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A Summer Reading List for Innovators

If ideas are the currency of the future, then books are still the best way to trade these ideas with others. To celebrate the 600th blog post of Endless Innovation, I’ve put together a summer reading list of ten books for innovators. These books feature some of the big ideas that are winning in the marketplace of ideas. While not all of them deal directly with technological innovation, all of them approach innovation from a unique perspective – whether it’s neuroscience or science fiction or Darwinian evolution. 

100 Startup

The $100 Startup – Because sometimes all you’ve got is a hundred bucks and a dream. Chris Guillebeau is enormously popular on Twitter (and in real life, too, one imagines), so it’s interesting to get his take on what you can do with your life now that the barriers to starting your own company have dropped to zero: “There are manyothers like Chris – those who’ve found ways to opt out of traditional employment and create the time and income to pursue what they find meaningful.  Sometimes, achieving that perfect blend of passion and income doesn’t depend on shelving what you currently do.  You can start small with your venture, committing little time or money, and wait to take the real plunge when you’re sure it’s successful.”

Social Conquest of Earth

The Social Conquest of Earth – Ordinarily, a 300-page book on Darwinian evolution from the likes of a heavyweight thinker like E.O. Wilson wouldn’t exactly be considered “beach reading”. But, hey, this is the summer of Prometheus, right? We’re all trying to figure out where we’ve come from and where we’re going. If we’re not going to conquer alien planets, let’s at least conquer Earth: “At the core of The Social Conquest of Earthis the unresolved, unresolvable tension in our species between selfishness and altruism. Wilson brilliantly analyzes the force, at once creative and destructive, of our biological inheritance and daringly advances a grand theory of the origins of human culture.” 

Roadside Picnic

Roadside Picnic – The Brothers Strugatsky are the pioneers of Russian science fiction – so it’s amazingly good news that this science fiction classic that inspired Tarkovsky is finally back in print in the United States after more than 30 years. It also boasts a new foreword from Ursula K. Le Guin and has apparently been given the whole “rediscovered classic” treatment. Roadside Attraction became the inspiration for Andrei Tarkovsky’s celebrated masterpiece “Stalker” – as you might guess from this edition’s front cover (remember when the Stalker took Writer and Professor to the very edge of The Room within the forbidden Zone?) If this book is anything like other classics of Russian literature, it will get deep fast and won’t let you forget about it until you’ve finished a bottle of vodka. 

How to be black

How to Be Black – If you live in New York City, you’ve probably run across the Onion’s Baratunde Thurston at an event or conference this year – he seems to be everywhere these days. He’s also appeared on Big Think with his take on The Chatternet. This just seems like the right kind of book to take to the Hamptons or the Vineyard this summer while ironically decked out in seersucker, boat shoes and a Lacoste polo shirt – Baratunde would have wanted it that way. Or, maybe, buy this book, hang out on 125th Street in Harlem and consider your own existential angst during the dog days of August. As Baratunde would say, if you don’t want to read his book, it probably just means you’re racist. 

Hybrid Reality

Hybrid Reality – Not only are Ayesha and Parag Khanna fellow contributors to Big Think, their new book on the future co-evolution of mankind and technology is also an official TED Book. If you’re curious about the future direction of technology and how the future of man and machine are becoming irreversibly linked together, this is a must-read: “In the Hybrid Age, technology is ubiquitous, intelligent and social, encouraging us to develop emotional relationships with it. Technology no longer just processes our instruction; it has its own agency, and we respond to it as much as it responds to us.” At a trim 77 pages, Hybrid Reality is totally intended for the ultimate hybrid reality machine – your digital tablet.

The Outsourced Self

The Outsourced Self – I’ve been fascinated by the way that the Internet and the proliferation of digital devices in our lives has facilitated the rise of “pop up human capital” – people who can appear at the right time and the right place to take care of all your tasks. In The Outsourced Self, we learn from best-selling author Arlie Russell Hochschild how even tasks that were once very private are now being outsourced to a bustling private marketplace: “Everything that was once part of private life—love, friendship, child rearing—is being transformed into packaged expertise to be sold back to confused, harried Americans.” 


Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet – This book kinda snuck up on me after a fantastic review in The New York Times. Have you ever wondered what the Internet looks like? I mean, what it really looks like? Well, it turns out that it really is a series of “tubes”: “When your Internet cable leaves your living room, where does it go? Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—and the broader scheme of human culture—can be found on the Internet. But what is it physically? And where is it really? Our mental map of the network is as blank as the map of the ocean that Columbus carried on his first Atlantic voyage. The Internet, its material nuts and bolts, is an unexplored territory. Until now.”

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Imagine-Jonah Lehrer

Imagine: How Creativity Works – Neuroscience is the new Freakonomics, that’s what I always say. Understanding how the brain works is what everybody wants to know these days – from marketers to political pollsters to educators. Neuroscience is the “It” science these days (sorry, quantum physicists, your turn will come next year if you can ever figure out the Higgs Boson “god particle”) – and Jonah Lehrer has done as much as anyone to popularize the field of neuroscience. I mean, who else could have written a book calledProust Was a Neuroscientist? His book Imagine goes one step further, hoping to uncover the true sources of innovation and creativity.


Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism – Slavoj Žižek is probably one of the world’s most famous philosophers these days, at least when it comes to divining the future of global capitalism. Frankly, it scares the crap out of me that somebody might ask my opinion of him at a cocktail party and expect an answer. So, do as I do – arm yourself by picking up his latest book. In real life, Žižek is a character — I’m assuming that a guy from Slovenia got so famous, so fast because he can do more than turn a neat phrase – he must have some pretty impressive thoughts about the future of the world. The book’s title sounds like something you get when you cross Bret Easton Ellis with Karl Marx – or does that not coincide with the primary thesis of the Hegelian dialectic?

Confront and Conceal

Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and the Suprising Use of American Power – I’ve been writing a lot recently about cyber wars, about the new class of “cyber weapons” andthe use of malware viruses like Stuxnet to attack nation’s critical infrastructure. Well, this tell-all book from a New York Times correspondent tells the whole back story on how the Obama Administration is weaponizing cyberspace and experimenting with other weapons of cyber-destruction in places like Iran. This book may not convince you to vote for either Obama or Romney, but it sounds like a gripping election-year read.


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