Since I read a lot, I often get people asking for recommendations. There’s a lot missing but it’s a start. Required reading has partly the egotistical sense that it’s easier to have conversations if you’ve read a lot of these books, because otherwise I find myself explaining them to people in order to get to the point where we have enough common vocabulary and conceptual references.
Life, The Universe & Everything
- Fooled by Randomness (Nassim Taleb) – Why people are so idiotic in understanding how to handle randomness, why the big social and economic system we make tend to be broken, and why experts are often worse than the average person.
- Antifragile (Taleb) – How to build a world less fragile, from your own life to the systems of the world. Continues the work of Fooled by Randomness.
- Moral Animal – Morality from an evolutionary biologist’s view
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference –
- Emotional Intelligence – Better understanding what leads to success
- Scattered Minds (Gabor Maté) – Why kids might develop ADHD
- A Mind at a Time – mental profiling, weaknesses & strengths
- Human Zoo – (Desmond Morris) humans in cities are like animals in cages
- Naked Ape – (Desmond Morris) evolution of human behaviour, 60’s version
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things (Ben Horowitz) – One of the best books you can read about starting and running a company. It’s about the really difficult stuff that doesn’t have a single right answer in business.
- Decisive (Chip and Dan Heath)- So far the only book I’ve found genuinely useful in offering practical, well-founded advice in making decisions on both a personal and business level.
- Guerilla Marketing – Marketing on a shoestring budget. The main point is that a lot of “traditional” marketing methods that are the focus of business school, are based on the resources and needs of large businesses. Small businesses have a different strengths and goals. Some basic takeaways include: big businesses focus on branding, small businesses on selling products; large scale print marketing needs to use more white space and fewer words to focus on the product, whereas on a small budget you may need to cram more things into your pamphlets and ads; and small businesses can take advantage of more opportunistic advertising purchases and other marketing strategies that are hard to scale up but work at a low level.
- The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People – Doing the right thing, right
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity – The GTD method has been criticized for being hard to maintain, but it’s the basis of most of the easier derivative systems such as ZTD.
- The E-Myth Revisited – how to be an entrepreneur, not your own employee
- Built to Last – What makes great companies great. The biggest takeaway I got was the “magic of the and”: that great companies tend to be willing to take two values that are usually either-or in their industry, and offer a product that offers both A and B. It also talks about how having what they call “big hairy audacious goals” (BHAGs) has a hugely more motivating effect than simply setting reliably attainable goals. Lots of other tidbits, like the importance of establishing culture and values over rules.
- Getting to Yes – negociation in business and life through win-win
- Bulldog: Spirit of the New Entrepreneur – great pep-talk and getting-through-it book
- In Search of Excellence – Kind of the “Built to Last” of the 80’s. There are elements of Taleb’s work discovered here, such as the “second mover advantage” (learning from the mistakes of others, and greater optionality) and battlin’ business units (using redundant small units to test out strategies for overall company-wide antifragility).
- The Popcorn Report (Faith Popcorn) – Surf the true trends. Even in 2015 I’m amazed at how much of this book, which purported to say “these are the trends that we’re seeing right now in the 90’s, but they change all the time” actually spotted trends that continue to be important to this day.
- One Up on Wall Street (Peter Lynch) – Investment book with sound business advice. One line summary: you probably know as much about investment as the people you could hire to do it for you, so invest in a combination of companies you personally believe in, and index funds. Combine that with Taleb’s ideas and you could really get somewhere. Major themes include the importance of long-term investment over short-term, and how it’s crucial to cover your downside.
- The Only Negotiating Guide You’ll Need – read after Getting to Yes. It’s a cookbook of tactics and strategies.
- Change or Die (Alan Deutschman) – Starts with the surprising statistic that when people have heart attacks, they tend not to change their lifestyle sufficiently to prevent a second heart attack that’s even more likely to be fatal, then explores some of the few methods that have been effective in really changing people’s habits and lives. The book originated as a Fast Company magazine article and was so popular the author turned it into a book.
- The Power of Habit – Habits aren’t the same as memories and they’re stored differently in the brain. Looks at how habits are important on both an individual and organizational level.
- The Design of Everyday Things – The classic, very accessible, fascinating work on designing things that are intuitive and enjoyable to use. Introduced me to the concept of affordances which has been huge in helping me to understand so much of how humans relate to the world around us, including both objects and people.
- Don’t Make Me Think – Classic text on user interfaces.
- Programming Perl – possibly most interesting programming book ever written, even if Perl as a language itself is fading into obscurity.
- Zen Flesh, Zen Bones – best path to Zen, through teeny stories
- Beginner’s Mind (Shunryu Suzuki) – Great book on a specific school of Zen, talking about basic Zen practices and relating them to living life.
- Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) – Fun stories, interesting moral dilemmas. The Bible has a bad rep among atheists for being full of weird prohibitions and fantastical stories, but the fantastical stories are fun to read, and contrary to what a lot of people think, most of the stories aren’t about saintly people doing the “right thing” but often about people doing highly questionable things.
- Thick Face, Black Heart – A random assortment of pan-Asian strategies for virtuous success.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People – Success by being nice to people.
- Time Management for the Creative Person – Because you can start reading at a random page!
- Unlimited Power – Putting pep in your life.
- Awaken the Giant Within – Long term motivation.
- Psycho-Cybernetics – Plastic surgeon realizes people need mental healing. It’s a weird book, but was the basis for a lot of later ideas about how to master your own feelings and behaviour.
- Stompin’ at the Savoy – autobiography of Norma Miller. The one by Frankie Manning is better-known in the dance world but I really enjoyed this one.