Parents want two things of their newly-minted college graduate offspring: that they get a job, and that they don't move back home. Here's a short list of books guaranteed to get them off your couch and into the working world. As a bonus, these books will also help replace the nonsense your kids "learned" in college with a short course in reality.
So here goes.
We'll start with a dose of reality about the economy. Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics, by Nicholas Wapshott (W.W. Norton, 2012). John Maynard Keynes, British and well-spoken, advocated governments printing money in order to prime the economy. Frederick Hayek, an Austrian who spoke English in an impenetrable manner, thought that governments shouldn't interfere with the business cycle. This intensely readable book will help your grad understand why we're $20 trillion in debt, and maybe make him think twice about running up his shiny new MasterCard.
Next, spirituality. Where Has Oprah Taken Us?: The Religious Influence of the World's Most Famous Woman by Stephen Mansfield (Thomas Nelson, 2011). Oprah's tumultuous early life story and rejection of traditional Christianity, in a third of the pages Kitty Kelley requires. More importantly, the book shows how Oprah essentially singlehandedly moved America from religion to a fascinating but often contradictory and uneasy blend of spirituality from a wide variety of New Age and Eastern sources, as administered by a coterie of Oprah-approved authors including Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Gary Zukav, Louise Hay, and Eckhart Tolle. If your kid has a mishmash of spiritual ideas, this book will explain why.
Sticking with media for one more book: Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holliday (Portfolio, 2012). Why you can't believe anything you read online or see in the news. How manipulators (including the author, by his own admission) bend the rules of news delivery to cause you to believe whatever they want you to believe. So freeing from the tyranny of media lies that it could also have called, "Our Eyeballs, Ourselves."
Now, some good news. According to Peter Diamandis, in his new book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think (Free Press, 2012), technology will move the "bottom billion" out of poverty in our lifetimes. His thesis: tech gurus got rich earlier in life than 19th century robber barons and therefore have the energy, technological know-how, money, and competitive nature to solve the problems of lack of access to clean water, healthcare, education, banking, and other vital needs. Far more inspiring than if Chopra, Williamson, Zukav, Hay, Tolle, and the Dalai Lama themselves all came to your home, held your hands in theirs and sang "Kumbaya."
More good news: The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, by Joel Kotkin, (Penguin Press, 2010). Here the happiness is sociological. Post-Christian Europe isn't getting married or having babies. Scary China's got all boys and no girls, so their workforce will age and their population will plummet. Who will run the world in 40 years? Why, America... where religion and values prevail, people are having lots of kids, and the suburbs and exurbs, not the dirty cities, hold our future. The book will show your kids that despite the left-wing critiques of America they received in college, we'll still be the greatest nation in the world by the time they retire. Of course, Social Security will have run out a long time ago, so financially, they'll be on their own, but that's not Joel Kotkin's problem.
Next, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, by Charles Murray (Crown Forum, 2012). We're actually two nations, the controversial and irascible Murray argues, one comprised of super-zip codes, where highly educated people do yoga, run marathons, marry one another, know nothing of NASCAR, and send their kids to top universities, where they emulate their parents and punch their tickets for the economy's top tier. The other America: working class towns where people get tattooed but not married; have babies but not jobs; and find no dignity in the kind of work with which their fathers supported their sorry behinds (e.g. factory jobs, night watchmen). The result: two economic classes pedaling rapidly in opposite directions, with dire results for our nation's future. Chilling and irrefutable.
Your kids love that newfangled Internet, so let them also read The Master Switch: The Rise And Fall Of Information Empires, by Columbia Law School prof Tim Wu (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010). Wu shows how the Internet may well end up out of the hands of the people and under strict government and business control, as did the telephone, radio, and TV before it. An intriguing guide to the intersection of power and technology.
Finally, what about love? In a disposable culture, how can you make love last? Ask John Grey. Not the one who wrote Men Are From Mars. The other John Grey, whose book, Relationship Tools For Positive Change (Leap Frog Press, 2005, is a must-read for people who want to keep their relationships longer than they keep their smartphone. Fabulous, practical, necessary.
So there you have it. A dose of reality for college grads, or for anyone who wants to understand what's really happening in the world. And if reality is too much, they can always just watch Oprah reruns on the couch in your basement.