The year in relevant reading

pile-o-books2015 wasn’t a great reading year for me. I may have started a dozen books, and finished perhaps eight or nine of them. Not much to brag about there.

When you consider books relevant to this blog, the pickings for 2015 were pretty slim. That made it easy to narrow down to my top three books relevant to higher ed and/or marketing that were published in 2015. If you didn’t read them this year, you might want to consider reading them in 2016. Here they are:

In Defense of a Liberal Education, by Fareed Zakaria

FullSizeRenderThis is the only book I reviewed on this blog in 2015, so I’ve already said most of what I need to say about Zakaria’s book. But I would call it the best of my meager lot of recommendations, especially if you’re interested in the historical context of higher education and if you (like me) sometimes confuse “liberal” education with “liberal arts” education. The two are not the same, and Zakaria does a nice job of distinguishing between the two.

As I wrote in my review, “The ‘classic liberal education’ Zakaria refers to in the book’s first chapter — and throughout the book — is rooted in the Roman term liberal ‘in its original Latin sense, “of or pertaining to free men.”‘ This seed of an idea that intellectual development was necessary for men and women to govern themselves was planted in Europe’s first great universities and colleges, and later in the United States’s.”

In addition to extolling the virtues of a liberal education, Zakaria also criticizes the move toward greater standardization and argues that one of the greatest contributions of a liberal education is the relatively open, non-standardized environment it creates to foster experimentation.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, by Jon Krakauer

MISSOULA-3DI’d never read any books by Jon Krakauer before Missoula. But I’ve heard him praised plenty of times by friends and colleagues who generally have good taste in reading, and the subject matter of Missoula compelled me to read it.

With books like Under the Banner of Heaven and Into Thin Air, Krakauer became known for a style of in-depth journalism and strong narrative. In Missoula, Krakauer brings those skills to bear once again, this time in his investigation of a series of sexual assaults that took place in that college town, home to the University of Montana, over the past several years. Missoula describes in detail the anguish of victims and their families even while recounting, also in great detail, the sometimes byzantine legal and disciplinary proceedings in the justice and higher educational systems, respectively.

At times, the book reads more like a crime novel or courtroom drama than an objective journalistic account. And at times while reading Missoula it seemed to be over-written, too long — like something that could have been contained in a long-form magazine article, as one colleague suggested to me.

I picked up Missoula because I was curious about how it portrayed the administration — and in particular the PR or media relations staff — of the University of Montana. While there’s little mention of the university’s PR team, what is described is not flattering and should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone working in higher ed PR or media relations. And while the depiction of higher ed administrators appears to be balanced, the university’s administration shines in comparison with the judicial system of Missoula as depicted by Krakauer.

If there’s one criticism about Krakauer’s book, it’s in the way he at times describes the process of college disciplinary hearings in terms that are more in line with legal proceedings. A casual reader could come away from this book thinking that colleges and universities aren’t diligent at “prosecuting” rape and sexual assault cases, when in fact a college or university has no ability or legal standing to adjudicate these matters in a legal sense. Despite that criticism, I think Missoula is an important book for anyone wanting to understand the important issues surrounding sexual assault on college campuses, and it stands as a good case study and cautionary tale on many levels.

Adaptive Marketing, by Norm Johnston

AdaptiveMarketingThe subtitle of Norm Johnston’s book — Leveraging Real-Time Data to Become a More Competitive and Successful Company — is what led me to pick it up.

Marketing has become a complex endeavor, and all of us in this business need to become more data-driven and analytics-savvy. We need to be able to make decisions that are based on solid data. And we need to learn how to harness the power of data to understand and predict how our customers or audiences might behave.

Adaptive Marketing does a good job of presenting the lay of the land. It’s chock full of data (as you might expect) and statistics about the growth of mobile, social media, the Internet of things, etc., and it offers a trove of case studies on how big companies — Disney, Starbucks and the like — are leveraging analytic tools to build market share and strengthen their brands. It’s also broken into chapters that address a specific issue or two, and each chapter includes a chart or table or other illustration to help you understand the concept. The most helpful parts of this book, however, are the lists of tips throughout that offer practical guidance on being more adaptive and flexible in your marketing approach. After all, we aren’t all as well-resourced as Disney or Starbucks, but there are some practical takeaways in Adaptive Marketing that should help us, well, adapt to the changing landscape.

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So there you have it. My top three picks from 2015.

What books from 2015 would you recommend, and why? Please share in the comments.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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