A friend asked for a reading list: current and classic.  After 30 years of reading at least a book a week, I have to admit that I’ve switched to blogs and, with a few exceptions, quit reading books.  I tried books on Kindle for a year, but I just found that I was more likely to learn something new by reading a dozen blogs every morning.

Here’s a couple books I read last year and found useful:

Christensen: Disrupting Class

Tony Wagner: Global Achievement Gap

Cutis Bonk, the World is Open

Kementz: DIY U

Collins: Rethinking Edu in the Age of Tech

Hess: Education Unbound

For the classics, here’s a couple dozen books that hold up well after 10 years.


Ted Sizer: The Students are Watching and everything else he wrote

Deb Meier: The Power of their Ideas

Choice advocates

Paul Hill: It Takes a City and the classic Reinventing Public Education

Chubb & Moe: Politics, Markets & American Schools

Meryerson: No Excuses

Standards advocates

Marc Tucker: Standards for our Schools

Teaching & Learning

Linda Darling Hammond: The Right to Learn

James Stigler: The Teaching Gap

Kids these days

Botstein: Jefferson’s Children

Tapscott: Growing up Digital


Lisa Delpit: Other People’s Children

Jonathan Kozol: Savage Inequality

Change Theory

Tony Wagner: How Schools Change (and Change Leadership)

Schlechty: Schools for the 21st Century

Fullan: Leading in a Culture of Change

Learning Organization

Senge: 5th Discipline

Jim Collins: Good to Great

Tom Peters In Search of Excellence

Godon MacKenzie: Orbiting the Giant Hairball


Max Depree: Leadership is an Art

Stevphen Covey: Principle Centered Leadership

Covey: Leadership Challenge

Drucker: Managing for Results

Carver: Boards that Make a Difference


Parker Palmer: Let Your Life Speak

Thomas Moore: Care of the Soul

Gardner: Good Work

Fox: The Reinvention of Work

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


  1. The book that changed my career from Defense Systems to OER was There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America, Kidder. Don’t know if it still carries impact; it had me pretty much crying in the middle of Princeton’s campus.

    Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh, Grant, shows entire districts can change, at least if they have leverage over the teachers, and can blend low- and high-resourced students.

    Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America has a thoughtful different look at urban Black families before and after segregation and redlining. I read it with the Thernstroms’ No Excuses.

    Like Tom, my reading is coming more from the daily web, though the Wall Street Journal still brings some of the best perspectives on everyday policy matters.

    The one place where I agree with the Diane Ravitch ‘Hatin on the Deformers’ tour is that great education comes from interacting with great content. So I limit my intake of process- and policy-related books, and recommend to others the same. Too many books are one-sided criticisms (Diane’s included!)

    Bell’s Out of this Furnace was introduced to university students in my sophomore history class and is still used across the nation to introduce students to the world of their great-great-grandparents. It and Michner’s Poland (not nearly as readable) offer great views into the life of the average person, lives often nearly slave-like themselves.

    The Ohio Story, Siedel, gives an example of even easier powerful reads. In ten page stories, Siedel gives readers the experiences of a canal digger, an itinerant frontier preacher, early Appalachian iron workers, etc. Again, great reads if you grew up in a comfortable suburban life, everything you need arriving in neat wrapped bundles. (Winter’s a great time to read these; work a few hours outside first, with no nylon or Thinsulate comforts.)

    Valley Forge, new on the shelves, gives a look at the six months of 1778 where a group of men came together finally as a team, survived a bootless, coatless winter, and transformed 13 colonies’ losing militias into an competent Army of an united nation.

    Books like these latter also are good leadership resources. Above all, men want to follow a leader with a clear view of the common good, who can identify the centers of gravity of the current challenges, and press forward against adversity to seize them. Great biographies and historical novels put such leaders into one’s mind.

    Finally, we are a nation of Princes, and should so read.
    Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future, Kinzer, is good, yet not as fundamentally informative as The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future. Great, readable history of the Shia and Sunni sects, how their separate philosophies align with ours, and what that means to our futures. Future Jihad, Phares, looks at the extremists thereof, and their (maybe) patient, very long term, strategy.

    The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran brings the previous history into the modern, post-revolution Persian living room. Again, a reminder that a people and their current leaders oft may be greatly divided.

    Finally, I read a lot of edge programming and software engineering stuff. There’s hope therein.


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