Sitting here on the bed enjoying the un-naturally warm weather (is anybody else completely creeped out about the weather this year?). I wanted to share with you the most influential books over the past year. It is notable that most of the books I read this year were overviews of human history and the future. I think in times of anxiety we (I?) naturally turn to ‘the experts’ to see exactly what might be coming down the pike. I always have an eye on how these trends could possibly affect my business and the businesses of my clients. As Mark Twain mentioned, history doesn’t repeat – but sometimes it rhymes. Trends, patterns and events echo back to earlier times. This is also cultivated with my current obsession with the History Channel. Mark your Monday and Tuesday nights and save them for Engineering an Empire – a fantastic series with Peter Weller.
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. As soon as I finished this book I knew that I want to read the entire thing again before the end of the year. I’m going to track down the PBS special once I’m done for even more nerdy enjoyment (it’s available on Netflix). The book chronicles the rise of human civilization and exactly why different groups developed modern habits like writing, agriculture or steelsmithing and why other groups remained hunter-gatherers well into the 20th century (and it has nothing to do with ethnic determinism). I’ve already got his second book (Collapse) on the shelf ready to go. If this doesn’t sound like your type of book, I still highly recommend that you peruse it at the bookstore or library – it might just suck you in.
American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury by Kevin Phillips. Phillips was most noted for predicting the rise of a Republican conservative majority in the 1960s and here he details the three most important forces facing American politics and society: petroleum politics, fundamentalist religion and national/household debt. Before you get all Andy you crazy socialist! on me, know that Phillips is still a highly respected conservative writer – he didn’t ‘switch sides’: he’s outraged that the benefits he’d foreseen may be headed towards collapse. Regardless of your political affiliation (non-US folks might enjoy this as well for a blueprint to the current madness) the book neatly outlines the evolution of forces that might just take the economy down. Read part 3 first – it’ll scare ya.
A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink. When I first heard Pink’s presentation on this book I thought it was way too glib. But as I read the book (twice now) I started to really understand the message that he was saying. Essentially: in an age of automation, outsourcing and the commodification of nearly everything, how do you stay competitive. His solution is creativity. This neatly dovetails into Seth Godin’s thesis on ‘story’ that weaves through All Marketers Are Liars. When you are considering a new business ask yourself: Can it be outsourced cheaper? Can a competitor do it faster? Is it in demand in an age of abundance? The second half of the book go fluffy for me but the first half is spot on. Andy’s mindmap and review
Revolutionary Wealth by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. Ah, the Tofflers. Way back when they predicted the concept of ‘futureshock’ where individuals and societies experience technological whiplash as they try to remember dozens of passwords, juggle multiple timezones and try to remember to BCC instead of CC on group emails. In Revolutionary Wealth, they take us through a detailed map of the current economic state of society (again, they start from hunter gatherers, like Diamond) and then move us all the way through the Industrial Revolution, through the current Information Age and Service Economy and into the realm of the knowledge economy. The book outlines the trend of ‘prosumers’ which you might also know as blogging, net roots and citizen journalism – that companies get out of the way of their customers and let them create, distribute and share media. Always optimistic and finally giving me a cogent example of exactly what ‘knowledge work’ is. A bit overlong but worth it. – Andy’s review and mindmap
Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) by Mark Kurlansky (foreword by the Dalai Lama). Is non-violence outmoded in a world of terrorism? Was it outmoded in a Cold War? Was it outmoded in a war against fascism? Was it outmoded in a war against colonialism? Kurlansky explains the troublesome history of the concept of non-violence. Especially troubling is the details on how each major world religion was gradually perverted from being peaceful and non-violent into justifying bloodshed for economic or social control. An especially sobering, potent and cogent primer – read it in short sips – it is from concentrate.
Blogwild! A Guide for Small Busness Blogging by You Know Who. This book changed my life in the past 2 years and I get daily emails from people that have discovered the book and, more importantly, discovered how blogging can change their business and their lives. I remain humbled and grateful to be a small part of the empowering of anybody anywhere to say anything. If you don’t have the book already, I hope you’ll buy a copy or give copies to your clients as holiday gifts or donate a copy to your local library.
And sorry, Thomas Friedman gives me hives.
Other books to check out: The McDonaldization of Society by George Ritzer. Before Fast Food Nation, before Supersize Me, before Mad Cow disease, sociologist George Ritzer dragged Ronald McDonald and Ray Kroc through the annals of Max Weberian sociological theory. I first read this book in college and it remains a guidebook to why nobody cares about business anymore or doing a good job or customer service or quality products. You shall be commidified and you’ll like it!
Small is the New Big by Seth Godin. Godin repurposes tons of blog posts, ebooks and columns into a book that must be browsed. Do NOT read it beginning to end. Put it in the – ahem – throne room of your abode to enjoy like you do Ye Olde Farmer’s Almanac. Fun book. I love love love No BS University.
The Great Formula by Mark Joyner. Skip the second half – it is mostly success stories written by others (kinda like that really long section at the front of Attractor Factor – doesn’t anybody write all of their books anymore?). The first half is great. Warning: it is a short book. Very skimmable but cogent and powerful.
The Experience Economy by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore. Relating to the above books: How do you make your product a service or anexperience? How do you make it memorable or remarkable? Read the first few chapters – skim the rest. Theatre junkies will knod their heads in I-told-ya-so’s. The rest is a bit outdated (from 1999).
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. Comprehensive and extensive guide on building your business. Cogent, relevant and life changing. You need it.
Money, Meaning and Beyond by Andrea J. Lee and Tina Forsyth. Everybody’s favorite businesses genii are back with a book that has good ideas tumbling out of the pages. Loved it. Love them.
Unstuck by Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro. I love the design of this book. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book for solving business problems.
Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World by Kent M. Keith and Spencer Johnson. Chris gave me this book to celebrate my being laid off and going out on my own 2 years ago. He’d heard my rantings at the Coachville Orlando conference near Disney (I was very pent up about the recently released Taguba report). Nice book to reflect on in bits and pieces.
I’m including some political books on my personal blog. I don’t think anybody, regardless of their political leanings or their nationality feel like they are getting a truly accurate coverage of the global picture from the corporate-owned media in any country. Most of my political reading usually includes media advocacy as well. If political talk gives you hives feel free to skip – but here’s the rest of my reading list from 2006.