My Favorite Reads of 2017

In case you’re looking for something to read over the holidays, these were my favorite books this year:

A Mind at Play, by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman
An engaging biography of one of the most influential people of the Information Age: Claude Shannon. See my book notes.

Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman
Argues that Huxley’s, not Orwell’s, dystopian vision would turn out to be the correct one. Many of the points Postman makes are applicable to our post-television age, only in a different medium.

Conversations for Action and Collected Essays, by Fernando Flores
A concise summary of Flores’s ideas about language for disclosure, a critical tool for communicating effectively in any context.

Dawn of the New Everything, by Jaron Lanier
A personal and engaging memoir/philosophy of virtual reality from one of the field’s founders. See my book notes.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford
Many of the innovations we take for granted — paper money, religious tolerance, gunpowder — were introduced by the Mongols. A gripping story of a hyper-violent world.

Hope is an Imperative, by David W. Orr
Some of the most lucid and well-argued writing I’ve read on the urgency to change our civilization’s path if we are to avoid catastrophe.

Machine, Platform, Crowd, by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson
Excellent overview of the main technological trends currently changing the world.

Right Ho, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
Classic work of English literature. Had me thinking for a while with an English accent.

The City and the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke
Classic sci-fi from the late 1950s. Prescient in many interesting ways.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs
Makes a compelling case against modern urban design as epitomized by Robert Moses in the 1950s. An urgent call to action towards more humane urban environments.

The Death of Expertise, by Tom Nichols
An explanation of the reasons for the current slide towards ignorance and the willful exclusion of expert voices in public discourse.

The Design Way, by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman
An argument for thinking of design as a way of understanding the world, alongside science and the arts.

The Distracted Mind, by Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen
Compelling evidence that smartphones are driving us to distraction.

The Embodied Mind, by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch
The overlap of contemporary cognitive science, philosophy, and Buddhism. (There’s now a revised edition of this book.)

The Glass Cage, by Nicholas Carr
Argues that automation is making us less skillful at various tasks.

The Nature of Things, by Lucretius
Early humanism.

The Systems View of Life, by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi
A call to shift our fundamental metaphor from “world as machine” to “world as network.”

Understanding Computers and Cognition, by Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores
Maps Heidegger to the work of software design.

Whiplash, by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe
Nine dualities that are shaping the present and the future told from the perspective of the MIT Media Lab. (The dualities: Emergence > Authority, Pull > Push, Compasses > Maps, Risk > Safety, Disobedience > Compliance, Practice > Theory, Diversity > Ability, Resilience > Strength, Systems > Objects)

WTF?, by Tim O’Reilly
An urgent call to a more ethical approach to the design of technology, in the guise of a memoir by one of tech’s most influential figures. See my book notes.