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Summertime, and the Reading Is Easy

Put aside your workaday reading material and pick up something that stretches your mind, grips your imagination, or backfills the gaps in your literary repertoire. We have some wise suggestions for your summer book list.

Now that it’s officially summer, certain time-honored conventions are in effect: Frappuccinos have replaced lattes as the caffeine of choice, MLB stats sub for NBA trash talk at the watercooler, and suddenly, a lot of out-of-office “client meetings” are scheduled for Friday afternoons.

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One of our favorite traditions is the annual switch into summer-reading mode. For once, we put aside those analysts’ reports and must-read industry tomes and head, guilt-free, for the pure-indulgence side of the bookstore.

Once there, however, we hit a problem: So many choices, so little advice! To help narrow the field, we turned to some of the best-read members of the Fast Company team for suggestions. We asked for tips in three categories: a fun beach read; a classic that they’ve always meant to read or want to reread; and a good, contemporary nonfiction book.

Read what they had to say, and then add your own suggestions in Sound Off.

Bill Taylor

As a Fast Company founding editor, Bill spends most of his time reading and rereading Goodnight Moon (HarperCollins Juvenile Books, 1991) to his little girls. Ten minutes before he hits the sack, he’s likely to be reading one of these.

Beach Read:
Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw
by Mark Bowden
(Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001)

I spend most of my time thinking the best of people and organizations: their motives, their aspirations, how they work. So it was great fun to read this absolute page-turner about one of the worst people imaginable — drug czar Pablo Escobar, his colleagues in the Medellin cartel, and the against-the-odds (but ultimately successful) campaign not just to find him, but to eliminate him. This bloodthirsty terrorist with a sense of style finally met his match in some amazing technology supplied by the United States and the courage of a father-son team from the Colombian government. I was sorry to see Pablo go — not because he didn’t deserve to die, but because it meant the book had to end.

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Classic:
Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology
by George Gilder
(Touchstone Books, 1990)

Every so often as a reader, you are lucky enough to encounter a book that changes the way you interpret the world. For me, with respect to the impact of digital technologies on business, Microcosm was that book. Gilder embraces and explains the logic of the microchip, and then applies it to strategy, competition, and organization. Not every revolutionary idea that Gilder set out 11 years ago has worked out — but this book is right a lot more than it is wrong, and the disruptive arguments that Gilder makes are as exciting and energizing today as they were more than a decade ago.

Contemporary Nonfiction:
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
by Joseph J. Ellis
(Knopf, 2000)

I’ve never been completely comfortable with the rhetoric of revolution — even when we use it in the pages of Fast Company — given how miserably most revolutions actually turn out. That’s why the American Revolution remains such a miracle, and the collection of leaders behind it the true “greatest generation.” Ellis recently had his 15 minutes of undesired fame, but his personal foibles should not detract from this superb book. The chapter on George Washington’s farewell address is alone worth the book’s price. Founding Brothers is a stunning reminder that the one indispensable trait of leadership is humility — a trait that is in short supply these days.

Alan Webber

A Fast Company founding editor, Alan won a poetry prize as a senior at Amherst College.

Beach Read:
Life Is So Good
by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman
(Penguin USA, 2001)

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George Dawson, a 103-year-old grandson of a slave, who learned to read at age 98, reflects on life. He’s someone we can all learn from.

Classics:
The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale
by Joseph Conrad
(Oxford University Press, 1998)

All of us, at one time or another, have thought about blowing up time. Conrad wrote a surrealistic novel about it.

Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man
by James Joyce
(Dover Publications, 1994)

Silence, cunning, and exile. What else do you need to know?

Contemporary Nonfiction:
April 1865: The Month That Saved America
by Jay Winik
(HarperCollins, 2001)

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According to the author, it’s the month that saved the United States: Lee surrendered to Grant, and both men behaved heroically; Lincoln was murdered, and the Union didn’t go berserk. You may think that you know the events of the 1860s and that you’re familiar with the main characters. Well, here’s a different lens and some great, new perspective.

E-Customer: Customers Just Got Faster and Smarter — Catch Up
by Max McKeown
(Financal Times Management, 2000)

E-Customer offers a look at the world of technology and customers from the other side of the pond.

Dan Pink

A former speechwriter for Al Gore and current Fast Company contributing editor, Dan wrote Fast Company’s favorite nonfiction book: Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live (Warner Books, 2001).

Beach Read:
The Man Who Ate the 747
by Ben Sherwood
(Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, 2000)

A sweet and readable love story pivoting around the Guinness Book of World Records.

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Classic:
Siddhartha
by Hermann Hesse
(Bantam Classic and Loveswept, 1982)

I’ve never read it, but figure I could use a little self-knowledge and enlightenment.

Contemporary Nonfiction:
The First Measured Century: An Illustrated Guide to Trends in America, 1900 – 2000
by Theodore Caplow, Louis Hicks, and Ben J. Wattenberg
(AEI Press, 2000)

A geek’s delight — more than 100 charts about trends in population, work, family, religion, health, and money. For me, this is a beach book!

Harriet Rubin

When she’s not busy being a Fast Company senior writer, Harriet writes books like The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women (Dell Publishing Co., 1998) and Soloing: Realizing Your Life’s Ambition (HarperCollins, 1999).

Beach Read:
Motherless Brooklyn
by Jonathan Lethem
(Vintage Books, 2000)

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Motherless Brooklyn is about a detective with Tourette’s syndrome. But that’s just a cover. The detective is really a writer with a muse who talks too fast for him to take dictation. It’s beautifully written, breathlessly plotted — a great experience. Yes, turn your beach into Brooklyn.

Classic:
The Aeneid
by Virgil
(Vintage Books, 1990)

This is the book that introduced the idea of vision to leadership and that presumably gave the Founding Fathers a big idea of what they could do: not just build a country based on sound laws, but create an empire based on ideals and visions. Be forewarned: The Aeneid is a poem, but if you let that stop you, too bad for you. It’s an epic, and like anything born of a big vision, reading it will expand how far you can see.

Contemporary Nonfiction:
Stretching Lessons: The Daring That Starts From Within
by Sue Bender
(Harper San Francisco, 2001)

I go back to this book for wise suggestions for getting out of my comfort zone.

Seth Godin

Fast Company’s favorite idea merchant is the author of Unleashing the Ideavirus (Do You Zoom Inc., 2000) and Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers (Simon & Schuster, 1999). He does his best thinking while wearing a red fez.

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Beach Read:
Bellwether
by Connie Willis
(Bantam Books, 1997)

This book about ideaviruses and bureaucracies pretends to be science fiction, but it’s just funny.

Classic:
The Day of the Jackal
by Frederick Forsyth
(Bantam Books, 1982)

Planning, pacing, and speed — sounds like a fast company, but it’s just a determined terrorist. The best thriller ever written.

Contemporary Nonfiction:
The Winner’s Curse
by Richard H. Thaler
(Princeton University Press, 1994)

Why do people go to The Producers when they could scalp their ticket for $300? This book undermines the entire foundation of microeconomics. And it’s fun. Bet Thaler wins a Nobel prize.

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Linda Tischler (ltischler@fastcompany.com) is the Fast Company managing editor of new media.

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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