Celebrating Readers: TED Talks and their Books

Have you discovered TED Talks yet?  TED started as a small technology conference, and has grown into a global network of events showcasing “ideas worth spreading”.  TED events attract speakers ranging from artists and scientists to rockstars and political leaders – and whether they are leaders in their field, or rising stars, TED presenters are always charismatic and entertaining.  TED Talks have become synonymous with riveting presentations that are intelligent and thought-provoking.

Besides enjoying TED Talks as video content, you can also enjoy them in book form.  Here are a selection of important, interesting and funny books and TED Talks:

Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

If, like me, you feel that introversion is undervalued in our society, you might be pleased to discover this book.  In Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain argues that the development of an “extrovert ideal” in Western culture has resulted in the undervaluing of introverts, leading to “a colossal waste of talent, energy and happiness”.  She explores the different behaviours of introverts and extroverts, demonstrates that introversion is both common and normal, and argues that introvert traits should not be considered inferior.  Part social commentary, part manifesto and part self-help manual, Quiet has been hugely successful and has influenced changes in education and employment, such as hiring / admissions policies, and office / classroom design. 

Susan Cain’s TED Talk, called The power of introverts, has been viewed over 13 million times, ranking it within the Top 20 TED Talks ever.  

Follow Your Gut: the Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes by Rob Knight, with Brendan Buhler

Follow Your Gut: the Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes describes what we currently know about how microbes affect human biology.  This is cutting-edge science – researchers have only just realised that these microscopic lifeforms, both inside and on our bodies, are important to how human bodies function; and they have already discovered potential links between microbes and health issues including mood, sleep patterns, obesity and allergies.  This work has enormous potential impact on how we understand and manage health issues.  Follow Your Gut expands upon Rob Knight’s TED Talk, How microbes make us who we are, which can be viewed here.

Beyond Measure: the Big Impact of Small Changes by Margaret Heffernan

Beyond Measure: the Big Impact of Small Changes is about organisational culture – hard to quantify and change, and crucial to the success or failure of any group. Margaret Heffernan argues that, while culture makes a big difference, it is built from small actions, habits and choices – small acts that can arise from anywhere within (and sometimes outside of) the organisation.  She challenges her readers to opt for a collegiate mentality built around helpfulness, rather than a hierarchy where star performers are offered the most power.  Beyond Measure is based on Margaret Heffernan’s talk entitled Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work, one of three talks she has presented at various TED events.

To Reach the Clouds by Philippe Petit

Philippe Petit became world-famous for his unauthorised high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  To Reach the Clouds is his recollection of why and how he achieved this feat.  Through Philippe Petit’s writing we see glimpses of his dedication and obsessiveness;  we also see his unwavering belief in the power of inspiration and creativity.  To Reach the Clouds is dramatic, fascinating, and ultimately uplifting.  It has inspired both a documentary (Man on Wire), and a feature film (The Walk).  Philippe Petit’s TED Talk, The journey across the high wire is available here.

Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

I love Mary Roach’s first book Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, so am thrilled that Bonk forms the basis of a top TED Talk.  Bonk traces the history of scientific research into sex.  It shows how our fascination with sex has long inspired – as far back as the ancient Greeks – academic interest in how and why it all works; and that this juxtaposition of serious study with a seemingly frivolous subject often results in “mildly outrageous, terrifically courageous, seemingly efficacious displays of creative problem-solving”.  Mary Roach’s chatty style, and her skilful balance of the scholarly and the quirky makes for compulsive, hilarious reading.

Mary Roach’s TED Talk, 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm, is in the Top 10 most watched TED Talks ever, with over 18 million views.

About Karen Seligman

Karen Seligman is a newly-qualified librarian working in a public library. As a book- and library-lover from way back, she finds nothing better than being surrounded by books and other library-lovers! Karen’s past lives as a law graduate, corporate warrior and research scientist continue to inform her wide-ranging tastes in reading material, with her favourite genres including historical fiction, fantasy, food writing and popular science.