50 Book Challenge: A Research Analyst’s Perspective

Over five years ago, my sister invited me into a 50 book challenge group on Facebook.  The premise is simple, you commit to reading and sharing reviews on each of the 50 books you read over a year.  Well, between grad school, moving states, new jobs, getting married, and just life in general, I have never actually achieved this goal.  Until 2018!

As of today, I have completed 53 books, more than one book for each week of the year.  You can check out all of the books that I read this year on my GoodReads feed.

I worked hard to balance my reading between fiction and nonfiction, even within those categories.  In terms of nonfiction, I read books related to my work at D3 (like the Origins of the Urban Crisis), being a more creative and better employee/person/volunteer (Originals: How Non-Conformists Rule the World), and focused on my own spiritual development and understanding.

I wanted to share some of the thoughts I had on the books related to my work at D3. For each, I’ll talk a bit about the book itself and also how it impacted my understanding of the work we do here.

For the Common Good?: American Civic Life and the Golden Age of Fraternity by Jason Kaufman

For the Common Good was a very academic piece that argues many of the social welfare flaws in the US stem from the so-called golden age of fraternity (1870-1920). According to Kaufman, this period is often touted as the gold standard for community building and voluntary association. However the author shows how these old school fraternities may have stunted social policy development in the US both by being highly segregated by race, religion, sex, and ethnicity AND by providing low-quality but sufficient benefits to members in the short term (primarily life insurance).

Having read many of Robert Putnam’s books about the decline of civil society in graduate school, this book allowed me to explore alternate theories of social development. As an analyst at D3, I’m always trying to be open-minded when I’m studying data for observations and outcomes. However, this book helped me remember that I have to continuously work to find the places where my own education might be causing me to miss an alternative theory.

Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard Reeves

Dream Hoarders focuses on the power that upper middle class Americans wield in the political world. Reeves posits that while a very small percentage of Americans are hyper-wealthy, the Americans whose incomes are in the top 20% have more power and threaten equality more because of the large number of ways they can impact society, through their family structures, education choices, lifestyles, and neighborhoods.

The book really highlighted the complexities of conversations around income from a middle class American’s perspective.  Working in a community like Metro Detroit where income disparities are very stark, the benefits of being even in the upper middle class were well laid out. As I research things like income, poverty, etc., I’m going to try to keep an eye out for differences at different income levels, not just those at the extremes.

The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit  by Thomas J. Sugrue

The Origins of the Urban Crisis was the logical next step after reading Driving Detroit by George Galster in 2017.  This book is significantly more academic and at times a very slow read as it is very heavy on numbers.  It was a great perspective of race relations and poverty in Detroit from the 1920s and beyond.  The illustration of geographic dispersions were really helpful to me in understanding the long history of segregation in Detroit.

Coming off of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 riots, Sugrue really connected a lot of dots in terms of how the work I do now is necessary, in part, because of historical events. It helped renew my commitment to making sure I speak openly about equity. It also forces me to remember to filter my data analysis through an understanding of historical context, every data point is just that, a point in time and it is partially my responsibility to ensure the story arc is not lost.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

In Option B, Sandberg walked back some of her black and white opinions about female workforce participation that she wrote about in Lean In, particularly about the ease of being a working mom with a good support system. Shortly after writing the book, Sandberg’s husband died and she is thrust into the new world of single parenting with a dynamic full time job at Facebook. In doing so, she builds credibility with readers by admitting her life experience up to the first book did not give her the whole picture of what being a working mother was like. Option B not only builds empathy but offers a toolbox for how to help friends or co-workers who are dealing with tragedy.

While Option B is heavily a personal memoir about the death of her husband, Sandberg and Grant also weave in psychological advice focused on confronting uncomfortable situations in our personal and professional lives. Everything in life can have an Option B, including some of the more complicated research projects I work on. I often struggle with complicated datasets and evolving expectations for results, so I’ve found implementing some of the perspective-changing tips in this book made my work life a little calmer.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World By Adam M. Grant

Adam Grant co-authored Option B so when I saw this book’s title I knew I had to jump on it. Grant dispels many myths about creative thinking and people who take the risks that change the world. Grant weaves in case studies of innovators who succeed and fail with studies about psychology, business, and more.

Working at D3 is different than my previous jobs. The environment has been carefully crafted to be one where employees feel free to voice dissenting opinions. It was interesting to see so many values and qualities of the D3 work experience reflected in a positive manner in the research.  I would be really interested to see what Grant thinks of our intentions to move to an employee-owned cooperative!

While it took me many years to finally accomplish the 50 book challenge, I actually finished the year with 54 books read total!  I’m changing it up this year though and focusing on tackling some quality reads (one of the books on my list is over 700 pages!).