Friday, December 05, 2014

Best Parenting Books of 2013 Revisited

What are the best parenting books of 2014? I'm gathering my scattered books about the house and will post my picks at the end of the month. In the meantime, I'm re-running my choices for the best parenting books of 2013. The picks held up well, namely Emily Oster's Expecting Better, still a rare gem, John Brockman's Thinking, still my favorite, and Daniel Siegel's Brainstorm. The teenage brain seems to still be the rage this year and curiously, I'd argue bullying has lost some of its appeal, what's up with that? I've chopped the original post but here are the highlights with a few of my 2014 thoughts thrown in. Happy reading.


Best Parenting Books of 2013: Momma Data's Reading List

Read a few book over the past year that might speak to parents keen on evidence and such. My annual reading list isn't meant as an exhaustive review of great parenting books, this is not the usual Best Parenting Books mainly because I can't claim to be terribly interested in reading most parenting books and I doubt you are either. I certainly couldn't read most of them. If they're not already on your Kindle or bedside table, check these out:

Expecting Better, Emily Oster

I heart this book. [I still do one year later!] Oster debunks numerous claims about pregnancy from the dangers of caffeine, ultrasounds, epidurals, amniocentesis, deli meats, exercise and gardening. Girlfriend compares being pregnant to being a child with too many well-meaning adults issuing  "vague reassurances ('prenatal testing is very safe') or blanket bans ('no amount of alcohol has been proven safe')."  She finds plenty of misinformation and observes how questionable studies quickly become accepted part of the parenting canon. An economist, she wants data, hard numbers, and she wants women to start asking questions and taking down names and numbers.

Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, Emily Bazelon

Thank goodness, we needed a book laying out the complexities and data on bullying. Not to say Bazelon doesn't give it a human face, she does repeatedly to painful effect. I'll forgive the "character" part, that word makes me nervous, because Bazelon provides a nuanced look at bullying in all its forms, complications and consequences. I applaud her courage to caution against calling bullying an epidemic, the worst problem facing kids today or even being too quick to call a situation bullying. Of course she gets into the media's role in all this.

Eyes Wide Open, Noreena Hertz

No, not that soft-porn disaster with Tom Cruise. This is an engaging spin through some of the obstacles and biases that trip up people making decisions in a complicated, hectic, information-dense world. It's like Decision-Making 101 with plenty of real-life disastrous decisions (Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy, Lehman's collapse/financial melt-down). The factors that impeded rational judgments? Everything from too many distractions, math anxiety, biased experts, lack of sleep and my favorite excuse, an empty belly. 

Anyone read it? I'd forgotten about this one.

Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, ed. John Brockman 

This is a bunch of VIP Thinkers (Daniel Kahneman, Daniel Gilbert and Daniel Dennett) on thinking. It sounds boring, terrible title, but it's a fascinating array of topics, many of interest to parents like the adolescent brain and the effects of testosterone on the prenatal brain (and its link to autism) to an infant's sense of morality - and a bit by Philip Tetlock on essentially the inaccuracy of expert judgment (though in the world affairs/political realm). This might be my favorite book of the year and not just because the Descartes' Baby authors describe three-month olds as "blobs" and "meat loafs." 

Get your geek on, this one's still worth reading even at the expense of several eyes rolls and skipped passages. This is what happens when the experts speak not to you and me but each other so some patience is required.

Still on my bedside table [now properly stowed in a pile somewhere else]
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, Daniel Siegel
Hate to comment until I've read the whole thing but for what it' worth, I'm a few pages in and haven't tossed it aside yet. 

This year the teen brain remains deeply fascinating at at times, sorry Dr. Siegel, still totally mysterious to me especially when it walks into my front door each door.

Most Likely to Succeed in the Media and Make Americans Feel Stupid: 
The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley
Suffice it to say, the smartest kids apparently are not American. Parents worried about their children's future, please see above selection for help in figuring out to what degree you should panic.

Best Title:
Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, Diane Ravitch

A good read doesn't have an expiration date. Put them on your holiday gift list, check them out of the library, send my your piercing reviews. Here's my original best books of 2013 post. Let me know your faves over the past year. 

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