Below are some recommended readings. Most are non-fiction, but there is some fiction as well.
Digital Apollo. Human and machine in spaceflight
By David A. Mindell
“Any modern smartphone has X times more power than the Apollo guidance computers had.”
We’ve probably all heard this statement in some form. But actually it’s more complicated than that. This book explains why and how. It also describes how the field of software engineering came about. The term itself was coined by Margaret Hamilton, who was in charge of Apollo command module software development at Draper Labs. Another central topic of the book is the old question of what should be controlled by computers vs. humans. Many of the Apollo design decisions regarding this question directly influenced how fly-by-wire systems were designed across various aircraft later on.
The code breaker
By Walter Isaacson
This is the story of how CRISPR was discovered. In 2020, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this discovery. I have no microbiology training to speak of, and this really helped me get a better understanding of what CRISPR actually is. Plus, on a more trivial side note, I learned why Genentech is named Genentech, and not HerBob.
The great mental models
By Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien
Many people talk about how you need “data science” skills. But analytical skills and frameworks are more fundamental still. Mental models are such analytical frameworks. Without mental models that are appropriate to your situation, data science very quickly reaches into a void.
The fifth risk: Undoing democracy
By Michael Lewis
This book is about the transition from the Obama to the Trump presidency. Specifically, it is about how this transition affected the Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce. And you’ll learn about many unsung heroes in these departments. One of them is Frazer Lockhart. He organized the cleanup of a nuclear weapons factory in Colorado — 60 years ahead of schedule and $30 billion under budget.
By David Badre
This is about the cognitive and neural mechanisms with which we get from “knowing” to “doing”. I went to grad school with David, and I can assure you that he is the person to write about this topic. Read the book to find out why there’s a coffee in my photo.
The hype machine
By Sinan Aral
This is probably the most comprehensive analysis to date of how social media influence or even shape us, our world, our habits, and more. But unlike many other writings on this topic, this is not just doom and gloom. Sinan Aral also has clear and practicable recommendations for how social media could be changed so that we can use them to our advantage.
The UI audit
By Jane Portman
This is a book on how to do user interfaces for web applications. It does not have a single picture in it. This is text only. This sounds crazy, but it works very well. Very useful, very hands-on. And very focused. This is not a general user interface book, let alone a design book. The focus really is on user interfaces for web applications. You can get the book here.
The unicorn’s shadow
By Ethan Mollick
The founders of successful companies are in their twenties. You really need cofounders. And it’s all about the one big idea.
Turns out that most of this is not really true. Ethan Mollick writes about these and other startup myths. He also explains, for example, why getting some sleep may actually be more beneficial than trying to force the big “aha moment”.
The entrepreneurial state
By Mariana Mazzucato
Private sector = entrepreneurial and innovative, and state = bureaucratic and slow
Not always. Mariana Mazzucato writes about examples of innovations that not only created and shaped entire industries, but that originated in publicly funded, high-risk R&D. For example, GPS, Siri, or many pharmaceutical advances. She also argues for rethinking the current (and somewhat broken) relationship between private and public sector, and describes what a more effective and inclusive policy for public-private interplay could look like (no, it’s not just some redistribution scheme).
The starry messenger
By Galileo Galilei
In this book, written in 1610, Galilei describes some of the discoveries he had made with his home-made telescope. But why do I include a 400-year-old book here? First, Galileo Galilei used a very modern approach to innovation.
Related reading: Open innovation practices that made Galileo Galilei successful
Then, consider this: Sure, our writing style now is different from Galilei’s. But otherwise, scientific publishing has changed remarkably little. We still write papers, even though our distribution mechanisms are different; Galilei had no internet. But how about more radical changes to the scientific publishing process? What do you think scientific publishing might look like 400 years from now?
Statistics: The complete mini-course
By Cassie Kozyrkov
This is not a book, but it’s very good, so I included it here.
No matter if you are new to statistics, machine learning, etc., or if you consider yourself an expert, you should check out Cassie Kozyrkov’s mini-course. It is really hard to write something that at the same time is readable to a newbie and also provides real insights to an expert. Cassie Kozyrkov can do this. Also, be sure to check out her other writings, which you can find here. The mini-course is here.
How innovation works: And why it flourishes in freedom
By Matt Ridley
Drawing on examples from across centuries, and from across industries, technologies, and applications, Matt Ridley’s book shows why “innovation by committee” really is not a good idea, why “the lone inventor” is a myth, and how the path toward breakthrough innovations typically goes via several bottom-up and incremental innovations.
Related article: How you can discover game-changing innovations
Endless frontier: Vannevar Bush, engineer of the American Century
By G. Pascal Zachary
A comprehensive biography of the inventor of the memex, a mechanical device intended to serve as a “personal knowledge base”. The memex was a very early (= 1945) version of what later became hypertext, and the World Wide Web.
The good researcher could not act in academic isolation. In order to succeed, they must know something about markets, finance, and the organization of a business.Quote attributed to Vannevar Bush
This is why we build Mergeflow the way we do, going for a 360° view across R&D and business, rather than just single facets of a topic.
Mars rover Curiosity: An inside account from Curiosity’s chief engineer
By Rob Manning and William L. Simon
With the big-picture system design and operations concepts finally settled, you might think that the rest would be fairly straightforward engineering. But it was quite the opposite. This part of the work turned out to be where the devil lives.
Sounds familiar to you? Yes…
Out-innovate: How global entrepreneurs–from Delhi to Detroit–are rewriting the rules of Silicon Valley
By Alexandre Lazarow
Examples of innovation from places around the world where the rules are different than in “the Valley”.
Why we sleep
By Matthew Walker
Why is a book on sleep on a tech, business, and innovation reading list? Because no sleep, no innovation. Matthew Walker explains why it is not just “OK” to get more sleep than many of us normally do, but why it is essential to your health, your creativity, and many other things. Plus, you really learn a lot about what’s currently known about how sleep works, in humans and other organisms.
This might get me fired
By Gregory Larkin
Stories from the trenches of innovation. How to make innovation produce results, as opposed to just playing innovation theater.
Related article: 5 ways to escape from innovation theater
By Cal Newport
Forget open office floor plans. Try the Eudaimonia Machine instead. Cal Newport explains to you why this is a good idea.
Team of teams
By Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell
How to change a huge and very hierarchical organization into a decentralized one. Without throwing away the org chart.
By April Dunford
A marketing book written by an engineer. How could you not like this? A very methodical guide to positioning.
By Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah
How to make marketing enjoyable. Both for those who do it, as well as for those who consume it.
By David Epstein
Discover how analogical reasoning is crucial to creativity and innovation. Above all, see where and why specialization might be counterproductive.
Introduction to deep learning
By Eugene Charniak
Written by a machine learning grandmaster who initially was sceptical about the claims of deep learning.
By Andy Weir
Great fiction about how to innovate yourself out of a very deep hole. Jules Verne, brought to the 21st century.