Books and documentaries that have influenced me in 2012

Here are a list of books and documentaries that I recommend in 2012.

They reflect both my personal focus – for example my focus on my new start-up feynlabs, world events(Olympics), my personal tastes and ethos (humanism, an amateur interest in anthropology) and my work in (mobility, start-ups, Smart cities and tech policy)

These books are ones that have influenced me i.e. not just books I like – but books I have read over and over again – and have made a change to my thinking (hence image of classic books below as a cover image for this post).

As many of you know, I am an avid collector of comics .. but my comic collection does not figure here – although its well read many times :)

Comments welcome and also suggestions on books I should read

Let me start with Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart - Howard is a friend and mentor for years and I describe this book as a ‘manual/handbook for the social web’ – in a review on my blog  Book review – Net Smart – by Howard Rheingold


Eleanor Roosevelt’s You learn by Living I first heard about this book in a brain pickings review   - highly recommended and especially inspiring the quote “When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.”


17 equations that changed the world  is a great way to create a conversation with a 9 year old about science and maths – from fourier transforms to Einstein’s equations. Very much recommended (and in general Ian Stewart books on mathematics)

Daniel Kahneman’s thinking fast and slow  - has got many excellent reviews on the Web .. A long read – but well worth it


 Matthew Syed’s bounce - This was the first of the three books that I read as a result of the Olympics i.e. what makes the difference between competition, talent and practice – especially practice which distinguishes the gold medal winners

This is the second ‘Olympic inspired’ book - Dr Steve Peters is coach to many of our Olympic winners and his methods relate to the mind = Dr Steve Peters – The Chimp paradox

and ofcourse the third book on the Olympics theme is Lord Coe’s biography (released post olympics) i.e. not his previous book


Will power by Roy Baumeister is not your usual Ya di Ya from a life coach – this is very detailed and scientific study on changing behaviour. Don’t agree with all – but certainly a good approach and influential



Creating Magic

Lee Cockerell’s creating magic is based on the Disney institute and is all about superlative customer service learning from the Disney approach. Lots of cool insights from someone who has done it himselves


I re-read Ray Kroc’s classic Grinding it out. Its a journey of a true entrepreneur. Very inspiring!


I first heard of Why startups fail by David Feinleib – when I met David in Amsterdam for the Perfect Storm event which I was chairing. This book is written by someone who has deep experience of building companies and was very useful


Another friend from the VC world - Tarang Shah’s Venture Capitalists at Work: How VCs Identify and Build Billion-Dollar Successes - which I reviewed previously on OpenGardens 

Massimo Banzi’s getting started with Arduino  IMHO is one of the best books to get started with programming which I also reviewed on OpenGardens  

Aditya (son age – 9) and I first saw Brian Greene’s books in the American musuem of Natural History in New York  and I think we got them all! I like The Hidden Reality 


Triumph of the city by Edward Glaeser is a great book about Smart cities – very much a part of my work

A second reading of Craig Venter’s biography - I am a big fan of Crain Venter’s work.

I am also a big fan of the Dog Whisperer – Cesar Millian’s book (Cesar Millan – Be the pack leader) is one of the best self development books (for humans!) in my view ..


Sooo many people whose views I respect recommended Aldous Huxley that it was indeed high time that I read the Brave new world 


Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs (Prentice-Hall Series in Automatic Computation)

My work with  feynlabs also meant I had to re-read the classic Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs – Love it’s simple style and approach

MEP James elles recommended me to the (free) book Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric world – I love this vision because of its emphasis on individual empowerment. I reviewed Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric world

Steve Blank and Bob Dorf’s classic Startup owner’s manual was well read this year again because of setting up a new company


I added one more ..

Simon Dixon’s Bank to the future I first met Simon Dixon when he presented the keynote at forumoxford at Oxford University which I chair and I since bought this book. The depth and passion of Simon’s knowledge about this field are very impressive. A deep insider/visionary/futuristic perspective on banking – most of it was a surprise (and a shock!) to me ..




Finally a few documentaries ..


Ardipithecus was with good reason, one of the most significant discoveries last year – and Discovering Ardi continues to be a classic documentary I love

 Evolve – created by the History channel was a birthday gift in November from Aditya. This is a very good documentary on evolution based on specific strengths – eyes, claws, jaws etc.

Finally, I have been following the work of Alice Roberts  and the incredible human journey is an incredible documentary.

So, that’s it! Any suggestions for reading based on the above tastes welcome :)

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