Book recommendations from 2012 and 2011

Every year I try to share a list of the book I most enjoyed over the previous year.  Since I failed to do this last year, this list contains my favorite books from 2011 and 2012.  

Highly Recommended

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Delightful account of a reporter who becomes so enchanted with the super human memory feats of the US memory championship he is covering that he starts memory training. One year later he wins the US memory championship and spells out exactly how he did it.  It should come as no surprise that any book that recommends great how-to info would come highly recommended from me.  The major methodology is covered in this wikiHow http://www.wikiHow.com/Build-a-Memory-Palace

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Wars, by Max Brooks

The most fun book I’m recommending here. I’ve always been a sucker for apocalyptic fiction and this is one of the best pieces out there. Author Max Brooks, son of famed humorist Mel Brooks, brings intelligence, humanity and a dose of realism to this otherwise ludicrous topic. This book is being turned into a movie staring Brad Pitt.  

Great by Choice, by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen

Jim Collin’s research methodology is questionable, but his insights are always illuminating. His past books explained how companies are built to last, or rise from mediocrity to greatness. Great by Choice explains how companies thrive in turbulent times. Some findings: Don’t blame poor performance on market conditions, bad luck, Google Panda, or whatever your excuse is here.  Great companies manufacture good luck by being obsessively disciplined, paranoid (especially in prosperous times), and   using empirical research to reach unique decisions. To the chagrin of the Silicon Valley ethos, Collins found that break through innovators are usually not the companies that remain great over long stretches. While innovation and dramatic change excites, it isn’t as dependable as steadily improving a functioning flywheel.

Ender’s Gamer, by Orson Scott Card

A sci-fi classic and a great read!

A Few Lessons for Investors and Managers from Warren Buffett, by Warren Buffett and Peter Bevelin

If like me, you have never found the time to read all Warren Buffett’s shareholders letters of the last 35 years than this is the book for you.  It excerpts passages from Buffet’s letters and talks and packs them into a wisdom packed 81 pages.  Eye opening stuff for those new to Buffett-ism. 

The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan

Online education is one of the more under appreciated forces that is going to dramatically improve our world.  Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy shares his perspectives on how education can and should change. 

Unbroken: A World War II Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Heartbreaking and inspiring story of human courage and hope.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Issacson

and

The Steve Jobs Way, by Jay Elliot

I hate to recommend Steve Jobs books purely since too many entrepreneurs are currently trying to imitate the great and uncopyable Steve Jobs.  Just stop now.  The Issacson book is by far the best of these two biographies, but the Elliot book lends the firsthand impressions of an exec from the early Mac team days.  

Recommended

What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly

The only technology book that will simultaneously give you more respect for technophiles, the Amish, and the unabomber.  Without dipping  into the usual futurist traps, Kelly eloquently argues that technology has desires and needs that are clearly visible through history and future trends. And technology will obtain it’s goals, whether we humans want it to or not.  Stimulating and insightful.  If you liked this book, you will also like The Singluarity is Near or Where Good Ideas Come From. 

No Easy Day by Kevin Maurer, Mark Owen

The gripping account of the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden as told by a Navy Seal on the raid.  In addition to the exciting blow by blow account of the raid, the book details the life of a Navy Seal.  In some ways the camaraderie, competitive athletic feats, and sheer determination of the Navy Seals reminds me of many of the hard core rock climbers I’ve known (but without all that killing stuff.)

Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, et all

Insightful look into the 5 phases of leadership and organizations.  Most everyone you know is stuck around level 2 or 3.  We could all do better. 

When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein

The lessons from the 1998 implosion of uber hedge fund Long Term Capital Market are even starker given the 2008/9 financial crisis. How we as a society have failed to adequately address these risks in our financial system continues to baffle me. 

The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Edison Invented the Modern World  by Randall Stross

Like Steve Jobs, Edison was more than just a great innovator, he was a fantastic self promoter. He played the media so masterfully that the general public widely believed he solely invented several key innovations he had only a peripheral role in. Similar to other great entrepreneurs he blocked out anything that distracted him from work.  For example he once left early from a party his wife was throwing in his honor and went to work at his lab. He became so enraptured in an experiment that he ended up working through the night. He didn’t stop there though.  He continued to eat and sleep in  the office for a week straight all in that same new suit he wore to the party.  He must have had a pretty understanding wife!

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Your brain is buggy and can be easily tricked.  You probably knew that already, but the science behind it is fascinating.  

In the Plex, by Steven Levy

The best book written about how Google ticks. 

1776 by David McCullough

George Washington was a president, Navy Seal, Martha Stewart style home decorator all rolled into one.  He was simply too awesome to ever get past the primaries today. 

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Warning this is chick lit.  But if you manly men can get past the first 1/3 of the book that contains incessant tears about broken relationships, the back part the book contains a wonderful travelogue and story of personal growth. 

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

As a lover of “how to” writing, I can’t believe it took me this long to read the most famous how-to book of all time.  While Carnegie’s tips have been widely re-hashed over ensuing decades, there is a reason this book is still a classic. 

The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Institute

A unique look at conflict resolution that applies at home, at work, or in between nations. 

Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal

How games make the world a better place. 

The Blame Game, By Ben Dattner

This under-appreciated book highlights many of the problems in the modern workplace and offers some solutions.  Fortunately, none of these problems exist at the perfectly managed wikiHow.  🙂 Right? 🙂

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, by Alice Schroeder

Honorable Mention

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh, Steve Jamison

Did you know that in addition to developing the West Coast Offense, and winning 4 Superbowls, that Bill Walsh was a business and organizational genius?  He had techniques and a standard of excellence for everything in an organization. Yes, everything.  He would even write flow charts for how receptionists were supposed to answer the phone when they called the 49ers front office.  Reading this book gave me a new appreciation for the effort, planning, and obsession with details one needs to win not just on Sunday but everyday. 

Avogadro Corp, by William Hertling

Set in the near future, the engineers of Avogadro Corp (which is clearly meant to be Google Inc) accidentally create a strong AI.  Recommended for fans of techno sci fan.  

Margin of Safety: Risk-Averse Value Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor, by Seth Klarman

Part of my continuing education on value investing. This book is out of print and not worth the $1000 you will need to pay eBay for a copy.  Thank you Claude for a copy!

The Breakthrough Company by Keith McFarland

A Jim Collins style long term study of several medium size companies that grow phenomenally over decades. 

Boomerang, by Michael Lewis

The great story teller Michael Lewis deconstructs the financial crises of recent years. 

Makers by Chris Anderson

I’m looking forward to the day I can print out my afternoon snack, my holiday gifts, and my lost house key from my desktop 3D printer.  Till then reading Makers by Chris Anderson gave me a good look at the current state of 3D printing and DIY robotics.  

Kill Decision, by Daniel Saurez

No author better weaves current technology and political near realities into thrilling science fiction.  In Kill Decision some unwitting Stanford CS grad students program software that unseen corporate interests use to launch an army of autonomous drones. It’s clearly a book written for geeks.  But who knows? Maybe autonomous drones will become Hollywood’s new zombies. If you like techno thrillers, I’d more strongly recommend Suarez’s other books Daemon and Freedom. 

The Progress Principle by Steve Kramer

People at work are much happier if they are continually making progress.  Sadly most organizations needlessly stand in the way of individual progress.  There are lots of little things a boss or coworker can do to keep people’s internal momentum positive. 

Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin

Sad commentary on the American food system by a lifelong farmer. 

How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins

One of the paradoxes of business is that successful businesses are incredibly hard to start but surprisingly difficult to kill. This book shows how that with years of hubris or over extension even the best businesses can fall. Every Jim Collins book is good, but if you are only going to read one this year, I’d go with “Choose to be Great”. 

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Quiet by Susan Cain

Why introverts and misunderstood and under appreciated.  

Game Frame, by Aaron Dingan 

What if everything were gamified?  Well it would mostly be annoying, unless the games were designed well.  Aaron Dingan explores were gamification  works, and when it falls flat.   

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, by Benjamin Franklin

Home Evolutis , by Steve Gullans

This quick read makes the case that technological acceleration and it’s bi-products of gene hacking and augmented human capacity, will give rise to a new human species. Homo sapien sapiens have had a good run as the only dominant species for a long time, but that will change. This book is funny, provocative, and ultimately hard to refute. 

Multipliers, by Greg McKeown and Liz Wiseman

Click, by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

Cyber War: by Richard A. Clark 

Scary and eye opening. There is a shadow war going on, that most people don’t know about.  And if cyber war ever turns hot the results could kill tens of millions.  Author Richard Clark served in the White House under Clinton and George W Bush. He authored a illuminating report on America’s failures leading up to Sept 11th.  Sadly he sees many of the same failures in US Cyber War defense.  He claims the US has the best offense for cyber war, but has almost no defensive abilities.  As a result, it might be possible for a cyber attack to crash airplanes, turn off electricity and sewer systems, erase records and cripple the financial system and even  possibly causing nuclear meltdowns. Clark claims the US government is largely ignoring this real and growing threat. 

Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?, edited by John Brockman

So, is the internet changing the way you think? Yes. But you already knew that, right? This book asks prominent computer scientists, poets, artists, politicians, philosophers, entrepreneurs and psychologists this same question and elicits some interesting replies.  

Give Smart: Philanthropy that Gets Results, by Thomas J. Tierney 

This book wasn’t targeted at me, and unless you are one of my billionaire friends or work for a charitable foundation, it’s probably not targeted at you either. Yet I still learned some good lessons that will guide my far more modest charitable giving. Tierney takes the rigorous analytical approach he honed running the prestigious consulting firm Bain and applies them to maximizing the impact of philanthropy. Some great case studies of success and failure here too. Did you know that the idea to paint white lines on the sides of highways came from a philanthropists in the 50s and ended up reducing highway fatalities by over 30%?   

The Net Delusion   by Evgeny Morozov 

The Internet will not magically solve all our societal problems.  It will not free oppressed peoples. But people like me really want to believe it will.  Read this to realize the one hope you had is a false one.  That said, I’d like to believe the events of Arab Spring, which took place after this book was published has slightly tarnished Morozov’s hypothesis.

Out of Our Minds, by Ken Robinson

On how schools are squeezing the creativity out of our minds. 

Life, by Keith Richards

The opening story of Keith Richards, madly swallowing and flushing drugs down the toilet before getting arrested in the deep south, is one of the funnier things I read in 2011.  That said, not all the stories of sex, drugs and rock and roll held me as captivated in this long read.  

ScreamFree Parenting, by Hal Runkel

Fascinate, by Sally Hogshead

The Most Important Thing, by Howard Marks

A collection of mostly contrarian investment advice from a successful hedge fund manager.

Recommended Kids Books

 Here are the books my kids most enjoyed having me read to them:

Harry Potter 5, 6 and 7 – So far no books have equally captivated father and  son as much as the Harry Potter series.   

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

Rats of NIMH 

Percy Jackson: The Lightening Thief 

The Hobbit

Read not bad but not necessarily recommended

Wired to Care, By Dev Patnaik

21 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Reis and Jack Trout

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries and Laura Ries

Zag by Marty Neumeier

The Little Book that Still Beats the Market by Joel Greenblatt

 The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, by Tony Schwartz and Jean Gomes

Most work environments suck. You already knew that right? 

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