Recommended books

Intro

I don’t read a lot of fiction these days, as I have this almost uncontrollable desire to be learning new, useful and interesting things.

I buy physical and Kindle books. If I think I’m likely to want to lend the book, I get a physical one, but my personal preference is Kindle.

There’s something I don’t understand about digital books. If I buy a CD from Amazon I automatically get a digital download (mostly). But if I want a physical and a digital copy of a book, I have to pay full price for both. It would make sense to me if you could just pay a couple of pounds extra for a digital copy if you buy the physical book.

I’m usually reading more than one book at a time. At the moment, I’m reading

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–becoming the Person You Want to Be

Links are to Amazon.co.uk. I have no financial interest in whether you buy anything or not.

Behavioural economics

Traditional economics assumes ‘rational’ man (and woman). It works on the assumption that we have logical spreadsheets in our heads and calculate the relative merits of different courses of action. It says that if the predicted return on investment A is 5%, and on investment B is 6%, that we’ll go with B. It makes no allowance for celebrity endorsement, the positioning of the investment, the size of the font in the prospectus, or a host of other human psychological factors that influence the way we behave.

Behavioural economics is the world of the ‘Nudge’, which like anything else can be used for good or evil. It is used by governments, by organisations in the design of their websites, by people in all walks of life, not always knowingly. It’s incredibly interesting. If you’re in a job where you want to influence behaviour, such as web design, you need to know this stuff.


UX/UI Design

There are a million books out there (I haven’t counted) on so many different aspects of design. These are a few that I happen to have found useful.


Communication

You’ll find varying estimates of how much of human communication is non-verbal, many of them around 80%. We are often unaware of the signals we’re giving off that may sabotage our words. Whether you’re going for a job interview, presenting to the board, or to a global audience on TV, then knowing how to ensure that your whole body is giving one message, and reinforcing the context of that message, is an important life skill.


Tech culture

Whether it’s the culture of technology, or how tech is changing cultures, or other flavours, the intersection of tech and culture is a fruitful field of research and thought for sociologists, psychologists, lots of other ists, as well as ordinary people. A historical perspective is useful, as then we find that whilst the technology may be new, the social impact is not. When the printing press became a thing, people were worried that we would be overwhelmed by the amount of information assaulting us. When the telegraph became a thing, people thought that the world had shrunk, and we were now in an age of instant global information. The advent of the TV was a bad thing, as it would take the family away from the radio, and radio was bad, as it would take people away from books.

The message is that culture is impacted by technology, not that it’s a new phenomenon.


Business

It’s always interesting to know what works – and what doesn’t in the business world. Who is trying what? What are some of the surprising and different ways of running a business that actually work.


Science

Science is a methodology that helps you to find out what’s true. That’s my definition. You might hold a view on whether naughty people should be given long prison sentences, but how little do we invest in actually finding out what approaches are best for society – or even when we do find out, the policy makers ignore it if it doesn’t fit with their pre-conceived ideas. I happen to pick on prison there (not sure why), but apply that to just about any other area of life, and you’ll find that the scientific method can find what’s true, but the impact on policy is often limited.

Often times people are unaware of what science actually is, and how it works, and say that because science can’t say definitively, for example, exactly when global warming will result in a two degree rise in temperature, that therefore none of it is true. I have no time for such ignorance. If you want to do what’s best, you need to understand your enemy, as well as your friend, and you need to have the intellectual honesty and drive to find out.

This can be hard. When we find out that what our parents, or our church, or our teachers, or our favourite sports star have said, is not true, it’s hard. We want to deny truth, but we mustn’t.


History

History isn’t just about dates and battles. Understanding history helps with understanding today, how we got here, why things are the way they are. Afghanistan has been a battle ground for longer than people often realise. Many countries of the Middle East were carved out by an Anglo-French stitch-up at the end of the First World War. Our time system of 60 seconds and minutes comes from the Babylonians, and there’s nothing (or at least, very little) that’s new under the sun. A basic understanding of science and history should be mandatory for all policy makers. And, it’s really interesting.


Psychology

Science applied to human behaviour. It’s not about Freud – he wasn’t a psychologist. He was a psychoanalyst, which isn’t a scientific theory. Real psychology is about understanding behaviour – usually, but not only, human behaviour. I can’t think of a job in the world that wouldn’t benefit from the knowledge and application of psychology. And if you don’t have a job, it still just helps with life, the universe, and everything.


Research

Broadly speaking, there are two types of research. Qualitative (qual) and quantitative (quant). In qual, you ask people what they think, what they would do, why they do something. In quant, you measure – how long does it take someone to read a line, recognise a photo, click on a button. You can do a kind of hybrid, where you ask lots of people, usually with a survey, what they think about things, and then you can run the stats just because you have a lot of answers. There are many roles, including UX and UI design where the use of appropriate methods of research is essential. Usually, you get the best result from a mixture of qual and quant.


Biography

Some people have interesting lives. Some people write entertainingly about lives that aren’t otherwise that interesting. As with history and psychology, you learn why people are the way they are, and that people can be different from you, and still be ok.


Fiction

Just a few choice cuts.