I don’t read many business books, but this year I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how my businesses are working out. I’ve been running Orange Blossom Media for about nine years now, and FixUpFox has been my main focus for the past two years. I’m working on updates to both, as well as a new project to join them, and I’ve been looking for ways to improve my workflows.

4/5 – Start With These Books

These are the books that I'd recommend first of the business books that I've read this year. They don't always follow the same lists that others make. Many of my 3/5 books are written up as basically life-altering, while I can only say that they have some lessons to share mixed in.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage

Ryan Holiday started with books on marketing and has moved into Stoic philosophy. This book comes before his later Ego is the Enemy, which is one that I read snippets from time to time.

The introduction to Stoic philosophy in this book is as it is currently being used by high performers who preach practicing a form of disconnect from anything that is out of their control. It's not a bad idea, and Holiday presents it in a practical way with anecdotes both of himself and of other famous high performers.

If you want to better control your emotions when it comes to making business decisions, this type of book may be for you.

The ONE Thing

I wish I could say that I learned more from this book. Not that it is a bad book, but because I still haven't fully taken the lesson within and incorporated it into my life.

I read this book as part of the Florida Blog Con book club, and participated in some short discussions with founder Bess Auer and some others who were reading along.

Most of us were in a similar place, where we had too many projects going at once to make any one of them stick out. I'm still at that place, but I've been working on consolidating projects to focus on serving my clients as best I can.

Take a cue from this book: find the One Thing that can help make the other things that you want happen, and put as much of your energy into that thing in lieu of other distractions as possible. I'll let you know how well I've done on this next year, when I've got a whole new set of lessons to review.

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers

If I can recommend just one book from this particular list, this would be it. I've followed Tim Ferriss since his first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, which gave me ideas on how remote businesses could be run and more liberal methods of delegation that can avoid micromanaging. While a bit bombastic early on, Ferriss has grown wiser and more measured through the aforementioned Stoicism that he shares with Holiday.

Tools of Titans is Tim's output after condensing the first 200 or so episodes of his highly successful podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. He interviews high performers in a variety of fields, not just technology or finance. It is through his masterful interviewing skills that we learn the mindsets that a large subset of lucky and talented individuals take to their work and lives.

Styled more as a reference guide than a book to read straight through, this will be familiar and welcome to anyone who listens to his show regularly, and a distillation of wisdom from a collective of some of the best mentors you could have.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (audiobook)

I listened to this short book early in the year because clutter is something that I think about a lot. I'd heard of the KonMari method, and while I knew that I was not likely to go through with the process myself, I liked hearing about how Kondo went from having a childhood of organizational methods and tools like I had to one of radical simplicity.

I try to keep myself from getting too many single purpose items or things that I don't have a set purpose for, but I am still doing a good job as a consumer, buying unnecessary things. The release of tension that I feel when properly cleaning and organizing tells me that I should probably improve in this area. I use living with others as an excuse, but I don't know quite how simple I could or would go if I lived alone.

Today's focus is on books that relate to culture or politics. I chose a mix of older and newer books this year. As the first few books show, the problems of yesterday are the problems of today in a different form.

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads

I'm going to start strong with Tim Wu's history of advertising, from the earliest print advertising through the global markets of Internet last-minute ad placement. He demonstrates how the industry got started, who some of the major players were, and how it has progressed in tandem with technological growth, often leaping ahead to pull society forward.

Wu does not generally condemn or condone advertising, but shows how it has grown the economy and the spread of ideas. There are times that he shows the dark side of advertising style over substance, but in general the book is a levelheaded description of the inudstry that controls much of what we see, read, and hear.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

A good followup to The Attention Merchants would be Neil Postman's book about how popular culture has subsumed intellectual thought. The book was written over thirty years ago but is still being proven true today with regards to the power and sway that television and bit-sized culture has on thinking.

I am not a fan of the idea that all TV is bad and that all of our devotion to external culture leads to moral and intellectual decay. Comparisons are often made to how learned people of the past were because they didn't have pop stars and celebrity gossip to occupy them, but I believe that to be false. We are more educated than we have ever been. An interest in the goings on of others, while not always (but often can be) helpful or useful, does not preclude the ability to hold deep thoughts.

There could be a trap here if you describe all entertainment as intellectually empty. I am a fan of edutainment myself, filling up podcast and Youtube queues with videos that describe how the world works, often in amusing ways. Still, I don't regret listening and learning, even if Postman might describe it as a slipping of discourse.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (audiobook)

This was a quick, straightforward listen. Timothy Snyder does not pull punches, directly comparing the lessons from 20th century dictators to the actions of Donald Trump today. The book offers suggestions on how to participate in society and how to respond to external stimuli as you are dealing with potentially dictatorial and tyrannical behavior.

If you believe that you need to steel yourself against a slide into dictatorship, which doesn't often feel far away for me these days, this is a set of lessons to guide your thoughts and actions.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (audiobook)

Yuval Noah Harari deserves all of the acclaim that his writing gets. Sapiens moves through the history of hominids, through modern day human biology, physiology, anthropology, and culture. He exposes not just the evolutionary advancements that we've made, but also the cultural ones. The histories of commerce, finance, literacy, and more are tied into our growth as a species, and Harari does a good job of drawing clear lines across history.

The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time

This is where the suggestion for the aforementioned On Tyranny came from. Brooke Gladstone, host of WNYC's On the Media, writes about the bifurcation of American society into right and left ideologies, with little room left for overlap.

But What If We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past (audiobook)

I always find Chuck Klosterman's writing to be hit or miss. As his books are mainly essays, that is alright as I can move from one to another with varying quality. This book was written more as a single narrative, with a focus on why we always assume that we are at the end of history and that questions asked ages ago are always settled.

It's true that we should question first order assumptions to confirm that what we base our second and third order assumptions on are built on firm ground. I can't say that I was highly entertained by Klosterman's look back and implied assumption that all of what we believe now will also become false in the future.

Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

This is an earlier book by Gabriella Coleman, author of another book that I would highly suggest, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy. This is an earlier book that was written more as an anthropological study than a narrative, so it reads a bit dryer than her more story focused followups. The focus was mainly on the Debian community and Defcon, two things that I have little experience with.

If you have interest in the culture and personalities of Free and Open Source Software, along with a basic history of how they have clashed with closed source software makers, this is a good primer, but more technical in nature.

Minimalism: Essential Essays

The Minimalists have become famous for preaching simplicity in all things. At this point it is nearly a cult in terms of devotion to reduction of clutter in all forms. While I never intend on being the person who owns fewer than 50 total items or whatever metric ultra-minimalists are using now, unless something dramatic happens in my life, the mindset that they engender is a good one for focusing on what is important.

A Spy's Guide to Thinking

If you have Amazon Prime, this one is a free read. It was also a quick read and not necessarily to be taken fully at face value. John Braddock walks you through a robbery that he was the victim of, and how he handled the situation. There is nothing wrong with the lessons contained within, which are mainly about staying aware of your surroundings and keeping your thoughts tuned to how to keep situations from spiraling out of control.

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Today is a focus on the fiction books that I read this year. I read more fiction than I have in the past few years, as I got stuck in the rut of assuming that only non-ficton was worth the majority of my time. Stories, even those not based in fact, are useful thinking tools, and just plain entertaining.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales

Margaret Atwood has been one of my favorite authors since I read The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake in high school. She is a no-nonsense writer, both in her books and in real life. While painting vivid pictures of the worlds that her characters inhabit, she does not waste words.

Stone Mattress is another short story collection of hers, with several stories sharing related characters, but all sharing a similar theme. The stories do not move so far out of the realm of reality that you couldn't feel them happening around you.

Walkaway

One of the best books that I've read this year. Cory Doctorow always has the ability to make believable worlds out of the unbelievable, showing how we could move from topical arguments of the day into unknown territory.

Walkaway concerns a new mode of living in a world where tech has gotten good enouhg at repurposing waste that a freegan lifestyle is not only possible, but an attractive alternative. When it's cheap or nearly free to produce food and goods but copyrights and patents on their designs and processes stop them from being shared freely, class inequality is brought to extraordinary levels.

I don't want to give away the plot, but suggest that anyone who thinks things could be different or better without going into purely dystopian territory as so much hard sci-fi seems to do, this book is worth reading.

When everything is burning down around you, will you make the decision to walk away?

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, #1)

I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into when I started this book. Secret societies and codes based on a Borgean library nestled in a San Francisco bookstore? The book has this and more, and is intriguing to the very end.

Mr. Penumbra puts a bit of focus on technology, archiving, and the value of knowledge while contrasting the time consuming process of working your way through hundreds of books while a computer and the resources of Google can handle thousands or millions more in seconds. The book shows that there is still room for human ingenuity among machines, and the narrative within a narrative structure gives me hope in the end.

You

Gamers and developers will get a special pleasure from this book. The main character is working as a developer for a game company that his friends founded as he split off from them after high school. He returns after the death of one of the co-founders and the failure of other career prospects. The book splits between in-game discussions of the characters that he designs and plays, reminisces of their shared childhood, and the struggle of keeping a AAA game company afloat.

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1) (audiobook)

Speaker for the Dead (Ender's Saga, #2) (audiobook)

Xenocide (Ender's Saga #3) (audiobook)

Children of the Mind (Ender's Saga, #4) (audiobook)

I read at least a dozen of the Ender books years ago, and wanted to return to them to remind myself of what kept me captivated for so long. While I find Orson Scott Card maddening at times as a person, he puts such humanity and insight into his characters that I wonder how it can be the same person.

I chose to listen to these books to make it a bit more of a passive process, and I'm not sure if that helped or hurt as I moved along. The first two books are my favorites, but the third and the fourth are a bit maddening in a way that had me wanting to skip past portions if I could. The story seems to slow down, and things that I found clever and insightful a few years ago now seemed to come from someone with a particular axe to grind yet a disinterest in offending.

I’m continuing on with this series and will be moving onto the Shadow Saga after I finish the interstitial books here. I only hope those ones hold up to the fond memories that I have on what I considered an insightful and clever look at religion and geopolitics.

Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody

I don’t think I’d loved any artist the way that the author loved Freddie Mercury. I have an affinity for David Bowie, but not on as deep of a level and not from such a young age. It makes me feel like I’m missing something, not having a measuring stick that I can put up to my life as a reminder of how far I’ve come.

Fahrenheit 451 (audiobook)

Another classic that felt important to return to this year. The most shocking part of this novel that I’d somehow forgotten is the act of the firemen and how it is directed. It was not the government putting dissent aside as in 1984. It was the general population deciding that they did not want to allow dissent to cultivate. Books aren’t illegal because some Big Brother told us they were. It’s because we mutually decided to make them that way.

Whenever someone says “The government is doing this”, what they mean is that there’s a comfort in being the victim to a larger evil, to spare the thought that it is the society that you are surrounded with that is that government. There’s no us and them, just the us that has been raised up high enough to speak for the rest of us.

Beowulf (audiobook)

One of the earliest of Old English tales, and the basis for many later stories. This was shorter than I expected and an easy read. Beowulf kill Grendel. Beowulf kill Grendel’s mother. Spoiler!

Siddhartha (audiobook)

Treated as a religious text, there is a bit of the tone here that bothers me. I don’t want the stories of fallible figures who have some of the same flaws that I have. I want to look towards a religious figure to be raised above human flaw and not used as an excuse for poor behavior. Siddhartha may find redemption in the end, but he has no struggle or sacrifice, he simply nothings his way into being the most holy doer of nothing.

Siddhartha read a lot like business parables to me, along the lines of “The Go Giver” with a bit of misogyny and racism sprinkled in. It’s not terrible, and deserves some of the praise that it gets, but I don’t want to breathlessly condone a text just because the ascetic characters are considered the most holy without any reason.

Norse Mythology (audiobook)

Listening to this book read aloud by Neil Gaiman was a treat. He has a warm tone that lends an air of gravitas to his writing. The stories that he tells are simple, in that they are the start of all things, and in this case the end of them as well.

Odd and the Frost Giants (audiobook)

After listening to Gaiman’s book on the overarching Norse Mythology, I moved into this story about an individual human named Odd and how he used his unique position to best the Frost Giants after they overtook Asgard.

Dead Trees Give No Shelter

I wasn’t sure what I was going to get out of this short by Wil Wheaton, and I wasn’t quite expecting the ending. He is a pleasure to read and listen to on his blog, and he is a pleasre to read stories from. Give this a go if you are a fan of his voice or want to see what King Nerd is like.

Mercury

A clever little story that combines a past and present story into one narrative about secrets and darkness. Hope Larson is a great writer and artist, and her talents are on full display here.

Original Sin

I wanted this to be a good murder mystery, but it went a bit too out there and retconned too much to fit a specific narrative that I could not enjoy Original Sin. You get most of the Avengers throughout this storyline, but ineffective at best, standing around debating poorly at the worst.

I used Amazon affiliate links for the books above. If you want to read any or get any other suggestions, let me know!

Today's books are mainly autobiographies, with one biography tossed in. I generally prefer autobiographies since they are direct from the source. While they lack the detachment and long view that a biography might possess, memoirs and personal accounts feel more visceral and real to me.

Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate

Zoë Quinn has been through a lot. As the genesis of the harassment campaign that became known as Gamergate, Quinn has the unenviable position of being the first to experience that particular group of hate, and the person who was used to launch a variety of alt-right (Nazi asshole) personalities into public consciousness.

Quinn is self deprecating, maintains a good sense of humor throughout the ordeal and book, and offers useful tips for those who are currently being harassed, as well as preemptive tips to avoid some of the fallout of holding opinions that Internet harassers disagree with.

The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy

Of course Rainn Wilson first popped onto my radar with The Office, but I later followed him to his web company, Soul Pancake, where I watched a bunch of their Youtube videos. I was a bit surprised that the the serious Dwight and the unhinged vigilante from 'Super' was a generous and sensitive person.

Wilson's memoir is that of a boy living around the globe in a variety of strange circumstances, growing up without realizing that acting was his passion until he dove headlong into schooling and auditioning, finally landing his defining role. Throughtout he practices his Bahia faith and describes how he lives with the world around him.

Estranged: Leaving Family and Finding Home

I chose this book because it is in part a decision that I made and I want to see how and why someone else has done the same. Jessica Berger Gross has a different story than I do, and I'm sure everyone does, and she has made her decision as more of a necessity than I have.

One of the societal assumptions that I have been rebelling at over the last few years, and even moreso this past year thanks to the cultural shakeup that we've been having, is the need to do things because "that's just how they are". The problem with society though, is that it's social. I'm lucky to not have to explain my actions regularly, but it's a bit odd feeling that all of culture is against you.

I contribute a lot of this being one of my best years yet personally to my decision to eschew norms a bit and make my own decisions. It's not always the easiest, but I don't regret it.

An Unexpected Twist

Andy Borowitz is a funny writer, and he handles the recounting of a life-threatening medical condition with the same level of humor as his New Yorker writing. This was a short read, and wouldn't have been quite so funny had it not had a positive outcome, but I enjoyed it.

Man's Search for Meaning

Victor Frankl's memoir of his time in concentration camps during WWII is brutally honest, yet meditative. He descsribes horrors as seen from the victims, while retaining humanity and a sense that there is purpose to everything even in his darkest hour.

This book is recommended reading for a reason. You can live through hell and come back stronger and with more focus on your life. Additionally, you can have an account from someone about an atrocity that most certainly took place, while people who want to do it again deny its very existence.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had a notable career, and is particularly outspoken and thought provoking in her words and writing. Ginsburg fully leans into the popular culture representation of a badass who doesn't take lip lying down. At the same time she professes undying love and devotion to her husband, showing that feminism doesn't equate to man-hate, but equity for all people.

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma

While 'The Imitation Game' had historical inaccuracies, what biopic doesn't? Alan Turing was the father of modern computing, and a martyr that serves as a reminder that we often try to drag our brightest minds down when we don't recognize that what makes them different is what makes them important.

This short recounting of Turing's life and professional work is a good overview of how he and a team helped crack the German Enigma code, while not giving him all of the credit like some other portrayals inaccurately do. He thought in terms far beyond what most people were doing at the time, considering computing as a platform for the future, not just the problem at hand.

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In the final day of reviewing the 54 books that I’ve finished so far in 2017, I’m talking about books focused mainly on technology. I work in tech, I talk tech all the time, and one day I want to be known for writing about tech too.

In the Beginning…Was the Command Line

Neal Stephenson is an acclaimed sci-fi author who invented some of the terminology of the Internet. He is also picky when it comes to his operating system and computing features, as all good technologists are.

This book ends up reading more like a history of Stephenson’s use of operating systems and hardware than a history of the OS, but it is still interesting if tinkering with machines is something that you like to do.

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

Why do we seem unable to put down our phones, or check them hundreds of times per day? They were designed with that goal specifically in mind. Learn some of the tricks used to make technology addictive, and keep yourself from being unable to go a few minutes without a notification check.

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age

In addition to being an excellent novelist (see Walkaway from Wednesday’s fiction post), Cory Doctorow works at the EFF and writes cogently on digital culture and the ethics and legalities around it. In Information Doesn’t Want to be Free, Doctorow examines and disputes a common rallying cry around Open Source and Free Software, and points out the fact that those creators deserve just as much support – if not more – than the larger companies that profit from their work.

If you are a digital creator I highly recommend this book. If you are a person who cares about the Internet, I highly recommend all of Doctorow’s works.

Utopia Is Creepy: And Other Provocations

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (audiobook)

Both of these books are by Nicholas Carr, and both concern the Internet and technology. Utopia is Creepy is a collection of posts from his blog, which means that the quality of each essay varies a bit, and are rooted in a particular time.

The Shallows is a more traditional book, with a focus on how the Internet is changing how we think. It is not necessarily an indictment of our current culture, though any book like this invariably gets to that point. Instead, Carr contrasts how we gather information as compared to other times in history, such as the amount of attention devoted to consuming a novel or research paper. It’s a good reminder of how we are shaped by technology, and how we have to choose our responses around it.

Iterating Grace: Heartfelt Wisdom and Disruptive Truths from Silicon Valley’s Top Venture Capitalists

Short book. Weird book. Weird back story. I can’t say this would get that far were it not the real life mystery that accompanied the distribution of the original 140 copies and the hidden nature of the author.

Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed Our World

A fun history of the video game industry, going back to before there even was one up to the present day of AAA title studios and independent game makers. Andrew Ervin has similar tastes in games as art as I do, so it was also enjoyable to read about games that I enjoyed from someone who got the same emotional tug from them.

The Inner History of Devices

Sherry Turkle has been studying the anthropology around humans and technology since before I was using computers. Her books are generally written for an academic audience, but they contain a deep level of knowledge and insight.

The Inner History of Devices is Turkle’s attempt to narrate from the point of view of the device itself, and how interactions with humans work. An interesting read which taught me a few things, though didn’t change much of my thinking.

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