Some of my favourite digital/marketing sites at the moment include The Verge, Ryan Holiday’s blog, Indigo & Cloth’s Tumblr, Martin Weigel’s blog & Jeremy Waite’s blog. What do they all have in common? Great insight, smart minds, no bullshit.
Inspired by other bloggers, I thought I might start a reading list, a notebook of books i’ve recently read and enjoyed, or not as the case may be.
If you’ve any recommendations, feel free to get in touch via Twitter!
The Art of Thinking Clearly
More a compendium of writing and thinking from elsewhere than a book in the narrative format, but very useful nonetheless. Dobelli has created a handbook of cognitive biases and psychological blind spots that we encounter unknowingly every day, with plenty of real world examples.
There’s lots to learn here for marketers interested in the foundations of behavioural psychology, and while I found it a little fragmented at times, it’s certainly a book I’ll keep on my shelf for future reference. It’s also a book that you’ll likely want to scribble on, so buying in physical print rather than Kindle is advised.
Ever wondered whether the incredible success and irresistible lure of apps like Candy Crush, Facebook and WhatsApp comes about through a pure coincidence or carefully created conditions? Read this and you’ll soon understand it’s the latter.
While most marketing books tend to be drawn out and unnecessarily wordy Eyal has written a book that concisely explains the process of building an addictive product. This text has become something of a bible for Silicon Valley, and has formed the basis for many new apps on the scene, including Product Hunt. Eyal’s four step process is simple to understand and there’s plenty of up to date examples. Though I would probably have liked more detail in parts, this is short and important for anyone involved in technology.
100 Years of Solitude
Gael Garcia Marquez
I read this on my recent 6 month round the world trip, and was simply blown away by the writing of Marquez. A modern classic outlining 100 years in the life of a Colombian town and in particular the Buendia family, ‘100 Years…’ is full of vivid imagery and wonderfully descriptive writing. Though long and sometimes difficult to keep up with (you’ll need to constantly re-visit the Buendia family tree on the opening page), this feels like a literary masterpiece, and rewards the reader unlike any other book I’ve ever read. It engrosses you in a world of magic, gypsies, war, strange disease and a town on the outskirts of civilisation emerging from its shell. In my top five favourite books for sure.
The Obstacle is The Way
I’ll be honest – I devour everything that Ryan Holiday writes and his earlier book ‘Trust me, I’m lying’ is a personal favourite. This text is Holiday’s first on philosophy, but contains none of the stuffiness or inaccessibility of other such books. Focusing on the stoic philosophy favoured by many of the world’s great leaders (including Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius), ‘The Obstacle…’ is expertly researched and, despite a difficult to explain subject matter, flows like any good story.
Holiday uses examples from the worlds of business, arts, military to explain some key principles, and his common sense operating system of stoicism is logical enough for even the most ardent philosophy cynic to find useful. I scribbled all over this book due to the fervour of ideas, and I’d class it as a modern starting point for philosophical thinking.
Another short ‘pop psychology’ book, Drive is nonetheless a must read for anyone involved in H.R. and leadership. Pink takes his cues from modern research on the workplace and happiness and puts forward a very interesting theory about how to really get the most out of people through an emphasis on autonomy, mastery and purpose. I read this in a weekend, and though most of the themes were already familiar to me, Pink’s simplified style of writing was most welcome.
As Ireland´s tech boom grown exponentially over the past 5-10 years, the undoubted epicentre was a previously downtrodden part of Dublin town. The area around Grand Canal Square and the docks has had a chequered and very interesting past. This book, co-written by some of Ireland´s finest tech journalists, tells the story of the companies, personalities and history that´s weaved into ´Silicon Docks´. Though I knew most of the material already, there were some very interesting insights into how the larger companies were attracted here, and the possible future of the docks. I would also say that the impact of the tech boom on the local area could have been explored more, but overall, a good quick read about an important part of Irish economics.
Screaming At The Sky
GAA player autobiographies are generally poorly written, bland affairs, but former Clare hurler has much more than just dressing room banter and on-pitch heroics to talk about. Griffin lost his Dad to cancer and while commuting to college in Nova Scotia each term, decided to do something big to commemorate the loss – a cycle across the barren wilderness of Canada.
Though this book is a few years old now, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Griffin´s thoughts and following his unorthodox journey while attached to one of Ireland´s most traditional institutions.
Here Are The Young Men
Doyle´s first book had been on my list for a long time. I sparingly read fiction, but the rave reviews for ´HATYM´ made me want to pick up the book. To call it a ´coming of age story´would be slightly trite, albeit partially true. The author, possibly speaking with quite a bit of personal experience, weaves a bloody, drug and drink fuelled trail, following 4 main protagonists around Dublin during their post Leaving Cert Summer. Though overtly gory in parts, for anyone who grew up in Ireland, you´ll recognise a bit of yourself in the pages.
The Bloodied Field
If you´ve any interest in Irish cultural, sporting or political history, I simply implore you to read this. Definitely within the top three books I´ve ever read. Foley, a sports journalist by trade, has obviously attacked the sheer volume of research needed for a book like this with vigour. The book integrates a multitude of different viewpoints and stories seamlessly, an incredibly difficult thing to do, and tells the story of one of the most horrific days in Irish society. Foley walks the tightrope of going into too much military detail, but also not offering too high level an insight very well also.
Most Irish people know the broad strokes of Bloody Sunday in Croke Park, this book tells the full story, setting the scene and examining the aftermath from a sporting sense. In years to come, I think it´ll be recognised as both a brilliant, but also an important read.
I´ve already written up my various learnings from this book here. Though very heavy on the football tactics in parts, there´s plenty for anyone interested at a higher level in business and sport to get their teeth into, along with a supreme amount of detail into the day to day runnings of the biggest team in Germany.
Again, this had been on my list for a while, and though I enjoyed it, it ended abruptly and promised much more than it delivered. Snow, owner of a content marketing startup currently, delves into the ´hacks´and ladder jumps employed by some of the smartest leaders in the world, including mentorship, parlaying momentum into other areas and more. Though there are plenty of good insights, the book rambles slightly and feels too stretched out, without much of a clear narrative. Having said that, it´s a pretty quick read and worth it for anyone interested in career progression or productivity.
The Sports Gene
Nature or nurture? It´s the question that´s annoyed scientists, coaches and sportspeople for decades and according to this excellent work from David Epstein, the answer is a mixture. Taking the reader on a journey across the sporting landscape, from sprinters in Jamaica to dog sledders in the Arctic, the writer manages, like all great books in this space do, to not go too jargon heavy. Instead, Epstein´s obvious journalistic skills come out and while the science is fascinating, the stories are even better. Well worth a look for those interested in sports science at a broad level.
Live at the Brixton Academy
What makes a great rock and roll book? Drugs, tales of backstage debauchery and perhaps Jamaican gang members threatening your life on an ongoing basis? Maybe the last one isn’t what you’d usually think of, but it was normal for the Brixton Academy.
For Simon Parkes, a thalidomide scarred, public school chancer who grew up as the son of a millionaire in rural Lincolnshire, music was an outlet. When the chance to take over a large, deserted, forsaken building in Brixton soon after the famous riots, for a pound, he jumped at it, and the rest makes for a pretty riveting book.
Each chapter is short at around 15 pages, and reads like an anecdote, yet the book is linear and never feels fractured, telling the story of how Parkes built up the Academy into the biggest live venue in the U.K.
The mean streets of Brixton, with their West Indian and Jamaican roaming gangs are described in great detail, and there are plenty of humorous stories peppered throughout.
Despite being near 400 pages, I finished this book within a week, and if you’re a fan of a good rock memoir, I’d definitely recommend a look.
The Tao of Chip Kelly
I do enjoy a good sports leadership book, and particularly those about legendary American coaches. Chip Kelly is an eccentric, ‘maverick’ NFL head coach who’s made his way up from college football with a system designed around speed, innovation and team personality. Though I’m a ‘bit part’ NFL fan, I did greatly enjoy this recent ESPN piece on the man, so decided to investigate further. Kelly is quite private, meaning there’s little enough written about him, buy Oregon journalist Saltveit (Kelly coached the Oregon Ducks before his move to the big leagues), tries to get inside his head. Though short and sweet, there’s certainly some good insights into leadership, motivation and management, and indeed lots of great similarities between Kelly and Ireland’s current rugby coach Joe Schmidt.
A good, short read for NFL/sports leadership fans, that’s perhaps better bought on Kindle.
Sub-titled ‘behind the scenes of a creative revolution’ this book examines the ‘Third Great Era’ of television from the point of view of the ‘showrunner’. From The Wire to Breaking Bad, The Sopranos to Deadwood, the past 10-15 years has seen some incredible television being produced, and the author weaves a smart tapestry between the lives and unique foibles of key characters like David Simon, David Chase and Vincent Gilligan.
Martin has done a mountain of research homework for this, and it certainly shows, with lots of behind the scenes insight for fans of any of the above shows, yet enough of a story to keep any reader enthralled until the end. Tying it all together is no mean feat, yet it reads like a story that’s been made to fit together. I particularly enjoyed the insight into Chase and his struggles with convincing himself that T.V. is a creative medium, while there’s lots of good stuff about the rise of HBO and what that meant also.
If you’ve lived through this era and loved some of these shows like myself, definitely pick this up.
Levels of The Game
The defining thought I had coming away from the book is quite simply, how does one make make one tennis game so interesting. Written in 1969, ‘Levels…’ is still a high point of American sports journalism. Telling the story of one tennis game between the black, liberal and beloved Arthur Ashe and the European descended, upper class, stiff Clark Graebner at Forest Hills in 1968, the book is set both over one afternoon, but also manages to weave in a fascinating narrative into each man’s back story. Over just 150 odd pages, McPhee uses tremendous attention to detail to reveal both men’s biases and psychological issues and how their lifelong rivalry impacts on the match. Even if you’re not a sports fan, you can learn a lot about great writing from this quick, brilliant read.
Lost & Sound
Having been to Berlin for a week last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, I’d been looking for an English version of this book for a while. Surprisingly, despite being one of Europe’s cultural hotbeds (if you count dance music as culture!), and being home to some of the most well known clubs in the world, Berlin’s ‘scene’ hasn’t really gotten the amount of ink that Manchester, London or Detroit might have.
Firstly, the book has been translated quite well from its original German. This is normally a slight issue with books written in their native tongue and, some of the subtleties can be lost, but not here. Rapp obviously has a huge contact book, spanning techno legends like Richard Villalobos and Ben Klock, but also insiders from some of the big clubs.
The narrative is one of a ‘weekend in raving’, with every second chapter or so discussing a typical night in Berlin. For me, this stilts things slightly, and you get the feeling that the book was written in fits and spurts.
Nonetheless, insights into the secretive world of Berghain and Bar 25 are certainly welcome. For techno fans, or for those familiar with Berlin, a welcome addition to the bookshelf.
Winning The Story Wars
Advertising has for too long been a force for evil. With a variety of digital tools and a new opportunity to connect with communities across the world, as marketers we have to emphasise empowerment & storytelling over crass consumption as a way to make yourself happy. At least that’s Jonah Sachs’ mantra.
This book, while a little long winded in parts, offers a good framework for marketers to follow when creating campaigns or brands, along with painting the picture of how the old ‘oral myth tradition’ is now as important as ever. Sachs gives good examples of how story driven marketing can be effective and actionable advice, which is always welcome.
I have a distinct feeling that in ten years time, this book will be looked upon as a must read for sports and business leaders. Kerr, an expert on management, marketing and culture, is offered unparalleled levels of access to the mighty All Blacks, the best international rugby union team ever. What follows is a short, but incredibly satisfying look at the unique culture of the Blacks. Each chapter has a specific team, with legends like Richie McCaw, Graham Henry and Sean Fitzpatrick illustrating just what it means to be a member of the club. The mantras of continuos improvement, flexibility and constant, relentless innovation might be platitudes used in every company, but the All Blacks showcase exactly what they mean in a sporting sense.
Of particular interest to me was the thinking of All Black sports psychologist Gilbert Enoka, who offers some real pearls and actionable stuff to take into the world of business.
If you’re interested in sports leadership, businesses management or particularly how they intersect, read this book.
Fields of Fire
2013 was a vintage year for hurling. A year in which the traditional winners (at least Kilkenny and Tipp) were knocked out early, in which numerous enthralling stories were played out, and perhaps most importantly, a year in which the way we think of and play hurling changed completely.
Lawlor is one of my favourite sports journalists, and through offering a chapter to each of hurlings key counties, gives a great insight into life at the top and the bottom. Of course, Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare side are focused upon, and rightly so, but I particularly enjoyed a look into the lives of the Carlow, Antrim and Laois hurlers too.
One qualm would be that some of this stuff has been rehashed by Lawlor from his Sunday columns, but it’s a minor detail on an otherwise accomplished read.
Get Sh*t Done
I would have to read Niall’s foray into writing wouldn’t I? As a former Simply Zestonian during the good days, I’m extremely biased. Niall has a very interesting story, coming from a mediocre education to a dream chef job and ultimately growing Zesty into an entity to go head to head with any Irish agency, you have to admire the balls, entrepreneurial zeal and selling skills.
The book itself is quite similar in style to a Tim Ferriss or Gary Vaynerchuck tome. While personally I’m not a huge fan of this genre, I can certainly see the appeal, and there are some good productivity lessons in there too. For me, I enjoyed it mainly for the behind the scenes stuff from Zesty to be honest!
For the past few months, I’ve been thinking about how addicted I am to the web and social, and musing over what that could be doing to my brain, positive or negative.
I’ve had Nicholas Carr’s book on the shelf for quite a while, so what better time to pick it up?
Carr, a NYT journalist, puts forward an intriguing, incredibly well researched case as to how the web is changing our plastic brains. He references previous technological advancements and historical figures for context, including Nietzsche’s reliance on the typewriter and how inventions like paper, the clock and the printing press changed how we think, read and write.
While a little heavy going at times, this is a brilliant book, written in a contrarian but not negative manner that will certainly make you think about how you consume media and whether or not you’re becoming addicted to the fast sugar rush of information.
The Bad Guys Won
Another Jeff Pearlman gem that I’ve stumbled across, similarly to Boys will be boys below. The 1986 Mets are simultaneously one of the most beloved and viscously hated sports teams of any era. The colourful collection of womanising, heavy drinking, drug taking idiots with huge sporting prowess makes the perfect backdrop for a brilliant book. Pearlman’s attention to detail and research prowess is obvious and there’s plenty for those with no understanding of the game to get their teeth into. They don’t make them like this any more.
Ecko Unltd has quite a large following in Europe, but on the other side of the pond, it’s one of the biggest brand success stories of the 90s and noughties. Ecko is the archetypal douchey NY CEO if you’ve ever seen him talk, and a lot of this book is self serving braggado that needs to be edited. However, it’s beautifully designed and there are some excellent nuggets around making your personal brand authentic, relevant and how to stand out in a crowded market. Ecko also weaves the story of his rise to success with lots of interesting anecdotes. A little overpriced but worth a read.
The Tanning of America
I tend to thoroughly enjoy books which examine a particular mass cultural phenomenon that I’m not involved in, in detail. In ‘The Tanning’ Steve Stoute does just that. The black ad guru for Madison Avenue, Stoute starts by reflecting back on how hip hop has influenced American culture over the past 30 years, from Run DMC to Jay Z and further back, before moving on to give examples of brands who have taken advantage of this new ‘tanning’ phenomenon. A persuasive argument and a book that any planner/advertiser would enjoy. Check out some of Stoute’s work on the Translation website.
Night of the Gun
Now a NYT reporter and one of the foremost thinkers on the future of news, things weren’t always that rosy for David Carr, not by a long shot. A long term functioning drug addict, and then a long term non-functioning drug addict, in this book takes a novel approach to examining his own life, and therefore his own faults and failings. He goes back to his native Minnesota, to interview those he hurt and ran with, compiling the book into an unputdownable thriller. Carr touches on mortality, parenting and the escape of writing along the way in a compelling narrative.
1980s/90s Northern ‘lad’ culture and in particular ‘Madchester’ is an era I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with, so I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to this. The sub title of ‘Hacienda’ is ‘how not to run a club’ and that probably sums it up. New Order’s Hook is a born storyteller, regaling the reader with hilarious, often surreal anecdotes from Manchester’s golden time of guns, gangs and music. A year by year account is given, with detail as minute as profit and loss sheets for the club, and boy, do they make for incredibly grim reading. It’s estimated by Hook that he personally pissed 3 million into the club, and that it was losing money most weekends it was open, but you do get the feeling that nobody involved would have changed anything! Great read, and not the usual ‘we took drugs, got hammered, few birds, went on stage’ musician’s biog.
Boys will be boys
I’m a fairly recent convert to the joys of gridiron, so a book about the famed 1990s Dallas Cowboys and their womanising, drug taking, Super Bowl winning ways was right up my street. There’s much more to this game than football. The excellent Pearlman offers an insight into the oil fuelled Dallas of the time, the incredible ‘White House’ where the players ‘let off steam’, the ill fated relationships between management and ownership and much more. Brilliant book, excellently researched that all sports fans will enjoy.
Calon, A journey to the heart of Welsh rugby
Books which follow a team for a year can be seriously hit and miss, and while Sheers brings a sort of poets outlook when referencing the Welsh national rugby team back to its nationalistic meaning, this book is a little light. Sheers was encamped with the team in a huge year for Wales, travelling through the 6 Nations and an ill fated trip to Australia. The book is constructed in a novel style, with much of the latter half concentrating on one game, though you slightly feel that this was more of a filler than anything. Not a bad read though.
Trust me, I’m lying
Disruption is the word of the moment in the tech industry. From Barrow Street to Palo Alto, anyone with a mouth is talking about how their ‘disrupting’ everything from the turtle pedicure industry to the way we communicate with our loved ones. One industry that’s in a constant state of flux is news journalism. The emergence of blogs, social media and video sharing has coincided with an increasing penetration of smartphones with high powered cameras. Traditional media hasn’t known where to look or what’s coming next for the past 10-15 years, and with above the line ad revenue decreasing, there have been millions of pixels, brainwaves and column inches devoted to business models, page views and the economics of blogs.
This has led to some hugely differing viewpoints as to the value of the new web for news, and whether or not we’re running ourselves into a dark alley.
Ryan Holiday is a former American Apparel Marketing Manager, 24 years old and a self confessed media manipulator. Holiday is an unassuming digital genius, a highly engaging character who aims, with this book, to confess to the dirty tricks he practiced in former positions, to debunk the importance of blogs as a news medium, and to critically devour the whole online media industry..
I can’t stress enough how much of a must read this is for those in the news industry. Holiday touches eloquently on ideas like the dangers of iterative journalism, the problems with pageview economics and, importantly, the ease of duping the media these days.
The writer savages into the sacred cows of the tech and current affairs blog world, including Arrington and Nick Denton of Buzzfeed, and goes into explicit detail as to how dangerous the current media climate is. The almost sweatshop conditions that bloggers on sites like Buzzfeed and Gawker exist are explored, and Holiday presents a dark and alarming picture of the web as a news source.
I’m incredibly interested in the future of news myself, so perhaps I’m biased, but I will say the following. Keep an eye on this writer and what he’s doing.
As one reviewer put it about the book: ‘If nothing else, you’ll be armed with dinner party conversation starters for the next year. ‘Trust Me…’ is highly recommended.
Check out this video for more of an insight into what makes Holiday tick.
A Bit of a Blur
Oasis or Blur was the question that Fr. Dougal McGuire famously found it hard to answer, and it was the question that defined the mid 90s. Oasis, the tough talking rowdy Northerners and Blur, the art school Londoners who preferred quaffing champagne to downing Stella, were pitted against each other by the media in the Battle of Britain. In the excellent ‘A Bit of a Blur’ floppy fringed Blur bassist Alex James takes the reader on a journey from his muted Bournemouth upbringing, through to Goldsmiths Art College where he met fellow band member Graham, and further to a life of drunken globetrotting. Unlike other sex drugs and rock n’roll type biographies James offers a rather bewildered, conversational tone while describing an incredible rise to fame, and his beguiling writing style really draws the reader in. Of course, there are also some excellent colorful stories of orgies, champagne addiction and London private clubs to savour and it’s a microcosm of Britain in the mid 90s! I’m a bit of a latecomer to this book (it was released in 2008 and described as the music book of the year), but if you haven’t read it, please do. Charming, funny, witty and highly entertaining.
Likeable Social Media
Owner of Likeable (the agency) Dave Kerpen brought out this intermediate level social media “how to” manual in 2011, and it’s recognised as one of the better strategy books on the subject. Personally, there’s not a huge amount of new stuff in there that I learned, but I’d say this book might be a good read for someone coming to the area for the first time. It’s well written, easy to follow, concise and doesn’t go into the bullshit which other related social media books seem to veer towards (Gary Vaynerchuck, I’m looking at you!). In fact, it’s the perfect introduction to the subject, and importantly, focuses on the wider paradigm of social marketing and content rather than glorifying a certain area.
Zappos is one of the biggest success stories of the web bubble era, and in this highly recommended read, owner and chief culture office Tony Hsieh describes how he went from a teenage entrepreneur to a disgruntled and unenthusiastic millionare after selling his Link Exchange site, to building the most recognisable and sought after culture of any company in the world, within a shoe e-commerce site. This is a fascinating and roller coaster read, which Hseih made sure to write in his own words, warts and all. The reader is given an in-depth viewpoint into Hseih’s incredible story, and the book is divide into three seperate and distinct parts. Personally, I found that I couldn’t put it down, and the insight into the Zappos corporate culture style is a real eye opener to anyone who thinks you can’t have fun and do business at the same time. It’s a little light on real business detail, but a fantastic read nonetheless. You’ll be wanting to download this afterwards too, so bookmark the link!
The Story of The Streets
Currently reading this, and as a huge Streets fan, it’s pure joy. Personally, I think Skinner is an artist to the core, and Original Pirate Material is my favourite album, so the story of how he got to where he is now is fascinating. Perhaps not one for those that think our Mike is more Vanilla Ice than Morrissey though!
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
One of the biggest sellers of last year, the definitive Steve Jobs book is long, but a great insight from Issacson into the amazing mind and crazy lifestyle of a genius. It’s said that Jobs didn’t read any of this book before his death, and, indeed, it doesn’t paint him in a great light, especially in parts where his relationships are mentioned. However, I found the chapters dealing with the origins of Apple, and Jobs’ Pixar journey to be inspiring.
I find that some of Godin’s books can be a little airy fairy, and more stream of consciousness than anything, but Purple Cow is a must read for any new marketer, and deals with how being different and standing out are no bad things.
Poke The Box
Speed readers would get through this in one night, and it’s a light, fractured, but nonetheless interesting take by Godin on starting stuff, and, importantly, knowing when to “ship”.
The Four Hour Work Week
Inspiring. The reason I waited so long to read this was because I thought it may be a little bit of a snakeoil sale/charlatan job. How wrong I was. Ferris is a bundle of enregy, and this is a manual on living life to the fullest, saving time and automating your life so you can focus on the really important things. If you feel overworked, or have startup ambitions, this is a must read. A MUST READ!
I’m anything but a fan of Kimmage, but “Engage”, the story of a young English rugby player called Matt Hampson, who suffered a disabling injury in a scrum, is heartbreaking, well written and darkly hilarious in parts. Hampson is an amazing character, and this is a no holds barred account of his struggle to overcome the fact that he will be in a wheelchair, and on a ventilator for all of this life.
Don’t Make Me Think
An instant classic focusing on web design and usability, I’ll admit that this was a struggle, as it’s not the most engaging book ever written, but Krug’s masterpiece is, or should be, the first port of call for anyone interested in web design.
Vaynerchuck is a loudmouth New Jersey guys, with a passion for wine, American Football, and using social media to it’s fullest. A great read for those looking to learn about how building a personal brand can be a major plus point for your career, it’s a little bit too American in places, but a solid read nonetheless.
The corporate culture and history of Threadless is fascinating, and co-founder Nickell, in this 10th anniversary commemorative bible, takes a look at both. Choc full of images from the site, tidbits on how Threadless became the business it is today, and inspiring thoughts on building communities from Nickell, I’d heartily recommend.