Experience

My 2019 Reading List

January 1, 2020

Business & Technical

Last year I committed to reading two books per month. In 2019, I chose a slower pace- at least one book per month, but titles that I could study in depth. Some of these books have fundamentally changed my approach to career, teaching, and entrepreneurship. Read on to learn how.

WTF?: What the Future and Why It’s Up to Us – Tim O’Reilly

A thought-provoking read about Tom O’Reilly’s history building the modern internet ecosystem as well as a framework for data-economy apps that are changing our lives. The big question answered in this book is “What happens when you replace X with data?” Replace vehicles with data and you get Uber and Lyft. Replace housing with data and you get AirBnB, Vacasa, and so on. If you want to understand how data economy transforms entire industries, read this book.

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell – Eric Schmidt

I first learned about Coach Bill Campbell in reading Apple Computer’s history. Coming from a humble background, Coach Bill became mentor and advisor to a whole generation of Silicon Valley’s leaders. Written by Eric Schmidt (famously, of Google), the book is presented as a leadership playbook, but reads like a memoir and eulogy to the late Coach. Lots of great nuggets in here, including some wisdom about building strong teams, that I have shared with my own students: “You may know the answer and you may be right… but when you just blurt it out, you have robbed the team of the chance to come together. Getting to the right answer is important, but having the whole team get there is just as important.” Pick up this book if value proven tips from a master team builder.

Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career – Sylvia-Ann Hewlett

This book was hard for me to recommend. Originally given to me by my manager as a perspective on how to find a mentor, this book takes a stance on mentoring that I find controversial, even distasteful. The problem is that it’s true. They key insight is that mentoring is a relationship based on altruism, where the mentor conveys knowledge to the mentee freely. A sponsoring relationship is a transactional mentoring relationship, where advice and advancement is given by the sponsor in exchange for effort by the sponsored. This key difference and the stories contained in this book have changed the way I approach mentoring. Read this book if you would like to understand how to get your own sponsor or if you’d like to help sponsor the career of your mentees. Fantastic read that is now permanently a part of my Innovator’s Bookshelf.

High Output Management – Andy Grove

Earlier this year, I switched jobs at Intel. I picked up this book to understand Intel’s management culture. Written by Andy Grove, one of Intel’s founders, and respected management leader, I expected to read was extensive theory behind managing a big company. What I got was a set of solid tips for middle managers working in manufacturing and an incredible history of my employer for the last 20 years. Though this is not part of any official manager’s reading list, this book provides insight into Intel’s management that I haven’t received anywhere else. Well worth a read by any Intel employee or anyone interested in Intel’s history.

Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence – Ajay Agrawal

Have you ever struggled to explain AI to someone non-technical? Prediction Machines makes it dead simple by asking one question: “What would you do if prediction was cheap, fast, and ubiquitous?” The rest of the book discusses how cheap prediction using AI algorithms will impact business workflows and augment workers. Highly recommended to business leaders, decision makers, product managers who wants to understand how AI will transform business processes in a practical sense.

Loonshots – Safi Bahcall

Business books are rarely entertaining and even more rarely useful. Loonshots is both, in great quantities! This is innovation systems book traces the history of big-thinking innovations and draws an incredible framework for turning big thinking innovations (loonshots) into mainstream businesses. The key insight is that innovation units and business units inside an organization need a well-defined boundary, across which innovations and people transfer. The author draws an analogy to the phase change of water to ice that makes all the sense in the world. Fantastic read and wildly thought provoking, it’s given me a new vocabulary to explain how to organize innovation teams. This book instantly earned a spot on my Innovator’s Bookshelf.

Slideology: The Art and Genius of Creating Great Presentations – Nancy Duarte

A nice collection of tips for making visual presentations, but honestly a little dated. I picked this up on a whim and found it easy to read and understand. It has a place in my teaching toolkit to give students who are new to slide presentations some ideas on layout, font control, color, and storytelling.

Science Fiction

The Accidental Time Machine – Joe Haldeman

I picked up this book while taking my kids to the library and couldn’t put it down. Twenty hours later I had completely inhaled this book and the heady concepts presented within. The story revolves around a McGuffin – a time machine that will move itself and anything touching it into the future. The catch? Every press will send it exponentially further into the future. The creator quickly finds himself in trouble and escapes into humanity’s distant future. Time travel, Alternate history, Singularity all in one book. I loved every page. Definitely recommended for anyone who likes thoughtful science fiction with some action.

The Forever War – Joe Haldeman

A funny thing happened when I was reading The Accidental Time Machine – friends who saw I was reading it asked me what I thought about The Forever War, another of Joe Haldeman’s seminal works. I picked that book up immediately and couldn’t put it down. The version I read included some controversial content, but frankly I couldn’t tell. The book is a study of what relativistic travel would do to war and human society. Told through the eyes of a seasoned soldier from the 20th century who finds himself hundreds of years in the future through long-term travel at light speed, the book questions human nature and the rightness of the societies we construct for ourselves. I’m not spoiling anything- you should savor it yourself.

Mecha Samurai Empire – Peter Tieryas

Gundam meets “The Man in the High Castle.” In an alternate United States (of Japan), the Axis won World War 2 and conquered the US. Now there’s a cold war happening between the west-coast Japanese and East-coast Nazis, with battles flaring up between teams of mechanized warriors. Our hero Mac wants to become a mecha pilot at the Berkeley Military Academy, but can’t get out of his own way. A fantastic coming of age story woven with rich world building, this is a true page turner. Recommended for anyone who likes alternate history science fiction or mecha.

United States of Japan – Peter Tieryas

The predecessor to Mecha Samurai Empire (MSE), written in a much different tone. Set in an alternate United States conquered by the Axis powers after WW2, this is a story of intrigue and richly detailed “what-if” scenarios. I’d recommend reading MSE first, then delving into this one for backstory. I am really beginning to like this author. The third book in this series comes out in Q1 of 2020!

The Children’s Story – James Clavell

Though this is a short story collection, I have a booklet version of just the Children’s Story. It’s a stark reminder of how easy it is to “Otherize” people with whom you disagree and how easily that turns into frightening action and orthodoxy. Short read, structured as a day in a fascist classroom. Very recommended.

Non-Fiction

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

Modern medicine has been made possible due to a line of immortal cancer cells. Sounds like science fiction? More like science fact. For the past 70 years, a line of self-reproducing cancer cells called HeLa has been used for drug testing, cancer treatment, and even space exploration. Trillions of these cells exist in laboratories all around the world. They came from Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose tumor created these cells and ultimately killed her. You can read about the cells online, but please read this book to learn about the person and her family. Painstakingly researched by the author, this is a quick and deeply moving read about the human cost of medical advancement.

The South Asian Health Solution – Ronesh Sinha

This year I hit the magic age where desi heritage catches up to me. South asians are particularly susceptible to the terrible trifecta of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. I have heard so many stories from friends whose loved ones were healthy one week and gone the next. So many programs recommend lifestyle change to prevent sudden onset of heart disease, but few of them explain what is happening physiologically in an understandable way. This book excels in both areas. Recommended to me by a close friend, this is an easy read with lots of actionable tips about food selection and timing. I’ve begun incorporating this into my diet. Very recommended for people of Indian descent.

The Obesity Code – Dr. Jason Fung

Before you read this book, see Dr. Fung’s talk about intermittent fasting. The Obesity Code presents an analysis showing how insulin resistance is actually behind weight gain. They key insight is that the body has a nuanced system for regulating it’s weight target, driven by hormones, but primarily insulin. To reduce that target, he presents a framework for weight reduction through low-carb diet and intermittent fasting. This book was highly recommended to me by a friend who had hit a wall with fasting and keto, but has managed behavioral changed using the practices in this book. I’ll be implementing this in my own life in 2020.

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth – Buckminster Fuller

What if we built a spaceship the size of a planet? What would the systems look like? How would we keep it running? This fascinating collection of essays written by Buckminster Fuller (buckyballs, fullerenes) is about how to think big and remove limits from one’s own thinking. That just happens in thinking about environmental problems as if the Earth were humanity’s own spaceship. Made for people with wide and varied interests, this book has a place on my Innovator’s Bookshelf for pure inspiration.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks  – Annie Spence

Another of those books I discovered randomly by taking my kids to the library, Dear Fahrenheit is a collection of poems and prose written by the author, a librarian, to her favorite works. Funny, poignant, and personal, this book put a smile on my face and made me feel pangs of regret. Recommended for the unexpected feels and such a different take on books I loved.

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