Books

Whenever I read a book, I add it to the list below, give it a rating, and write up a brief synopsis describing the book and the insights it brought me. Is there a book you think I'll like? Let me know and maybe it will show up here soon.

Inspired by the Derek Sivers booklist.

Overlap

Author: Sean McCabe
Read: Nov 2017
Rating: 4/5

This book is called Overlap, because it talks about shifting your career by “overlapping” what you currently do with what you want to do. It spends a lot of time giving guidance around starting an entrepreneurial project, based on the experience of the author (who has done it a number of times is his life). The author shares a lot of experiences which gives him credibility. Not everything applied to me, but many parts rung true and I enjoyed reading it.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Author: Robert Cialdini
Read: Oct 2017
Rating: 3/5

Have you ever bought something only to later wonder why, when you didn’t even need the thing? We are always being persuaded to do illogical things, and this book digs into the specific techniques that “Compliance Practitioners” (think Marketers, Sales People, Activists, etc.) use in order to influence our thinking and judgement. It’s chock full of great examples (like tupperware parties, suicide cults, hazings, and tip jars), and important principles (like reciprocation, social proof, authority, and scarcity). Despite the usefulness of the book, it took me a while to work through it. My mind was on other topics, so I think the timing just wasn’t quite right. If you’re interested in the topic, though, I do recommend it.

Getting Real

Author: Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
Read: Nov 2016
Rating: 5/5

This is a short book by the folks at 37 Signals on smart principles for building a web application. It talks about product design (“build less”), product roadmaps (“plan less”), programming (“write less code”), copywriting (“write fewer words”), staffing (“hire less”), and more. As you can see, the major theme is to stay lean and do less unnecessary work. I ate it up. It’s an older book, but the concepts are ageless. You can buy a physical copy, or download the e-book for free online.

Startup Playbook

Author: Sam Altman
Read: Nov 2016
Rating: 4/5

A short, free, online book, full of advice about starting a company. The focus leans towards Silicon-valley-esque venture backed technology companies, but there’s lots of wisdom that applies to all sorts of companies. It reads like a document that has been ruthlessly edited until there is no superficial filler content remaining; Every sentence is meaningful and intentional. A great read if you are in the startup world, or interested in it.

If I Knew Then

Author: Artie Buerk
Read: Oct 2016
Rating: 3/5

This book is subtitled: “Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963”. It seemed like a clever idea for a book, and I always like hearing the perspectives of those who are near the end of their careers and lives. The main takeaway for me was: nothing will bring you more satisfaction than strong relationships with family and friends. Also, career success can be a worthy pursuit, as long as it is kept in perspective. The book is printed, but you can also read the whole thing online (which is what I did).

The Dip

Author: Seth Godin
Read: Aug 2016
Rating: 5/5

This book discusses when to quit, and when to keep pushing. It’s short, memorable, and wise. So often we hear the quotes about NEVER, EVER, QUIT, or we hear the contrarian pop-pieces about “actually, winners quit often.” This book straddles the divide and discusses the whole topic with the attention and subtlety it deserves. Simply fantastic.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Author: Scott Adams
Read: Aug 2016
Rating: 4/5

This is a biography / self-help book by Scott Adams, the artist behind the Dilbert comic strip. In it, he talks a lot about failure, and setting up systems for learning from it. His way of thinking through problems with optimisim, pragmatism, and questioning made a lot of sense to me. Not everything in the book is gold, but overall I was impressed with it.

Seveneves

Author: Neal Stephenson
Read: Jun 2016
Rating: 4/5

I’ve enjoyed a lot of the science fiction I’ve read recently, so when Bill Gates recommended this book, I picked it up. I was excited because it seemed similar to the Martian – a terrible disaster occurs in space and humans must use a lot of ingenuity (and technology that could exist today) to preserve human life. I was not disappointed either. I loved the storyline, the detailed technical challenges, and seeing what humanity might look like when projected into the future from an odd set of initial conditions. The only downside was that the book was so long. There were a number of parts that dragged on and subplots that I could have done without. That being said, I’d find myself recommending it to others with little reservation.

Deep Work

Author: Cal Newport
Read: Jun 2016
Rating: 4/5

This book is all about one idea: that we live in a world of distraction, and thus, if you cultivate the ability to focus and do deep work, you will be able to outperform your peers. That concept rings true to me and was communicated clearly throughout the book. I went through the book rather slowly because it was a lot to digest and wasn’t the most entertaining of topics, but I still loved it. This book is like vegetables for your brain.

Content Strategy for Mobile

Author: Karen McGrane
Read: Apr 2016
Rating: 3/5

I read this whole book on a series of flights to/from a web conference. It was a good book, but I wasn’t the intended audience. If you manage a content heavy website and would like to know how to think about your content with all the constraints that come with mobile, then yeah, definitely check it out.

Javascript: The Good Parts

Author: Douglas Crockford
Read: Nov 2015
Rating: 2/5

Mixed feelings about the book. The way it approached Javascript was interesting, thinking of it as a flawed language with a subset of features that is powerful and useful, if the pitfalls are avoided. Given the popularity of the book, I’m sure that concept was groundbreaking at the time it came out. But as a learning tool, the book was really rough. The section on regular expressions falls short, and the encyclopedic list of array methods belonged in a different book (or on MDN). His flow diagrams (comprising most of the diagrams the whole book) are only useful if you want to write some sort of parser or linter (like he did…). I wish this book was a 20 page ebook explaining the main idea then simply listing out the good parts & bad parts (with the reasoning behind each one). There are a lot better books out there for learning Javascript these days.

The Martian

Author: Andy Weir
Read: Oct 2015
Rating: 5/5

A mission to the surface of Mars is interrupted when a dust storm forces the astronauts to evacuate back to Earth, leaving behind Mark Watney a crewmate lost in the storm and presumed dead. When Mark comes to, he finds himself alone in a battle for survival on a planet that’s hostile to human life. The book had everything. A likable character, a gripping story, and no cheap tricks. Every detail was approached scientifically, forcing Mark to hack the available technology and calculate his way to a plausible rescue. The book was impossible to put down.

Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline
Read: Oct 2015
Rating: 4/5

Somehow, this book managed to mashup a futuristic world centered around immersive virtual reality with an entourage of 1980s gaming nostalgia. The storytelling was good, and I found myself drawn into it, despite the fact that I knew I wasn’t the optimal reader. If you were about 10 years older than me and in the gamer/D&D scene, then you’d find this book impossible to put down.

Little Bets

Author: Peter Sims
Read: Sep 2015
Rating: 3/5

This book discusses how small iterative “bets” can lead to discovery and innovation, citing examples across several industries. The concepts were solid and the stories were good, but there’s nothing revolutionary the book or concept. It’s basically another name for agile product development and other lean methodologies that have been the standard practice in Silicon Valley for the last 10+ years. If you are in an industry that doesn’t already work like this, then there’s a lot to learn here. If not, then I’d recommend something else.

What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Author: Randall Munroe
Read: Sep 2015
Rating: 5/5

This book is a collection of blog posts, each one using math, physics, and chemistry to answer highly absurd questions. For example: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light? (Hint: It’s not pretty). It was entertaining, and even educational. I wish my high school physics teacher taught like this. As a bonus, most of the posts are available to read online at what-if.xkcd.com.

A Guide to the Good Life

Author: William B. Irvine
Read: Jun 2015
Rating: 4/5

This book is about ancient Stoicism, and the benefits of applying its principles to modern life. It’s concise and well-written, but most importantly, it’s a pragmatic argument for adopting a life philosophy instead of running on evolutionary autopilot (which invariably results in a lifetime of insatiable appetites). If that sounds interesting to you, then check it out.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Author: Cory Doctorow
Read: Apr 2015
Rating: 2/5

I think that somewhere out there, there is a science fiction book about a non-dystopian post-scarcity society that I would find absolutely phenomenal. This wasn’t it. Oh, the book had interesting parts–I liked the discussion of this future society, and how their advancements had impacted the fundamental elements of life, like love, death, money, entertainment, and social status. Ultimately, though, this discussion took backstage to a plot-line about a feud between competing coworkers at Disneyland, which was difficult for me to take seriously.

The Mythical Man Month

Author: Frederick P. Brooks
Read: Mar 2015
Rating: 2/5

The best way to describe this book is “one man’s reflections on how difficult it is to accurately predict how long it will take to build a very large software project.” He uses a lot of examples from building operating systems in the 70 and 80s which made it difficult for me to relate to, especially when he gets technical. Still, it was valuable to get a sense of how difficult these kinds of problems are, and see some approaches to handling it.

Designing for Emotion

Author: Aarron Walter
Read: Feb 2015
Rating: 4/5

As a Mailchimp user, I know firsthand how good Aarron Walter’s work was, so it was with high expectations that I read this book. It did not disappoint. We all know about companies or that just feel fresh, cool, and interesting, but we often don’t realize how much intentional design work goes into every customer-company interface (including the website) in order to build that impression. Walter explains how to build these impressions, and uncovers the principles of psychology and human behavior that we must understand in order to do so. Great book.

Who Moved My Cheese?

Author: Spencer Johnson
Read: Dec 2014
Rating: 3/5

I read this whole book over my breakfast one morning before work. It uses a story about mice in a maze to teach some lessons about the human tendency to resist change. Along the way it offers some principles to follow in your own changing situation. I enjoyed it. It was short, simple, and memorable.

Don't Make Me Think

Author: Steve Krug
Read: Oct 2014
Rating: 4/5

If you weren’t aware, this is THE authoritative book on web usability, and has been for over 15 years. You’d expected it to feel rather dated, but I was pleasantly surprised by how applicable everything still is. In some ways, I felt like I had already read it, because so many of his ideas have influenced the practice of good web design over the years. Things like sticking to design conventions, eliminating unnecessary words, and proper visual hierarchy were welcome reminders to me. In short, this is still a good (and short!) foundational book on web usability.

Professional Javascript for Web Developers

Author: Nicholas Zakas
Read: Oct 2014
Rating: 4/5

Weighing in at 900+ pages, this tome is an incredibly comprehensive guide to the javascript language and how it works in the web browser. I read it through while taking notes and making flashcards (using this technique) and found the process to be quite fruitful, even though it took months to get all the way through it. While some parts of the book show it’s age (I learned more than I needed to know about frames), most of it is still applicable. I’m confident that it will be a great reference for years to come.

So Good They Can't Ignore You

Author: Cal Newport
Read: Oct 2014
Rating: 5/5

This book seeks to answer the question, “How do you get into a career that you love?” To do this, Cal builds a novel framework for thinking about about work, one where instead of pursuing your passion, you focus on building skills. In doing so, you collect “career capital” that you can exchange for progressively more control and mission-driven work over the years. I’ve got to say, this approach just clicked with me, tying together a lot of loose concepts in my head. Fantastic book for people starting their careers. I wish I could give it 6 stars!

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Author: Don Tapscott & Anthony Williams
Read: Sep 2014
Rating: 1/5

This book is about the power of online collaboration and its impact on business and society. The premise of this book is solid but I was cringing all the way through it. It was dry, repetitive, outdated, and full of buzzwordy jargon. To quote another reviewer, it was “full of consultantese”. To be fair, I (as a web developer) am probably not in the intended target audience, nor was this book designed to be relevant 10 years after it was published. Regardless, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend it.

The Bootstrappers Bible

Author: Seth Godin
Read: Jul 2014
Rating: 3/5

This is a free Seth Godin ebook (download here) on the topic of creating a business. It was a short read, with a smattering of advise on various business fundamentals. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “bible” but it definitely had some gems. For example: Do not ignore the money. You have nothing if you don’t survive. No money, no business. Another one: Don’t try to innovate on the business model (there are plenty of other places to innovate, so you should stick with a proven model).

Rework

Author: Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
Read: Jul 2014
Rating: 5/5

This book provides an no-nonsense approach to running a modern business… one that rightfully questions the industry’s antiquated traditions (like resumes, estimates, and endless meetings). This new approach describes a world where financing is plan Z, press releases are spam, and employees are trusted, given autonomy, and told to go home at 5pm. The principles both make sense (I found myself nodding with nearly every page) and they work (Their company has annual profits in the millions). It’s like the anti-Dilbert. I don’t think I could praise this book enough.

 

The Power of Habit

Author: Charles Duhigg
Read: Jun 2014
Rating: 3/5

This book looks at the science and psychology of habits and how they shape our lives. The idea that you can control your habits, essentially defining what your own cognitive autopilot looks like, is pretty powerful. The stories were entertaining, although they were a bit disjointed and it tooks some acrobatics to connect them back to the main message of the book. Many concepts, like keystone habits and the cue-routine-reward loop, made for great takeaways.

Code Simplicity

Author: Max Kanat-Alexander
Read: May 2014
Rating: 5/5

This book provides a framework of guiding principles for software development and does so with a high concentration of wisdom per sentence. Instead of getting caught up in implementation details or specific languages, it looks at the big picture: Why are we making software in the first place? What makes us successful? How do we make good decisions? It cuts to the core of the issues, distilling out concrete principles and exposing developer fallacies along the way; I was very pleased with the result. If you’re a web developer, this is a great no-nonsense read.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (and it's all small stuff)

Author: Richard Carlson
Read: Apr 2014
Rating: 3/5

This little book is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of techniques on how to stress less and live better. Each technique provides small ways to choose patience, tolerance, empathy, and compassion, over the stress-inducing alternatives. Peace and balance may not be celebrated as American virtues (like, perhaps, independence and hard-work), but maybe that’s why books like this one are so important.

The War of Art

Author: Steven Pressfield
Read: Mar 2014
Rating: 3/5

Steven Pressfield writes about the challenge of producing creative work, including the foes we must overcome and the allies we must recruit. Perhaps it is most famous for it’s identification of the resistance… that tendency in all of us to postpone, procrastinate and find every reason to prevent ourselves from finishing the work. I felt like some parts were gold, and other parts weren’t. A good read nonetheless.

A Walk in the Woods

Author: Bill Bryson
Read: Jan 2014
Rating: 3/5

This is a fun little story about 2 guys and their (mis)adventures hiking the appalacian trail. Along the way, the book folds in the story of the trail itself, which illustrates the tension between the nature and civilization throughout its history. The story brings a mix of insight and deprecating humor, making it a fun read.

The Little Prince (English Translation)

Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Read: Dec 2013
Rating: 4/5

This is a short, fictional story of a boy who leaves his home on a small asteroid and goes exploring, visiting other “planets” (including Earth), and meeting various people. What makes the story interesting is how he learns about each creature he meets and assesses their priorities and lifestyle with a child-like perspective. In this way, The Little Prince brings fresh insight to topics like love, loss, friendship, vanity, selfishness, and fickle human pursuits. It was a nice short read, with a lot of richness and symbolism… definitely worth your time.

Decisive

Author: Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Read: Oct 2013
Rating: 2/5

This book provides a framework for decision making, helping its readers to avoid the fallacies us humans are prone to make. The stories embedded in the narrative weren’t bad but the book was ultimately forgettable. In fact, a few months after finishing it, I forgot that I had read it, and I subsequently checked it out from the library a second time! Maybe it would have been more memorable if I had read it while grappling with a big decision. Whatever the reason, the book failed to have an impact on me.

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

Author: Thomas Friedman
Read: Sep 2013
Rating: 5/5

This is a book about an incredible shift that quietly took place at the turn of the century when web technology enabled the world to collaborate on an unprecedented scale. This led to the uprooting of many established business models, which gave way to a wave of efficiency and globalization. I found it very relevant, even 10 years after it was written. It’s a big book, and it covers every thing from open source, to supply chains, to Al Qaeda, but it went by quickly because I really enjoyed it.

Brain Rules

Author: John Medina
Read: Aug 2013
Rating: 4/5

Brain Rules is a book about the human brain. In it, the author proposes suggestions on how we can better learn, function, and thrive, based on research takeaways from the field of neuroscience. He effectively walks a delicate line between between losing the reader by getting too technical about the science, and not building up enough support for his claims. Major takeaways: It’s really important to get enough sleep, repetition is critical in memory, and most teaching and learning isn’t effective (though there is lots you can do to improve that).

Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard

Author: Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Read: Jun 2013
Rating: 5/5

Change is hard, so what do you do if you want to instigate a change? That’s the topic of Switch. Chip and Dan Heath use the analogy of a rider sitting a top an elephant walking down a path, saying that in order to change course you need to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. In this analogy, the rider represents our logical selves, the elephant, our emotional and instinctive selves, and the path our environment. The authors provide the reader with tools for assisting all three parties in making the switch, no matter what kind of change you are trying to make. I could talk about it for hours, so needless to say, I thought it was fantastic.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Read: Jun 2013
Rating: 3/5

This book is about snap judgments. It discusses how, in many cases, the conclusions made from snap judgments can be more accurate than those made through a long and thoughtful process. Like Gladwell’s other books that I’ve read, it was full of interesting stories from an entire spectrum of human experience. Also like his other books, the stories weren’t cohesive, came to all sorts of different conclusions, and didn’t leave me with any grand takeaways. The result was an interesting book on an interesting topic that failed to inspire me or expand my vision.

Kanban

Author: David J. Anderson
Read: Jun 2013
Rating: 3/5

So, this isn’t pop-psychology, or a business book, and it certainly isn’t on the NY Times bestseller list, but if you’re into software project management methodologies and you haven’t heard of Kanban, this book is for you. It explains how the Kanban system used by manufacturing organizations to control the flow of physical parts can be translated to the software industry. The big take-away is that by using a “pull” system and keeping work-in-progress limits, you never have people overloaded with work, and you never have idle developers. It’s hard to make this kind of material riveting, but he did a good job of making it understandable.

Getting Things Done

Author: David Allen
Read: May 2013
Rating: 4/5

This book outlines a framework for managing everything you have to do in your life, touting benefits like increased productivity, and reduced stress. It’s promotes getting lists of poorly defined tasks out of your head, breaking them down into actionable items, and placing them in a trusted system that you review regularly. The book gets into the detailed steps of how to set up such a system in your life, which I really liked. Some people swear by the methodology so I decided to give it a try. Already, I can see improvement–the part about managing inboxes is already paying dividends (my gmail inbox is empty at the end of just about every day now). We’ll see how it continues to work going forward.

Designing for the Web

Author: Mark Boulton
Read: May 2013
Rating: 4/5

This book does a good of teaching the principles behind thoughtful web design. Its focus on the fundamentals allows it to remain relevant despite the speed and which the industry moves. It covers a little bit of everything: color theory, typography, white space, grids, and more. The author has classical design training, and perhaps that contributed to the slight tone of superiority, but all in all I thought it was pretty good.

Never Eat Alone

Author: Keith Ferrazzi
Read: Mar 2013
Rating: 3/5

This book discusses techniques for networking in the business world. I expected it to be filled with sweeping generalizations and business platitudes, and while there was a bit of that, I found it to be quite tactical. It discusses things like staying in touch, connecting people to each other, and being a source for good content. Nearly all the material is brought from personal experiences of the author, which made it read almost like a autobiography.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?

Author: Seth Godin
Read: Dec 2012
Rating: 3/5

This book is all about how to make yourself into an indispensable employee, no matter what line of work you are in. I gotta tell you, I was so excited to read this book that perhaps I expected too much. Don’t get me wrong, the book was a good read and it hammered home some solid principles (like the importance of being an artist, spending emotional energy, and overcoming the lizard brain) but it was hard to distill those principles down into concrete steps. Seth even mentions how abstract it is and then punts the responsibility, saying that only you can figure out how to apply the principles in your situation. The result was a good book that missed a good opportunity.

Stop Stealing Dreams

Author: Seth Godin
Read: Aug 2012
Rating: 4/5

In this book, Seth Godin looks at how the current education system has failed to keep up with the transformational changes in our world. In the modern economy, any piece of information can be accessed in two clicks. Outsourcing is an easy and effective way of getting work done. Large, loosely organized networks of people are doing better work for free than armies of highly paid employees of structured businesses. With this in mind, Seth writes a series of insights and suggestions on how our education should be adapted to better prepare the youth of America for a very different job market than the one their grandparents went into.

The Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins
Read: Aug 2012
Rating: 4/5

I don’t often do fiction but I listened to this Audiobook because I had to drive 13 hours straight in a car without dying of boredom or falling asleep. I was hoping I would be able to get lost in the story and the time would fly by and I was right. It was a good story in a great setting with a lot of action and cliffhangers. While I quickly got tired of the awkward romance that seemed to drag on and on, other parts of the storyline made up for the loss.

Good To Great

Author: Jim Collins
Read: Jul 2012
Rating: 4/5

This is an excellent, data-driven book on what small things separate the great companies (consistent, high-growth, market leaders) from their mediocre competitors. Many of the concepts – getting the right people on the bus, pushing the flywheel, level 5 leaders, etc. – easily translate towards success in any team effort, whether it be in business or not. A lot of the winning formulas fly in the face of transitional management behavior, but at the same time, they simply make sense. With the conclusions clearly backed by evidence and concepts that are easy to grasp, the result is a solid and enjoyable book.

Predictably Irrational

Author: Dan Ariely
Read: Apr 2012
Rating: 2/5

This book discusses the irrational things that humans do everyday. While the premise sounds great, the book failed to deliver. I loved the concept, and select parts of the book, (like how we are often lured by the concept of ‘free’, to make poor choices) but my expectations were high and the book failed to “WOW” me. The tie to behavioral economics was weak and the author used an appeal to shock value that was rather unpleasent. To the author’s credit, I felt his assumptions (and conclusions) were interesting and backed by adequate research.

Made to Stick

Author: Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Read: Nov 2011
Rating: 5/5

Everybody has something to say but saying it does nothing if your audience doesn’t remember it. Made to Stick revolves around what makes an idea “sticky,” or unforgettable. In this book, the authors spend time looking at the the stickiest messages: urban legends, radio jingles, unforgettable advertisements and more. Their question is, what separates the glut of forgettable messages with those that you can’t get out of your head? Through their research, they find a set of principles that can make your message stick with the audience, whether you are a marketer, educator, manager, or parent. This book is stellar and using its principles to make my own messages sticky has been invaluable in my life.

The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything

Author: Guy Kawasaki
Read: Nov 2011
Rating: 3/5

This is a fun little book about separating out the things start-ups should focus on from the things they shouldn’t bother with. With a premise like that, it’s easy to see why this book would be invaluable to entrepreneurs with limited time. The book was good, with my only regret being that it zeroed in on business startups, leaving no room to extrapolate out principles for “anyone starting anything” (as the book’s subtitle claimed to do).

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Author: Dan Pink
Read: Sep 2011
Rating: 5/5

Drive is an excellent book about how we can motivate ourselves and others. Through a series of examples and studies, Pink finds three high-level factors that are exceptionally motivational: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Is money a motivator? Yes, but not in the way you might think. Much like Malcolm Gladwell’s books, this book uses interesting stories to explain key concepts. It also has a great workbook at the end which shows businessmen, teachers, and parents how to apply the principles in their lives. Watch this for a sample of the content.

The Jackrabbit Factor

Author: Leslie Householder
Read: Aug 2011
Rating: 3/5

This is a short, casual book that questions the assumptions of the majority of people pursuing a career. It uses a fictional story to make an argument for going against the conventional money-earning process and building your own career as an entrepreneur. I thought it was decent. You can download it legally for free here (though I’d recommend using a disposible email address if you don’t want spam).

Pathfinder

Author: Nicholas Lore
Read: Aug 2011
Rating: 4/5

This is a phenomenal book on how to choose a career. It is extremely detailed, giving you every step you need to take to find your passion, discover how to get paid to do it, qualify yourself for it, and then land a job. That being said, I am certain that this book is not for everyone. It’s written as a workbook that explains clear principles and then loads you up with tons of exercises and homework. If you aren’t willing to do the work on the side, don’t even bother. If you are (and you ought to be, as you will likely be working for the rest of your life) then there is no better book for reaching that goal.

Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science

Author: Charles Wheelan
Read: Jun 2011
Rating: 5/5

When I moved across the country, I kept my most valuable possessions and sold everything else that wouldn’t fit in my car. This is one of the few books I kept. Naked Economics is an attempt to teach a refresher on the basic principles of economics in the context of relevant examples and current events. It had an ambitious goal: to explain economics simply, without using a single diagram. It succeeded and I am a huge fan. If you are planning on living, working, and voting in the modern economy (which all of you are), then you owe it to yourself to read this book. Twice.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Author: Patrick Lencioni
Read: May 2011
Rating: 4/5

This book is a basically a parable – a fictional story that teaches a message about the many ways that dysfunctional teams fail to succeed. The excellent thing about this book is that it hits the nail directly on the head. Everybody has been on a dysfunctional team before, so as you read, you clearly recognize the issues as they come up. The book adds value because as an observer, the reader can step outside of the situation and see how the issues can be corrected. It’s the best book on teamwork I’ve ever read.

The Tipping Point

Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Read: Apr 2011
Rating: 4/5

This is by far my favorite Malcolm Gladwell book. In it, he looks at what causes something to, for lack of a better phrase, “go viral.” As a subtle distinction, he isn’t just looking at the content… he’s looking at the networks. He finds that the ability for an idea to “tip” and spread has a lot to do with the people who pass this idea around. For a fledgling idea, certain type of people – connectors, mavens, and salesmen – can have a huge influence on whether it takes off or languishes in irrelevance.

A Whack on the Side of the Head

Author: Roger Oech
Read: Mar 2011
Rating: 4/5

This book is pure silliness, printed and bound. The author discusses how our brains get stuck in a rut, and how the only way to get out is to break free of the norms of thought. The book teaches the principle by explaining the concept, then sharing puzzles, ideas, exercises, jokes, and the most fantastic, shamelessly nonsensical illustrations you’ve ever seen. It really is a fun read. For a sneak preview of the content, check out this post I wrote a while back.

Man's Search for Meaning

Author: Viktor E. Frankl
Read: Feb 2011
Rating: 4/5

This book is the true story of Victor Frankel, a doctor, psychologist, and holocaust survivor. The story itself is good. Like other such books, it teaches the reader about conditions in concentration camps and about the will to survive. However, this book rises above the others because of the lessons he distills from the story on human nature. They are influenced by his experience, his education, his studies, and his attitude. The result is a eye-opening book that won’t leave you feeling down when it’s over. I think you’ll like it.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Author: Dale Carnegie
Read: Feb 2011
Rating: 5/5

This book is the ultimate classic and if you read it, you’ll instantly know why. The advice makes a whole lot of sense. There are no shortcuts to building strong relationships. It boils down to having a good attitude, seeing the good in people, smiling, remembering others, learning names, actually listening, and in general, looking outside yourself. The tactical way that these concepts are taught makes this book THE go to reference for just being a better person. Highly recommended.

Outliers: The Story of Success

Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Read: Jan 2011
Rating: 3/5

In this book, Malcolm Gladwell asks the question: what makes people successful? He then investigates the lives and backgrounds of winners in many fields like academics, sports, business, and entertainment. While his final conclusion was somewhat underwhelming (lots of things make people successful) I credit Gladwell with bringing forward some unexpected findings and turning them into a cohesive narrative. Definitely an entertaining and engaging read.

The E-myth Revisited

Author: Michael E. Gerber
Read: Nov 2010
Rating: 3/5

A short and famous book on entrepreneurship. The value in this book is that it effectively cuts to the heart of some subtle challenges in entrepreneurship: the myth of entrepreneurial grandeur, balancing of roles in a business, optimizing your workflows, and measuring what matters. While there are some gold nuggets of wisdom in the book, I found the narrative hopelessly cheesy, with more than a couple awkward moments. Still worth a read but not the “bible” of entrepreneurship I was expecting.

No More Mondays

Author: Dan Miller
Read: Aug 2010
Rating: 4/5

If you hate Mondays, then you probably aren’t doing what you ought to be doing with your life. And you can fix that. This is the message of “No More Mondays.” The book spends a lot of time encouraging unsatisfied readers to take control of their lives and do the work that they want to do. The message is one of empowerment: don’t let fear of change, or doing something different prevent you from choosing a better course for your life. It was an enjoyable read.

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature

Author: Janine Benyus
Read: Jul 2010
Rating: 4/5

This book takes a deep dive into the world of engineers who use nature as their inspiration for groundbreaking design. Even today, most manmade designs and materials are inferior to things that commonly occur in nature: spiders silk, chloroplasts, beetles wings, lotus leaves, and many others. The ability to replicate these natural designs could solve the world’s energy problems, build optical computers, grow organs, create materials that heal themselves or surfaces that never get dirty, and launch satellites at a fraction of the current cost.  The author goes straight to the scientists taking on these challenges, resulting in an substantial book that is both fascinating and rich in detail.

The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need

Author: Andrew Tobias
Read: May 2010
Rating: 3/5

This book gives a nice grounded approach to investing. Coming from an author who’s seen it all, the book is refreshing in that it rejects the get-rich-quick approach to investing and focuses on the simple aspects that matter over the long term. It’s a good book for learning a bit about investing while keeping a conservative perspective about the whole thing. The author also has a sense of humor, which is always nice.

The Total Money Makeover

Author: Dave Ramsey
Read: Jan 2010
Rating: 4/5

Dave Ramsey is the king of no-nonsense tough-love financial advice and in this book he zeros in on people who are in debt. The book charts a definitive course on getting out of debt… if you are man enough to take on the challenge. If this were a book on losing weight, it would be about eating less and exercising more and it would actually work. This ought to be required reading for anybody who takes out a loan of any sort.

The Millionaire Next Door

Author: William D. Danko, Thomas J. Stanley
Read: Nov 2009
Rating: 5/5

One of my favorite books of all time. It looks at the wealthy in America and makes some startling conclusions. Most people who look wealthy, actually aren’t (a trend they playfully call “big hat, no cattle”). Unlike these people with big houses, nice cars, expensive tastes, and no money (yes, you heard me right), the truly wealthy in America live rather inconspicuous lives. The book discusses how these people live, where they live, what they buy, what they don’t buy, how they spend their time, and how they invest.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Author: Edwin A. Abbott
Read: Oct 2009
Rating: 5/5

If you are the kind of person who finds math interesting and likes the experience of having your mind expanded and warped (I suspect there aren’t too many of us out there), then you’ll love this book. It’s a short, playful, story of a world where the inhabitants are all shapes living on a two dimensional plane. Throughout the story, the 3D reader begins to effectively understand the perspective of a 2D shape. The experience of hopping through worlds of various dimensions actually teaches mathmatic principles leading up to extrapolating out concepts of higher dimensional planes. It’s incredible that such concepts can be taught in such a short and simple book. Brilliant. By the way, the book is not a romance in the modern sense and it is in the public domain. Read it online here or download it for free here.

The Go-getter

Author: Peter Bernard Kyne
Read: Oct 2008
Rating: 4/5

This short book (in the public domain – download it for free) is a very readable parable about an underdog who demonstrates what it’s like to be determined to succeed. It’s an age-old story of how nothing is more powerful than a motivated person who is driven to keep their commitment, no matter what. If you want to be invaluable, read this book, and train yourself to be like that person. Period.