Book recommendations from 2010

I’m always looking for good books. You probably are too. Here are my recommendations from  the books I read in 2010. I’ve grouped them into “highly recommended”, “recommended” and “OK, but not necessarily recommended”.

Highly recommended

The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt
This erudite summary of research on positive psychology picks up where Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow left off 15 years ago. Also includes some practical tips to a happier life: money matters but not as much as relationships, avoid commutes, and meditation is as good and cheaper than Prozac or psychotherapy.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, by Steven Johnson
Debunks the myth that innovation comes from a genius inventor working in isolation. Plus offers tips to become more innovative: spend more time connecting, leave the burbs, hike more – work less, frequent coffee shops, have lots of hobbies, write every intellectual curiosity down, and seek serendipity.

Daemon, by Daniel Suarez
and the sequel
Freedom (TM) by Daniel Suarez
Entertaining sci-fi / detective thriller. Offers the rare combination of being a fun page turner while delivering thought-provoking mind bombs. If you are a techno-optimist who thinks our existing technologies couldn’t be used to control you in a dystopia, read this. If you are a techno-pessimist who thinks we couldn’t use existing technologies to create a better world, read this.
Thank you Vince Monical for the recommendation to read this.

Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Like candy for nerd parents.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Taleb
Taleb explains the financial crisis of 2008/2009 2 years before it happened.  Re-read this now to understand the next few risk meltdowns we are destined to face next. Don’t read this if you want your investment portfolio, job or society to ever feel stable again.
Thanks to Naval Ravikant for the recommendation.

Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh
I usually try to avoid entrepreneur’s books because entrepreneurs typically write as poorly as I do and because their success stories make me feel like I’m not trying hard enough.  But Zappos leader Hsieh breaks the mold on the usual formula: This book is as much about a voyage of personal discovery and pivoting the world as it is about building a business.

Harry Potter Books 1 – 4 :
I’ve been reading the entire Harry Potter series to my 6 year old son, but I’m not sure who is enjoying it more.  A huge upgrade over Goodnight Moon repeats.
Thank you Marc Bodnick for the recommendation to read this to my kids.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink
If you edit on wikis, you already know that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation. Drive explains why this is true and highlights how most business motivation schemes are doomed to go haywire. Even better than Drive is Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”.


The Big Short, by Michael Lewis
Only Michael Lewis can make complex business stories into page turning humor pieces. I can’t wait for him to write about Silicon Valley.
Thank you Bob Brisco and Josh Hannah for the recommendation.

The Rational Optimist, by Matt Ridley
I’m a believer in this book’s “the world is getting better, but it’s not cool to say so” thesis.  But I think this idea has been more thoughtfully articulated in Robert Wright’s Nonzero, published in 2000.
Thank you Claude Leveille for the recommendation here.

Cognitivie Surplus, by Clay Shirky
Clay Shirky has a knack for distilling this era’s Tofflerian future shock into sensible bits. If you are going to pick one book to explain participatory media dynamics read this, but if you’ve already been reading the older works by Clay Shirky, Larry Lessig, and Yochai Benkler, you may not find many new insights in this book.

Foodista Best of Food Blogs: 100 Great Recipes, by Barnaby Dorfman
If I actually cooked anything that wasn’t in a microwave or over a camp stove this would be highly recommended.  Without that experience I can only say that this book does look great!

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
Mostly semi-autobiographical novel about a recovering heroin addict who escapes from a maximum security prison in Australia to India where he alternately becomes a doctor in slum, drug dealer, mafia gangster, and warrior in Afghanistan. A great story, that I wish had been told in less than it’s 944 pages.
Thank you Dan Frank for the recommendation.

The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That is Connecting the World, by David Kirkpatrick
If you don’t already have massive respect for Mark Zuckerberg and hate for the Winkelvi read this twice. For the those who don’t even know what the above means, this will provides a good overview of the Facebook history thus far.

World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories
Not as thoughtful as Chip Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, but this book offers good tips to explain what goes viral and why.
Thank you Tony Mamone for the original recommendation on Made to Stick.

OK but not necessarily recommended:

How to Survive the End of the World as we Know It
I’m a sucker for survivalist fantasy. (See Neil Strauss’s Emergency for a most entertaining read on this theme.) And I wanted to learn how to prepare for the coming zombie apocalypse, robot uprising, or pandemic whatever comes first.  But this book depressed me by saying the only path to survival is to drop out of your current life and spend the next 10 years building a secure bunker in Idaho. Now I know when the zombies come to eat my family’s brains we are sure goners. BTW, if you followed all the directions in this book, could you please invite me into your bunker when the stuff hits the fan?

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun,  by Gretchen Rubin
This is perhaps the best personal growth book for those who aren’t actually willing to risk much personal growth.

The Upside of Irrationality, By Dan Ariely
Interesting, but I felt I had read much of this research before actually picking up this book.  And I require no further proof that I’m irrational.

Rework, By Jason Fried
Just read Jason’s excellent blog instead.

Crush It!,  by Gary Vaynerchuk
This book isn’t terrible, but the fact that books like this have 485 reviews with 4.5 stars on Amazon tests one’s faith in participatory media.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
Yes, this is a sci fi classic.  Sorry that I didn’t love it.  Send flames over email.

Offers some interesting history about viral successes.  As always stories about James Hong from HotOrNot are the most entertaining.

That’s it.

I won’t even list the bad books that I hated or I’m too embarrassed to admit that I read.

Please send me any book recommendations you have for 2011, by commenting here or emailing me.  Thanks!


2 thoughts on “Book recommendations from 2010

  1. Great minds think alike! I’ve read most of your recommendations, and am really looking forward to “A Natural History of Ideas” and “Nurture Shock”.

    • Thanks Chris.

      I’ve followed your occasional book reviews on your blog. I thought your comments about why Daniel Pink’s Drive was a bit of a mind bender for those of us raised on the Emerson Electric case study were particularly insightful. Have you ever published a large book recommendation list I can check out?

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