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Unlocking The Secrets Of Us

Wednesday, 30 Jul 2008 | 4:13 PM ET

We are a narcissistic lot – aren’t we? I mean we are so fascinated/obsessed with ourselves – our jobs, our habits, our future – our past.

We humans have spent eons evolving into what we are only to spend even more time digging up our pasts to see who or what we were.

There are several new books out dedicated to decoding what makes us tick … unlocking the secret codes of our brains and behavior.

Four books that have caught my attention and can provide readers - even those who just skim them - with fascinating tidbits and insights are:

“HUMAN: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique” by Michael S. Gazzaniga.

The author is considered the father of cognitive neuroscience and is considered quite the brain when it comes to studying and understanding all that gray matter between our ears. In this book, Gazzaniga uses science AND some truly engaging, witty writing to explain us to us. OK, true confession time – I’m not a scientist and there are trained scientists who have written their own reviews challenging some of Gazzaniga’s theories – but I’m not a total Neanderthal. I do like to read books that challenge my long-held beliefs and give me groovy little tidbits that I can recite and impress my friends and colleagues. And if as Gazzaniga explains it, we are indeed on the brink of human discovery – and science can finally tell us why we are the way we are – then this is a good read for those marketers, managers and moms who search daily for ways to engage, empower and influence those they lead and nurture.

“TRAFFIC: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us)” by Tom Vanderbilt.

I used to think the only thing worse than sitting in traffic – was to read a book about sitting in traffic - but “Traffic” is like an EZ Pass – you zip along at amazing speed. The book is full of great observations and little-known facts that you’ll recite at dinner parties.

My favorite two: We spend nearly 40 hours a year stuck in traffic – so much so that we have higher rates of skin cancer on our left side. And -- file this one under “I told you so” – Vanderbilt has proven what mallrats have always known - drivers do indeed take longer to leave a parking spot when another driver is waiting.

Why We Hate Us - by Dick Meyer
Why We Hate Us - by Dick Meyer

“WHY WE HATE US: American Discontent In The New Millennium”by Dick Meyer.

Yikes kind of harsh title, huh? I’m not into self-loathing – truly I’m not, but Meyer’s wants us all to take a good, long look at ourselves – he has and he’s mad as hell at what he’s found.

“There’s something rotten in the state of America” he writes, …”something phony, belligerent, and toxic in the culture.”

Meyer’s says we Americans are down on America – we’ve spent too many years building up and putting up with absurd politics, broken businesses, pampered celebrities, overscheduled lives and the decline of everyday manners.

Each of us has had this type of “what has happened to this country” conversation – and Meyer’s does a good job at putting it all together and with laying out suggestions to get us back on track. The challenge - just like any other road to recovery you gotta really really want to change before you’re able to take that first step.

The Way We'll Be - by John Zogby
The Way We'll Be - by John Zogby

On the other hand, “THE WAY WE’LL BE: The Zogby Report On The Transformation Of The American Dream”by John Zogby offers us a different sneak peak into the future. Zogby is one of the nation’s most influential pollsters – long the go-to person for major news outlets for his ability to report on the pulse of the nation and to spot trends. His newest prediction – a different, yet better America. After reading through zillions of surveys Zogby paints an optimistic portrait of a country in transition away from excess and greed to one that is more open, more accepting and richer in meaning rather than in goods.

I’m out of the office for a couple of days but when I get back – I’m going to be writing about China and the Olympics. In the meantime, email me your favorite “doing business, managing, working” in China books, I’d love to hear what you’re reading on this topic. Write to me at: bullishonbooks@cnbc.com

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