Almost three years ago, on June 25, 2004, I wrote a post titled My Current Bookshelf. It inspired a number of similar posts from other bloggers, and I received a lot of great feedback. The last set was decidedly developer-focused. This set includes some developer books, but it also includes a number of business-related titles. I encourage you to blog a photo of your bookshelf and add a link to the feedback for this post. I love to hear about good books that others are reading.
The photo above shows 16 books from around the house. I keep a few scattered just about everywhere, and these are the titles that I’ve either recently read, am currently reading, or hope to read in the near future.
Beautiful Evidence: This is Edward Tufte’s fourth design book, and if you’ve read the prior three, you’ll find a lot of those thoughts repeated here (albeit in slightly different ways). Tufte focuses on how to effectively show and present evidence using artful design techniques. His books are works of art themselves, and they reward scrutiny. Edward’s web site provides more details about the book. His Sparklines are particularly interesting.
Effective Interviewing and Interrogation Techniques: My family gave me a hard time when they saw this on my Christmas list. But then, they usually poke fun at some of my holiday book choices. I should note that this book is primarily about criminal interrogation techniques, not job interview techniques. If you’ve ever wanted to understand the process of eliciting a confession from someone, identifying them as truthful or untruthful, or how to structure a conversation, this book will fascinate you. The author details the scientific principles behind the psycho-physiological responses that occur when a suspect’s mind and body are at odds with each other. While not nearly as detailed, you can read about some of these techniques on Howstuffworks How Police Interrogation Works. Oh…I apologize in advance if you’re about to embark on an interview loop with me.
Negotiating For Dummies: I’m just about finished with this one. It’s not the best book on negotiation I’ve ever read, and it’s generally in-line with the quality of other “Dummies” books. The book covers six basic negotiating skills like preparation, setting limits and goals, listening, communication, knowing when to “pause,” and closing a deal. The author, an entertainment lawyer, seems to know what he’s talking about, but I hoped for more depth. If it’s your first book on negotiation, it’d probably be okay. Otherwise, I’d recommend passing on this one.
Applications = Code + Markup: A Guide to the Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation: The latest tome from noted author Charles Petzold, this book bills itself as “the definitive guide to the Windows Presentation Foundation.” And weighing-in at 1,002 pages, you’d expect this to be true. I was really excited to read this book, especially based on Charles’ prior works. Unfortunately, I only made it about half-way through before I stopped. To his credit, and in typical Petzold fashion, the topics that he does cover are covered in great depth and detail. You’ll certainly understand why things work the way they do. If you’re new to WPF, though, I personally wouldn’t recommend starting with this book; without a basic understanding of WPF, I think you’ll be confused. Adam Nathan’s fantastic Windows Presentation Foundation Unleashed is a much better first choice. Although Petzold’s book is a “definitive” guide, the book doesn’t cover the 3D features of WPF at all…you need to download The Lost 3D Episode for that.
How to Solve It: Modern Heuristics: I recently discovered this one hiding in our upstairs closet and became re-engrossed as I flipped through it one weekend. This is not a book full of algorithms that apply to specific problems. Rather, it is a book that provides guidance about how to think about framing and attacking problems. Or, as the author puts it: “to solve the problem of how to solve problems.” Although I’ve only read about one third of this book so far, it’s very engaging and insightful. Topics include “classic methods of optimization, including dynamic programming, the simplex method, and gradient techniques, as well as recent innovations such as simulated annealing, tabu search, and evolutionary computation.” No, I don’t pretend to know what all of that means…yet.
Working with Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Team System: I bought this one awhile back when I needed an overview of Visual Studio 2005 Team System. For a beginner without much Team System knowledge, this book does provide a good high-level perspective. If you’re looking for the nitty gritty details, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Foundations of WPF: An Introduction to Windows Presentation Foundation: This one was written by fellow Microsoft Technical Evangelist, Laurence Moroney, a prolific author who has released many books on a variety of topics. Unlike Petzold’s Applications = Code + Markup, Laurence’s book is a good introduction to WPF. He covers XAML, controls, 2D, graphics and media, 3D, animation, deployment, and even some Windows Communications Foundation for good measure. Similar to the aforementioned Windows Presentation Foundation Unleashed by Adam Nathan, this would be a perfect precursor to the Petzold book.
The Old New Thing: Practical Development Throughout the Evolution of Windows: I can’t wait to read this one! It’s next in my queue. Written by well-known Microsoft blogger, Raymond Chen, this book answers questions like: Why does Windows work the way it does? Why is Shut Down on the Start menu? Why are registry files called “hives?” Raymond has spent more than a decade on our Windows development team and he speaks with authority. If you’re a Windows developer and want some behind-the-scenes perspective, I suspect this will make an entertaining and enlightening read. As you can see on his blog, Raymond has a casual and very readable writing style, and his technical skills are first-rate. I can’t wait!
Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality: I picked this one up last year, because I wanted some additional context related to Micro-ISVs (a term coined by Eric Sink). One of the guys on my former team, Michael Lehman, had mentioned the book, and Michael has since begun a weekly podcast about Micro-ISVs with the author, Bob Walsh. As a former shareware writer and one-man operation myself, I would have loved this book years ago. As Bob mentions in the introduction, this is “one of those rare Apress books without a single line of code!” But, if you’re thinking about becoming your own boss and making a profit from your software, this is a great resource. Consider it the non-technical guide for becoming a successful one person software business. Bob includes a lot of helpful industry interviews and resources too.
The Elegant Universe: Author Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, presents superstring theory as a way to reconcile the tensions between general relativity and quantum mechanics. He proposes that everything in the universe is the result of vibrations of extremely small loops of energy called strings. If, like me, you’re more than casually interested in science (is my Scientific American subscription showing through???), you’ll love this book. Brian’s writing style is very readable and easy to follow, even if you’re not scientifically inclined. It’s readability is similar to Stephen Hawking’s fantastic A Brief History of Time. Also, PBS created an excellent NOVA series on The Elegant Universe, and all three hours are freely viewable online. Awesome.
Warning: There be business books ahead! This is the end of the mostly-geeky section (well, except for Negotiating for Dummies). If you value your technical brain and want to avoid manager atrophy, please proceed with extreme caution!
First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently: This is a fantastic book. The insights presented here are based on two large research studies undertaken by the Gallup Organization over a 25-year period. This isn’t about what we think managers should do to be effective. It’s a report based on empirical data about how the most effective managers achieve their results. For example, the authors find that “the Four Keys” of great managers include (page 67):
- When selecting someone, they select for talent…not simply experience, intelligence, or determination.
- When setting expectations, they define the right outcomes…not the right steps.
- When motivating someone, they focus on strengths…not on weaknesses.
- When developing someone, they help him find the right fit…not simply the next rung on the ladder.
There are a lot of true gems in this book. Some of the concepts may seem obvious, but not many of them are actually implemented by most managers. Highly recommended.
The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes: I bought this book when William Ury, Director of the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard University, came to speak on the Microsoft campus a month or so ago. I haven’t read it yet, but I was intrigued by the title, because it’s my belief that people don’t say “no” often enough. William teaches you how to say “no” to the wrong things so that you have an opportunity to say “yes” to the right ones. He provides a three-step framework that starts with explaining what your true “yes” is, delivering a respectful “no,” then following it up with a positive proposal. I can’t recommend it until I’ve read it, but based on the presentation, I expect good things.
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In: Here’s the William Ury book that he’s best known for, co-authored with Roger Fisher. If you’re looking for a great book on the art of negotiation, this should be at the top of your list. When you think about negotiation, you might initially imagine something big like buying a house or a car, or perhaps negotiating a contract at work. But, Getting to Yes provides a strategy for achieving agreement wherever there’s conflict, including conflict with relatives, children, fellow employees…whomever. I read this book years ago when I was a Senior Consultant for Microsoft Consulting Services, and I purchased the Second Edition at William Ury’s recent talk on the Microsoft campus (had to have him sign it, you know). I’m excited to read it again.
Selling the Dream: When I introduce myself as a Technical Evangelist, I frequently get strange looks and reactions. As I’m explaining the role, I inevitably mention Guy Kawasaki, and for those who want to know even more, I point them to this book. Guy is responsible for bringing evangelism to the technology industry during his time at Apple. The title of this book is good shorthand for what evangelists do, but the better description of evangelism is: “the process of convincing people to believe in your product or ideas as much as you do, by using fervor, zeal, guts, and cunning to mobilize your customers and staff into becoming as passionate about a cause as you are.” Although the book was written in 1991, its content is just as relevant today. If you want to understand how to evangelize your products or ideas, I highly recommend this book.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die: I had flipped through this book during two separate visits to the local bookstore, and when one of my coworkers mentioned that he was reading it and liked it so far, I returned to the bookstore and bought it. It’s on my “to read” stack, so I can’t review it quite yet. The premise of Made to Stick is that there are six key qualities of an idea that make it stick: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotional, and stories. If anyone has finished this book already, I’d be interested in your feedback.
Purple Cow: I received this book as a gift from Mike Soucie, the CEO of Electric Rain. He had mentioned that he recommends (and possibly gives) it to all of his employees. Purple Cow is a relatively small book that’s easy to read in a single sitting. Author, Seth Godin, describes how—after driving by hundreds of cows on a trip through France—he and his children start to ignore them. But, they imagine, what if one of those cows was purple? Now, that would be remarkable! Seth explains how a revolution in marketing is underway and that traditional approaches are now obsolete. He offers a lot of advice and uses a number of insightful case studies to make his point. It’s a fun book to read. By the way, I just noticed that Electric Rain’s StandOut product uses the term remarkable in its tag line. Looks like they’re following Seth’s advice!
Also, there’s one that I forgot to include in the photo titled The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management. My dad (a former executive at Whirlpool Corporation) told me the story of “the trip to Abilene” when I was younger and still living in Michigan. The story, better known as The Abilene Paradox, has stuck with me ever since. If you’ve ever talked to a coworker individually about something and then seen them represent the exact opposite position in a meeting, this will interest you. The author, Jerry Harvey, fills the book with lots of little stories and parables about the odd and unexpected interactions that happen in groups. It’s insightful stuff. At 150 total pages, this is another easy read.
Whew! I didn’t realize how long it would take to basically come up with one-paragraph overview of 17 books! I hope you’ve found a few interesting titles in this set. And if you blog about your current bookshelf, please add a link to your entry in the feedback.