Six books that explain the world of today
As technology is eating the world everything is becoming increasingly complicated. One could say that we are in troubled waters. Or that we know nothing.
That’s good news for explorers. And for people who like to read.
We do. And if you do too, these six books will give you a comprehensive understanding of the world as it is now and where it is heading.
A lot of books published recently are circling the same themes and topics with small variations — technology and its influence on both big and small in the world of today. But the level of quality and argument is very different.
One thing though is for sure, Silicon Valley and a few selected people working from there more or less has the patent to how the world works now and what the future should look like, according to them.
Right now these books are our favorites to give you the perspective of exactly those people and their followers. Each of the books are chosen for the specific topic and story. But collectively put together for a supreme and broad perspective. From science labs to Silicon Valley hype to old Chinese philosophy.
If you want the espresso version here it is. At your convenience.
The Second Machine Age
To get the outset right from the beginning you should begin with The Second Machine Age.
The two reputed thinkers and researchers from MIT — Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee — explain how the massive technological development leaves its mark on the world. In these humanitarian and economic hard times, the book argues that fortunately there is also good reason for hope, and the authors are both realistic and optimistic. Not cheers optimists or Silicon Valley-preachers, but basically positive in their analysis of where the world is moving right now. As they write:
“Now comes the second machine age. Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power — the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments — what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power.”
Three areas in particular, they explain better than others:
- The juggernaut of exponential growth (Another good read on exponentiality is this article Exponential development explained with rice).
- The potential of computers through vast amounts of data, the Internet in everything and Artificial Intelligence.
- How technological developments influence our jobs now and in the near future.
One could call this a textbook for understanding the underlying clock-work of the world in the form of technology’s ubiquity. It sounds a bit nerdy. But it’s the time of the geeks and we are having a party, so if you want to join this book is your chance to understand where the world is right now and where it is going with tremendous speed . Yes, the party moved on: it is technology, and not money that makes the world go round. You will find the book here:
The Next Convergence
If you want to take it up one nudge on the consequences described in The Second Machine Age, then The Next Convergence is your answer. It is written by Michael Spence the Nobel Prize winner in economics in 2001.
And although he really is a skilled writer, it belongs to the more heavy end of your average literature. But it is a very thorough review of what might be called economic development in the world described so brilliantly in The Second Machine Age. That’s why the two books goes so well together. The first will give you reasons, this will explain the consequences.
Zero to One
In volatile times, there will always be winners and losers. At the moment it is called disruption when new ideas based on technology destroys the once ruling stuff. As when Uber makes the taxi industry almost irrelevant over night and Airbnb lure all the guests from the established hotels. The iPhone smashes everything. And so on.
Peter Thiel is one of the winners. He is part of the so-called PayPal Mafia alongside the likes of Elon Musk. And he is very much aware of what it takes to succeed in this second machine age from a business perspective. He has written a little book that can be recommended for anyone with entrepreneurial dreams or a curious mind searching for a manual on building the future (the Silicon Valley way, that is). Or just to get to know the infamous Thiel a bit more.
The Everything Store
Another succesful entrepreneur with a track record of disruption and major business ventures is Jeff Bezos of Amazon. He was already well off long before Peter Thiel wrote his book but Bezos has been living most of the steps in Zero to One.
You can read about that in this rich and thorough story behind the making of what is perhaps the world’s most extreme e-commerce phenomena. It is a very special insight into an aggressive and uncompromising offensive for world domination told by Brad Stone. It is a kind of Star Wars meets Wall Street. In The Everything Store you have the theory put into practice the American way.
And once you’ve built your new empire smashing up several industries and become a billionaire, it’s time to learn how to stay in power and create a sustainable healthy company. A company with a culture where employees can flourish and not just create more value, but remain creative and thus help to maintain the company’s position and avoid attacks from small players with new disruptive ideas and technologies.
Pixar Animation Studios creates cute and crazy animated universes for kids. But make no mistake. There is an extremely professional set up behind it all that has part of Steve Jobs philosophies in its blood. In Creativity, Inc director Ed Catmull tells us what it takes to be one of the world’s leading creative companies. It is fascinating even for those who just go to work in the real world.
The Art of War
If you think it all gets a little too modern and you feel more comfortable with general reflections about life and the fundamentals of man kind Sun Tzu is your man.
The Art of War was written more than 2,500 years ago by a Chinese general and military specialist. But the thoughts are still relevant today and it is still far better at describing the essentials on leadership and strategy than most modern books.
If you want a clean cold glance at leadership and strategy this is it. Read it before your boss.
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