Folks occasionally ask me to recommend books to help them in their professional career.I can usually think of a couple recommendations in the moment, but always feel like I’m forgetting far more good book than I’m recommending. In the hope of providing a better answer going forward, I’ve written up some of the general purpose, leadership and management books I’ve read.
Not all of these are classically great books, some are even a bit dull to read, but they’ve changed how I think in a meaningful way. They’re roughly sorted from those I found most valuable to least:
Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows. For me, systems thinking has been the most effective universal tool for reasoning through complex problems, and this book is a readable, powerful introduction.
Don’t Think of An Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate by George Lakoff. While written from a political perspective that some might find challenging, this book completely changed how I think about presenting ideas. You may be tempted to instead read his more academic writing, but I’d recommend reading this first as it’s much briefer and more readable.
Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by DeMarco and Lister. The book that has given generations of developers permissions to speak on the challenges of space planning and open offices. Particularly powerful in grounding the discussion in data.
Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. Success in most life situations is about letting everyone continue to play, not about zero-sum outcomes. This seems pretty obvious, but for me it helped reset my sense of why I work.