I attended the TED conference this year for the first time, and they asked me to curate a set of books. The request looked like this:
A guest curator is a TEDster with incredible talent who we know will enhance our attendees' experience by adding a carefully chosen list of books to our own bookstore selections. Last year, the books from guest curators became an instant hit; from Bill Gates to Chee Pearlman to Shonda Rhimes, curators represent a wide variety of disciplines and walks of life. Every bookstore shopper will see your sign and section, and TEDsters will be incredibly curious about what titles you have chosen.
Your name: Baratunde Thurston
Your title & organization, as you would like it to be displayed on your curator profile: Founder of Cultivated Wit. Author of How To Be Black
A 2-3 sentence biography: Baratunde is a comedian, writer, speaker, advisor, eater, lover, and taxpayer. He is the founder of the creative digital technology company Cultivated Wit, served as Director of Digital for The Onion, writes the monthly back page column for Fast Company and is a director's fellow at the MIT Media Lab. His book, How To Be Black, is a New York Times Best Seller. He's been black for over 30 years.
2-3 sentences on your book curation philosophy: All of the books on this list have affected the way I see the world in an at least semi-permanent fashion. They’ve turned me into that guy that won’t shut up to his friends about that idea he just read. And, they were all written using some sort of word processing software.
2-3 sentences on EACH selection you make, to be displayed on small tents on top of each selection
The Power Broker, by Robert Caro
This is the story of an activist empowered and then corrupted by his effective pursuit of power, and it should be mandatory reading for anyone who claims to be a New Yorker. Robert Moses, who built more public works than many pharaohs combined, was a visionary, a genius, and an asshole. I’m still not sure whether the lesson is that absolute power corrupts or that everything would be ok if we limited absolute power to those with whom I agree.
The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
This is one of those books you read knowing it will upset you, and yet you read it anyway because the truth has a draw all its own. Simply put: the drug war is the U.S.’s latest version of a racial caste system that uses the label “felon” to enable discrimination we would otherwise find deplorable. For maximum disgust and indignation, pairs well with the documentary, “The Central Park Five.”
Some Of My Best Friends Are Black, by Tanner Colby
A white man named “Tanner” wrote this book about the failure of integration in the United States. Looking at education, housing, church, and advertising, the author finds that we are as effectively segregated as ever, and that much of the U.S.’s disparate racial performance outcomes aren’t happenstance but were engineered. I blurbed this book, therefore it is awesome.
Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
One of the most imaginative works of fiction I’ve ever read. This book changed the way I see the world of my dreams and my waking hours. After this, read another one of his books, “The Scar.”
Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention, by Manning Marable
An amazing portrait of a force of a man. Even more than “The Autobiography Of Malcolm X,” this book made Malcolm X feel like a human being with whom I could identify.
Daemon, by Daniel Suarez
One of the most terrifying techno-thrillers due to the fact that it was written by a computer security expert, this book could also be called, “This Is Why We’re Fucked.” One way to divine the future is to scan the latest “trend report” from a research or consulting firm. The other is to read this book and see how our future could play out in a most dramatic fashion.
The Company, by Robert Littell
It’s a “fictionalized” account of the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency. Yeah, right. Everything in this book is true!
Dune, by Frank Herbert
Must. Have. Spice.
Gang Leader For A Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh
A sociologist all but moves into a Chicago housing project to live among, study, and briefly manage a gang. Call it “the immersion method” of graduate study. More academics (and the policies they inspire) would benefit from leaving the ivory tower for the project tower, but maybe minus the actual running the gang part.
Illusions: The Adventures Of A Reluctant Messiah, by Richard Bach
This book comes closest to a favorite song in that I’m always excited to read it again and again. A schoolmate of mine handed this book to me in the Spring of 1996, and I’ve read it at least every other year since.
The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead
There are two schools of elevator inspection in early 20th century New York City: the empiricists, who use advanced instrumentation, and the intuitionists, who rely on gut and tactile feeling. The best intuitionist in the game is a black woman. This book is full of win.
Behind The Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman
What good is your locally grown, grass-fed and serenaded beef if the people who prepare it are abused? This book makes the compelling case that our definition of sustainable food must also include restaurant workers who are among the fastest growing, lowest paid categories of workers in the United States. More than merely upsetting you with facts, this book lays out a path toward solutions and will inspire you to act.
Horns, by Joe Hill
I might categorize this as “playful horror.” A man starts to grow devil-like horns, and people confess their worst sins to him. Hilarity ensues.
Read this fucking book.
Please do not include your own book as part of your selections. However, DO tell us what your book is so that we may include it in the bookstore.
My book is “How To Be Black”
As a bonus for readers of this blog, I also recommend Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor. Shaka is one of my fellow Director's Fellows at the MIT Media Lab. He's not the typical nerd school fellow. Shaka served 19 years in prison for murder. Here's what he writes about that and this book:
Writing about my wrongs was the first of many steps that I took to atone for taking a man's life. Through the transformative power of writing, I accepted responsibility for my decisions and have used my experience to help others avoid the path that I took in my youth. This is my story and it is my hope that by Writing My Wrongs, I can help others right their wrongs.