This seems like a good time to review my favorite books from 2010. I read a lot of stuff this year and most of it was very good. However, there are a few specific titles that I’d really recommend. Since I have no particular way to organize this, I’ll just work backwards from the items I’ve read most recently. Hopefully you’ll find at least one thing here that is interesting.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer – Siddhartha Mukherjee
Since I work at a company that makes software to assist researchers in the life sciences, I hear a lot about cancer research. While Mukherjee’s book is sometimes dark and often left me feeling frustrated at the medicine behind the disease, it was a terrific read. I learned more about cancer and its history than I ever imagined. If you know anyone who has suffered through this disease, you may find some solace and comfort in the message shared in this book.
Rework – Jason Fried
Jason Fried is the CEO and founder of 37-Signals, a highly successful Web 2.0 software business. Jason discusses his perspective on what it wrong with “traditional” business and how small startups should organize themselves. It is written as dozens of very short “chapters” – each one focusing on a single precise idea. I don’t always agree with Jason, and I even got in a brief debate with him at the Business of Software conference a few years ago, but his insights are profound and every business should pay attention.
At Home: A Short History of Private Life – Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. His history and travel books are always surprising, educating, and often hilarious. His book “At Home” is a history of the social and technological changes that have lead to the modern house, and many of the surprising items within it. This is a quick read, and if you love technology or history, I highly recommend it.
The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive) – Brandon Sanderson
This is the only non-fiction book in my list and I cannot leave it unmentioned. The first book of Brandon Sanderson’s new epic is HUGE, but absolutely worth all the time. If you love fantasy, this is a new world that you will love learning about.
Euclid’s Window – Leonard Mlodinow
Mlodinow is one of the great science-popularizers of our age. In this book he discusses the five great revolutions in geometry, from parallel lines to hyperspace. Even if you aren’t excited by math, there is a lot to like here.
Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures – Robert Wittman
Robert Wittman’s spent his FBI career focused entirely on art and history crimes. At times he seemed to be the only person in the entire agency who would care if a priceless Rembrandt was stolen. This is the true story of his career and the surprising underworld of art crime and art-crime dealers.
DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education – Anya Kamenetz
The educational establishment is being rocked by the forces of the Internet. Traditional, in-person university courses are losing their grip on the world’s psyche, and their dollars. Ten years from now, post-high-school education will look very, very different from what it does today. In this book Anya discusses some of the forces driving this change and highlights some of the greatest experiments being conducted in this arena. Highly recommended if you have kids that will be going to secondary-education in the next few years.
Return: Four Phases of Our Mortal Journey Home – Robert D. Hales
Elder Robert D. Hales is an apostle in the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). As a Mormon myself, I was interested in reading from Elder Hales. He hasn’t published many books that I recall, and this one gave me a good sense of his personality and character. He discusses the four great phases of our life here on earth: preparation, decision, doing, and enduring. I need to read a book like this every once in a while to help me keep my perspective.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard – Chip and Dan Heath
I loved Chip and Dan’s last book: Make it Stick. This one is even better. They outline the challenges that any person or organization faces if they are trying to undertake big change. They provide a framework for thinking about change and a plan for helping organize your efforts when moving forward. I suspect this book may prove the most useful to me in the coming years.
The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs – Carmine Gallo
I hesitated to read anything that looked like an homage to Steve Jobs. However, I put my prejudices aside and just started reading. I was pleasantly surprised. In this book, Gallo highlights at least a dozen important concepts that have helped make Steve Jobs such an influential innovator. Even if you hate Jobs and/or Apple, you can’t deny the incredible impact he has made on the world, and it’s worth understanding why he has been so effective.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel Pink
This book really made me think. In fact, I wrote a blog post about those thoughts. If you haven’t read this book, or something similar, you should.
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives – Leonard Mlodinow
Another great book by Mlodinow. How does randomness affect our lives? How badly do we predict its effects and how badly do we react to randomness when we see it? The answers are surprising. If everyone read this book and understood it, a lot of terrible decisions, science, politics, and reporting would disappear completely. Wouldn’t that be nice.
The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth’s Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe – Anil Ananthaswamy
There are some pretty crazy physicists out there, conducting some pretty crazy experiments. This is a story about one man’s quest to visit some of the most far-flung locations to understand what physicists are doing to learn about our universe. From a trip to Siberia, to the LHC, to the high deserts of Argentina, to 1-km cubes of ice in Antarctica. Can’t decide if I’m jealous of their jobs or grateful for mine.
Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory – Peter Hessler
An American journalist, who has spent years living in China, takes a cross-country drive through China in multiple rental cars. The amazing people, crazy places, bizarre situations, and unusual cities are things that could only exist inside China. I learned a great appreciation for that country while also realizing that there’s so much about it I may never truly understand.
What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures – Malcolm Gladwell
I never read Gladwell’s last book, but this one looked really interesting to me. It is a collection of some of Gladwell’s best material pulled from his years of articles in the New Yorker magazine. This is a quick read, and possesses Gladwell’s classic insights. Plenty of fun to read.