The best books I read in 2017

Travis Jeffery
3 min readFeb 1, 2018


Against the Odds: An Autobiography by James Dyson. A hero’s journey about a man and a vacuum cleaner. A new all-time favorite book for me. The story is great and Dyson is a kindred spirit: “Anyone can become an expert in anything in six months.”

My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising by the pioneering ad man Claude C. Hopkins. One volume with two books.

The first, My Life in Advertising is Hopkins’ memoir. He’s like Forest Gump the ad man. Lots of lessons applicable every day in business and life. And the author is a master of simple, clear prose.

The second, Scientific Advertising is a classic text on writing ads and testing their success. “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.” — David Ogilvy.

Dispatches from 1320: The Collected Works of Tom Hallman Jr. Hopkins was a master copywriter, Hallman is a master storyteller. A reporter for the Oregonian, this is a collection of feature stories Hallman wrote for the paper. Great reading before bed.

Are Your Lights On?: How to Figure Out What the Problem Really is by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg and Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking by Gerald M. Weinberg. The former is a short and straightforward book to improve your problem solving skills. The latter is a book to improve your software management skills, and furthermore it teaches you how to think — how to improve.

Weinberg does a better job of explaining systems thinking here than his book on that subject. (If you’re keen on learning systems thinking without the software application, I’d recommend Tools for Thought by Conrad H. Waddington.)

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Bakewell. Montaigne’s essays should be in hotel nightstands. Sarah Bakewell’s book is a fantastic supplement, explaining how the essays arose in the context of Montaigne’s life and times.

Blood, Brains, and Beer by David Ogilvy and The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising by Kenneth Roma. Ogilvy is a hero of mine. He’s called the father of advertising, yet wrote his first ad at nearly forty. A lesson from his life: give it time.

The King of Madison Avenue was well researched and well written. It has fresh stories and details from Ogilvy’s life I hadn’t heard before, despite having read his books. But it was hard reading about his difficult twilight years.

The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. Damn near every book on business writing references this book and it’s no wonder — the mistake these authors made is not stealing more. This is a new favorite book on business writing, alongside Revising Prose and Writing that Works.

Those were the best books out of about fifty I read in 2017.

Hope you find something good in there.

Let me know what you’re reading and say hey on Twitter.



Travis Jeffery

Working on Kafka/Confluent. Made software at Basecamp, Segment. Writing open-source software