Reading is the most powerful tool for self-reinvention. Even in the age of video, there’s nothing more powerful than the written word to plant a seed of growth, possibility inside of you. I read dozens of books, stories, and blogposts each year, in all different genres, pulled from a lot of reading lists. In 2017 I didn’t start with a formal reading list, but meandered into some gems I think are worth your time. Each of these has changed my thinking, whether drastically (career) or in subtle ways. I hope they help you reinvent the best you!
I met Hanson when he taught at an unforgettable class about applying the Hero’s Journey to a corporate setting. Before we parted ways, he left me with his book, a chronicle of his life as a reporter and his transformation into a digital storyteller by way of his (literal) journey across the US using early social media tools. Its frank, funny, and insightful, but what stuck with me most is how Hanson reinvented himself by telling someone else’s story (and by being an early adopter). Powerful stuff.
I met Hanson recently and he’s reinventing himself again. Maybe you’ll hear more about that here? 🙂
I first met Amber when she and Aaron Parecki were pitching Geoloqi to the first Portland Seed Fund class. She has a way of making even the most complex technology seem like the most natural thing in the world. Which is sort of what Calm Technology is about. It starts with a startlingly simple question: why do devices, made to make our lives easier, demand so much of our attention? The answer is laid out in a declaration of Principles of Calm Technology, which are well worth your perusal. The one that stands out to me, that I teach my students now, reads:
"The right amount of technology is the minimum needed to solve the problem."
A biography of a man I admire, not just for what he has built, but the incredible way he thinks (outlined in the Neuralink Formula in this excellent article). This biography doesn’t disappoint- you’ll find early, quirky upbringing, daring risks, and grand accomplishments. What grabbed my attention was how Musk was an avid reader, but an even more avid connector, using a multidisciplinary approach to rethink whole industries. In other words, he’s the ultimate generalist (or multipotentialite). He gives me hope for my career.
I ended the year by randomly picking up this biography on Bill Gates, teaching lessons using his personal stories. It’s a fast, easy read and sometimes the lessons fly by so fast you need to re-read them. Well worth your time to see how a career in high tech can lead to a life of giving and philanthropy. Some say philanthropy is easy when you’re wealthy, but what stood out for me is that Bill Gates assumed responsibility for being part of the solution. The best part? His foundation is meeting its mission by empowering a generation of problem solvers. Lots of little nuggets in this gem.
I picked up this book out of curiosity. I picked it up in the Amazon Retail store while my kids were looking at Anime and couldn’t put it down. If you’re looking for a systematic way to test your ideas- really test them with customers- this book provides a systematic method to do so. This is one is going on my Entrepreneurship and Innovation Reading List for high school students.
When the 2018 TiE Young Entrepreneurs cohort kicked off, my student ambassadors greeted me with three books. This was one of them. Honestly, I wondered if I’d upset them- it’s happened before. I took it as a message that I could grow and be a better coach for them. Before I continue, this is one of those books with a one-time use code for a personality test. These are usually pretty gimmicky, so I didn’t take it until after I read the book. I wish I had done the opposite. This test rates you on four dimensions (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management) which ultimately come back to how aware you are of your emotions and others’ emotions and how moderate your behavior based on that. This book’s most useful insight is recognizing (and naming) emotions effectively. When you can clearly identify an emotion, you can more competently respond to it. Game changing.
Some people have sports. I have 3D Printing. If you have a 3D printer or are thinking about one, buy a copy now. This compendium of every tip and trick is sourced from the 10000+ 3D printers in the 3D Hubs network. The company is the brainchild of Bram de Zwart, a technologist with an expansive vision of a world where highly personalized products are manufactured locally. A few years ago, when I was new to 3D Printing, I had beers with Bram at a conference in NYC. Reading that book reminds me of him.
In 2017, Intel suddenly exited the market for IoT microcontrollers, which changed my career path towards AI. As a kid, I fell in love with AI and learned everything about knowledge systems and expert systems. This book roundly makes fun of both schools of thought and outlines the five tribes of Machine Learning which has transformed the technology industry and consumer tech in the last 10 years. If you need an approachable primer into the different schools of thought, how they’re used, and the implications, start with this book.
A steampunk swashbuckling adventure set in an alternate Victorian universe where naval frigates can sail between planets. And automatons. I cherish these books not only for the lovingly detailed worldbuilding and the big heart, but also because the author is an old friend. I remember when David sat a few cubicles away from me and would regale us with stories of sci-fi writing camps. Now he’s an award-winning author (see him in the book signing of Arabella of Mars in the image above). You will definitely see more of his work here.
A classic in science fiction and recommended reading by Elon Musk. Actually the second book in a series, Player of Games tells the story of inter-species contact between the Culture, a highly advanced, technology-integrated society and a comparatively primitive culture. Their common link? A love of games; in the case of the latter, an all-encompassing, high-stakes Game that remakes their culture each time it’s played. This book is a heady stew of high concepts- very recommended if you want to see where AI (particularly Neuralink) and human learning could go.
A perennial classic by a master of science fiction, The Diamond Age has shaped my worldview, interests, and career like no other book. I read this once per year and learn something new each time. The first time, Matter Compilers (molecular assemblers), piqued my interest in 3D printers. The second time, it changed the way I look at learning and shaping individual minds. This year’s reading focused my thoughts on exponential manufacturing and the toll such technology would have in a transition to a post-scarcity economy. Summary: there’s a lot that could go wrong for those who can’t or won’t change. Very relevant to the talk of Universal Basic Income and entitlements.
I picked up Ready Player One at the behest of my friend Josh Bancroft. It’s the story of a world addicted to virtual space because of the problems in the real world. It’s a rags-to-riches story told as a great puzzle game-filled chase in a cyberpunk future. Oh and it’s chock-full of 80s references. What’s not to love? A truly guilty pleasure and a fast read (or watch – the movie releases in 2018).
A thriller about mutants set in the near future. What drew me into this book was how we try to “normalize” any differences as soon as they’re spotted. Perhaps those are subtle enhancements that will prepare an individual for the future? Do you know someone gifted in one thing, to the exclusion of all else? In school, we force feed them standard subjects, give them standardized tests, and persecute when they fail. In this series, the Brilliants, who each have a talent, have two choices – register and be retrained, or escape to a haven where their talents have created amazing advancements. There’s a lot to like here. I found it by chance as an Amazon First book!
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
A moving account of two boys with the same name growing up in the same city under two very different circumstances. One escaped and became a military officer and Rhodes scholar, the other stumbled time after time until he was jailed. The difference between the two was small, until one was given a chance, one that he almost didn’t take. The Other Wes Moore underscored the “lost Einstein problem” wherein talent is left undeveloped because of inequality of opportunity.
Reddit led me to these treasures, harrowing eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust from survivors. These books showed me how slippery the slope towards madness can become. Highly recommended, but be warned there is brutal imagery.
The Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
The story that inspired the movie Arrival. An achingly beautiful story about sacrifice and changing oneself for the future, set as an alien first-contact. I read this before I realized the movie was coming out. Read The Story of Your Life in full.
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
What if there are aliens and we are ants to them. That’s where the story begins. I’m not spoiling any of it. Worth the read if you love science fiction. Read Roadside Picnic in full.