Some book recommendations — noteworthy things I’ve read, or re-read recently.
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis. A humorous look at the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Lewis describes what countries “did alone in the dark with a big pile of money”, and how that reflects their national character.
The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick Brooks
Tyler Cowen’s Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. A thought-provoking book, though I’m not sure I buy into all the futurist predictions, especially about the ultimate triumph of cities over suburban living.
The Innovator’s Dilemma. Clayton Christensen’s classic book that introduced the concept of disruptive innovation. One of the key takeaways is how products mature and eventually create products that have been incrementally improved (through “sustaining” innovations) so much that they become too expensive and/or complex. Meanwhile, a new product comes along which on many dimensions is demonstrably inferior. However, in some other dimension(s) it has the growth potential to overtake the capabilities and quality of existing products (a “disruptive” innovation). Clay uses the evolution of different computer hard drive technologies as one example, but a more modern illustration is the mp3 music file. An mp3 is clearly inferior to a compact disk (CD) recording, but other features such as portability and ease of sharing, along with the rapid growth of delivery systems quickly outcompeted CDs. A key lesson is that a new product or solution can be clearly inferior in some ways, but eventually dramatically superior in other ways. It’s also important to note that established firms have a very hard time pursuing disruptive innovations because they threaten existing products or offer too small a return in the near term, relative to current lines of business.
Cathedral, Castle, and City. Three of David Macaulay’s delightfully illustrated books describing the design and construction of historic structures. Great for kids, but also a fun read for adults as well. A new color edition of Cathedral is scheduled to be published on 11/5/2013, but I think there’s something really cool about the 1970’s pen and ink style that Macaulay used in the original.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Still working on this one, but it’s fascinating.