(In rough chronological order, with most recently read first)
Whole Earth Discipline, by Stewart Brand. Once again Brand is a keen and open-minded observer of the world with challenging ideas.
The Polish Officer, by Alan Furst.
John Adams, by David McCullough.
Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. This is a compelling book, and an interesting contrast to Pollan. Foer takes a much harder line on eating meat than does Pollan. At first, in the book, I was turned off by the easy emotionalism in Eating Animals, but he makes a compelling case. However, it strikes me as odd that while he makes a strong case for vegetarianism, he doesn’t go all the way to promoting veganism (or even mention the concept), which is a logical extension. I’m still eating animals, but thinking hard about it…
Spook Country, William Gibson. Another techno-socio-politico-post 9/11-cultural dream by Gibson. Interesting how scifi writers tend to write about closer and closer futures as they get older, until they write about the present (Spook Country takes place in February 2006 according to Gibson). But it’s entertaining to observe Gibson picking apart culture and technology, and it’s a good yarn. It’s a test of my imagination to keep up with him, as I get older.
In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan. Pollan is a national treasure. He starts the book with the Eater’s Manifesto: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The book then explains compellingly why this is true and important. It’s a condemnation of American agricultural policy that gives us gobs of cheap sugary foods, as well as the “nutritionist” approach to food that emphasizes the components of foods that we are led to seek or avoid rather than looking at the ecology of the foods we have evolved to eat. Must read.
The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Very challenging and important book. Black swans are highly improbable events, which our brains are programmed to not see or appreciate, which Taleb describes as “our blindness with respect to randomness, particularly large deviations.“
The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright. I’ve read enough about the screw-ups leading up to and after the war in Iraq. This is a book about the growth of fundamental Islam and Al-Qaeda, and the failure in the West to understand and appreciate the changes prior to 9/11. Wright’s New Yorker articles on 9/11 are also excellent.
In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, Edward Luce. My introduction to India. It’s hard to imagine how this country works, given the number of people, religions and environmental challenges. How will India overcome: AIDS (unrecognized by the government), feticide (India has the same “50 million missing girls” that China has due to selective abortion), lack of clean water, and illiteracy (hard to understand why India has brilliant universities for the select few, but tolerates very high illiteracy rates for the masses).
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan. It’s amazing how little we know about what we put in our bodies. This book will change how you think (along with Nestle’s book). Pollan is at UC Berkeley’s jounalism school, and his many talks/interviews are great as well.
Fiasco, Thomas Ricks. I don’t know how many books I can read about the incompetence of the Bush administration…
What to Eat, Marion Nestle. Unassuming title, but a must read. The blog is fun too.
Mao: The Untold Story, Jung Chung and Jon Halliday. In my younger years (the 1970s) Mao was a “hero of the people.” In this book he is shown to be a butcher of the people he supposedly saved, as well as his followers.
Copies in Seconds, David Owen. The story of the guy who invented photocopying, and his long, long 30 year career building Xerox into “an overnight success.”
From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Fred Turner. A surprisingly academic look at the fascinating but chaotic life of Stewart Brand.
What the Dormouse Said, John Markoff. History of Silicon Valley and the benefits of drug use.
The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, Michael Grunwald. Great history of the settlement of Florida and the development of the Everglades National Park. A lesson in how hard it is to save environmental treasures from greed and politics. Unfortunately the story of how VP Gore screwed himself in 2000 and probably lost the national election by his ham-handed politics that alienated the environmental vote gets short shrift at the end of the book. But lots of mention of my friend Joe Browder who has played a prominent role in the ‘Glades for decades.
The World is Flat, Tom Friedman. I like Friedman even though liberals criticize him endlessly. His excessive alliteration and cleverness with words can get in the way of his observations, which I find insightful and thought provoking.
The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. What to do before we start another war.
The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, George Packer. How the Bush idiocracy led us into Iraq.
Ottoman Centuries, Lord Kinross. Essential post 9/11 reading. History of Islam in the Middle East up to the gates of Vienna. Until I read this book I didn’t understand how World War I and the 20th Century had its roots in Muslim culture and history.
The Great Game, Peter Hopkirk. More essential 9/11 reading. The story of competition between Russia and England, and Russia’s efforts to threaten England’s colony in India c 1750-1900. The battle ground? Afghanistan.
Collapse, Jared Diamond.
Radical Evolution, Joel Garreau. Great book, and not only because I’m in the acknowledgments (thanks, Joel).
Moral Politics, George Lakoff. This is linguistics, but it’s also the best political science book ever.
The Clock of the Long Now, Stewart Brand. Stewart is one of the most interesting people I’ve had the pleasure to meet–he’s always ont he cutting edge of ideas. If you want to know what’s coming next, find out what Stewart is thinking about.
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell. Great book, and Gladwell is my favorite New Yorker writer.
Pattern Recognition, William Gibson. Memorable for creating the acronym LOMBARD: “loads of money but a real dick.”
Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, Robert Coram. Interesting biography of a creative pilot who tried to design fighters for pilots in the face of a military bureaucracy who had other criteria. He developed the OODA loop: observation, orientation, decision, action.
Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, Peter M. Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers. A book by some of the best businss writers ever, but seemed to fall flat compared to the wisdom of Fifth Discipline.
FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop–From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, Neil Gershenfeld. I really liked Gershenfeld’s earlier book When Things Begin to Think, but this was a real disappointment. It’s partly my lack of appreciation for how things are made, but also I don’t see the revolution, even in the several years since the book was published.
When Things Start to Think, Neil Gershenfeld. Great book about the future of ubiquitous computing.
The Great Chinese Revolution 1800-1985, John Fairbanks. Great introduction to Chinese history. Should be read with the Chung biography of Mao.
Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution, John Brockman. Brockman hosts the edge.com, which is a gathering place for a lot of smart people I admire. He is a literary agent, and many of the Edge participants are his clients. So in a way the website and this book are his way of hyping his clients. I enjoy the website more than I did this book.
The Mystery of Capital, Hernando de Soto. A non-Western view of the barriers to economic development.
The Age of Heretics, Art Kleiner. A great collection of business stories about people who saw the world differently and acted on their visions.
The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Tom Friedman.
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Howard Rheingold. Riff on ubiquitous mobile phones and how they change communication and behavior.
The Sixth Sense: Accelerating Organisational Learning with Scenarios, Kees van der Heijden. I’m sorry I haven’t had the chance to know Kees in the GBN people, but his book is excellent.
Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation, Donald Stokes. Important book about research and innovation. The key idea is that the most productive research is inspired by use, such as the discoveries of Pasteur. Contrasts with Bush’s ideas of basic science (see Endless Frontier).
The Double Helix, James Watson. Intimate history of the greatest adventure in science.
Leading the Revolution, Gary Hamel. I’m embarrassed to say I found this book a very inspiring story of innovative management at Enron, until it unravelled spectacularly in our face.
Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers, Peter Senge. Amazingly intimate book about a personal story of discovery and growth. Inspiring.
When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management, Roger Lowenstein. Another cautionary tale about the foibles of American business”intelligence.”
Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species, Sarah Hrdy. Must read for parents, and humans.
The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene. I’ve always been fascinated by physics. As Stewart Brand says, science is the only new news in the world.
Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History, Robert D. Kaplan. Along with Ottoman Centuries, a great history of the long history of conflict on the Balkan penninsula.
Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson. Stephenson is a great story-teller.
Rescuing Prometheus: Four Monumental Projects That Changed the Modern World, Thomas Hughes. Great stories of large visions and large projects.
Military Misfortunes, Eliot Cohen John Gooch. One thingI have to give the military credit for is they work very hard to learn from history and their mistakes. I guess learning is more important when your life is on the line.
New Rules for the New Economy, Kevin Kelly.
Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century, Pascal Zachary. History of the beginnings of federal involvement in promoting research, especially “basic” research.
Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation, Edward Chancellor.
Regional Advantage, AnnaLee Saxenian. One of the great stories in this book is about Professor Terman who created the link between Stanford and the surrounding business environment, creating the Silicon Valley phenomenon.
Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse.
When Things Start to Think, Neil Gershenfeld. Introduction to the world of distributed and powerful intelligence.
Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, David Reminck. Remnick lived in the Soviet Union in its last days, and this is a great history of the collapse of the evil empire.
High Stakes, No Prisoners, Charles Ferguson. Life in the dot-com boom. Memorable for creating FUD, “fear, uncertainty, and doubt,” the MicroSoft strategy for takeovers.
The Song of the Dodo, David Quammen. An appreciation of ecology and how humans can screw it up.
The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil. A reminder about the acceleration of technology that we don’t notice often enough.
Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, Peter Bernstein. Interesting book on the history of risk, which sounds like an odd idea, but understanding risk is a key requirement of functioning businesses and economies. Published in 1998 in the big boom, when growth was assumed, and, ironically, people thought there was no risk. Another book to reread…
The Silicon Boys and Their Valley of Dreams, David A. Kaplan. Published in 1999 in the dotcom boom when people thought greed was a great driver of innovation.
Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks. Try to enjoy Brooks’ wit and ignore his politics.
How to Hack a Party Line: The Democrats and Silicon Valley, Sara Miles. Written in 2000 about the booming 90s and how the modern democrats would take advantage of the new dotcom zeitgeist and money to create a new political order. Didn’t quite turn out that way in 2000 and 2004…another lesson in don’t believe your own hype.
The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century Volume 1, Fernand Braudel. Volume 1 of a great history trilogy.
Clone, Gina Kolata.
Remaking Eden, Lee Silver. With Clone, two books on the dramatic changes genetics will bring us.
Where Wizards Stay Up Late, Katie Hafner. The story of the WELL (whole earth ‘lectric link), one of the first on-line communities. I joined the WELL in 1994, which unfortunately was at the end of the WELL’s greatest era, as text-based systems like the WELL couldn’t compete with the the diversity and distractions of the web. (I’m wlsn at well dot com).
The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge. The greatest organizational development book, ever, along with the companion Fifth Disciplne Fieldbook and Dance of Change.
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson. Mind bending science fiction.
Natural Capitalism, Amory and Hunter Lovins, Paul Hawken.
The Ends of the Earth, Robert D. Kaplan. Introduction to some surprising corners of the world.
Trust, Francis Fukuyama.
The Hot Zone, Richard Preston. About the terrifying Marburg virus that periodically emerges and kills in Africa, and could someday become a modern day plague.
Lost Japan, Alex Kerr. Autobiographical story of an American who becomes enthralled with Japanese culture and history to the extent that he rebuilds an old traditional house, learns calligraphy, and creates a business dealing in antiques Japanese no longer value. Message is Japanese are neglecting and loosing the qualities that made them distinctive. Quite an interesting ethnography.
How Buildings Learn, Stewart Brand.
The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington.
Learning to Plan, and Planning to Learn, Don Michael.
Creative Compartments, Gerald Fairtlough. I think this is the best book ever on organizational development and business management.
Nano: The Emerging Science of Nanotechnology, Ed Regis. I was at a GBN meeting about 1996 where Eric Drexler and Ralph Merkle gave a talk about nanotechnology. I was stunned. I immediately went down Market St. to a bookstore and bought this book, which is a history of Drexler’s obsessions with nanotechnology.
Darwin Among the Machines, George Dyson. Creative view of the history of computing.
Complexity, Mitchell Waldrop. Great story of the people who made the Sante Fe Institute.
The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama. I read this book in 1997 when the future looked bright–before the dotcom bust and 9/11. I’d like to read it again and see how the optimism about the future of liberal democracy reads…Mandate of Heaven, Orville Shell.
The Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz.
Neuromancer, William Gibson.
From Beirut to Jerusalem, Tom Friedman.
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett. One of the mind-changing books I’ve read. Most people, like me, don’t appreciate what a world-changing idea evolution was. Dennett’s book is eloquently written.
Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World, Kevin Kelly. I read this in 1995, and it opened up a whole new world of reading and ideas.