Read with OC: Our Staff’s Favorite Books

Few things are as enjoyable as curling up beside a fire and diving into a good book. Many people enjoy a slightly slower pace during the holidays, so our team wanted to recommend some books you could enjoy during the season. 

Because these are picks from OC’s staff, you’ll notice that many of these recommendations have to do with our work and mission here at Ogallala Commons. If you read any of them, we would love to know your thoughts!

OC Executive Director John Wittler

Man’s Search For Meaning

By Victor Frankel

This classic by Frankel is a mix of psychology and philosophy, and while it explores Frankel’s grim and bleak circumstances in Nazi concentration camps it is inherently optimistic and inspiring. Frankel argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. This is one of my all-time favorite books and I reread it nearly every year, it reminds me of my humanity and others, explores the ingredients of resilience, and probes the connections between the depths of suffering and the heights of transcendent purpose. One of my favorite quotes from the book is – “Suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise understanding of it.”


By Adam Grant

Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent. The reader’s reward is a set of groundbreaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo. I’d recommend this book to entrepreneurs, leaders of every kind, and anyone with an idea to make their world a better place. One of my favorite insights from the book is that conceptual innovation is spurred by inexperience while experimental innovation requires experience.

Great By Choice

By Jim Collins

Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? In Great by Choice, Collins and his colleague, Morten T. Hansen, enumerate the principles for building a truly great enterprise in unpredictable, tumultuous, and fast-moving times. This book is classic Collins: contrarian, data-driven, and uplifting. He and Hansen show convincingly that, even in a chaotic and uncertain world, greatness happens by choice, not by chance. This is another of my favorites and I think it has wisdom for individuals, families, and organizations of every kind. One of my favorite passages from this book is “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change (although if you refuse to change at all you will become obsolete) but the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.” I love this because in today’s dynamic, turbulent, rapidly shifting environment we tend to think that our doom is predicated by a resistance to change. In true Collins & Hansen form this book challenges you to reject the tyranny of “OR” and embrace the genius of “AND” – be open to change AND insist on consistency by rejecting change in important ways.

(Bonus – Audio Only Recommendation)

Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon

By: Malcolm Gladwell & Bruce Headlum

Part memoir, part investigation, and unlike any creative portrait you’ve ever heard before. Recorded over a series of 30 hours of conversation between Simon, Gladwell, and Gladwell’s oldest

friend and co-writer, journalist, and Broken Record podcast co-host Bruce Headlam, the conversation flows from Simon’s music to his childhood in Queens, NY, to his frequent collaborators including Art Garfunkel and the nature of creativity itself. The result is an intimate audio biography of one of America’s most popular songwriters. Brimming with music and conversation, Miracle and Wonder is a window into Simon’s legendary career, what it means to be alive as an artist, and how to create work that endures. This has held up as perhaps my favorite “book” of 2023. It is a delight to listen to while challenging the listener to open their mind to the complexity of the person behind the public artist and the beautiful struggle to sustain creative genius over 5 decades. A favorite quote from this one “The purpose of art is to bring joy to darkness and find truth in imagination.” One idea from my notes on this one is that sometimes we benefit when the harshness of truth is softened with understanding.

OC Deputy Director Darryl Birkenfeld, Ph.D.

Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods

By Gary Paul Nabhan

Readers will be delighted and inspired by the author’s one-year quest to eat only foods grown or gathered within 220 miles of his Tucson, AZ homeland.  The book unfolds across four sections: spring, summer, fall, and winter–giving texture and seasonality to the stories, as well as a sense of the cultural, historical, and ecological dimensions of our own local foodsheds.

The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning by Julene Bair

Anyone who wrestles with the depletion of the Ogallala (the world’s largest freshwater aquifer), will find honesty, despair, and hope–as Bair delves into growing up in the High Plains, love, family, farming, and the loss of native habitat as well as creeks and streams that once flowed with water.

Megan England, Youth Program Coordinator & Regional Coordinator

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

By Jonathan Haidt. 

Wherever they fall on the political or religious maps, readers will likely find themselves both deeply uncomfortable and nodding in agreement at regular intervals. And maybe they’ll also walk away with a deeper understanding of someone with whom they disagree.

Blaze Diamond, Food Systems Program Coordinator & Regional Coordinator

The Meadow

By: James Galvin

This book is considered an anchor in the cannon of southwest American literature and takes place in a high-alpine meadow in northern Colorado, and makes it the long-arc protagonist of the story, as all the winds and generations of humans try to settle and make a go of this place, this specific meadow, through the years.  It’s how they choose to belong and steward the land.

Berlin Arellano, OC Regional Coordinator

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants

By: Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass (2013) offers a profound and insightful look at the relationship between humans and Mother Earth. With the growing concerns about climate change, deforestation, and the depletion of our natural resources, it is more important than ever to reevaluate how we treat the world around us. 

The traditional wiingashk, or sweetgrass, braid tells the story of how mind, body, and spirit are connected and mutually dependent. To follow the way of the sweetgrass would mean that we give thanks to nature’s abundance and use our gifts to nurture the world, thus nurturing ourselves.

Chelsey Hilty, OC Executive Assistant

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

By Don Miguel Ruiz’s

A powerful code of conduct based on Toltec wisdom that can rapidly transform our lives into a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.

“Maybe we cannot escape from the destiny of the human, but we have a choice: to suffer our destiny or to enjoy our destiny.”

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