The best Five Books on anything


I stumbled across Five Books this morning. It’s a fantastic archive of interviews with people who recommend the best five books on their chosen subject. It ranges from Diane Coyle talking about the best economics books of 2016, through to Tyler Cowen on the best books about information theory or Jeremy Mynott on the best books about birdwatching. Whether or not you agree with their picks, it’s a real treasure trove with over a thousand topics covered so far.

It got me thinking about what my five books would be. I think I’d choose ‘values and invention’ as my topic at the moment (with a bias towards understanding how we can create the most positive social change from digital technologies) and my five would be:

  • The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow is the story of the pioneers of the industrial revolution who met on the full moon each month in Birmingham in the 1760s to swap ideas and invent the modern world.
  • Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson is the best explanation of how we think innovation happens. Spoiler alert: it’s not the way that governments and big companies think it does.
  • What the Dormouse Said by John Markoff explains why Silicon Valley is a pretty confused place ethically. The mixture of military money and 60s counter-culture made for some strange ideas.
  • The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes is the ultimate history of how the brightest and best scientists and engineers of a generation found their skills put to work on something that almost none of them thought was a good idea in the end.
  • Microserfs by Douglas Coupland is an ordinary (and very funny) tale of what it’s like to work for a technology company when nobody really asks why you’re doing what you’re doing.

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