My Favorite Books of 2011

December 31, 2011 · 2 comments in Personal & off-the-wall

It’s the last day of an odd year and many people are reflecting on life. Some of my friends are using blogs to write about the death of the blog. Others are reviewing the great moments in technology or social media in 2011. But too me, there were very few truly great moments in technology. We have as an industry evolved from a period of great disruption and are now focused on refinement.

This may be good for users and business, but it is pretty boring for writers, or so it seems to me.

So, I thought I would dedicate my last post of the old year to one of my great passions: books. I read a lot–almost entirely nonfiction.  I like action/adventure, biography and history, which dominates this list of my 2011 favorites.

So, in order of my preference, here’s my list

  • Unbroken by Laura Hilenbrand. This is my 2011 Shel Book Award winner, perhaps the only great book of the past year. Hilenbrand’s last book was about Seabiscuit, a homely and unwanted horse that turn out to be the world’s fastest. Unbroken is about Louis Zamperini, a juvenile delinquent to emerge into possibly the world’s fastest human. But his competing career was interrupted by World War II where he joined the Air Core. That in turn got interrupted by his plane crashing, where he drifted with others for an epic length of time in shark-infested waters, before the Japanese picked him up. That began a sage of abuse in interment camps.  If you only read one book on this list, choose this.
  • The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. This book examines how Online Companies watch your habits and choose what you get to see in social networks, search, purchasing and even movie rentals. The book opened my eyes to the impact of data personalization practiced by Facebook, Google and virtually all major online businesses. It made personalization my top concern in technology.
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson This is currently Amazon’s top seller. An authorized biography by perhaps the best current biographer, this book gives you an inside view of Jobs and what happened along the way of his piloting the company from start up into the world’s most valuable company. I already knew a fair amount of Jobs in the early years and found Isaacson’s depiction completely accurate. I learned a great deal that I did not know about recent years. While this book is definitely worth a read, I somehow found myself disappointed in a few ways. While it is a balanced look at one of technology’s great genius/assholes, I felt the hard-to-reach soul of Jobs remained out-of-reach to the author and as compensation, he gave a little too much redundant information on Jobs obsessions with control.
  • On China, by Henry Kissinger. I am no great lover of Henry Kissinger, but I cannot deny his brilliance. I am not certain he actually wrote this deep and comprehensive work, but whoever did is one Hell of a good writer. Kissinger looks far, far back then brings us into the times where he was a player and then into China today. It is my 7th book on China and in my view the best. There are a few slightly self-serving sections, but Kissinger manages overall, keeps his significant ego under control.
  •  Fire on the Horizon by journalist Tom Shroder and oil rig captain John Konrad takes you inside the events leading up to and including the BP Gulf oil rig disaster. It lets you understand–but certainly not condone–how people who were not idiots could have made a string of decisions that led to the worst oil spill disaster in history. Very well written. You get to see the humanity in the players.
  • In Spite of the Gods, The Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce. In preparation for my first visit to India this year, I read three books, each dealing with modern India [after the death of Gandhi.  In my view this one, written by a Financial Times editor who lived there was clearly the best. It gave me great insights into the experiences I had during my brief visit.
  • Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilber tells the story of the near assassination of Ronald Reagan by one of the secret service agents who was there. It is a surprisingly candid, human and gripping narrative. Quite well-written.
  • Into the Forbidden Zone by William T. Vollmann. Is a Kindle Single–essentially a long magazine article by a journalist who visited north Japan after it was walloped by a tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster. He paints a bleak picture that educated me far beyond the news accounts I had read. It got me to understand and appreciate the potential for the new Kindle Single publications that Amazon has been pushing.
  • David Suskind by Stephen Battaglio. There was a time when television could have stirred a Renaissance of culture, news reporting and shared information. It obviously lost. Susskind, along with NBC’s David Sarnoff was a giant in trying to bring quality to TV when it was still new. I find Suskind’s story–and  the whole issue of what happened to TV to be of great relevance to those of us concerned with the future of social media. A good read.
May the new year bring you joy. If 2011 was a bit odd, I hope 2012 will be more even for you no matter what you do.




Elliott Ng December 31, 2011 at 2:27 pm


Happy New Year and may you have a blessed 2012!

So On China was a good read eh? What were the other 7? I’m trying to put a short reading list together for a VP at Google who is interested.

shelisrael December 31, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Cicilization of China, Oracle Bones [2nd Favorite]; Nixon & Mao [also recommend] , Silicon Dragon, Wild Swans [recommend], China and the Chinese and When China Rules the World.

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