There’s something about back-to-school season that makes people mindful of the must-read books that remain unread. Intentions were good, but somehow you ended up being the only person in the world who hadn’t read the latest Malcolm Gladwell.
Well, this is a great time of year to get caught up. Not only will you learn what all the brouhaha was about, you can also stop living in fear that your boss or colleague might reference one of these best sellers—forcing you to fake it, or, worse, admit that you haven’t read it. Here is a list of books that are worthy of your time and can save you from embarrassment!
Automate This: How Algorithms Took Over Our Markets, Our Jobs, and the World. We’ll start out with something relevant to your job. This book, on the history and future of algorithms, was published in 2012, but is still surprisingly relevant. Critics claim it’s superficial, but the book does a good job of explaining how algorithms and software bots work. In particular, it reviews how algorithms and bots work in fields that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being predictable, such as the “Egyptian Spring” period of social unrest. If you’re a Nate Silver fan, chances are you’ll consider this a good read.
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do. We’ve all had our bouts of road rage. You know, you’re driving in line with everyone else when a lane closure forces everyone to take turns merging into what’s left of the road. Suddenly some idiot drives past you really fast in the lane that’s closed—and then expects to be able to cut in front of you. This book explains why people do that. And it’s not just because they’re idiots. It turns out (based on actual research) that a lot of the conventional wisdom about how people drive isn’t true at all. When you’re finished reading, you won’t mind getting stuck in traffic again. Well, maybe.
Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 – 1914. We love just about everything David McCullough has ever written, because he explains things so well. This book was published in 2001, but because it’s the 100th anniversary of the Canal, this read is suddenly timely. Like one of McCullough’s other titles, The Great Bridge, which is a book about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, Path Between the Seas is all about engineers doing heroic things. We have a special appreciation for this because how often do engineers get to be heroes these days? (With the exception of Tony Stark, of course.) This book will make you proud to be an engineer.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. In past blogs, we’ve covered change management and the challenges of getting people to do things differently. But similar to Traffic, this book explains why people do the irrational things that they do, especially when it comes to change management. Switch even explains how to, well, change them. This is a great book to read before you have to tell people that they finally have to give up on Windows XP.
Contagious: How Things Catch On. Anybody who’s had to spend this week trying to keep people from downloading Jennifer Lawrence pictures using the company network probably doesn’t want to hear about anything being “viral” right now. But this is another one of those books that explains how irrational people are—and how to harness that for good. Or, at least, for the good of the company.
The last title on our list is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Looking to reinforce the value of introverts and how it’s important to realize that the person with the best ideas isn’t necessarily the loudest one? This book is for you. For those of us who got into computers because they seemed friendlier and easier to understand than people, this is a comforting, validating book. You are not alone! Well, except, you probably are, because, like, you’re an introvert. But that’s okay!
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