Books That Matter to Todd Kashdan

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Todd Kashdan, a globe-trotting speaker and dynamic professor at George Mason University, is a wonder-tracker for whom I have great respect. Todd ’s first book Curious: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life shows how wonder’s more active cousin can boost health, relationships, creativity, and productivity.  As a thought leader in his field of positive psychology, he rocks the boat fearlessly to assure that useful – and accurate – ideas get advanced.

Todd’s latest book co-edited with Joe Ciarrochi is Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Positive Psychology: The Seven Foundations of Well-Being (Context Press 2013). It’s the first book to bring together the best from the fields of positive psychology and of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to help people – from prisoners to Fortune 500 workers to children – realize their greatest potential.

But here’s why I especially respect Todd: a glimpse at his Facebook page also often shows Todd in full curious rapture outdoors wrestling and playing with his two girls. A good sign of someone who walks the talk.

Today Todd tells us the Books That Matter to him. You’ll get a glimpse of the high-concept, time-tripping novels that formed this young mind devoted to the human mind’s flexibility, and you’ll find out the one reason to get an education

Books That Matter is our 8-week series that showcases influential wonder-trackers’ relationships with books. We’re featuring people from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. May it inspire you writers, creatives, and thought leaders wanting to write your own books that matter.
– Jeffrey

What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down. (“required” response)

The Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick. Dick wrote books that had such a bizarre landscape, toppling preconceived notions of the world. You could put me in a sensory deprivation tank for 5 years and hook up an IV filled with ketamine and I would never arrive at Dick’s vantage point. I lived in his worlds throughout grade school.

What one detail do you still recall from that book?

So the premise of the book is what would have happened if the Axis powers won World War II? Germany had a colony on the east coast of Japan and on the west coast of the United States with a netherland of unknown rules and rituals in the middle. I remember how Caucasians pretended to adopt Japanese mannerisms to fit in, holding in their emotions, trying to squelch their desire to be independent, and even using the I Ching in public prior to making everyday decisions. It was a fascinating experiment with perspective-taking.

The book I imagined/imagine living inside of is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Who wouldn’t want to experiment with being unstuck in time such that all moments are accessible and you randomly get pushed and pulled from one to another. I love maintaining my image of childhood, the present, and the future simultaneously.

The character I still imagine being or being friends or seeking counsel from is Felix Krull from The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years by Thomas Mann,

because he had the ability to alter his identity, influence and persuade other people at will. This book is a masterpiece and it hurts that Mann never finished it.

The one book I have most often re-read is The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, 

because it is a treatise on critical thinking which is the only reason people need an education.

The kinds of books I am most appreciating or seeking these days are,

Historical novels (such as Devil in the White City) and futurist novels (such as Blueprints of the Afterlife).

The books that most irritate me are,

Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court by Sandra Day O’Connor.

Sandra Day O’ Connor is an American icon and with three daughters, she is going to be a hero to them. The historical details are fantastic such as the origins of the surpreme court and how long it took to end up in a permanent place in Washington DC. Then there is O’Connor’s pilgrimage to John Marshall, the longest standing member of the supreme court and arguably the most important chief justice. And then there are the odd details about each president’s choices over the past 200 years. What irritated me about the book was the attempt to evade negative thoughts, feelings, and relationships during her tenure. The omission of nearly any information on Clarence Thomas is telling compared to the information on other justices that she worked with. Similarly, I was hoping for more historical information on Thurgood Marshall and his experience and strategies for coping with the difficult order of being the first black justice. I wanted the first hand account of the first woman on the court. She is an icon and her attempt to be politically correct and upbeat took away from the complexity of being a judge among strong personalities and the public spotlight. Future generations need to understand what she endured and how so that they never take their freedom for granted.

I will read anything written by Haruki Murakami.

Survey: Roughly what % of books do you read digitally versus in paper? (What’s your preferred reader?)

I prefer to read a paperbook and dog-ear pages and underline passages. I use my iPad kindle but its not nearly as pleasurable as paper. I want to see what my brain downloaded by walking past my bookcase on a daily basis.

I hope what my patch of the planet (my audience) gets from my books is,

 a sense of inspiration to deviate from their comfort zone and psychological biases. My goal is to increase people’s psychological flexibility.

Which book would you want every (child/boy/girl/woman/man/daughter/son/business person/thought leader – you choose the category) to read? Why?

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse. Such a beautiful, creative story to explain how the search for meaning in life cannot be limited to intellectual pursuits. This is such an important lesson that we all have to learn and re-learn.

The little-known book I most relish and champion is, 

The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery by Wendy Moore.

If I had the time, talent, grit, and support, the book I would write is a parenting book for fathers.  

The big secret of parenting is that in every generation caregivers make it up as they go along. I would love to write a book that compiles the ideas people have given me over the years that fit with the complex, uncertain, mysterious world that we live in. But then again, anyone who thinks they are a parenting expert is, in my definition, not to be trusted. It’s the most rewarding, challenging, and meaningful endeavor and thus worthy of a few more books.

MindfulnessAcceptancePositivePsychMECH.inddBuy a copy of Todd’s new book Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Positive Psychology for you or a practitioner who wants to help people be their best. Find out more about his work here.


Share your comments, responses to the same questions, and questions for Todd here.

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