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The 2011 Digital Tonto Reading List

2011 December 25
by Greg Satell

One of the nice things about getting older is that each year brings a chance to learn new things.  While your body withers, your mind matures.
Writing this blog is part of that process and central to writing it is reading great books (and yes, I still read them in paper – I’m a compulsive highlighter).  Many of my posts are, to a great extent, ongoing discussions with authors that I read.
2011 was a particularly good year for books, with some outstanding titles arriving on shelves.  So, just as in past years, I’m making a list of books that I have read and referred to.  I hope they enrich you as much as they did me.

General Business and Economics

One of the most anticipated books of 2011 was Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, which was outstanding.  For those who have already read it, I would recommend picking up his previous book on Einstein as well, which is also highly readable and informative.

Jim Collins’ new book, Great by Choice: is probably his best yet and a must read for anyone who is interested in how to run a great business.  Daniel Pink’s Drive offers good advice on how to motivate people and Paul Sullivan’s Clutchprovides a great guide to performing under pressure.

The Quants, by Scott Patterson was a lot of fun and provided excellent insight into how Wall Street has changed over the past few decades and gave a perspective of how the financial crises came into being.  Those interested in the subject should also take a look at Benoit Mandelbrot’s The Misbehavior of Markets, which I’ve put on previous lists.

Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist, which gives a thrilling (yes, thrilling!) account of the past and future of prosperity, was one of the most thought provoking books I’ve read in a while.  If your interested in behavioral economics, this past year saw new books by two Nobel laureates in the field, George Akerlof’s Identity Economics and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

I also finally got around to reading, Henry Mintzberg’s Strategy Safari which is a must read for anyone who takes strategy seriously.

Marketing and Media

Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow is data driven, provocative and worth a look.  However, I also found at times that the strength of his data didn’t match that of his rhetoric and I particularly objected to the use of ten year old Apple data to make his point about consumer loyalty.

I still prefer The Advertised Mind by Eric du Plessis and if you’re involved in advertising, I highly recommend it as I do Duncan Watts’ Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer.  It’s not as strong as his groundbreaking work on social networks, but still pretty damn good.

Probably the most interesting book for marketers I read in the past year was Peter Guber’s Tell to Win, which was not only entertaining and informative, but underlines the growing importance of storytelling as a business skill.

Science, Technology and Innovation

String theorist Michiu Kaku’s Physics of the Future is written for layman and gives a engaging account of what technology has in store for us for the next century.  James Gleick also came out with The Information, his best yet, which gives a fascinating and in-depth look at information theory.

Additionally, Matt Ridley’s The Agile Gene is a great guide for those interested in the nature/nurture debate and those who are following CERN scientists closing in on the Higgs Boson will get a comprehensive and entertaining background from Nobel prizewinning physicist Leon Lederman’s The God Particle.

There have been a rash of great books about technology and innovation out lately.  The best has been W. Brian Arthur’s The Nature of Technology, but there are many others worth reading as well.

Steven Johnsons’s Where Good Ideas Come From, Tim Harford’s Adapt ” target=”_blank”>Adapt and Scott Berkun’s The Myths of Innovationare all excellent.  I also tracked back and read Steven Johnson’s Emergence, which was more than worth the effort.  Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants, which was on last years list, is still a must read if you missed it the first time around.

So that’s my list for 2011.  If you read a great book recently, please let me know about it in the comments.

– Greg

8 Responses leave one →
  1. December 30, 2011

    I loved the Steve Jobs biography. I have to say it was my favorite read of the year.

  2. December 31, 2011

    It was good:-)

  3. January 3, 2012

    Hi Greg.

    I got a lot out of Rework from the guys behind 37signals – good reminders to Keep It Simple! And also linked Seth Godin’s Linchpin. And already on your list: Drive by Daniel Pink is on my must-read list.

    And aside from business books, I finally tackled the Stieg Larsson trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc) and absolutely loved them. Hope the first movie does well so they will make the next two!

    Thanks for your list, and Happy New Year!

  4. January 3, 2012

    Good choices. Have a happy New Year as well.

    – Greg

  5. Karl Burns permalink
    January 3, 2012

    I didn’t think Linchpin was all that great, but I’m not the target audience (e.g. I have not worked in a factory for 10+ years). I really wish the book would have gone further into the behaviors of Linchpins in different settings, and gotten past the generic descriptions.
    Although it was a 2010 release, I read “Switch” by Dan and Chip Heath and thought that was a great read! It could follow Collins’ book…
    Overall, great blog Greg. I recommend it all the time and send links to lots of friends / former professors / work colleagues monthly.

  6. January 3, 2012

    Thanks Karl! I appreciate the support.

    – Greg

  7. January 6, 2012

    Many thanks for these Greg. You’ve sure been busy!

    I’ll be listening to the Rational Optimist audiobook on my morning runs.

    Wishing you an optimistic 2012!


  8. January 6, 2012

    It’s a great book!

    Have a nice weekend.

    – Greg

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