling issues we face, by almost every meaningful measure — disease, crime, longevity, etc. — the modern world is better than it ever has been.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling (not at Montclair) – This book may or may not be available through Link+, but you can check out a video of Rosling’s 2009 TED talk from OPL. In his talk and his book, Professor of International Health and global TED phenomenon Rosling posits that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think, and that in worrying about everything all the time we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.

Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined by Steven Pinker (303.609 PINKER) – Like Pinker’s other book on this list, Bill Gates is a fan of this one, too. Pinker argues that thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, debunk toxic ideologies and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley (book on CD) (CD 339.2 RIDLEY) – By looking at human history, the author argues disasters, downturns, and setbacks are just part of a millenia-long cycle of increasing prosperity that will continue through the twenty-first century and beyond.

Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox (791.43028 FOX) – The popular film and television actor evaluates the personal philosophy that has enabled his positive outlook in spite of his battle with Parkinson’s disease, in an uplifting account that considers how he has become a happier and more satisfied person by recognizing the gifts of everyday life.

Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding and How We Can Improve the World Even More by Charles Kenny (306 KENNY) (not at Montclair) – An economist reflects on the past years of changes in the developing world, showing how aid interventions, inexpensive yet effective technologies and the spread of political ideas has helped developing countries and explaining what can be done in the future to continue this progress.

The Book of Awesome: Snow Days, Bakery Air, Finding Money in Your Pocket, and Other Simple, Brilliant Things by Neil Pasricha (YA 808.6 PASRICHA) (not at Montclair) – Focusing on both tangible pleasures and simple experiences, Pasricha provides a contemporary take on everyday inspiration. Though tongue-in-cheek, Pasricha emerges a committed but inviting optimist, combating life’s unending stream of bad news by identifying opportunities to “share a universal high five with humanity.”


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