So, I was going to post this uhm, last year, but then I just kind of forgot about it, and then I discovered that I had literally lost my booklist from 2010 somewhere in the cloud. I couldn't find it in Evernote or Google Docs, I had no idea where I'd saved it. I guess that's what you get for adopting too many services? Anyways, A few months ago I discovered it hidden in the depths of my old Livejournal account (no, I have no idea why I chose to save it there), and decided that I would post both the 2010 and 2011 booklists together at the end of the year. So. I'm posting them both, starting with 2010.
Also, link to Booklist 2009.
Connected by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis 4/5
This is one of the first books I read in 2010, and one of my favorites. It's been influential in my thinking, realizing how norms and ideals spread through networks. I'm not yet sure how to apply it, but it's certainly been fascinating to think about the kinds of things that get spread through networks, and how the shapes of networks really effects what gets spread through them. When I first read about Fowler and Christakis' work in a Wired article, it literally blew my mind. Reading the book is just an expansion on that basic premise, and really dives into how and why this happens, and what the effects are in different areas of our lives. Since this book came out, I've seen a lot more research and articles on the way networks effect our interaction, and now with the data from web 2.0, I think we'll see a lot more of this type of research and knowledge being generated. A lot of this kind of thinking and learning has spurred my thinking about my own startup, as well.
The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille 2/5
I have to admit I did not get very far through this book - much of what the guy was saying, frankly, sounded like crap. I didn't really believe what he was saying, and while the first chapter was interesting just to understand his approach, the book got old, real quickly. The most interesting thing were the parallels between his research and the type of research I've been taught to do for design.
Lost Ate my Life by Jon Lachonis and Amy Johnston 4/5
I read this book as part of my research into online communities (for my startup, as well), to try and learn from others' experiences. While I'm not a Lost fan, I still found the book fascinating - how these authors told the story of their Fandom, and it really brought it home for me how "small" the world of Lost fans feels for them. I don't mean this in a bad way, I mean it in the way that they felt they had a voice, and felt like they really owned and were part of the Lost fandom.
This book was definitely a geeky pleasure for me. I read it and just enjoyed hearing about all these crazy technologies that were being developed, which was awesome. I was particularly excited to read about the autonomous car program, because for most of my five years at Stanford, I walked past those autonomous cars sitting outside the Mechanical Engineering Research Laboratory everyday (some of these cars are now being worked on at Google) (also, it makes the grad students "driving" the cars really uncomfortable when you drive right along side the cars for a few miles on El Camino). But it was also interesting to read about how DARPA had essentially put together this pathway for innovation, and the different ways they encouraged and supported innovation. I walked away with a surprisingly positive view of DARPA, which I did not expect.
How Designers Think by Bryan Lawson 3/5
I enjoyed a lot of the points made in this book, however, there were a few problems with it. I found the book, at certain times, to be extremely thought-provoking about my own process, bringing to mind things that I may not have noticed if I hadn't read about it. Still, much of it felt architecture focused, and not entirely applicable to other disciplines. Additionally, Lawson seems overly academic, especially in that he does not want to propose a theory that could be seen as "wrong," meaning that what he proposes often falls on the side of boring. The book, as well, is dense, and definitely written by an academic. Many times the points in the book are beleaguered, made too many times, and supported by one too many pieces of evidence. At times, I wish it was just a tad snappier in places.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip & Dan Heath 5/5
The Heath brothers really hit their stride in this book. It takes the same sort of clever insights and breaking down of patterns they see into pithy little catch phrases. But it's not just that that make the book good, it's that those pithy little phrases and the way the book is laid out makes us sure that we'll remember them. I found each of the stories memorable and vivid, illustrating the points well.
A part that I found so interesting about this book personally was how much a lot of this "pattern" for creating change mimicked the methods of human-centered design. Much of the change started when someone went and actually looked at what was really going on in a situation, as opposed to just making assumptions.
Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior by Indi Young 4/5
I never really enjoy using only one process to understand a situation, but rather I believe that using a bunch of different techniques to try to gain insight from a variety of perspectives. This book focuses on one very specific way to build a "mental model," and goes into extreme detail into how to do this. I read this book, and I know for sure that I can walk off and do this, but I also wish that rather than going into mind numbing depth in certain areas ("here's how to build a spread sheet that does this") and instead went into more depth of the "why" of the methods used. I would definitely use this book to think of a new way to process and address interviews, but I also think that this model takes into account mainly behavior, and can't really address the needs of products in breakout categories that address more latent or unexpressed needs of consumers.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck 4/5
I read this book with some familiarity of Dweck's research, but the depth of topics covered is really amazing in this book. However, at times, I found the attempts at folksy writing a bit frustrating. The book jumps between a description of research to more "inspirational" passages: "Does this remind you of yourself?" The most interesting thing I learned? Mindsets aren't consistent - you can have a "fixed mindset" in one area, and a "growth mindset" in another. Finding and being cognizant of a mindset in one area can help you control your mindset. I think that alone makes the book worthwhile.
Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer 2/5
I just didn't find myself very compelled by this book. Unfortunately, the material covered in this book is covered by a lot of books these days, and the way this book does so is not very compelling. The writing itself was bland, and the book didn't necessarily delve into these things in a way that made you understand it better than many of the much better books covering the material.
The Mind of the Market by Michael Shermer 4/5
This book is sometimes odd because it seems to sit in the middle of three different disciplines - economics, psychology, and evolution - but that actually turns out to be a good thing, because it explains how the different disciplines tie together. A lot of the research is covered in other books, but the way he ties it together, explaining how different psychological principles probably emerged from our evolution (evolutionary psychology), but also how that effects our economic systems today - and not just models, but the real actions (irrational) people take. Shermer advances an interesting model and view of the world that's worth reading about.
Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers 4/5
This gets a high rating because it's a pretty classic book, and so far, I have yet to see the ideas covered in other books. Adoption theory is a surprisingly useful tool for understanding your customers and adoption cycles, and based on my personal experiences, I believe it is an accurate reflection of real-world phenomena - not completely, but at least in part. However, that said, I believe the book is long-winded, and can be frustrating because it seems to be targeted towards different audiences: a textbook for students of adoption theory, a message to diffusion researchers, and a primer for businesses, nonprofits and individuals interested in adoption theory. As I was reading as an interested individual, I found many parts of the book not relevant, constantly clicking "next page" on my Kindle. This applied particularly to the entire chapter dedicated to weaknesses in diffusion research. If I were to rewrite this for designers and product people, I might consider what all these insights mean for our designing and how one would apply them to the way we market and design products.
Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation by Sally Hogshead 4/5
Sure, this was clearly one of those books written by an agency member in order to promote their work, and as such carries the traditional light reading and assertion that this is the end-all and be-all of marketing methods, but it's still pretty interesting. While much of the material towards the beginning was a bit obvious or expected, the different "triggers" covered were the most unique part of the book, and worth reading to just think about the different patterns that you could use to capture attention. I would use these as good jumping off points to brainstorm new ideas if I was having trouble coming up with ideas.
Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge 5/5
This book might be colossal, but if you take the time to read it, you'll be doubly rewarded. The book is essentially a series of "case studies" on design, but what makes it truly spectacular is that they're actually an odd mix. While some chapters are more theoretical, and impart ideas about interaction design, others tell stories about how things came to be designed the way they were. Finally, others represent research and ideas that are more academic (or "cutting edge," depending on your point of view).
More than anything, the book is a joy to read - I found myself spending so much time reading I had to give it away during the school semester. Definitely the best book I've read this year.
The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life by Len Fisher 3/5
I find the idea of "___|__ in your everyday life" a little stale, especially when it seems somewhat forced. I think this book would have done itself a favor by focusing mostly on the different concepts presented without trying to force ideas on how this would apply to users lives.
What was interesting was the first four chapters in this book were engaging to me, and perhaps it was because I was relatively unfamiliar with the material. However, after about chapter 6, I found the book getting progressively more boring. I also felt that in these later chapters, Fisher would have done better to incorporate a broader range of thinking into his books - although he does draw from some psychologists, a lot of this thinking tends to be one dimensional and a bit rote. In particular, I had qualms with the chapter on networks, both in the way it was written and some of the assertions made on adoption theory and diffusion of innovations.
How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like by Paul Bloom 4/5
Lets be honest. This book touches on such eternally-fascinating topics as sex, cannibalism, and art forgeries. This makes it fascinating to read, and always entertaining. My main criticism of this book was that I wish Bloom had been an anthropologist, not a psychologist. While the experiments are interesting to listen to, I think the book would have been even better with a little bit of a cultural survey, in exchange for some experiments that only vaguely prove Bloom's point.
The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely 5/5
Ariely's experiments are legendary, and with good reason. They are great experiments, and Ariely focuses on interesting and potentially important questions. The only thing I was frustrated by was that at some points I thought that a little bit of explanation on the experiment's relationship to other work in psychology might have been useful. This was especially true for exploring sports psychology and Flow. I also haven't read Ariely's first book, so I cannot comment on the similarity of the books' content.
The writing is also great, Ariely's easy style makes the book pleasant to read, and I particularly enjoy the way he weaves in personal stories as a way to explain both his inspiration and learnings from these experiments.
The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick 3/5
Andy Weissman recommended this one to me. Kirkpatrick isn't an impartial observer - he's really a Zuckerberg fanboy. Of course, he would have to be to get the full story and access he'd need to write the book, and so the book does contain a fascinating account of Facebook's history. It also contains a fascinating, if at times worrisome, description of Zuckerberg's thinking and philosophy behind Facebook. The parts that got the most frustrating were Kirkpatrick's attempts at examining why Facebook is so popular, and it's effect on the world. Here, it feels like you're reading the work of someone who spent a lot of time researching "Facebook," but not the industry and world around Facebook. I think the analysis was a bit useless, as the only other technology and internet companies Facebook is compared to is Myspace, Friendster and Twitter.
Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World by Tyler Cowen 4/5
This book was interesting, but I was pretty disappointed when about halfway through the book I realized the book had trailed off from the topics that had been most interesting to me - how we begin to organize and understand information in the context of our relatively new access to information. I expected a little more depth and detail into what "mental ordering" might actually look like, and different examples of ordinary people undertaking this activity. Instead, this book focuses on autism and neurodiversity, and Cowen definitely covered the topic with flair, discussing how autistics processing of information leads to different outcomes. I guess, in a way, I walked away having learned more, just because the topic was completely unexpected (to be honest, someone recommended the book on Twitter, and I bought it on my Kindle without properly examining it, so I went in completely blind).
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier 4/5
I'd recommend that every high schooler sits down and reads this book sometime during their high school career. Yes, it does cover many of the things we were supposed to learn in our high school classes, but the thing that really makes it fun is the way the book ties it all together - seeing these things explained in a continuous fashion is eye opening, even for those of us who mostly "got it" before. Part of what makes it great is the departure from the staid descriptions of textbooks, and exposing these basic ideas to metaphors and descriptions that help readers really understand what's happening - I compare Angier's description of the way electrons move through a wire (electricity) to that of my high school physics teacher, and there is definitely a clear difference - and one that helps things make more sense conceptually, as well. That said, Angier's writing can at times be overly florid, dense and difficult to follow. I was very slow in reading this book, because I found myself re-reading and re-reading passages just to fully understand what was said. But that said, science is fun and the book is a grand exercise in the appreciation of science, its mindsets and the beautiful order (and sometimes disorder) of it. I found the last two chapters, one on geology and one on astronomy, particularly fun, because I'd never really studied these properly in school - and Angier went on not to just explain the principles, but how and why they know what they know, which was particularly fascinating.
Design Research: Methods and Perspectives edited by Brenda Laurel 2/5
I have to say, on the whole I was actually pretty disappointed in this book. It came off frustrating, I think, partly because there was no cohesive voice. Usually, one would say this is indicative of the design research community as a whole, but I found myself having a hard time switching from topic to topic so fast - the essays were pretty short, and as such, didn't contain a whole lot of information and/or depth to them. The most disappointing section, to me, was the first on "People," because while this is one of the topics (ethnography and the study of people) that I'm most interested in, the essays only seemed to wade into the area no further than knee-deep. That said, there were a few interesting gems in the "Process" section, especially Sean Donahue and Eric Zimmerman's essays. In reality, I'd pass the book up for a book that more consistently and deeply approaches the topic of design research.
Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky 5/5
I loved Shirky's first book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, and given Shirky's reputation, I had high expectations for the second. I was occasionally a little bit disappointed: I wanted something that delved a little deeper into the machinations and psychology of these communal groups, but I instead felt like much of this book focused on "Look, we can now communicate online," and offered a repository of Shirky's stories of online communities. Still, this book was still fabulous. Between the lines, and reading into the information Shirky shares, there's a wealth of ideas and thoughts to consider. I wish I'd had it on Kindle, just so I could mark the book up and return to the many interesting quotes and observations later on. Shirky is definitely a well-deserving thought leader in this area, and I would highly recommend that you read this if you have any interest whatsoever in online communities.
Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi 4/5
Barabasi is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and researchers. What's most interesting about this book is the fact that it reads like fiction. It tells the story, not only of bursts and new ideas around human behavior, but also how those new theories came into being. Writing papers never sounded so captivating - I found myself paging through the book just to see what came next. Unfortunately, I think all the story telling is hiding the fact that there's not yet that much there. The most interesting part of the book comes towards the end, when Barabasi writes on the ethics of conducting this type of research, what it means for our future and privacy. I'm not sure what the side-track into historic Hungary really added to the book, but it was still fascinating and interesting. While Barabasi's first book, Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means, seemed a bit dry but packed-to-the-seems with information, this was captivating but I walked away wishing I'd learned a little bit more.
Overachievement: The New Science of Working Less to Accomplish More by John Eliot 5/5
When I was in high school and ski racing, I used to refer to this book jokingly as my "bible." I didn't feel a lot of the other books on sports psychology really got it right, and didn't make me preform better. When I started reading this book, I realized it was a continuation of a lot of the ideas that my coach and I had been discussing. A lot of the newer sports psychology I read about seems to align with many of the ideas in this book. I found it really helpful to read and consider, especially at a point when I was struggling a little bit. I also found it particularly useful for thinking about pitching and performing in front of an audience - a relatively new thing for me, but probably something I'm going to be stuck doing for a while. I'm curious to see, how people not using competitive sports to learn and evaluate the mental strategies presented in the book, whether they can really understand what the book is saying.
I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works by Nick Bilton 4/5
I did enjoy this book. It was comfortable, covering a bunch of concepts I'd been thinking about. However, it wasn't necessarily earth-shattering for me. I felt like there was nothing absolutely new here, but rather an overview for members of the publishing industry, or elder people who weren't spending a ton of time online and maybe weren't aware of how people were getting news online these days.
The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships by Clifford Nass and Corina Yen 5/5
I knew Cliff Nass was doing some cool stuff in his research lab at Stanford, but I didn't really realize how cool until I read this book. His methods for testing different hypotheses by using computer agents is absolutely fascinating, and has resulted in an entirely new, unique set of experiments. I really enjoyed, in particular, his chapter on Teams and Team Building, because it seemed to get me thinking about new stuff surrounding online communities.
Futuretainment: Yesterday the World Changed, Now It's Your Turn by Mike Walsh 2/5
I think part of the only reason I got through this book was because the short chapters were a bit too easy to read (so it was easy to pick up in short periods of time), and they did seem to talk about things I was vaguely interested in... But the book was difficult to swallow because I don't think the author had a very good grasp on how change happens and what kinds of path dependencies can really effect what happens in the future. To just say, this is technologically possible is quite easy, but to say, this is also politically, culturally, or economically possible is difficult.
Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, Today's Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves by Adam Penenberg 2/5
I would have given this book 3/5 if it weren't for one thing: it's clear that the author doesn't actually understand that much about internet companies, which turns out to not be that much of an impediment until he begins to mention how Google is in a tough spot because - well, basically, the internet is a scary place. Yes, the internet is a scary place, and that makes it true that searching the larger internet does have some risks, but there are some benefits to that, you know. Anyways, what was good about this book was the coverage of various startups growth and creation stories, I particularly enjoyed the stories about Ning and Tribe, since those are particularly relevant to my own startup.
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days by Jessica Livingston 3/5
A good collection of stories about founders, and some great opportunities for building a library of startups problems and solutions to compare and pattern match against. At the same time, there were more than a few things that left me vaguely frustrated. I won't get too far into it, because my frustration with these stories is a longer conversation. Besides the particular type of founder interviewed, I wish the book had been just a bit more captivating to read.
Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Other Don't by Paul Sullivan 2/5
I was excited to read another book about Sports Psychology, but found myself progressively disappointed as the book went on. The book boils down to the advice, "Just, practice a lot in high pressure situations." Of course, that doesn't really get at the issue: it just seems to be a way of avoiding the fact that the author couldn't crack the code, so to speak. And even for the principles of successful performers that he DID notice, these were too vague and obvious to even create any actionable advice from.