Reading List

“How to live? A. Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted” - Sarah Bakewell

I’m always reading. I do it because it’s fun to discover and learn new things. In retrospective, I also read because in each book I find out a bit more about what we are all obsessed about: Why are we there?. Each book brings its little insight on how to behave, how to learn, how to be happier.

“Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history, and you read it in your own terms.” - Angela Carter

Every time I go to someone home, the first thing I look at is his library. And the second thing I do is to ask his favorite book. Ed Catmull from Pixar said “You’ll never stumble upon the unexpected if you stick only to the familiar”. This habit helped me discover most of the books below. Without this random walk, I would never have found all these books about acting and relationships. I would never encountered this fiction using its own language to describe wind. I would have never imagined the existence statistics professor who uses his mathematical skills to do magic.

All these books had an impact on my life and defined who I am today. As I continue to read, this list will continue to evolve. Pick a book and read it to the next one, this list will be waiting here for more recommendations if at one point you have no more reading ideas.

Books that influenced me

The last Fermat theorem by Simon Singh. I have a strong academic scientific and mathematical background, but I discovered popular science lately with this book. Simon Singh is a famous British popular science. His Fermat Theorem story commenced my passion of make science understandable by anyone. You can read his books without any prior scientific knowledge as if they were novels. This book puts you in a mathematician mind. You’ll discover that science is not this easy and linear path we usually read about but a road with a lot of mistakes and people crazy enough to think they can model the world. If you prefer to learn about the origin of the universe, his other book Big Bang is also a fantastic book.

Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre by Keith Johnstone. Keith Johnstone is one of the pioneers of improvisational theater, and this book begins with a presentation of where he comes from to continue with improvisation core ideas. Improvisational theater is not only about playing on a stage in front of people. It’s, as is theater, a neverending study of how we behave, how we interact, how we create. As so, even if you don’t plan on acting in your life, I highly recommend to read this book, you would be surprised how close improvisational idea are from your day to day experience.

“Instead of seeing people as untalented, we can see them as phobic, and this completely changes the teacher’s relationship with them.” - Keith Johnstone.

Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part by Michael Shurtleff. In a Keith Johnstone workshop, he recommended this book from the 80s by a Broadway, casting director. As I was not planning on having a Broadway audition, I’m probably not the most obvious target for this book, but I gave it a try. This is one of the best books about human relationships I’ve read, and I now recommend everyone to read it. “All the world’s a stage” said Shakespeare and we all tend to act in every situation instead of just living the moment. This book is about this acting we are doing, on the multiple emotion mixed in our mind when we are having a simple conversation, on the love existing in every couple fight. All the books on this list are great, but this is the one you probably think is not for you and where you’ll find the most of insight on how you live and what motivates you.

“A good play is a mirror of the way human beings behave. The actor’s job is to provide what is underneath the behavior of human beings.”- Michael Shurtleff

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Hearing daily bad news on TV makes hard to see the big picture on human history. This book makes the impossible, it really gives you a brief history of humankind. First, it’s mindblowing to follow the journey of humankind from the first humans to today’s hyper-technological societies. The author also defends a thesis that all this history is only about storytelling. The human is this animal who invents fiction over fictions to cooperate. What is money? What are the cities? What is science? All these concepts don’t exist outside the mind of humans. This book made me realize how strong we believe in our stories.

“How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.” - Yuval Noah Harari

Creativity Inc by Ed. Catmull. As my company grew, I became a manager responsible for the creativity and the productivity. The beauty and the beast, as Ed Catmull describes them, are hard to keep together. This book describes how Pixar, the great filmmaking company works and manage to stay creative with the number of movies they produce increasing and with huge technical constraint (they are making their own 3D engine). Where a lot of books about management are quite theoretical, this one describes how they made it work, the hard moments and how being a good manager is not only what you do but also how you behave in any circumstances. I’m not sure I’m a good manager today, but for sure this book influenced my management.

“The past should be our teacher, not our master.” - Ed Catmull

Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson. Like most of us, I started my work life by commuting every day to an office, staying in this office most of the day and commuting back home to sleep. And like a lot of workers today, my work consists of sitting behind a computer and working on a website hosted in countries all over the world. Remote presents an alternative, what if you and your team put their computers where they wanted and worked as a distributed team thanks to the holy Internet. This is not an easy change, but since this read, I’ve modified my way of working and of interacting to people to make it remote-friendly. That’s also for sure the most surprising aspect of remote working: all the good habits you need to make remote work happen are also excellent habits for traditional jobs. This book is concise, it’s more a list of good quotes than a proper book, but if you are not familiar with remote working, it should open your mind.

“Letting people work remotely is about promoting quality of life, about getting access to the best people wherever they are” - Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I read this book as an extrovert trying to understand introverts around me, and the more I read about introverts, the more I discovered myself as one of them. Our today world is built around extraverts concepts like brainstorming, meetings, conferences. This book explores another facet of human behavior. And in some case like mine and maybe yours, how to accept a bit more what really sparks you joy.

“What if you love knowledge for its own sake, not necessarily as a blueprint to action? What if you wish there were more, not fewer reflective types in the world?” - Susan Cain

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. Amanda Palmer is a unique artist. She now makes everything for free and is paid by donations on Patreon, she is asking for donation. This book is about her life but still, reveal a lot about human relationships. How we don’t dare to ask something, how we think that asking and begging are synonyms. By her way of living, she also reveals how humans can be generous and not waiting for something in return. You may not want to read about an artist you don’t know, but you can still listen to her music, read her blog, be surprised.

“all of us come from some place of wanting to be seen, understood, accepted, connected.” - Amanda Palmer

Below other books on more specific topics, you can, of course, read these books even if you think you are not interested in these topics.

Lists

Here are some other list of books published on the blog :

Popular science books help you discover how much we know (and don’t know) about our world.

We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe by Jorge Cham & Daniel Whiteson. If you think sciences know everything, think again, this book presents a list of topic where science has no idea of what is happening.

The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne. This book is exploring the science behind the movie Interstellar. I think the most exciting part of this book is Kip Thorne trying to see if the most pronounced effect of the movie would be possible with what we know of the universe. Unexpectedly a lot is likely and the lest realistic parts are probably not the one you think.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. This book detail what science can tell you about sleep and inadequate sleep. For sure it will change the way you sleep and help you have a healthier life.

Magical Mathematics: The Mathematical Ideas That Animate Great Magic Tricks by Persi Diaconis & Ron Graham. If you think that mathematics is boring, try this book. Persi Diaconis is a statistic professor at Standford and… a magician. This book presents the math of magic and how some mathematical theorems can help you make the most impressive magic tricks you’ve ever seen.

Actionable Gamification by Yu-Kai Chou. Have you ever play Candy Crush or another stupid mobile game? Have you ever wondered why you are addicted to such foolish activity? The answer is gamification, and this book is all about that. How to use human psychology to make any activity more addictive. You can use it at work but also in your home to make the chores more exciting.

Management and Remote working

Becoming a team leader, I’ve started reading what others did to make their teams work. I discovered a genre full of fantastic books about group psychology.

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord. Patty McCord tells how she built a high-performing culture at Netflix. Her ideas about management are fresh and grounded in experience. Even if you are probably not in a position in a company as big as Netflix, it’s an excellent way to learn how to make a group work.

The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun. Most new books about remote working are describing how great this new way of working is and few are the books giving a different voice, this is one of them. Scott Berkun tells his year at wordpress.com, a fully distributed company. His point of view is unique because he started the job, not as a person who craved to work remote but more like someone who would have preferred a traditional way of working. As a consequence, he can share what impressed him, what worked well and of course some bad result of a remote working company.

Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. This book starts with a history of company organization stages. The book is worth reading only for this first chapter as you can discover that this good old business we see as unchanged has evolved a lot in the recent years. The second part of the book is about the future of organizations.

Storytelling

Since I’ve read Sapiens, I tend to see stories everywhere and storytelling in the core of human behaviors. Books on storytelling can come from a lot of different people, but they tend to present, each with a different point of view, the same ideas.

How to Improvise a Full-Length Play: The Art of Spontaneous Theater by Kenn Adams. As the title describes, this book presents how to improvise a full 1H play. To manage to achieve this goal, you need to understand what is a story, what makes a good and a bad story, how to create strong relationships between characters, etc. These elements are not diffĂ©rent from when you want to communicate an idea. After all, like any creation, this approach tries to answer the question “Why should I care about your story?”.

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch. You need to read this book slowly, it’s a journey. Each chapter explores one aspect of creation and the internal struggles any author can have. Between each page, you’ll think about your attitude towards the same questions, how you can make it evolve, it’s a unique experience, and you won’t read the same book as anyone else.

Fiction

I don’t read a lot of fiction, probably because I like how life can be unexpected. But here are some books I loved to read.

“Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn’t” - Ayn Rand

Novecento by Allesandro Barrico. Just have this 96 pages books always with you. If one day you have one hour to wait, read it, you won’t regret it.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I’m not a hardcore fan of Science Fiction, but I love the way Douglas Adams approach it. As an example, he won’t create a complicated quantum-based explanation to describe an invisible ship. He will, with the Someone Else Problem Field explain that this ship use the same technology as the one we have when we don’t see socks on the floor: we don’t see them because they are someone else problem.

“The Somebody Else’s Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what’s more, can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people’s natural disposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain.” - Douglas Adams.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. A retarded person writes a journal about his journey on an experiment to get a better IQ. As he gets more intelligent his behavior with other changes. It’s a sad story but a fantastic read on the links between intelligence and emotion, about differences. If you give a chance to this book, it won’t leave your mind.

Historical fiction & biographies

My favorite genre is historical fiction and biographies. As I didn’t like so much fiction, I love to learn about real-life stories.

Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo by Stephanie Storey. While Leonardo was painting Mona Lisa to become the most celebrated painter in history, Michelangelo was making his David become the most famous sculptor in history. This book is about this story, in the same moment, in the same place, of two genius living for their art.

To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell. If you like Science Fiction what about reading about cutting-edge science? This book is disconcerting. You will discover possible futures that you’re not sure you want to live in, and it will bring questions about what is life, what is human, what society we want.

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. This book is a series of text written by Oliver Sacks between his last book and his death as he knew he was condemned. This is one of the most touching books I’ve ever read. The last thoughts of a great scientist full of gratitude some month before his last breaths will make you cry and smile.

“When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate the genetic and neural fate of every human being to be a unique individual, to find” - Oliver Sacks.

There are enough recommendations, for now, start with one of them, and you won’t stop!