Read This!

I was asked by another media business newsletter to put together a reading list for the end of summer.  I share it with you here – as the summer draws on and all those things we have put off until after Labor Day are starting to loom! 

Summer reading is a wonderful thing. I have read in tents high up in Yosemite, on a cruise from Venice, on the beach at Bridgehampton, and on a bench in Central Park. Out of your routine, your mind is attuned to pay extra attention and reap fresh insights. Here are some ideas for the last precious days of this summer.

1. How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. Perhaps this is the first book you should pick up as it delves fascinatingly into the processes our minds go through when we are – for example – deciding which book to pick up next. It tells you that in an MIT test, a group of stock investors with less information have ended up earning more than twice as much as a well-informed group.

2. A must-read for all creative thinkers is James Webb Youngʼs classic: A Technique For Producing Ideas. First published in 1965 this small but important work has helped countless ad guys and painters, poets and engineers to break the deadly jam of the blank page and let their creativity do what itʼs supposed to do. To me this is not an optional book.

3. Innovate Like Edison by Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott. This account of Thomas Edisonʼs life and methods tells us that apparently he invented everything: integrated marketing, smart hiring practices, networking, oh yes the light bulb, methods for innovation, even for thinking. This book will leave you bursting with ideas and annoying your family with his famous quotes.

4. John Steinbeck’s delightful book Sea of Cortez. This is a great travel and science book all in one. Wonderfully written, it is exceptionally joyful reading. He tells of an expedition made around the coast of Baja California. It’s witty, humane and most charming. Itʼs about survival and biology and exploration and discovery and politics and “civilization”. And drinking. One of its most vivid characters is the Sea-Cow: his willful outboard motor!

5. For lovers of history and politics, David Kynastonʼs account of the rise of the welfare state in Austerity Britain gives us much to think about as we review our own political system. This is a story full of anecdotes about activist government – and how the British felt about it.

6. The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, by Sonia Shah, is a page turner. We learn how the Plasmodium parasite carried by mosquitoes, constantly adapting to outflank our attacks, has controlled so much of our history. This might be a fight we canʼt win. The book is spellbinding investigative reporting.

7. This is a controversial pick, but we are grown-ups here and can understand and interpret. The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell is a novel about a man who worked for an organization. He had to deal with tedious bureaucracy and arrogant bosses. (Sound familiar?) He was measured by his success at the task with no thought as to whether the task was right. His job? He worked for the SS and his assignment was to ensure that killing was done as efficiently as possible. The book is violent and nasty. It was hugely successful in France, Germany and England, winning two major French literary awards. It is not for the squeamish. But this book will surely jolt us into reflection on the value of our own work.

8. The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis brings him back to his early “bad boy” style. His 21 year old hero is inching toward a stunning 20-year-old blonde called Sheherazade, with whom heʼs sharing a summer in an Italian castle, along with several friends including his semi-platonic and semi-liberated girlfriend, Lily. Itʼs the summer of 1970, with all that that entails!

9. Stefan Sagmeisterʼs Things I Learned In My Life So Far is really 15 small booklets. Shuffle them and youʼll drastically change the look of your book. Itʼs a series of design projects spelling out personal truths that he identified in his diary: “Worrying solves nothing,” “Trying to look good limits my life,” “Complaining is silly: either act or forget” and so on. It is visually stimulating, provocative and fun.

8. I just finished the third of Stieg Larssonʼs Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked Over The Hornets Nest. I couldnʼt put it down. There is plotting and hackers and politics and murder and bikers and shady dealings on all fronts. See the Swedish film versions and tell me what you think. A friend, seeing that David Fincher is slated to direct a US version, wondered why another one was needed. For myself, I canʼt wait to see what he does with it.

Michael Pollock is President of Pollock Spark ( He is an Executive Coach and Consultant to Creative and Media professionals. He works with people in film, TV, journalism, advertising, design, marketing, music and the Internet, bringing them the experience, techniques and inspiration to take their businesses and careers to new levels of success.

© 2010 Pollock Spark