Best Books So Far for 2017

With mid-sum­mer upon us and read­ing time com­ing up on those won­der­ful sum­mer breaks ahead, it’s time to high­light five of my favorite books so far this year.

  1. Irre­sistible – Adam Alter’s new book is about how addic­tive dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy is – and, shock­ing­ly, is intend­ed to be so. His research and find­ings will sur­prise you, includ­ing how tech titans like Steve Jobs (and oth­ers) imposed strict lim­its on their kids with the use of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy like Apple com­put­ers. The Wash­ing­ton Post had a won­der­ful arti­cle recent­ly about a school prin­ci­pal offer­ing her stu­dents $100 to not look at their dig­i­tal devices dur­ing Tues­days over this sum­mer. I won­der how many will tru­ly resist? Just think how few years have passed since we didn’t have some sort of smart­phones or dig­i­tal device to be tempt­ed by!
  2. Weapons of Math Destruc­tion — Con­tin­u­ing on the dig­i­tal theme, Cathy O’Neil makes two very impor­tant points about dig­i­tal algo­rithms and cod­ing. First, algo­rithms are noth­ing more than opin­ions embed­ded in code. And, sec­ond, there is no such thing as an objec­tive algo­rithm, because, at the very least, the per­son build­ing the algo­rithm defines suc­cess. Most peo­ple assume there is some objec­tiv­i­ty in code writ­ing – and, implic­it­ly assume that tech­nol­o­gy will deliv­er a cor­rect answer. From her research and work at MIT, Har­vard, Berke­ley and Colum­bia, she helps us under­stand the tremen­dous sub­jec­tiv­i­ty in dig­i­tal algo­rithms and code writ­ing. In today’s world, I too often feel we for­get to ques­tion assump­tions, espe­cial­ly about tech­nol­o­gy, and to what ends it is tak­ing us.
  3. Thank You for Being Late — Tom Fried­man has writ­ten anoth­er superb, encom­pass­ing book help­ing us to make sense of today’s seem­ing­ly accel­er­at­ing, out-of-con­trol world. Using his three forces dri­ving this accel­er­a­tion: cli­mate change, mar­kets and tech­nol­o­gy (and, lead­ing to what he calls the ‘pow­er of one’ for an indi­vid­ual), Fried­man deft­ly takes us on a jour­ney, part-per­son­al, as he explores each of these forces and how they inter­act. For me, the only weak link was the end as he tries to help read­ers feel bet­ter – or it’s “all going to be OK”. Yet his style, breadth, log­ic and won­der­ful sto­ries made this book one of my favorites.
  4. Big Mag­ic – Eliz­a­beth Gilbert, the well-known author of the mem­oir, “Eat, Love and Pray,” pub­lished a real sur­prise recent­ly: an inspir­ing, self-help book about cre­ativ­i­ty. It is not about cre­ativ­i­ty per se, but real­ly about liv­ing more cre­ative­ly. In our world that is so focused on fear, I found her book refresh­ing and insight­ful since she tells won­der­ful­ly insight­ful sto­ries, shares her neu­roses and bring to life small and large inspi­ra­tions in ways every­one can under­stand. In so many ways, she tries to coax us to find those things in life that give us joy – and start to do more of these in our dai­ly lives. Since I spend a lot of time work­ing with lead­ers and teams on lead­er­ship, this book gave me some new insights and ideas for my own life and to share with others.
  5. Astro­physics for Those in a Hur­ry – Neil deGrasse Tyson’s short book is sim­ply bril­liant. From black holes to quan­tum mechan­ics, he suc­cinct­ly explains com­plex top­ics with wit and lucid­i­ty. From a busi­ness point of view, I have watched quan­tum physics seep into many strat­e­gy con­ver­sa­tions, espe­cial­ly how we affect each oth­er (e.g. observ­er and observed) and per­ceived sense of time, both for a com­pa­ny and for an indus­try. Now, with such a short book, you’ll have no excuse not to under­stand more about the universe.

In case you missed this one, Flash Boys – I admit that I’m a bit slow to final­ly read this one, but Michael Lewis’ book (from 2014 – not his most recent one, “The Undo­ing Project”) about high speed trad­ing was so intrigu­ing. In my work help­ing clients think about even the small­est ounce of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, the pow­er of a few mil­lisec­onds was a new twist. For most com­pa­nies, such pow­er­ful ideas too often remain ideas, since the dif­fi­cul­ty of actu­al­ly imple­ment­ing them is so chal­leng­ing. Today’s world of more accel­er­at­ed tech­nol­o­gy is cre­at­ing new com­pet­i­tive advan­tages for some – and, big cliffs for those unpre­pared. With Lewis’ amaz­ing skill in sto­ry­telling, this book was a real joy to read.

And, for those of you look­ing for good fic­tion, I just fin­ished Lian Hearn’s lat­est quar­tet of books called the “The Tale of Shikanoko.” She has drawn upon an amaz­ing vari­ety of Japan­ese his­tor­i­cal leg­ends to tell a beau­ti­ful, evoca­tive and well writ­ten sto­ry. Enjoy these sum­mer reads!