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The Digital Tonto Reading List For 2010

2010 December 26
by Greg Satell

People often tell me that one of the things they like best about Digital Tonto is the wide array of sources I use.  So just like last year, here’s a list of books I read and/or used for sources in popular posts in 2010.

I hope you find them just as helpful and fun as I did.

General Business and Management

Probably the best management book to come out in the past year was Robert Sutton’s Good Boss, Bad Boss, which was a more than worthy sequel to his earlier The No Asshole Rule

For some reason, Paul Sullivan’s Clutch, about how to perform under pressure, didn’t get much press, but as a former competitive athlete as well as a manager I found it highly useful and that it rang true.  If you want to be at your best when the stakes are the highest, this book is worth your time.

There were far too many books about the financial crises to read them all.  However, veteran financial journalist Roger Lowenstein’s The End of Wall Street reflected his usual highly informed and thoughtful effort while Richard Florida’s The Great Reset offered some intriguing ideas about what’s likely to come.

Also of note was King of Capital, by David Carey and John Morris, which tells the history of the private equity industry through the story of Steve Schwartzman and Blackstone.  For those who would like a more practical guide, Bruce Wasserstein’s 960 page tome. Big Deal, remains the most authoritative source outside of dry MBA textbooks.

While I disagreed with many of the conclusions, Ken Auletta’s Googled gave a well researched account of what’s going on in media today. Also, although I’m almost ashamed to admit it, it was just this past year that I finally got around to Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do.

Social Networks, Chaos and Memes

In a post earlier this year I put forth the idea that social networks, chaos and memes are forming the new marketing paradigms and there is an ever increasing amount of good sources out there to draw from.

There were two notable books about social networks that came out in the last year:  Connected, by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler applies network theory to a wide array of real world data.  It’s insightful, informative and gives a great overview of how theory can be applied to actual problems.  I was looking forward to Bursts from Albert-László Barabási but was unfortunately disappointed.  Some good stuff there, but far less insight than I’d come to expect from him.

For anybody with more than a passing interest in social networks, I still recommend Barabási’s earlier effort, Linked as well as Duncan Watts Six Degrees.  They should both be regarded as primary sources and must reads.

Chaos forms the mathematical basis for social networks, so if your really want to understand how they work it’s a good idea to learn some basic concepts.  James Gleick’s Chaos gives a historical perspective while Sync by Steven Strogatz  gives a fun yet comprehensive overview.  Benoit Mandelbrot offers a surprisingly readable account of his pioneering work in The (Mis)Behavior of Markets. .

Unfortunately, Dr. Mandelbrot passed away this year, depriving us of his unusual blend of genius, courage and kindness.  For a short overview of his life and achievements you can read my post Remembering Benoit Mandelbrot.

Memes are something that seems to be getting more attention every year.  The best source continues to be Richard Dawkins classic The Selfish Gene, which coined the term and E. O. Wilson’s Pulitzer prizewinning On Human Nature, published around the same time, is similarly useful.  For a more recent perspective, Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine provides a great guide.

Decision Making

Ever since Malcolm Gladwell came out with Blink, this has been a hot area.  More recently, Jonah Lehrer’s  How We Decide gives a more comprehensive, but no less readable account.  Also, Dan Ariely chronicles his own research in behavioral economics (and manages to make it a lot of fun!) in Predictably Irrational.

For those who are up for a bit more challenge, Antonio Damasio’s Descartes Error and Joseph LeDoux’s Synaptic Self give an in-depth background of how neurological advances are changing the way we think about thinking, while Gary Klein’s Sources of Power chronicles the field research that led to his ideas about the naturalistic decision making model that Gladwell alluded to in Blink.

Incidentally, Gladwell’s more recent book, Outliers, popularized Anders Ericsson’s concepts of the 10,000 hour rule and deliberate practice.  However, you can save yourself some money, time and effort by reading the Ericsson’s original paper (pdf).

Technology, Innovation and Science

What Technology Wants, by Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly, was certainly one of the most important books published in the last year.

Kelly uses a vast array of sources, including Martin Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology, Jared Diamond’s Gun’s Germs and Steel and Richard Dawkin’s The Extended Phenotype, among others, to weave a compelling story about the history of technology and where we can expect it to go. He also thoughtfully includes a great list of suggested sources for further reading that’s sure to keep me busy for a while!

For those who are looking for a practical guide to what we can expect from the Semantic Web, David Siegal offers a user friendly survey of what’s going on in Pull.

Another book I found useful was Richard Ogle’s Smart World, which makes a strong case for the idea that great discoveries happen not through lonely geniuses working in isolation, but rather by synthesizing ideas and “networking idea spaces.”  It’s a powerful idea that he documents well through a multitude of interesting historical vignettes.

Of course, when it comes to innovation, Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, and the less rigorous, but more readable The Innovator’s Solution, should be considered must reads, which is why I keep recommending them (apologies to those who have seen them on multiple lists).

I finally got around to reading Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which coined the term “paradigm shift”.  Although a bit dry in places, it is mercifully short and I considered it wholly worth the effort.

I also found Nobel prizewinning physicist Leon Lederman’s The God Particle had value far beyond the physics it describes.  Lederman, known for his wisecracks, is somehow able to make difficult concepts accessible, entertaining and, yes, even funny.

For those who like to take their science with a good dose of philosophy, Palle Yourgrau’s A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Godel and Einstein gives a fantastic account of the unlikely friendship between the two men as well as an understandable summary of both relativity and the incompleteness theorem (no small feat in either case).

So that’s my list for 2010.  A special thanks to those who recommended some of these over the past year.  I’ve already started on building one for next year, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

– Greg

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Chris Chaplow permalink
    December 26, 2010

    ” I was looking forward to Bursts from Albert-László Barabási but was unfortunately disappointed. ” Hope I won’t agree as I have just received it for Xmas after being lodged in my Amazon wish list ever since your summer reading list. 🙂

  2. December 26, 2010

    Sorry about that:-(

    Actually, it’s a good read. Lots of interesting historical stuff relating to his Romanian heritage. Also, some good (although not very original) chaos theory stuff.

    However, there was very little new insight. I was expecting more.

    – Greg

  3. January 3, 2011

    Thanks for the summary and Happy New Year!

  4. January 3, 2011

    Glad you liked it. Have a nice New Year as well!

    – Greg

  5. jeanlouis permalink
    January 4, 2011

    Hello Greg,
    Thanks for the reading list. best wishes for 2011.

    would like to add the myths of innovation by Berkun S to your reading suggestions on innovation. It captures what to my eyes is useful in developing new businesses, and complements nicely The Innovator’s dilemna.


  6. January 4, 2011

    Jean Louis,

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll check it out for sure!

    – Greg

  7. Alejandro Segura Millan Blake permalink
    January 14, 2011

    Great list and thanks for your very interesting and insightful Blog.
    Although not new ( first published in 2001), I strongly recommend you should consider “Clausewitz on Strategy” by several authors of the Strategy Institute of The Boston Consulting Group, , publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. . As the authors mention: ” Clausewitz on Strategy speaks loudly and clearly to both, practitioners of business and emerging strategists about how to proceed during periods of instability, uncertainity, and rapid change”. I am sure you will enjoy it.

  8. January 15, 2011

    Thanks, Alejandro! I’ll check it out for sure.

    – Greg

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