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Summer Reading List: The Books Behind the Buzz

2010 June 13
by Greg Satell

Before you go ahead and drop $300 on a webinar this summer, you might want to think about spending a fraction of that at your local book store and investing the rest on beer.

The truth is that you can gain much more understanding into the hot topics floating around the web today by reading what true pioneers have to say about them.  In many cases, their books are not only more informative, but more readable than the posers.

Here’s a partial list

Social Networks

Regular readers of Digital Tonto have come to know that one of my pet peeves is the overvaluing of social media and the general neglect of social networks.  The truth is, most social media people know very little about how social networks function.

Duncan Watts and Albert-László Barabási are the two primary pioneers in unraveling the story of networks, and both have written highly enjoyable books about their discoveries: Six Degrees and Linked respectively.

Both are also still in the prime of their careers and doing groundbreaking work.  Watts is now at Yahoo! and has some very interesting thoughts on Big Seed Marketing (pdf).  Barabási has a new book out called Bursts, which I haven’t read yet, but am sure is great.

You can follow Duncan Watts on Twitter:  @djw2451

The Web

Given the enormous impact of the web, it’s hard to believe that it was concieved by a single man, Tim Berners-Lee.  He continues to oversee the ongoing development of the Web at the W3 consortium.  There is simply no greater authority on the web.

Back in 2000, Berners-Lee wrote a book, Weaving the Web, that chronicled how he came up with the idea and made it happen.  He also explains his ideas about building the Semantic Web.  It’s surprisingly fun to read and is a must for anyone who is interested in digital.

Incedentally, Berners-Lee is also an exciting speaker.  His TED talk is well worth a look and you can follow him on Twitter at @timberners_lee.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation is probably one of the most overused and misuderstood terms in business today.  All too often, people deploy it to say, “Look how clever I am!  I’m so innovative that it screws up everybody else.”

In actuality, disruptive innovation is a very specific term that Harvard professor Clayton Christensen coined in connection with his research on how good companies fail.  He realized that inferior products could often be superior when the basis of competition changed.

Christensen summarized his findings in his 1997 classic, The Innovator’s Dilemma, which created quite a stir in the business community.  He followed up with the less rigorous, but more readable Innovator’s Solution, which I think you can read without missing much except some background.

As an aside, it says on Professor Christensen’s web site that he was diagnosed with cancer recently.  He responded well to the treatment and seems to be doing okay.  Nevertheless, let’s wish him luck and good health.

Turbulence and Chaos Theory

Another hot topic is turbulence in the marketplace.  Marketing guru Phillip Kotler has a new book out about it, but unfortunately it was an uncharacteristically poor effort and I don’t recommend it.

One excellent source that will help you understand chaos and how it is affecting business is The Misbehavior of Markets by Benoit Mandelbrot.  It gives an amazingly compelling account of his life and work as a Chaos Theory pioneer.  The book also gives some insight into the recent financial crises.

Another highly enjoyable book about chaos is Sync, by Steven Strogatz.  Strogatz, was Duncan Watt’s advisor and co-author of the seminal paper (pdf) on network theory.  He is also an excellent writer and has recently begun a highly compelling math column for The New York Times.

The Future of Technology

Those who are interested in some of the wild things in store for us over the next few decades need look no further than Physics of the Impossible by string theorist Michio Kaku, whose bestselling physics books can make tough concepts accessible even to dummies like me.

In this, his latest book, he discusses the feasibility of technologies we know best from science fiction.  It divides science fiction tech into three sections:

– Possible and we’re likely to see them in a few decades.

– Possible, but we have no idea how to make them happen

– Impossible according to our present understanding of the laws of physics

Some, like teleportation and invisibility, we are much closer to than you would think.  I used the book as a source to one of my first posts on Digital Tonto, which was also my first to get a big response.

Dr. Kaku also maintains a twitter account: @michiokaku

So that’s my list.  I hope you find it helpful and feel free to share your recommendations in the comments below.

Have a great summer!

–          Greg

12 Responses leave one →
  1. June 13, 2010


    Thanks for this amazing summer reading list. I always enjoy your posts but this one is especially timely for me since I’m just starting a new business. Keep up the great and informative work.

    all the best,

  2. June 13, 2010

    Thanks Sue. Good luck with!

    – Greg

  3. June 14, 2010


    Phenomenal list. Thanks so much.

    I am truly a fan of you intellect. I can tell you, with the greatest degree of sincerity, that I appreciate your contributions.

    You are one of my favorites.

    Thanks again.


  4. June 14, 2010

    Thanks Ibrahim.

    Have a great week.

    – Greg

  5. June 14, 2010

    Greg –

    Terrific list – sent me scurrying for Amazon

    I’d add ‘How Markets Fail’ by John Cassidy – a little out of scope, but provides an accessible overview of modern economic theory and it’s application.

    really enjoy the blog – thanks – bd

  6. June 14, 2010

    Was saving this in my inbox until I had a moment to read. Thanks! Several here that I would be interested in.

  7. June 14, 2010


    Thanks. Looks excellent! For those who are interested, here is the Amazon link

    – Greg

  8. June 14, 2010

    Glad to hear it Joanne!

    Anything you can suggest?

    – Greg

  9. June 15, 2010

    Would it be too bold of me to ask the groups opinion of these 2 books currently in my cart awaiting a decision (?):

    The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly – David Meerman Scott

    Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs – Brian Halligan

    Thank you!

    Karl Seidel

  10. June 15, 2010


    Unfortunately, I haven’t read either.

    – Greg

  11. Chris Chaplow permalink
    December 26, 2010

    Greg, Duncan Watts twitter link is no more. I think it is
    Interestnig stats 837 followers an only 11 tweets!

  12. December 26, 2010

    Thanks, Chris. Good tip.

    – Greg

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