The Third Annual Summer Reading List

Free-Range Thinking | July 2002

What books will communications experts pack into their suitcases this summer? Susan Nall Bales of the FrameWorks Institute rounded up the answers for this year’s list of must-reads.

So, with no further ado, I’m proud to present the first issue with a guest editor and featuring the summer reading selections of:

  • Joe Grady, a cognitive linguist and co-founder of Cultural Logic, a communications research firm in Washington, D.C.;
  • Axel Aubrun, a psychological anthropologist and co-founder of Cultural Logic;
  • Lawrence Wallack, Professor and Director of the School of Community Health at Portland State University;
  • Meg Bostrom, public opinion expert and founder of the firm Public Knowledge;
  • Priscilla Lewis, Program Officer and Director of Communications at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Happy reading, and don’t forget the sunscreen!

Susan Nall Bales recommends Environmental Values in American Culture
by Willett Kempton, James S. Boster and Jennifer A. Hartley (The MIT Press, 1997).

“I remember when I first read it in 1997, how impressed I was with the fundamental finding that most people view the environment in terms of religious values, not economic interest. The authors advised environmental advocates to change their appeals to connect with the cultural models that people hold about the environment. This book does a great job of demonstrating how policy reasoning is connected to ‘the pictures in our heads,’ and how easy it is to go off in the wrong direction with appeals that accept conventional wisdom such as ‘most people put self-interest first.'”


Joe Grady recommends The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist
by Gordon K. Durnil (Indiana University Press, 2001)

“If you want to know how to talk to a conservative, listen to how a conservative talks. In this stereotype-shattering and very personal book, Durnil — State Chairman of the Indiana Republicans — lays out his own vision of committed environmentalism in terms of such core conservative values as Discipline, Responsibility, and Spending Reduction. Anyone interested in framing environmental perspectives to expand their base of support beyond liberal and progressive America and in creating an image of the environmentalist that new waves of Americans can see in the mirror, will learn a tremendous amount from this book.”


Axel Aubrun recommends One Market Under God
by Thomas Frank (Anchor Books, 2001).

“Frank’s analysis of ‘market populism’ does a nice job of showing the spread of the concept of the free market from the marketplace to other cultural domains in the last 10 to 20 years. The idea of a free market has only recently become a widely shared ideal that informs a surprising number of other ideas about individual freedom, democracy, civic organization, etc. Given that almost every public interest issue we talk about ends up providing, at least in part, an alternative to the idea of a completely free market, it’s probably at least as relevant to the communication we do as more general ‘how to’ books.”

Lawrence Wallack suggests Michael Pertschuk’s new book, Smoke in Their Eyes: Lessons in Movement Leadership from the Tobacco Wars
(Vanderbilt University Press, 2001).

“This is a wonderful book that looks at how the tobacco control movement entertained the prospect of getting almost all it wanted — and perhaps more than it had ever realistically dreamed of — and came away with nothing. From a communications point of view, this is an important work because it addresses the smaller interactions behind the big media issues. For example, who says what to whom and how it is interpreted and how quickly changing conditions can alter the meaning of a communication, since meaning changes with the context. The book is as much about the success of the small ‘guerilla movement’ that busted the settlement as the failure to close the ultimate deal.”


Meg Bostrom’s top pick is Deborah Tannen’s The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words
(Ballantine Books, 1999).

“Tannen, a linguist, explores how American culture is grounded in an antagonistic two-sides perspective. By examining the communications of several American institutions — education, law, media, and politics – she uncovers an entrenched opposing-sides approach to our thinking and language. Lest we think this is the way of the world, Tannen explains how other cultures differ from our argument culture. In all of our work with FrameWorks, we observe that rhetorical language shuts people out of political issues, while reasonable language engages them. I am hopeful that Tannen’s book will illuminate how widespread this worldview is and the impact it has on society.”

Priscilla Lewis recommends Fritjof Capra’s The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems
(Doubleday & Company, 1997).

“‘The universe,’ poet Muriel Rukeyser once wrote, ‘is made of stories, not atoms.’ As Capra explains in The Web of Life, the story that science used to tell us about the world – that it is a mechanical system composed of discrete building blocks, that the human body is like a machine, that nature is governed by the laws of physics – has given way to a new and radically different story. This new scientific understanding of life sees the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts, and views human society as embedded in, not separate from, the cycles of nature. In this story, the central metaphor is not ‘life as machine’ but ‘the web of life,’ a metaphor that asserts the intrinsic value of all living beings and the interconnectedness of our own with future generations. Like the old mechanistic worldview, this new story has profound implications not only for science, but also for individual behavior and social policy.”


 free-range follow-up


Two Spankin’ New Workshops

If you still think storytelling is something that happens at the water cooler when you’re not working, you’re underestimating possibly the single most valuable communications tool available to you today – which is the central point of my new workshop, “Storytelling as Best Practice.” And if you liked the book, Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes, you can explore this subject in greater depth through a second new workshop bearing the same name. For more information on both, please visit and click on the “Workshops” link on the home page.

One More for the List

While I was delighted to have Susan Bales serve as guest editor this month, I cannot completely abdicate responsibility when it comes to recommending good reads. Over the past year, the book that I found myself quoting most often has been Roger Schank’s Tell Me a Story: Narrative & Intelligence (Northwestern University Press 1990). In his effort to build a smarter computer – Schank’s primary field is artificial intelligence – the author studied the key factors contributing to human intelligence. Schank’s conclusion: the ability to remember, store, and retrieve (i.e., tell) stories at the appropriate time may be the single most important factor in determining how smart you are.

Schank believes storytelling contributes to our understanding of ourselves, our ability to make friends, and how we fit into our communities. Moreover, he explains how stories aid memory and act as search engines that help find facts stored deep within the brain. If you believe as I do that storytelling is a communications tool of the highest order, then consider Schank’s book required reading.