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The 2016 Digital Tonto Reading List

2016 December 18
by Greg Satell

Books have been very much on my mind this year, even more than usual. Full-length books provide a depth and a breadth that you just can’t get from an article or a blog post. A good, thoughtful book is a profoundly important thing and I’ve always been an active reader and enjoy letting new ideas wash over me.

This year though, I wrote my own, Mapping Innovation (coming out in May), and that’s given me new perspective. I had no idea how much went into writing a book. Not just the writing of it, but the extensive editing, design, production and marketing are all extensive processes in their own right and involve teams of specialists.

So while like in past years, this list reflects what I have written and thought about on Digital Tonto, it also includes those that shaped my own book, including some I used as source material. So, as the end of the year approaches, I hope you find a few that that you can read and learn from as you get some rest after a really crazy year. Have a great holiday!

Book(s) of the Year

Every year I choose one or two books that have most affected my thinking and, this year, that is undoubtedly The Rise and Fall of American Growth by economist Robert Gordon. It is not for the faint of heart, including almost 700 pages of economic analysis, but if you want to understand how technology and economics intertwine, it is an absolute masterwork.

Gordon starts with the 50-year period between 1870 and 1920, which saw the rise of electricity and the internal combustion engine. These, in turn, created an unprecedented boom in productivity between 1920 and 1970, after which growth declined significantly. He also predicts that, due to a lack of significant innovation as well as a number of headwinds, such as an aging population, debt and climate change, productivity will diminish further in the coming years.

While I do not agree with Mr. Gordon’s argument that we are doomed to a future of declining productivity — in fact, I believe we are about to enter a new era of innovation — he offers a wonderfully engaging and informative analysis of the past. In effect, he describes many of the important forces that shaped shaped the 20th century.

I’m also including my own book, Mapping Innovation, in this space. While this is clearly a shameless plug, it also definitely meets the requirement of “having shaped my thinking over the past year.” While reading a book can certainly do that, there’s nothing quite like writing one. Also, if you’ve enjoyed my thinking on this blog, I truly believe you’ll love this book!

Business, Management And Economics

Every time Roger Lowenstein comes out with a new book, I buy it immediately and his newest, America’s Bank, about the creation of the Federal Reserve system, does not disappoint. Interestingly, it begins with a financial crisis not unlike the one we recently experienced, the Panic of 1907, and chronicles the years of struggle and deliberation that lead to the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. As always, Lowenstein presents the history in an incredibly engaging way.

New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg came out with a follow up to his earlier bestseller, The Power of Habit and his new one is just as good. Smarter Faster Better, helps unlock the secrets of what makes us more productive. Also, The Halo Effect, by Phil Rosenzweig is one of the best books on business strategy I have ever read.

The Year Without Pants, by Scott Berkun, offers an entertaining and informative look into the future of work. Friend & Foe, by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer, two business school professors, provides insights on when to cooperate and when to compete.

A number of books about platforms came out recently. I read Matchmakers and The Platform Revolution, both of which give comprehensive accounts of the economics that drive platform businesses. If this is a subject that interests you, you might want to pick up one of these.

I also finally got around to reading The Four Steps to the Epiphany, by Steve Blank and The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and was glad that I did. The insights that both offer are not limited to startups. If you want to learn more about how to launch any new endeavor, within an existing organization or as a completely new venture, you should read both.

Science, Technology And Innovation

Everybody seems to be talking about Blockchain technology these days and the father and son team of Don and Alex Tapscott deliver a useful guide to understanding it in, Blockchain Revolution.

Samuel Arbesman is one of my favorite science writers and I loved his new book, Overcomplicated, which tackles the difficult issue of how to deal with a world where we build technologies too complex to fully understand. As usual, Arbesman is able to explain the issues in an engaging way without dumbing things down.

I also read The Doctors’ Plague, by Sherwin B. Nuland and The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat by Eric Lax. The first tells the incredible story of Ignaz Semmelweis, the Austrian Doctor who first discovered antiseptic practices in hospitals, and was so ostracized for it that it drove him raving mad. He ended up dying in a mental hospital, ironically of an infection he contracted there. The second explains the true history of the discovery of penicillin. I heartily recommend both.

Mindset, by world renowned psychologist Carol Dweck is a book I think everybody should read at some point. Based on decades of her research, it shows that how we see our abilities — as either fixed or able to grow — greatly influence whether we will achieve our goals.

Finally, I read Michael Hiltzik’s wonderful history of Xerox PARC, Dealers of Lightning and Thomas Watson Jr.’s stunningly candid memoir, Father, Son & Co. If the history of technology interests you, these are both must reads.

History, Society and Politics

Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens was one of the most talked about books this year. I didn’t like it as much as some seemed to, but it was still very good. On the other hand, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy was every bit as wonderful as it was chalked up to be and I would encourage every American to read it.

Peter Bergen does his usual excellent job of investigative reporting in United States of Jihad, which explores the phenomenon of homegrown terrorism in the US and Mark Landler tells the story of the partnership between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Alter Egos.

Matt Ridley gives a thought provoking take about how society changes over time in The Evolution of Everything. I also finally got around to Robert Coram’s biography of Colonel John Boyd, who developed the OODA loop. I was glad I did. His ideas are relevant far beyond military affairs.

So that’s my list for this year. If you have any suggestions, feel free to let me know in the comments section.

I will publish my “Top Posts of 2016” on Wednesday and then will take the rest of the year off. I’ll be back on Sunday, January 1st with my future trend for 2017: Collaboration.

See you then…

– Greg

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Jarek permalink
    December 18, 2016

    Thank you very much, Greg. I was waiting for this. As each year, great guide on what’s worthy. Jarek

  2. December 18, 2016

    Hi Greg, As always I look forward to your perspectives. I did my own deep dive this past year from absorbing the best of HBR, Gartner, Deloitte and McKinsey who all do a nice job validating what and why, but fall short on how. Then reading books that offer genuine clues on what’s coming: Digital Transformation Guru, Brian Solis – What’s the future of business, Dan Pink – Why right brainers will rule the future, and Steven Overman – The Conscious Economy. I hold these books and a few others as revealing more value than most get from others sources yet admire all authors.

    Love to get a summary of your suggestions as I contemplate two book topics that are timely and authentic to challenges and opportunities I see ahead. I hear self publishing is not as good as winning an established publishers support.

    I wish you great success with your book I am respectfully cynical of all the innovation management experts – even Clayton Christiansen who I greatly admire – that over-processize innovation versus simplifying it as the human-centric and enabling process it can be. I am so close to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on this conceptually. I have a strong argument base on why and am tuning how.

    I also see a coming revolution between personal skills and organizational culture that I can address in an authentic way. Contrast that with a real security and individuality challenge as Big Brother soon knows everything we think and do.

    I see I did not earn your regard to comment on your book (no problem) but that said, I do respect your views immensely and the thoroughness in how you document them. Certainly a lot to learn from your success while also respecting where I add authentic views. life is great that way but hey, I grew up in NYC where respect for differing perspectives makes great intellectual soup. Best, Bill.

  3. Barry Rabkin permalink
    December 18, 2016


    Any chance your book will be available as an e-book (Amazon Kindle)?

    Hope so.


  4. December 18, 2016

    As I understand it, yes. There will be an e-book version and an audio book version.

    – Greg

  5. December 18, 2016

    Thanks for your support Bill. I certainly hope that you don’t feel overlooked. I only reached out to endorsers that I know personally.

    – Greg

  6. December 18, 2016

    Dzieki, stary:-)

  7. December 19, 2016

    Dear Greg,

    Another inspiring book just came out which you might like to look into.

    It is about future work and unstoppable globalisation in the light of the ongoing tech revolution



  8. December 19, 2016

    That said,

    You seem unconvinced by my own pending revolution which has serious backig from some of the world’s most informed people. Why is that?

    I have been asked to write for an airline magazine.

    It is probably the best summary of m work ever written.

    Would you like a copy? Less than 800 words.

    Here is a short extract:

    By Edward C D Ingram

    New scientific discoveries and engineering innovations
    which promise to transform our lives are now almost commonplace.
    But in economics and finance, there has been nothing like that.
    This is about to change.

    Edward C D Ingram, is a retired financial adviser, successful financial innovator, fund manager, and ex student of systems management and control. He says that people will not remember how chaotic today’s economies are. Given a little time, the dismal science will become a shining light.
    741 WORDS
    The financial security of all individuals, families, and businesses will be transformed. The new economy will be stable. It will ride over the bumps in the road.

    The holy grail of financial stability has eluded economists for more than a century. They have tried to achieve it by reducing inflation. It hasn’t worked. Some of the world’s most unsafe economies are to be found at the lowest rates of inflation: in Japan, Europe, and the UK, for example.

    The new economy cannot be created by the skill set which economists have. Practical ground level innovations are needed as well. A Harvard University professor reported that more than half of all prize winning solutions were created by outsiders.

    A well designed airframe, which adjusts to the changing conditions, makes piloting a plane easy. It is the same with an economy.
    I look forward to seeing this on South African Airlines early next year.


  9. December 19, 2016


    Thanks for the suggestion. It looks very interesting.

    – Greg

  10. December 19, 2016

    Congratulations on getting your work published Edward!

    – Greg

  11. cy:beh permalink
    December 26, 2016

    Hi Greg, the link for the pre-order is wrong?
    HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Click here before January 1st to pre-order your copy of Mapping Innovation for 40% off the cover price


  12. December 27, 2016

    It’s not wrong, I just didn’t want to put a short term link into the article. But before january first, by all means you can use this link:

  13. cy:beh permalink
    December 27, 2016

    For some reason…the link brought me to this YouTube video!





  14. December 28, 2016

    This one?

    Strange. I just tried it and it brought me to the right page.

  15. cy:beh permalink
    December 28, 2016

    when opened (even when cut & paste) via laptop Chrome browser, the link always brings me to the silly Yaataa YouTube video page…. but FireFox ok, iPhone Chrome also fine. Never encountered anything like it :0)

  16. December 28, 2016

    That is strange!

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