Summary of 2010 reading – 50 books challenge

Several years ago I became aware of the 50 books challenge. The notion is to set a goal of completing a book a week. I find it a good discipline and track my efforts internally using a program called Readerware. I write detailed reviews of a portion of those books here. I thought it might be interesting to review the entire list and reflect a bit on my reading habits and practices.


Non-fiction covers the gamut for me from biography to management books to technical reference. The best of these get reviews of their own on the blog.

  1. Linksys WRT54G Ultimate Hacking, Asadoorian, Paul
    What fun is having hardware that you can touch if you don’t play with it?
  2. Managing as Designing, Boland, R. J. (Editor)
    A collection of papers from an academic conference on the topic. The papers are a mixed bag as you might expect. Enough of them are good to excellent to warrant taking a look if you’re interested in how managing and design fit together.
  3. The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, Bradley, James
    A look at Teddy Roosevelt and his policy towards Asia at the beginning of the 20th Century. Bradley tells a good story and makes his case for how Roosevelt’s particular view of the world contributed to later troubles in dealing with the Far East. I don’t know enough about that period to judge how much Bradley is editorializing versus doing history. Thought-provoking and compelling enough for me to want to dig deeper.
  4. The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist, Brooks, Frederick P.
    Brooks always has something useful to say. Here’s the review I posted Fred Brooks on the Design of Design
  5. Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood, Campbell, Donovan
    A compelling account of life on the ground for a marine platoon lieutenant and his men in Iraq. With a son about to go into the marines this year, I was hooked.
  6. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Carr, Nicholas
    I find Nicholas Carr’s writing simultaneously thought-provoking and exasperating. A former editor at the Harvard Business Review, he writes excellently. At the same time, I feel he succumbs to the notion that a journalistic approach to any topic will always yield insight. In the case of the intersection between society and technology, I find this a dubious premise. Here’s my more detailed review from last summer. Nicholas Carr s latest book The Shallows
  7. PHPEclipse: A User Guide: Take advantage of the leading open source integrated development environment to develop, organize, and debug your PHP web development projects., Chow, Shu-Wai
  8. 8 Things We Hate About IT: How to Move Beyond the Frustrations to Form a New Partnership with IT, Cramm, Susan
    My review of 8 Things We Hate About IT
  9. resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, Duarte, Nancy
    An excellent look at the role of good-storytelling in successful presentations. If you present regularly do yourself and, more importantly, your audience a favor and include this in your professional development plan for the year.
  10. Blind Spot: A Leader’s Guide To IT-Enabled Business Transformation, Feld, Charlie
    The title of my review earlier this year captures my underlying assessment: One Deeply Informed View of IT as a Transformational Tool
  11. Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love, Fields, Jonathan
    Veers occasionally into the cheerleading segment of the self-help genre, but there are useful nuggets
  12. Rework, Fried, Jason
    The folks at 37 Signals have built some hugely popular services on the web. Basecamp, for example, defined a lightweight view of project management that a boatload of organizations have found significantly more useful and productive than the over-engineered solutions offered elsewhere. In Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, reflect on their experiences building 37 Signals and the lessons they have taken away from that experience. This is certainly a valuable exercise for them and they make it valuable for others as well.
  13. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, Gawande, Atul
    My review from last Spring: Checklists for more systematic knowledge work
  14. Trouble With Tribbles, Gerrold, David
    The story of how Gerrold went from science fiction fan and author wannabe to selling and delivering the script for one of the best Star Trek episodes of all time. Along the way, Gerrold provides some excellent advice on story telling and writing. The book is out of print, but I was able to track down a copy without too much trouble given the wonders of online markets for used books.
  15. Worlds of Wonder : How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, Gerrold, David
  16. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Godin, Seth
    My review: Choosing to draw your own maps: a review of Seth Godin s Linchpin
  17. The Education of a Coach, Halberstam, David
    Halberstam on Bill Belichick. A great combination if you are a football fan. Better still if you’re a Patriot fan.
  18. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Heath, Chip
    Yet another take on change and why it is both so hard to accomplish intentionally and simultaneously so ordinary a part of living life. The Heath brothers take their run at what we know about managing change in organizations over time and ways to make it somewhat less difficult. They do a credible job summarizing what we know today from the behavioral sciences and offer as good a formula as any for thinking about change.
  19. Hacking Work: Breaking Stupid Rules for Smart Results, Jensen, Bill
    This is one of those books whose premise exceeds its execution. One more in a long line of books acknowledging that much of what we believe about work, organizations, and jobs is tenuously relevant at best and dangerously obsolete at worst. They argue that much of the real work that gets done in today’s enterprise is accomplished by hacking the existing systems as opposed to using them as intended. They attempt to develop a notion of "benevolent hacking" where employees and managers subvert the "stupid rules" in the system in order to accomplish the presumably still worthy goals of the system. Questions about who determines which of the rules are stupid and which necessary get ignored.
  20. Seizing the White Space: Business Model Innovation for Growth and Renewal, Johnson, Mark W.
    My review: Can you design business models?
  21. Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, Krakauer, Jon
  22. Bare Bones Project Management: What you can’t not do, Lewis, Bob
    A good take on stripping project management down to its essentials. Given how many of us are called on to act as project managers in today’s organizations I would recommend this as a starting point over the vast bulk of formal advice on project management you will encounter in workshops, seminars, and credentialing programs. Lewis has clearly been there and done that and knows how to cut through the BS in a clear and simple way.
  23. Leading IT: The Toughest Job in the World, Lewis, Bob
    Lewis offers a very pragmatic and unadorned take on challenges of effectively running IT in today’s organizations. It’s the kind of advice you would expect from a true "trusted advisor" who’s interested in helping you develop your own capacity to handle the job. It is a welcome contrast to the consulting advice you so often encounter that is more about perpetuating your dependence on consultants instead.
  24. Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking, Martin, Roger L.
    Here Martin digs into the notion of the "opposable mind" as an analogy to the opposable thumb as a core strength that we can and should develop in more systematic ways. Part of my ongoing effort to wrap my own head around design as a core skill in today’s world.
  25. The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, Martin, Roger L.
    Roger Martin is the Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto. Rotman has made a serious commitment to integrating design into the management curriculum and Martin is one of the leading forces behind the general trend to pay more attention to design as something more than chrome sprinkled on products after the fact. This short book offers the core argument behind why we should place more emphasis on design. Again, a book that warrants a more complete review.
  26. The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change, May, Matthew E.
    I picked this up on the recommendation of Bob Sutton, whose Work Matters blog is one of my top reads these days. It falls in the "business fable" genre, which I generally don’t warm to. In this case, I found it acceptable and found May’s efforts to introduce some core concepts from Zen worth the format. It’s a very brief read, but warrants further reflection.
  27. Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right, Merrill, Douglas
    Written by the former CIO of Google, it contains one integrated approach to using technology (mostly Google-based products and services, naturally) to deal with the demands of modern life. Parts of it are distracting and a bit off target. I found it primarily useful as a case study I could use as a data point in designing my own individual approach.
  28. Living with Complexity, Norman, Donald A.
    The most recent thinking from Don Norman. Here he explores what it will take to live in a world where complexity is the norm. Glossing over or trying to hide the complexity is the wrong answer. This also warrants a full review in the near term. In the meantime, I highly recommend it.
  29. The Design of Future Things, Norman, Donald A.
    I’ve been a long-time fan of Don Norman and his writing on design. Here he takes a look at updating his approach to design to accommodate a future world built on ongoing partnership between human and smart machines. I’ve just finished this over the Christmas holiday and it warrants a fuller review in the next few weeks. Stay tuned
  30. Mercurial: The Definitive Guide, O’Sullivan, Bryan
    Taking a look at the latest generation of distributed source code management tools.
  31. Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1, Patterson Jr., William H.
    Heinlein remains my favorite author. This is a fascinating look into to the first half of his life and the early stage of his writing career. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.
  32. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink, Daniel H.
    Pink takes a look at much the same evidence base as Lawrence and Nohria do in Driven with a slightly different purpose. His take is that organizations rely too heavily on extrinsic motivators (carrots and sticks) at the expense of tapping into much more powerful intrinsic motivators. He is less interested in building a robust model of human behavior in organization than he is in trying to distill some practical short term advice. It makes for an easier read than Driven and Pink is a much better story-teller than Lawrence and Nohria. On the other hand, it sacrifices some important depth in the process. My detailed review: More from Dan Pink on the Science of Motivation and Purpose
  33. Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest, and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling, Port, Michael
    Some useful nuggets buried in think positive cheerleading and pitches for Port’s other products and services. Worth skimming and extracting those nuggets
  34. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Pressfield, Steven
    My review: The War of Art
  35. Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations, Reynolds, Garr
    More insight and advice on helping your ideas and presentations be as effective as they can be. I’m continuing to work at incorporating those insights and advice into my own work.
  36. From Knowledge to Intelligence: Creating Competitive Advantage in the Next Economy, Rothberg, Helen N.
    I used this as a text for a course I co-taught on Knowledge management and Competitive Intelligence. Stronger on the Competitive Intelligence side than on it’s knowledge management insights
  37. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, Shirky, Clay
    More insight from the always provocative Clay Shirky. My review: Cognitive Surplus
  38. Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst, Sutton, Robert I.
    My review: Good Boss, Bad Boss
  39. Possiplex: Movies, Intellect, Creative Control, My Computer Life and the Fight for Civilization, Ted Nelson
    Relevant largely if you’re intrigued by Ted Nelson and his influence over the personal computing industry. The guy who coined the term "hypertext" and hates the Web. I’m still undecided whether Nelson will ultimately be deemed a prophet ahead of his time or an eccentric with a severe case of ADHD. This book is available through Lulu
  40. The Complete Guide To Competitive Intelligence, Tyson, Kirk W.M.
  41. Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story, Updated and Expanded Edition, Weissman, Jerry
    One of the Ur-texts on effective presenting techniques. The focus is very much on story-telling both in terms of structuring your presentations and delivering them. For all the solid advice out there on the whys and wherefores of effective presenting, you would think the average quality of presentation would be higher. Would that that were so.
  42. The Professor and the Madman, Winchester, Simon
    Late to the party on this book. Glad I finally made time for it.


My fiction reading breaks down into three categories: speculative fiction, mental floss, and comfort reading. I got hooked on speculative fiction (aka science fiction, aka s-f) soon after I got my first library card; Heinlein was my real gateway drug. Today, s-f remains the core of my fiction reading. The best of it illuminates the interaction between what is enduring about the human condition and what is shaped by the technological and cultural environment we are embedded it. When it is good, it entertains as well or better than other forms of mental floss.  As for mental floss, my preferences run to thrillers and techno-thrillers of various sorts. Comfort reading consists of picking up old favorites and re-reading them from time to time.

  1. Hell’s Corner, Baldacci, David
  2. Stone Cold, Baldacci, David
  3. True Blue, Baldacci, David
    More good mental floss. Baldacci introduces a new set of heroines – sister cops. One is the chief of police in DC, while her younger sister is trying to get back to being a cop after being framed and serving time in prison. Nice blend of police procedural, action, and DC behind the scenes power politics.
  4. Directive 51, Barnes, John
    A near-future thriller by SF author John Barnes takes a look at our vulnerability to cyberwarfare. Turns about to the the first of at least two books, which makes the ending a non-ending. Decent mental floss and good enough that I’ll take a look at the sequel when it arrives. Barnes has done much better work with his straight science-fiction. Let’s see if he improves in the thriller category over time.
  5. Cryoburn, Bujold, Lois McMaster
    Mental floss. I enjoy Bujold’s characters and their predicaments
  6. Die Trying, Child, Lee
    Mental floss
  7. The Hunger Games, Collins, Suzanne
    I came to the Hunger Games a bit late. The advantage was that I was able to read the whole trilogy over the course of the summer instead of having to wait. It’s an excellent example of the strength of the Young Adult market segment and of the possibilities the s-f genre presents to good story-tellers.
  8. Catching Fire, Collins, Suzanne
  9. Mockingjay, Collins, Suzanne
  10. Crescent Dawn, Cussler, Clive
  11. In the Stormy Red Sky, Drake, David
  12. Camouflage, Haldeman, Joe
  13. Double Star, Heinlein, Robert A.
    Heinlein was the first real storyteller I encountered in my youth. I probably read my first Heinlein "juvenile" somewhere around age 10 to 12 and proceeded to work my way through anything of his I could find until he eventually passed away in 1988. When I need a break or a temporary escape from the real world, I often head back into those old favorite stories. Out of work actor, Lorenzo Smythe, takes on a job doubling for a famous politician and learns he has deeper talents and honor than even his inflated ego suspects. This was one of several Hugo award winners the Heinlein wrote. Still worth my time forty years later.
  14. Live Free Or Die, Ringo, John
  15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling, J. K.
    Had to re-read this before the movie came out.
  16. WWW: Watch, Sawyer, Robert J.
    The second in a trilogy by Sawyer. Tells the story of the relationship between Catlin, a girl born blind whose sight is restored by technology and the World Wide Web as it becomes self-aware. A fun mix of thriller and provocative speculation about intelligence. Looking forward to the final installment.
  17. Genus Homo, Sprague de Camp, L
  18. The High King of Montival: A Novel of the Change, Stirling, S. M.
    Stirling is way outside my normal s-f preferences but I’m completely hooked by his writing nonetheless. Eagerly awaiting the next installment.
  19. The Fuller Memorandum, Stross, Charles
  20. The Trade of Queens: Book Six of the Merchant Princes, Stross, Charles
  21. Freedom, Suarez, Daniel
    A solid and thought-provoking sequel to Suarez’s debut novel Daemon. Explores some of the ways today’s technologies might evolve in a techno-thriller format. The advantage is that Saurez knows what he is talking about technologically, but is also a good story-teller as well. And, he keeps his focus on the story-telling and puts the technology where it belongs.