As the kids go back to school and we ease back into more normal schedules, it's time to take a look back at some of what came off the reading pile in recent months. No novels this year, but if you're interested in learning something, I have a few suggestions.
Big data, bigger questions
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier's Big Data (2013) is an approachable introduction to the trendy topic for readers who need the introduction, but it also gets into important topics for people already in the space. After their very readable sections on the what, why, and how, the professor (Mayer-Schönberger) and the journalist (Cukier) move into the implications of following the big data path, including the risks to privacy and individual freedom. Even if the beginning of the book is a review for you, stick with it until the end. The last third of the book covers issues you—we—need to be thinking about.
I thought the next book on the pile would be a change of subject, taking a deeper look into the freaky world of cyberwar and cyber criminals, but the beginning of Black Code (2013) was a smooth transition into even more implications of what we're doing with data and the online world. Ronald Deibert directs the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, and he's found more than a few things to be concerned about online.
Writing before secrets started flowing from the NSA and elsewhere, Deibert links data mining, pervasive surveillance, and cyber crime/war (those last two, it turns out, are indistinguishable at the tactical level). If you use electronic communications for anything at all sensitive, you need to read this one. Even if you've read every bit of news out of the Snowden leak, you'll learn more from Deibert's global take on the same themes.
Analyzing the working of wetware
I might have to mark up my copy of Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) to change the name to Reading, Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman's book on how we have two competing systems for processing information—one reflexive and the other thoughful—was too good to read in the short time allowed by the public library. Now that I have my own copy, I'm taking my time with this one. It turns out that psychology didn't stop learning after my college psych class, and some of the observations have practical applications.
Not a summer book, but worth mentioning is Nassim Taleb's Antifragile (2012), which hides some thought-provoking nuggets in its pounds (kilos) of pages. Antifragile is the follow-up to The Black Swan (2007), and its point is either to illustrate how to deal with the dark birds or to send the reader running to a philosophy refresher course. Taleb never entirely escapes his roots as a trader, but he will make you think about your relationship with uncertainty and how to benefit from outcomes that most would consider negative.
On a lighter note
I'm winding down with Mitch Joel's Ctrl Alt Delete (2013), an update on the intersection of business and trends in social media. For someone who reads a lot of blogs and other online discussions, it has a lot of review, but he puts pieces together in ways that should inspire new ideas for your business. Especially for those of us who have been working around social media for a long time, some of the observations are helpful for undoing our comfort level with what we already know. As it turns out, it's not 2007 any more, and how people interact with media and a company's marketing efforts is still changing.