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A Digital Tonto Reading List for 2009

2009 December 24
by Greg Satell

I’m often asked about the references I use to write my articles so I thought it would be a good idea to make a list sources that I used in my most popular posts.  I hope you find them helpful and best of luck to everybody in the New Year!

The Web

The one book that absolutely everybody who has any interest in the internet should read is Weaving the Web by Tim Berners-Lee.  Not only is he the man who created the web, but he’s a surprisingly entertaining storyteller.  The book gives a very readable account of how the Web was built and where he plans to take the Semantic Web.  This is one book I can’t recommend highly enough!

As for business on the web, there is no one better to go to than Chris Andersen. No one does a better job of synthesizing what’s going on than he does and I’ve gotten a lot out of reading both The Long Tail and Free.  Eric Jackson also gives a great first hand account of what it takes to make a digital start up successful in The PayPal Wars

For those who are actually interested in building web sites, Steven Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think is extremely accessible while Jacob Nielsen’s Designing Web Usability remains a primary resource for professional web developers.  I have not had a chance to look at his new book, Eyetracking Web Usability, but it’s bound to be an instant classic.   Nielsen’s site also provides a handy reference for usability issues and includes a wealth of eyetracking studies.

Social Networks and Chaos

I find it bewildering that with all the hype surrounding Social Media, very few of the “gurus” seem to know anything about how Social Networks actually work.  Fortunately the pioneers of Network Theory,  Duncan Watts and Albert-László Barabási have both published highly readable and informative accounts of the story of their discoveries and the friendly rivalry that accompanied it.

It’s a lot of fun to read both sides and learn about their triumphs and their frustration when the other one uncovered something which seemed fairly obvious in retrospect.  Besides being brilliant scientists, both write well and in friendly and engaging styles.  In fact, the books are much more accessible than journalist accounts of the same events.

The titles are “Six Degrees” (Watts) and “Linked” (Barabasi).  Watt’s original dissertation that launched the serious study of networks is also available from bookstores under the title Small Worlds.

Related to Network Theory is the emerging science of Chaos.  Watt’s dissertation advisor, Steven Strogatz,  published a great book called “Sync” that covers the work that served as a precursor to Network Theory.  People who are interested in this area are also urged to read James Gliek’s classic, Chaos. Finally, for a more business oriented account, you can’t do much better than Benoit Mandelbrot’s The Misbehavior of Markets.


There are literally hundreds of great management books out there and I wouldn’t even try to attempt even a partial list of worthwhile ones.  However, I’ve used the following ones as sources in my posts.

As 2009 was a crisis year, distressed companies were a very important topic .  Jim Collins excellent and timely How the Mighty Fall provides an excellent overview of how companies get into trouble and offers some insight into how they can pull themselves out of their tailspin before it’s too late.  Lou Gerstner’s blow by blow account of the IBM turnaround, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, is about as good as a business memoir can be.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book about how to develop talent, Outliers, is worth a look. However, I would recommend Talent is Overrated by Fortune editor Geoff Colvin which covers the same subject but gives it a much more serious, although still extremely accessible, treatment.

For those interested in disruptive innovation, Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma should be considered a primary source, although the sequel The Innovator’s Solution covers much of the same ground with a more organized approach.

The New Brain Science and Decision Making

Another important topic that’s coming to the fore is neurology and its effect on decision making.  Malcolm Gladwell gives a good overview and points to other useful sources in Blink.  Another excellent and highly readable book that covers much is Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It explains the neurology of decision making through narratives of survival situations.  A great read!

The researcher who has probably done the most to further decision making theory is Gary Klein and you will find him as a reference in most books on the subject.  His Sources of Power is a lot of fun and very informative.

For those that have more than a passing interest in neurology and how it affect decisions, Antonio Damasio’s Descartes Error and Joseph Ledoux’s Synaptic Self are a bit more challenging but well worth the effort. Both are used as references for most other books available on the subject.

An excellent book that uses the same sources along with proprietary research todevelop a theory about how advertising can be made more effective is The Advertised Mind by Erik Du Plessis.

Statistical Resources

I’m also asked often where I get my numbers from.  The IMF site is is a great source for economic data and is surprisingly easy to use.  Anybody interested in country expansion will also find their Article 4 Consultation documents extremely valuable, albeit somewhat academic in style and content.  They are available for every country in the world.

A great (and free!) resource that compiles data on internet adoption rates is Internet World Stats.

The best source for trends in advertising spend is ZenithOptimedia’s Advertising Expenditure Forecasts which give both forward looking and historical estimates for any country you would possibly want to know about.  Most investment banks use it as a source, so if you’re compiling a business plan their numbers are the best to use. Another good resource that compiles data on how media stack up against each other in different countries is the WARC’s Global Media Cost Comparisons.

I hope everybody finds these as useful as I have.  I’m always on the lookout to learn new things, so if anybody can suggest new sources I can read in the New Year I would love to hear about them!.

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

– Greg

18 Responses leave one →
  1. December 24, 2009

    Greg: Thanks for posting this! It’s an excellent list, and I’ve added to my own based on your recommendations. I’ll RT your tweet, too. As usual, good, thoughtful stuff coming out of your brain! I appreciate your sharing it.
    Sam Gaines

  2. December 24, 2009


    Thanks. Best wishes for the New Year!

    – Greg

  3. Keir permalink
    December 24, 2009

    2 business books you may want to look at, both from professors at INSEAD, would be Blue Ocean Strategy and The Momentum Effect – good research, easy to read, powerful in advocacy and with helpful management tools to guide people through strategic mapping to implementation challenges.
    Keep it up Greg. Love your posts. Value your perspective.
    Merry Xmas!


  4. Olga permalink
    December 24, 2009

    Thanks, Greg! Knowing what to read and doing the reading that’s what you’re absolutely the best at. This post is extremely helpful and would be a value to anybody who lives and works in the 21 century.

  5. December 24, 2009

    Thanks Olga. Have a nice Holiday.

    – Greg

  6. Stirling permalink
    December 26, 2009

    Thanks for this Greg. Its great to get a reasons why recommended list. There is so much out there thats it hard to know where to look -your list provides a good start point. I’d recommend the Art of Orignal Thinking by Jan Phillips – its not a classic mananagement/business book but gets you thinking about the way individuals, companies and countries think. Stirling

  7. December 26, 2009


    Thanks. I’ll check it out.

    – Greg

  8. December 27, 2009

    Hi, Greg,
    Nice and useful list. It is definitely a support for catch-up reading in 2010

  9. December 27, 2009


    I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

    All the best in the New Year!

    – Greg

  10. Hardik permalink
    December 28, 2009


    I even find emarketer and IAB good for internet advetising information.

  11. December 30, 2009

    Thanks for the list. Great topics and authors, especially in the area of neurology and decision making. I look forward to reading some of your recommendations in the new year.

  12. December 31, 2009


    I’m glad you liked it.

    Have a safe and Happy New Year.

    – Greg

  13. Stirling permalink
    January 2, 2010

    Its worth reading Gut Feelings by Gerd Gigerenzer – it inverts completely the core beliefs prevalent in business and in corporate environments that more information is always better and that more choice is always better.

  14. January 2, 2010


    Thanks. I put it on my amazon list.

    – Greg

  15. elizabeth wangler permalink
    January 4, 2010

    Another of my favorite business thinkers shares his list weekly:

  16. January 4, 2010


    Thanks for the tip. I see he also provides a schedule of articles in advance. Not sure I would want to try that one at home:-)

    – Greg

  17. January 4, 2010

    Hi Greg,

    I’ve just recently found you and your insightful posts. This reading list is great so thanks for sharing. I’ve also read with interest your posts on innovation. I work in health care and sadly it seems that many of even the most premier organizations have contracted and are using a “play it safe strategy”. This is somewhat understandable given what they perceive as the uncertainties of health reform but this type of contraction suggests that orgs have to wait until they have ALL of the information about a business model change before they can respond. There is nothing new under the sun in any of the suggestions for health care reform so orgs should fight the fear and continue to forge forward. Encourage ongoing learning and build operations models with flexibility built in.

  18. January 4, 2010


    Thanks for your support. Good luck with your clients. Hopefully the whole health care thing will be over soon and things can return to normal.

    – Greg

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