To continue a tradition from last year, I am once again listing the best and worst books I read this year. Many of these were not actually published this year, but I got around to reading them only in 2008. I read almost 70 books, but that includes a significant percentage of fiction books this time around. Still, there are enough books to fill both lists.
Best books I read in 2008
- Founders at Work, by Jessica Livingston: This book is a compilation of interviews with some of the renowned names in the computer/software industry such as Steve Wozniak, Ray Ozzie, Joel Spolsky, David Heinemeier Hansson, etc. Livingston does a great job of selecting the most prominent founders and asking the right questions.
- Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, et al.: A book on how to handle tough conversations and negotiations, especially when there are important items at stake. Many people, who are good at regular conversation, cannot handle an adversarial discussion without it disintegrating into nastiness. This book provides a good framework for handling such situations.
- The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The standard investment warning is, “Results in the past are not an indicator of those in the future”. Taleb explains why with amazing clarity about randomness and uncertainty. One caveat: The author goes off the rails ranting against his detractors. Ignore those and just focus on the ideas. You may also want to check out Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness ”.
- Irrational Exuberance (2nd edition), by Robert Shiller: Shiller gets 2 out of 2 right – he predicted the technology bubble in the first edition of this book and the 2nd edition includes a discussion of the real estate bubble before it burst. It is a pity more people weren’t paying attention to what he and others (like Peter Schiff) were saying.
- Influence, by Robert Cialdini: In some ways, this is a creepy book. It explains how people can be influenced or manipulated to act according to the desires of the influencers by various techniques such as artificial deadlines or use of authority figures. It redeems itself by explaining how you can learn to say “no” even when subject to such techniques.
Honorable mentions go to Presentation Zen (Garr Reynolds), The Art of the Start (Guy Kawasaki), Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey Moore) and Refactoring (Martin Fowler). A great book that straddles the line between fiction and non-fiction is the excellent labor of love by James Kakalios, The Physics of Superheroes.
My favorite author for 2008 is Peter Drucker (Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Managing in Turbulent Times). I find it incredible how much of what he says still remains relevant today. Of course, he doesn’t predict everything right, but there are more hits than misses.
Worst books I read in 2008
- The Art of Influence, by Chris Widener: The book is an insult to any self-respecting reader, as it tries to package its lessons using a ridiculous made-up story. And you know what I think about made-up stories.
- The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber: Apparently, this is the 2nd edition of the book (I haven’t read the 1st edition). It starts off well with a reasonable-sounding diagnosis of problems afflicting small entrepreneurs. But its use of a special case (franchises), a narrator acting as a know-all, end-all, and a heavy dose of sentimentalism kills the rest of the book.
- Blue Ocean Strategy, by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne: Alright, I have already ranted about this.
- The Myths of Innovation, by Scott Berkun: I like Berkun – he posts some good articles on his blog. But this book is really unworthy of him. It has no soul or meaning. It feels almost as if he wrote up a bulleted list of myths and then started expanding them into chapters. Here is a thought experiment: Take the heading of every chapter, and reverse the meaning (creating the opposite myth) – You can find enough evidence to justify the exact opposite of this book, but get no closer to innovation.
- Little Red Book of Sales Answers, by Jeffrey Gitomer: Gitomer is a great salesperson. That is why his books are getting sold. It doesn’t mean that they have any substance or depth, just the necessary flash to lure book-buyers. By its very nature (short, simplified book), it avoids all the hard questions asked by struggling salespersons. If you need inspiration (and some real answers), simply read Seth Godin.
A book that didn’t make the top 5 worst books was The Build Master (Vincent Maraia), which I spared because it was not necessarily a bad book, just an incomplete one. I think there should be a larger book (maybe a few hundred pages) that explores build practices for different types of applications in various environments.