Category: What Tom's Reading

Reading List 2012

I am trying my damnedest to get a tenuous grip on the extraordinary-revolutionary-earthflipping change that surrounds us and which is accelerating madly. Below is an idiosyncratic reading list I've pulled together. In addition to nonfiction, there are a handful of well-researched ultra-sane sci-fi novels by the likes of David Wilson and Neal Stephenson. Also you'll find a couple of my favorites on the financial crisis; and a Cold War collection that is here because it is the ultimate study of leadership with consequences amidst uncertainty and ambiguity. A few others touch on decision-making and the typically faulty interpretation of cause and effect—and the power of being wrong. (And, of course, there's a duo on the eclipse of men!)


Herewith, 55 books with my "14 Musts" in boldface:

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend BiologyRay Kurzweil

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed—Ray Kurzweil

Redesigning Humans: Choosing Our Genes, Changing Our Future—Gregory Stock

Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell—Dennis Bray

Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life—Nick Lane

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century—P.W. Singer

America the Vulnerable: Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and WarfareJoel Brenner

Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It—Richard Clarke & Robert Knake

Worm: The First Digital World War—Mark Bowden

Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop—From Personal Computers to Personal FabricationNeil Gershenfeld

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution—Chris Anderson

The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production—Peter Marsh

The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs—Michael Belfiore

Makers—Cory Doctorow

AmpedDaniel Wilson

Robopocalypse—Daniel Wilson

Freedom—Daniel Suarez

Kill Decision—Daniel Suarez

REAMDE—Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon—Neal Stephenson

Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution Is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the EconomyErik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee

The Coming Jobs War—Jim Clifton

Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age—Steven Johnson

Open Services Innovation: Rethinking Your Business to Grow and Compete in a New Era—Henry Chesbrough

The Power of Co-Creation: Build It With Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and ProfitsVenkat Ramaswamy & Francis Gouillart

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World—Tony Wagner

Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us SmarterSteven Johnson

Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning—James Paul Gee & Elisabeth Hayes

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World—Jane McGonigal

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter—Tom Bissell

The Social Conquest of EarthE.O. Wilson

Games Primates Play: An Undercover Investigation of the Evolution and Economics of Human Relationships—Dario Maestripieri

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined—Steven Pinker

The End of Men and the Rise of WomenHanna Rosin

The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family—Liza Mundy

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don't—Nate Silver

Ubiquity: The Science of History ... Or Why the World Is Simpler Than We ThinkMark Buchanan

The Ambiguities of Experience—James March

The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the PublicLynn Stout

Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present—Jeff Madrick

Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk—Satyajit Das

Enough. True Measures of Money, Business, and LifeJohn Bogle

Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the HumanitiesMartha Nussbaum

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder—Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting BetterDoug Lemov, Erica Woolway & Katie Yezzi

The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills—Daniel Coyle

Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong—Alina Tugend

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error—Kathryn Schulz

Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas—Natasha Schüll

Redesigning Leadership (Design, Technology, Business, Life)—John Maeda

The Plentitude: Creativity, Innovation, and Making Stuff—Rich Gold

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate—Robert Caro

Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth—Frederick Kempe

Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World—Evan Thomas

Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis—Suez and the Brink of War—David Nichols


Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate ConductP.M. Forni

[The list is also available as a PDF.]

The Wisdom of David Ogilvy

At an event in Manila sponsored by Ogilvy & Mather, I received as a gift D.O.: The unpublished papers of David Ogilvy—a selection of his writings from the files of his partners. I am a longtime fan of Ogilvy, and found it to be a sterling gift. Here are a few of the gems I unearthed:

On what matters to Clients:

It is not enough for an agency to be respected for its professional competence. Indeed, there isn't much to choose between the competence of big agencies. What so often makes the difference is the character of the men and women who represent the agency at the top level, with clients and the business community. If they are respected as admirable people, the agency gets business—whether from present clients or prospective ones.

From a summation of Ogilvy & Mather's "corporate culture":

A Nice Place to Work

Some of our people spend their entire working lives in our agency. We do our damnedest to make it a happy experience. I put this first, believing that superior service to our clients, and profits for our stockholders, depend on it. ...

[TP: note the extraordinary "put this first."]

More from D.O.'s summation of Ogilvy & Mather's "corporate culture":

Raise your sights!
Blaze new trails!
Compete with the immortals!

[TP: characteristically soaring aspirations from D.O.]

On the quality of people O & M seeks:

Wanted by Ogilvy & Mather International

Trumpeter Swans

[TP: Do your HR folks use language like this? FYI, the department store chain Nordstrom does use similar language regarding every hire for even the most mundane slots.]

On leaders:

I believe that it is more important for a leader to be trained in psychiatry than cybernetics. The head of a big company recently said to me, 'I am no longer a Chairman. I have had to become a psychiatric nurse.' Today's executive is under pressure unknown to the last generation.

[TP: If only we would get this!]

On general behavior:

Never send a letter on the day you write it.

[TP: If only we would apply this standard to email!!]

Quite a haul, eh?

And She Called on Robin …
And the Heavens Parted

In Intuition, a stunning novel about the politics of science by Allegra Goodman, "Marion," see below, is the head of a department where some powerful research is being conducted. Among many other things, near the end of the book, correctly or not, one of the post-docs becomes a whistle blower—and creates a godawful mess. As I said, the allegations may or may not have been warranted, but in a flash (below) the psychological problem which led to the post-doc's meltdown becomes clear, after years, to super-logical, demanding boss Marion. The play here is subtle. This may do nothing for you, but I carry the quote around with me. In my case, it is-was a bombshell upon 3rd or 4th reading, and its strength only grows—I've probably read it, no kidding, 50 times now.

Give it a shot:

Marion ... glanced at the raised hands [she was presenting a paper] and enjoyed the interest in her work. She ... gazed at her former post-doc, her rebellious child with her hand raised. 'What do you need now?' she asked herself. Strange, she'd never posed the question that way before. She'd always considered what her post-doc demanded, what she did or did not deserve. What did she need? That was the puzzle, but as was so often the case, framing the question properly went a long way. What did she need? In that calm, clear, nearly joyous moment after her talk, the answer began to come to Marion. Ah, yes, of course, she thought with some surprise. And she called on Robin.

Obviously (but not obviously to blunt Marion for years), the post-doc "simply" needed recognition. And I think there is an enormous message here. A lot of bosses are Marions. And a lot of employees are kin to our post-doc. Of course, you may just think I'm nuts about this one wee paragraph. Fair enough.

A Book Worthy of Your Time & Attention

Mandela's Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage, by Richard Stengel (Stengel, now editor of Time magazine, was a confidant of Mandela's.)

From "Look the Part":

"[Mandela has beautiful posture. You will never see him hunched over with his head anything but upright and looking ahead. On Robben Island, he was always aware of how he walked and carried himself. He knew he needed to be seen as standing up to the authorities, literally and figuratively ... He knew that people took their cues from him, and if he were confident and unbowed, they would be too."

"[Mandela] understood the power of image. ... 'Appearances constitute reality,' he once told me."

"In the election in 1994, his smile was the campaign. That smiling iconic campaign poster—on billboards, on highways, on street lamps, at tea shops and fruit stalls. It told black voters that he would be their champion and white voters that he would be their protector. It was the smile of the proverb 'tout comprendre, c'est tout pardoner'—to understand is to forgive all. It was political Prozac for a nervous electorate."

"Ultimately the smile was symbolic of how Mandela molded himself. At every stage of his life he decided who he wanted to be and created the appearance--and then the reality--of that person. He became who he wanted to be."

From "Have a Core Principal—Everything Else Is Tactics"

"Nelson Mandela is a man of principle—exactly one: Equal rights for all, regardless of race, class, or gender. Pretty much everything else is a tactic. I know this seems like an exaggeration—but to a degree very few people suspect, Mandela is a thoroughgoing pragmatist who was willing to compromise, change, adapt, and refine his strategy as long as it got him to the promised land."

From "See the Good in Others"* [*One of the best essays I have ever read.]

"Some call it a blind spot, others naïveté, but Mandela sees almost everyone as virtuous until proven otherwise. He starts with an assumption you are dealing with him in good faith. He believes that, just as pretending to be brave can lead to acts of real bravery, seeing the good in other people improves the chances that they will reveal their better selves."

"Mandela ... consciously chose to err on the side of generosity. By behaving honorably, even to people who may not deserve it, he believes you can influence them to behave more honorably than they otherwise would. This sometimes proved to be a useful tactic, particularly after he was released from prison, when his open, trusting attitude made him appear to be a man who could rise above bitterness. When he urged South Africans to 'forget the past,' most of them believed that he had. This had a double effect: It made whites trust Mandela more and it made them feel more generous toward the people they had so recently oppressed."

"Mandela sees the good in others both because it is in his nature and in his interest. At times that has meant being blindsided, but he has always been willing to take that risk. And it is a risk. ... Mandela goes out on a limb and makes himself vulnerable by trusting others. ... We rarely equate risk with trying to see what is decent, honest, and good in the people in our daily lives. ... 'People will feel I see too much good in people, and I've tried to adjust because whether it is so or not, it is something I think is profitable. It's a good thing to assume, to act on the basis that others are men of integrity and honor, because you need to attract integrity and honor. I believe in that.'"

Read it!
Absorb it!
Ponder it!
Take Advantage of It!

Most important article I've read in a long time/The Atlantic July-August 2010:

"The End of Men: How Women Are Taking Control—Of Everything"

Opening lines/précis:

"Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women's progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn't the end point? What if modern, post-industrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now underway—and its vast cultural consequences."


"Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed."

[There are examples from around the world not just U.S. In the likes of Korea, desire for a child to be a girl is soaring.] [In the USA, efforts to improve the odds of conceiving a girl rather than a boy are now commonplace.]

"As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success, those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest."

"The evidence is all around you [e.g.] in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the eight million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance."

"Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women."

"Women hold 51.4% of managerial and professional jobs—up from 26.1% in 1980. ... In 1970, women contributed 2 to 6 percent of the family income. Now the typical working wife brings home 42.2%—and four in 10 mothers are the primary breadwinners in their family."

"What's clear is that schools, like the economy, now value the self-control, focus and verbal aptitude that seem to come more easily to young girls."

"Increasing numbers of women—unable to find men with similar income and education—are forgoing marriage altogether. In 1970, 84% of women ages 30 to 44 were married; now 60% are."

Books That Matter 2010
(To Me)


Enough. True Measures of Money, Business, and Life/Jack Bogle

Decency Pays:

Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation/George Washington
Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct/P.M. Forni
The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness/Linda Kaplan Thaler & Robin Koval
The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It/Christine Pearson & Christine Porath

The Real Work of Leaders:

Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help/Ed Schein
Listening Leaders: The Ten Golden Rules to Listen, Lead & Succeed/Lyman Steil & Richard Bommelje
Smart Questions/Gerald Nadler & William Chandon

Small Is Beautiful
Cool & Uncool:

Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best Independent Stores in America/George Whalin
Dry Basement Science: What to Have Done ... and Why/Larry Janesky
Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big/Bo Burlingham


The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves/Matt Ridley


Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Healthcare Is Better Than Yours/Phillip Longman
Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer/Shannon Brownlee
Wash Your Hands!/Frédéric Saldmann

What Matters Most:

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide/Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

The Human Condition:

The Cellist of Sarajevo/Steven Galloway

The One-third Rule:
And You?

From No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller, by Harry Markopolos (the Madoff whistleblower):

"I had established the one-third rule: For every three hours you spend at work you have to spend at least one hour outside the office on professional development. That might mean reading material that might improve your life, but more likely it meant social networking [TP: this from a diehard quant!!!]. I encouraged Neil to take advantage of the pub culture in Boston, to go to professional association meetings, and to go to dinners."

I love this!
How are you doing on "the one-third rule"?

NB: While I believe that emerging "social media" is incredibly powerful, there is something about a pub.



I call it "Return On Investment in Relationships." It outstrips standard "ROI" by a mile in the long term—and, for that matter, the short term.

Here's a take on R.O.I.R. from Harry Markopolos, author of No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller:

"The financial industry is a business of contacts and relationships. No one ever buys a product and says, 'That product is the sexiest thing I've ever seen. I don't care who's selling it.' Generally people do business with people they trust and like, or people who are recommended by someone they trust."

This is not news.
But it always bears repeating.

So: Over the weekend, consider in detail your R.O.I.R. strategy for next week, the next month, maybe the rest of the year. This is an idea that deserves careful and continuous thought, not a catch-as-catch-can attitude. You'd work for months or years on a plan for a new bridge. Well, R.O.I.R. is your "bridge to success."

NB: Markopolos is the quintessential "quant"; i.e., this is a geek pushing relationship power, not a used car salesman.

(Above: Ice-tea season. Fresh mint.)

21st Century Must Read:
Matt Ridley’s Latest & Greatest

Summer Cottage with the Kubota in front

Epigraph from Matt Ridley's new and magisterial The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves:

"This division of labor, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual, of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the prosperity to truck, barter, exchange one thing for another."—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

This is the essence of Smith's work, and the singular explanation of innovation. Innovation is driven by trading. Period. It is a singularly human trait, the origins of which are tens of thousands of years.

Of course our new tools, DARPANet, the Web, and more recently Social Media, are re-writing Smith's "slow and gradual."

It's not that you will necessarily learn anything "new" from this book, but you cannot help but learn a staggering amount about the innovation process among humans. To me, that learning is of the utmost practical value.

NB1: F.A. Hayek's felicitous phrase for "all this" is "spontaneous discovery process;" the key word is "spontaneous."

NB2: My longtime "bedrock"/"only certain belief" is: "He who tries the most stuff wins"/"Screw around vigorously"/"Ready. FIRE. Aim." I am now ready to revise it to: "He who makes the most oddball connections and tries the most stuff wins."

NB3: One of my five greatest literary indulgences ever is a 1st edition of The Wealth of Nations.

(Above: Susan and I move "up the hill" to our cottage/former "sap house" [where maple sap was boiled to produce syrup] for the summer, from about May 1 to October 10. Below: View of our "upper pond" from front door of said sap house—this morning at 6:30 a.m.)

Upper Pond, Spring 2010

The 90% (Bullshit) Factor

A Tweet that showed up yesterday mused that about 90% of statistics are made up. I laughed, but it's probably about right. Well, not made up, exactly, but highly and selectively doctored.

Reading the Tweet coincided with a book purging project which led me to pick up the well received 1982 book, Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science, by two prominent science journalists, William Broad and Nicholas Wade. It is at once entertaining and serious. Along the way, the work of the likes of Galileo, Newton, the chemist John Dalton and American physics Nobelist Robert Millikan are raked over the coals. Data that's too good to be true, experiments that after many efforts could not be replicated by even the best scientists, simple fudge factors applied with abandon, etc.

And then I tripped over my all-time favorite, which I used to use in seminars, when discussing the real (messy) world of science and innovation. The Austrian monk Gregor Mendel is widely acclaimed as the "father of modern genetics." But he is also a poster child for questionable data. Though he has his defenders, one detractor wrote a brief essay, "Peas on Earth," that appeared in a professional journal:

"In the beginning there was Mendel, thinking his lonely thoughts alone. And he said: 'Let there be peas,' and there were peas and that was good. And he put the peas in the garden saying unto them 'Increase and multiply, segregate and assort yourself independently,' and they did and it was good. And now it came to pass that when Mendel gathered up his peas, he divided them into round and wrinkled, and called the round 'dominant' and the wrinkled 'recessive,' and it was good. But now Mendel saw that there were 450 round peas and 102 wrinkled ones; this was not good. For the law stateth that there should be only 3 round for every wrinkled. And Mendel said unto himself 'Gott in Himmel, an enemy has done this, he has sown bad peas in my garden under the cover of night.' And Mendel smote the table in righteous wrath, saying 'Depart from me, you cursed and evil peas, into the outer darkness where you shalt be devoured by rats and mice,' and lo it was done and there remained 300 round peas and 100 wrinkled peas, and it was good. It was very, very good. And Mendel published."

Love it!

Maybe one of the good side effects of the Web is that the proliferation (tsunami) of absurd data (a/k/a utter bullshit) will lead to a general increase in skepticism. Very few things are what they seem, regardless of their imprimatur (think of Wall Street and its battalions of MIT-Stanford-Harvard-Chicago PhD mathematicians). The caution light should be permanently yellow.

(NB1: The book is also replete with instructive sagas like that of Ignaz Semmelweis. With childbed [puerperal] fever claiming up to 30 percent of mothers' lives in even the best European maternity hospitals, Semmelweis was able to virtually eliminate it in his own clinic simply by having doctors wash their hands in a chlorine solution before examinations and procedures. Alas, Semmelweis had an all-time low EQ, and was abrasive beyond measure; moreover, at a volatile time, his political views were on the fringe. Hence his work was ignored out of hand, and tens of thousands of lives were unnecessarily lost over the following three decades—Semmelweis died in restraints in a mental institution in 1865. Once more we observe that science in the real world strays from "just the facts, ma'am" more often than not—and personal style almost always matters more than one would imagine.)

(NB2: Another book I grabbed was The War of the World, by the renowned British historian Niall Ferguson. It recounts in all too vivid detail the unmatched human violence of the better forgotten 20th century. On the "true facts" dimension, Ferguson at one point calls into question the sacred notion that a few brave Spitfire pilots held off the German horde. There is no disputing or diminishing the pilots' remarkable bravery, yet Ferguson points out that at the beginning of the Battle of Britain the RAF had more fighter aircraft and many more trained pilots than the Germans, and was out-producing the Germans in terms of new aircraft by a ratio of about 3 to 1. Britain's estimates of German pilot strength were off by a factor of 7, Ferguson reports. Um, so much for statistical accuracy; and, hey, nobody ever accused my all-time hero Churchill of being less than a great actor.)