Just in time for your holiday shopping, the Highlands Forum 2010 Reading List features thirty-five books (mostly non-fiction, but including two works of fiction this year), covering biography, management, economics, history, information technology, techno thrillers, science fiction, comparative politics and sociology, contemporary conflict studies, and current events. Among these, we have four books recommended by guest reviewers. Our distinguished panel of guest editors this year includes Howard Bloom, John Nagl, Beth Noveck, and Richard Foster.
Our list is divided into four categories: books recommended by our guest reviewers; books recommended by the Highlands Forum staff; books reviewed previously during the year on the Highlands Forum website; and books used in preparation of this year's Highlands Forum meetings. Most titles are new; some are classics worth discovering for the first time. They have been selected for their themes and for their capacity to broaden our understanding of emerging issues and inform the way we think about things. We began compiling an annual list in 2000, and it is a continuing work - additional titles are added during the year and compiled at the end of each year in a larger list. Click here to peruse our lists for 2000-2008.
Richard (Dick) Foster is Director Emeritus of McKinsey & Company and is currently the Managing Partner at Millbrook Management Group. While at McKinsey, Dick led client development efforts in the chemicals industry in the 1980s, supported the firm's early efforts in the healthcare industry, and sponsored the firm's launch of the private equity practice. He also created new knowledge for the firm, including the S-curves and waves of discontinuity he wrote about in his first book, Innovation: The Attacker's Advantage. In 2001, Dick published his second book, Creative Destruction, which appeared on the best-seller lists of Business Week, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Amazon.com. Dick is on the boards of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital; W. M. Keck Foundation; President's Circle of the National Academies; Policy and Global Affairs Committee of the National Research Council; Council of Foreign Relations; Trust Company of the West; and Athenahealth. He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and a long-time participant in the Highlands Forum. In addition, he is a Senior Faculty Fellow at the Yale School of Management.
Over the past few years he has been researching the historical, geographical, and cultural roots of creativity. His recommendation to us springs from this research: a landmark 1926 treatise on the process of creativity by Graham Wallas, The Art of Thought. Dick tells us: "Graham Wallas was a professor of political science at the University of London, and then was chosen to be the first director of the London School of Economics. Wallas was also, for a time, an active leader in the Fabian Society, a forerunning of the current Labor Party in Britain. Of his five books, perhaps The Art of Thought is the most contemporary. What Wallas refers to as 'thought' we would call 'creativity' today. While Wallas followed on the heels of great scientists (e.g., Helmholtz, Poincaré) and psychologists (e.g., William James) who had reflected on the nature of creativity, Wallas was the first to holistically synthesize the ideas of these insightful practitioners and others less well known today (e.g., the Dutch psychologist J. Verendonck's Psychology of Day Dreams, 1921). Two things distinguish Wallas' work, and make it worthy contemporary reading. First, his schema of 'thought' is still the best guide to the wily nature of the creative process. Wallas' process consisted of four phases: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination and Verification. He spotted the heart of the process in the Incubation and Illumination states. Within Illumination he identified a sub-process, Intimation, the feeling that one was going to have a good idea. Wallas pointed out that the work of 'thought' was unprogrammable, often occurring at the fringes of daily bureaucratic work, or at night when falling asleep or waking up. He pointed out that the 'thought' process was not subject to normal bureaucratic controls. Wallas did not consider the 'social processes' of thought in any formal way. Academicians required another sixty years to understand that critical process. The second distinguishing mark of Wallas' work is the grace of his logic and the elegance of his writing. This book is a joy to read today. Moreover, The Art of Thought provides a very insightful view into one liberal Brit's analysis of the international tensions in Europe between the two great wars. This itself makes the short book worthy of reading and reflection". Good luck finding this classic however; currently Amazon lists republished version from $295 and one original volume for $1,500; perhaps a stroll to the public library to find a copy?
Beth Simone Noveck is the United States deputy chief technology officer for open government and leads President Obama's Open Government Initiative. Based at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, she is an expert on technology and institutional innovation. Previously, she directed the Institute for Information Law & Policy and the Democracy Design Workshop at New York Law School where she is on-leave as a professor. She is founder of the "Do Tank," and the State of Play Conferences, and launched the first of its kind Peer-to-Patent community patent review project in collaboration with the United States Patent and Trade Office. She has taught in the areas of intellectual property, innovation, and constitutional law, as well as courses on electronic democracy and electronic government. She is the author of the book Wiki Government, a book that argues in favor of utilizing Internet technologies to make the U.S. federal government more transparent in its activities more open to citizen input.
Beth recommends a new work to be published this month by Richard Hackman, Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems (2011). This marks a return to our reading list for Hackman, whose work on group dynamics is seminal, and as Noveck tells us, "a must-read for intelligence and information professionals". While Hackman's complete book will not be published until January, with permission we are pleased to offer our readers a link to the book introduction and first chapter. Beth tells us, "Hackman is Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University and one of the nation's leading researchers on the behavior of groups and teams. Collaborative Intelligence integrates decades of empirical research into a clear "how to" explanation for creating effective collaborative teams. The book is full of insightful and sometimes counterintuitive nuggets about the relevance of group structure, culture and practice to the functioning of teams. Above all, it shows how to create well-designed and well-led teams of experts and how to leverage network technologies to do so. My only "critique" is that Hackman claims that the book is focused on the intelligence community when, in fact, it's of interest to anyone who focuses on groups and teams. Hackman describes how researchers have made considerable progress in identifying how leaders can create environments in which teamwork flourishes. Based on his extensive experience as an intelligence community researcher and advisor, this book identifies six conditions that increase the chances a team will serve its clients well while simultaneously becoming stronger as a performing unit and fostering the professional development of its members".
Howard Bloom is a Visiting Scholar at New York University and the critically acclaimed author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (1995) and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (2000). He is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, the National Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Society, the Academy of Political Science, and the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, as well as the founder of the International Paleopsychology Project. He has been written up in every edition of Who's Who in Science and Engineering since the publication's inception. The British TV Channel 4 has called Bloom "the Einstein, Darwin, Newton, and Freud of the 21st Century." A science prodigy, Bloom has always displayed a wide range of interests and accomplishments, including the arts and music. In 1968 he co-founded Cloud Studio, which became one of the leading avant-garde commercial art studios on the East Coast. In 1971 he became editor of the successful monthly magazine Circus, which was devoted to rock music. And in 1976 he founded the Howard Bloom Organization, Ltd., which became the largest public relations firm in the record industry, with clients including such luminaries as Prince, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Bette Midler, John Mellencamp, and many others at that same level of success. In 2006 Bloom founded the Space Development Steering Committee, a coalition that brought together leaders of NSS, the Mars Society, and the Space Frontier Society, linking them with some former astronauts and a wide range of experts in the space field, and adding Bloom's public relations expertise to the pot in promoting the space dream. Howard's remarkable book, The Global Brain, served as the basis for our first Highlands Forum enrichment session of the year.
Howard told us, "Here's the book that defines the news for me every night —The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict From 1500 to 2000, by Paul Kennedy, first published in 1987. There is one book that resonates powerfully every time I watch the news and ponder the perilous state of American civilization. It comes to mind every time I weigh what the Republicans and Democrats are doing to each other and every time I agonize over how much they miss the point. Our civilization is at an inflection point. Either it will become a weak oldster watching a brawny young China take the leadership position, the alpha position, in a new world order, or we will find the next pool of resources, technology, and creativity and will go from a civilization in embryo to a civilization that leaves the womb and rises in wondrous ways. How will we rise, not fall? We will take something that all of us currently see as scrape, wasteland, or toxic pollutant and turn it into raw material and energy. The book that makes the urgency of this task clear day after day after day is Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. A book that explains how a nation can only rise if it generates surplus. And how that surplus comes from turning the technology of the future into the technology of the present. Then commercializing that technology, selling its fruits to others".
John Nagl is the President of the Center for a New American Security. He is also a member of the Defense Policy Board, a Visiting Professor in the War Studies Department at Kings College of London, a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Dr. Nagl has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Commission on Wartime Contracting and served on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel (the Hadley/Perry Commission). He is a member of the Joint Force Quarterly Advisory Committee and of the Advisory Board of the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, a former Young Leader of the French-American Foundation and the American Council on Germany, and a member of the Diplomatic Finnish Sauna Society of Washington and the Association of American Rhodes Scholars. Dr. Nagl was a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy Class of 1988 who served as an armor officer in the U.S. Army for 20 years, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His last military assignment was as commander of the 1st Battalion, 34th Armor at Fort Riley, Kansas, training Transition Teams that embed with Iraqi and Afghan units. He led a tank platoon in Operation Desert Storm and served as a tank battalion operations officer of a tank battalion task force in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He earned his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Nagl taught national security studies at West Point's Department of Social Sciences and in Georgetown University's Security Studies Program. He served as a Military Assistant to two Deputy Secretaries of Defense and later worked as a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Nagl also earned a Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the Command and General Staff College, where he received the George C. Marshall Award as the top graduate. He was awarded the Combat Action Badge by General James Mattis of the United States Marine Corps, under whose leadership he fought in Al Anbar in 2004. Dr. Nagl is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and was on the writing team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. His writings have also been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Parameters, Military Review, Joint Force Quarterly, Armed Forces Journal, The Washington Quarterly, and Democracy, among others.
John's recommendation for us is The Good Soldiers. "In The Good Soldiers, Pulitzer Prize winner David Finkel gets inside the hearts and minds of the good soldiers of 2-16 Infantry, who deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas as part of the first of the five surge brigades sent to turn around the war in Iraq. Under the command of my West Point classmate Ralph Kauzlarich, they were stationed in one of the most difficult neighborhoods of Baghdad, where they endured snipers, roadside bombs, and a population that often appeared indifferent to their counterinsurgency efforts. Finkel, who lived with the battalion for more than half of their fifteen month combat tour, tells the story of their toil from a visit by General David Petraeus to their Forward Operating Base to the agonizing death of one of their soldiers in a burn unit in San Antonio—a haunting glimpse of the price that was paid by America's sons and daughters in this agonizing war. One hundred years from now, when people wonder what life and death were like during The Surge, this is the book that they will turn to. It should be read by all American citizens; it will be remembered by all who read it."
By Joshua Cooper Ramo
In reading Joshua Cooper Ramo's provocative book, The Age of the Unthinkable, one sees similar themes emerging that mirror a number of those covered in the Highlands Forum. Not that agreement abounds, but he does reflect and nicely link a number of key ideas that we see in the world we have addressed. Complexity, black swans, brittle architectures, networked populations challenging local authority and networked individuals challenging global authorities. Even the actions of great powers and great organizations to cure the ills of societies and bring stability have resulted in unintended consequences that further erode the power of the "center". Taking a page from Nassim Taleb and Michael Lewis, Ramo demonstrates how the highly complex and little understood financial vehicles sold to manage risk in fact set off a chain of events that destroyed confidence and markets, leading to the Great Recession. Ramo contends that the war on terrorism has in fact created more terrorists and less stability. As he cites a number of examples of the fragility of a complex world that is networked to produce a pace of activity that is beyond hierarchical government and commercial organizations' ability to control or impact events, he sees a dangerous and volatile place for us to work. Ramo suggests that ideas and leaders can emerge from the edge and that we can use the same networks and tools to solve many of our problems.
By Richard Holmes
The Age of Wonder... is a wonder! This exceptionally well-written and fascinating story tells of the second revolution in science and the people who ignited it. Set in the years between Captain Cook's famous voyage and the Darwin's Beagle expedition (1768—1831), author Richard Holmes brings the main actors of the English Romantic period to life as though in a novel, so richly are they drawn. This often breathtaking tale of adventure, belief, possibility, science and art, shines a light on a little known time in history with those who fervently followed their hearts to create a new era of scientific discovery (this book should be read along with Philip Dray's volume below, Stealing God's Thunder, which follows America's great scientist of the time, Benjamin Franklin; many of the actors and the events they engaged in are seen from other points of view, giving a fully realized testament to this remarkable historical period). There is the sense of a race among scientists and between countries when anything was possible and pride was at stake (the letters and diplomatic cables announcing and criticizing discoveries and advances of other countries and their scientists are timely). The portraits of explorer and botanist Joseph Banks, who sailed with Captain Cook to Tahiti; amateur astronomer William Herschel and his sister Caroline, who discovered a new planet and in so doing created a fascination and appreciation for the universe in the mind of the public; and the frightening and amusing experiments with gas by Humphrey Davy, who not only revolutionized chemistry but became the source of inspiration for Romantic poets and authors such as Coleridge and Shelley. A Book-of-the-Year nominee.
By Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Nassim Taleb has been a force of nature in alterting people to the nature of risk, coining the now seemingly universally understood term, "black swan". We are fortunate to have had him with us over the course of several Highlands Forums on risk and deterrence in an information age—his conversation with Nobel Laureate Danny Kahneman on risk and deterrence is a highlight of the series. Following his international best seller, The Black Swan, Taleb has been quoted endlessly as the financial markets roiled. He has watched the debates swirl and has seen institutions and leaders in the private and public sector continue to misunderstand the forces around them and then make painfully wrong decsions. Now Taleb turns his interest to gathering his thoughts on chance, aesthetics, randomness—and one of our favorites, the scandal of prediction—in the form of aphorisms to share with us. Aphorisms are a concise statement containing a subjective truth cleverly written. These are not fortune cookie ramblings; these are the thoughts and observations of an exceptional intellect who has seen the follies that have resulted in tragedies the past three years. This highly enjoyable and readable little volume, The Bed of Procrustes, traces its title and its meaning to Greek mythology, to Procrustes, a man who made his visitors "fit his bed to perfection by either stretching them or by cutting their limbs". Taleb tells us early on in the preface, "Note that every failure of what we call "wisdom" (coupled with technical proficiency) can be reduced to a Procrustean bed situation." This is a book that will challenge and irritate, perhaps on the same page or within the same aphorism. Taleb immediately got our attention in his Prelude with: "An idea starts to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion". An excllent volume, not to be measured by its size, it will start many a thought and many a conversation.
By China Miéville
Occasionally we find novels of distinction that challenge our thinking and address traditional themes in decidedly non-traditional ways. This year we feature two such fascinating stories—The City & The City, and Cloud Atlas—that call to mind Monty Python's "And now for something completely different". Author China Miéville shared this year's best-novel Hugo Award for imagining that two utterly different Eastern European nations might occupy the same city. Citizens of Ul Qoma and Beszel walk the same streets and live on the same blocks but speak different languages and must ignore each other's homes, cars, street signs, cafés—everything, especially each other—under pain of vanishment by a powerful, mysterious joint police force. The discovery of a slain Ul Qoman in Beszel kicks off the strangest of hardboiled detective stories when the trail of clues leads Miéville's Besz protagonist on a mental journey to Ul Qoma. Like the best optical illusions, The City & the City may force your mind to keep refocusing on things you thought you knew.
By David Mitchell
A finalist for the prestigious Man Booker Prize (book of the year for UK authors), Cloud Atlas is our second novel to make this year's Highlands Forum Reading List. This rich and unusual novel was written in 2004 by author David Mitchell, regarded by Time Magazine as one of its "100 Most Influential People in the World". Mitchell creates six intriguing and nested worlds across time that are all told as separate stories, each interrupted in the telling, only to be all linked together in the second half of the book, and regressing back to the first story in time. These half-dozen amazing stories begin with an adventure during a 19th century crossing of the Pacific Ocean, work their way across the world and centuries to a post-apocalyptic tale set in Hawaii, and remarkably, back again. It is a beautifully written blending of styles, told "in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick".
By Joseph Menn
Adventure stories are always fun to read. When they get too close to reality and expose a dark side of the actual world you live in, yet you didn't know existed, the adventure can turn to fear quickly. In this case the dark side of the world is the Internet—bad actors abound, engaging in scary activity for fun and profit. This is an amazing book, whether you are a geek or you have no interest in a computer beyond fetching email or buying Christmas gifts for your family on Black Monday. Highlands contributor Rick Wesson, well known in security circles for his work on fighting dreaded botnets (Conficker among others), handed us a copy of Fatal System Error by Joseph Menn, a journalist for the Financial Times, and urged us to read it and gain a better insight as to what is going on under the hood. This is the tale of Barrett Lyon, a friend of Rick, and Andy Crocker, who did battle with the unsavory purveyors of Internet extortion schemes, weeding out criminals and ensuring their prosecution and conviction, only to find more of them. Why did Willie Sutton rob banks? For the same reason, these denizens are finding easy pickings hidden in the Internet, and we are all the victims. If you would like one book that describes this world, what the battles are over, who the characters might be, and what can (or can't) be done about it, this is the book.
By Stephen Sondheim
We have been thinking a good bit about creativity and innovation over the past few months with an eye toward Forum conversations in the coming year. As in our very cross-disciplinary exploration of risk several years ago, examining risk from many possible angles, we thought the same approach might pay dividends when seeing creativity through a kaleidoscopic lens. This led us to consider an area that most people know little about, the American musical theater, which boasts one of the most creative and revolutionary forces to be found in any field—Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim may not be a household name, but he has the distinction of winning seven Tony awards, seven Grammy awards, an Oscar, a Pulitzer prize, and the Kennedy Center Honors, among other awards, and he revolutionized the musical theater. Try some of these shows in which he was the lyricist or musical composer and lyricist: West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, Follies, A Little Night Music, and Sweeney Todd. Now even if those titles mean nothing to you, Sondheim has presented us with a remarkable look inside the mind and the creative process of a true genius. Finishing the Hat is a journey filled with stories of amazing artists in first person observation by the 80 year old Sondheim, but it is also an explanation of his approach to writing, with original pages and notes presented to the reader. He begins with three simple principles for writing lyrics: "Content Dictates Form; Less is More; and God Is in the Details; all in the service of CLARITY, without which nothing else matters". We follow Sondheim, show by show, song by song, as he tells us that a song without context isn't worth his time—the song must extend and advance the narrative. An example of his attention to detail and drawing in the audience comes in the very opening of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a bloodlust potboiler, an "admittedly odd" choice for a Broadway musical. Sondheim tells us, "If ever there was an example of 'God is in the details', it's the line that opens this show: 'Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd'. Detail 1: the use of 'attend' to mean 'listen to' is just archaic enough to tell the audience that this will be a period piece. Detail 2: the idea of a 'tale' suggests that the audience not take the story realistically, but as a fable, and opens them up to accept the bizarrerie of the events which follows... ". Sondheim relates details and examples to tell us what he is trying to accomplish, what he wants the audience to feel and understand, and how he can accomplish it. Each lyric must meet those challenges, and he lifts the curtain to show us. This is a master, an American treasure, one of the most creative people in the arts, and he wants to share his ideas with us. Most strongly recommended.
By Jonathan Zittrain
A recent cover article of WIRED proclaimed: "The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet". The article began, "Two decades after its birth, the World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services—think apps—are less about the searching and more about the getting". Meanwhile, in the December 2010 edition of Scientific American, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee says in an article titled "Long Live the Web", that the "Web is critical not merely to the digital revolution but to our continued prosperity—and even our liberty. Like democracy itself, it needs defending." Preceding both WIRED and Scientific American is a book from the esteemed Jonathan Zittrain, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. What's going on here? Berners-Lee worries that large social networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web, that quality of service differentiations are being made in favor of those who make deals, and that surveillance and monitoring of individuals is increasing, jeopardizing human rights. Zittrain, in his thoughtful and thought-provoking book, takes a long view of the development of the Internet and focuses on what he terms generative possibilities, i.e., one that provides a basis for innovation, new products, and new sources of value. All that good can be undone. Berners-Lee also follows Zittrain's thinking in that walling off segments of the Internet, favoring closed approaches vs. open approaches, and not doing enough to stymie criminals, foreshadow an end to the Internet as we know it. There is no doubt that both the WIRED article and the Scientific American article trumpet trends that are going to result in yet more major changes to the Internet, an evolutionary ecosystem that has had as one of its main attributes a robust dynamism. If you are looking to understand what these changes might be, what they will mean, and what might need to be done, look no further. Zittrain should be your first stop. He has written clearly about the fundamental shifts we are just beginning to see; is he correct? Begin here and keep searching. The stakes are high.
By Tim Wu
Almost ten years ago on this page we reviewed a sweeping and timely history of information in America, A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present, by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. and James W. Cortada. A Nation Transformed set the context for the entire North American experience with information across three centuries. The unique question they asked is, "Are there some continuities, are there some patterns of behavior that go before the Internet, before television, before radio and telephone?" Among the numerous reasons cited, they felt among the strongest was a belief in continuous progress, the need for constant improvement and faith in the value of information. Just as the U.S. government invested in the creation of an effective postal system in the early years of the Republic, so too did it invest in the developing of new forms of communications and computing in the middle decades of the 20th century. This is a great history of a people and the nation they shaped with the sharing of information. The story has now been continued and extended by Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia University with The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, a masterful history of radio, film, television and the Internet and the founders and moguls who created media companies and empires in their own image and personalities. Wu details the patterns of these indomitable leaders holding off emerging technologies that might unseat them and thus gain control of the "master switch", or consolidation and control of the industry. These personalities are front and center during each of the open and closed cycles of information technology development, diffusion, and delivery to hungry consumers, and the story of how these titans saw value in open or closed architectures and business deals that shaped how information empires rose or fell. Wu has a dog in this fight: as the coiner of the term "net neutrality" he leads an ideological movement that sees value in open standards and a marketplace free from dominance by a few large corporate entities, one where the network owner is not also the owner of content and the device. Watch out Steve Jobs. You may not agree with Wu's thesis, but this is a very important new book, which should set the terms of conversation over the implicit policy issues of regulation by the government. A must read.
By Dan Gillmor
In the 2004 Highlands Forum book list we featured Dan Gillmor's book, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, For the People, in which he set out to explore where media might be headed and more importantly, how to get there. Dan has long been the foremost source of understanding information technology journalism, writing from the heart of Silicon Valley for the San Jose Mercury News. He began a movement with We the Media, which he has extended with his new position and his new book. Now the Director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and the Kauffman Professor of Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, Gillmor will publish this month another important book that pushes the boundaries even further. Mediactive lays the groundwork for understanding the power and the shortcomings of information on the Internet and what we as citizens and users can and should do. Mediactive means being active users of media "to help us live up to the ideal of literacy". Literacy, Gillmor tells us, means not just knowing how to read that medium, but also how to create in it, and to understand the difference between good and bad uses. Herein lies the rub: Gillmor is concerned that we are in an "era of radically democratized and decentralized creation and distribution, where almost anyone can publish and find almost anything that others have published. Welcome to the age of information abundance. And welcome to the age of information confusion: For many of us, that abundance feels more like a deluge, drowning us in a torrent of data, much of whose trustworthiness we can't easily judge. You're hardly alone if you don't know what you can trust anymore". So what is one to do? One can enter the fray at many levels, but as an entry one should be able to parse through the torrent of information we each deal with and openly judge it before reusing it or acting on it. Gillmor offers principles and practices on how to do just that—dealing with information, ways of becoming an information creator, and the societal and cultural meaning of these activities. As with the new ground he broke in We the Media, Gillmor again is out on the edge. Knowing the insights he has previously given us and the growth of users in creating a new world of information, being out there on the edge of the wave with him is a good place to be. Check out his Web site for more and check out Mediactive.
By Robert Kaplan
Peter Schwartz, author of The Art of the Long View and Chairman of Global Business Network, is an avid collector of maps—it goes along with his interest in mental models or maps, an idea that says how we see things determines our actions. When most of us look at a map of the world, our expectation is that North America will be dead center, flanked by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and dominate the picture of the world that we hold in our minds. That picture, that map, and that mental model are shifting. Robert Kaplan, a most insightful author of numerous books, including Balkan Ghosts, The Arabists, and The Ends of the Earth, has just delivered a new and compelling book which forces our focus to a different map, one with India and China at the center. His book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, directs our attention to a part of the world with the fastest growing economies, accompanied by growing military and naval power, and with the heaviest oil transport lanes on earth. It just so happens to be a center of Islamic extremism and home to new security challenges from individuals and small groups sharing several tenets of militant activity. American interests, unchallenged in this region for so long, now will be seen in some balance with India and China, as well as emerging countries of the ocean's edges. If ever there was a locus for testing the principles of cooperation—competition—conflict as a new spectrum of security interests and actions, this is it. Kaplan is a pleasure to read—he is graceful in his writing, ahead of the curve with his ideas, and like Margaret Meade urged, he is able to "smell the dirt" of the places he writes about, giving us all a sense of place. This is a most timely and important book, written by a great author who also serves the U.S. Secretary of Defense on the influential Defense Policy Board. We encourage you to read Monsoon, a view of the world from a fresh perspective.
By Philip Dray
Benjamin Franklin, the inventor, patriot and diplomat, proved to be a major force in all three areas, beautifully captured by Philip Dray in his essential telling of Franklin's accomplishments. In Stealing God's Thunder: Benjamin Franklin's Lightning Rod and the Invention of America, Franklin emerges as a scientist-statesman who gave America increased respect and credibility in Europe. At a time when America was seen in many quarters as a cultural backwater, Franklin's awareness and understanding of scientific progress on the Continent coupled with his own experiments and scientific writing created a new image of the colonies and later the fledgling American nation. His correspondence with the leading scientists of Europe (documented in The Age of Wonder) included exchanging ideas with and influencing Joseph Evans regarding the impact of ballooning as a precursor to manned flight. Franklin, whether in his scientific experiments or his philosophy lent to the writing of the Declaration, was a product of Enlightenment thinking—human reason carried the day and made all things possible. And yet, his work was roundly condemned by those who feared that he was usurping God's place in inventing and using the lightning rod, upsetting the "natural balance". This is an exceptional biography of Franklin the scientist in tumultuous times.
By Sebastian Junger
We have presented a number of books on war, in the broader historical and strategic sense, and combat, in the intensely personal sense, on this list over the years. Our 2008 reading list included The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins, and this year's list includes The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel. These are stories, well and brutally told, of a small group of soldiers by an embedded journalist, and we get to experience close-up and often too personal, their battles. Without hesitation, belonging with these two excellent books in our reading list is Sebastian Junger's War, the story of a small group of men constantly under fire in a very small and unforgiving place, the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. The Korengal, an inhospitable six-mile long cut through the barren mountains of Eastern Afghanistan, is a key character is this sad, brutal, unbelievable, and yet somehow inspiring chapter of our war in Afghanistan. The mission in the Korengal is simple—deny it to the Taliban. This is a place where constant "incoming" is the norm, where ambushes wreak havoc with fire coming from all directions "lighting up the hills like Christmas decorations", and squads suffer 100 per cent casualties. Junger sets it out clearly—this view of war is to be about the men caught in the storm, about their feelings, their fears, their pride. It is a very individual and private war, and we get to feel as though we are there with them. Great insights, great heroism, great writing.
By Kevin Kelly
Kevin Kelly, the former editor of WIRED, has graced a number of Highlands Forum gatherings with his deep insights into biology, computer science, physics, and economics, all part of a view of complexity that permeates his keenly honed view of the world and its evolution. His foundational book, Out of Control, has been a touchstone for many of our discussions over the past 15 years. It marked the move from an "age of physics to an age of biology — particularly evolution and ethology". Out of Control offered a reminder that self-organization is the essence of innovation, progress, and life itself. Kelly's controversial and wonderfully written new book, What Technology Wants pushes the boundaries even further, arguing for the existence of the Technium. Six years ago he began his reflection on technology with a blog post:
"It's a word I've reluctantly coined to designate the greater sphere of technology - one that goes beyond hardware to include culture, law, social institutions, and intellectual creations of all types. In short, the Technium is anything that springs from the human mind. It includes hard technology, but much else of human creation as well. I see this extended face of technology as a whole system with its own dynamics. On this site I aim to investigate the Technium. What does it want? Why do we embrace it? Is it possible to reject it? How does it relate to God, if at all? What kind of control do we really have on the pace and future path of the Technium itself?"
In this stimulating book, Kelly makes his arguments for the existence of the Technium, which seems to be a natural part or extension of life and the categories we create to describe it so as to be able to understand it, live with it, and use it. Jeremy Phillips refers to Kelly's Technium as "a sort of intellectual ecosystem that operates as if it were a sentient being". Kelly covers the evolution (or co-evolution) of technological advancements around the world as though they are biological systems; in a fascinating display of he traces the history of standards from the Roman era (road width) to the twentieth century (rocket booster width), again as part of a natural evolution. Like Howard Bloom's Global Brain, Kelly demonstrates the evolution of information and ideas (plus technology) across history and geography and presents us with ideas that challenge our thinking and extend the possibilities we are willing to consider.
By Steven Johnson
Steven Johnson has appeared twice before on the Highlands Forum annual reading list, first with Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, and Cities, and then with The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. His most recent book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, continues a theme he has been developing through his two previous works—connectivity. In this new volume, Johnson writes clearly and convincingly about the spaces and patterns that lead to good ideas, giving us insight and understanding into how an innovation emerged from such "a simple idea". He explores several avenues, including the "adjacent possible" (where at any moment great change is possible, but only certain changes can occur), serendipity, and the collision of smaller hunches. The collision, the adjacent possible, and serendipity all share a key feature—connectivity, which leads to creating moments or spaces where ideas can mingle. It is the nature of connections that enables ideas to be born, to mingle, to be nurtured and to blossom; and to sample existing components or ideas and re-purpose them for a completely different use (exaptation). With a historic increase in connectivity over the last century (and over the past 15 years in particular), the sky is the limit and innovation should be able to blossom at rates heretofore unseen. As Johnson tells us, chance favors the connected mind. What he began in Emergence, he now brings full circle in his search for the source of good ideas. If only we are patient, he says, "ideas need time to incubate".
By Jaron Lanier
Over the past ten years of reading lists, we have reviewed many books that describe the promise of the emerging information landscape. It was inevitable that we would find a book that served as a cautionary tale. You Are Not A Gadget, by virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, is a manifesto and a "pessimistic/realistic" book. We first met Lanier, a wonderful, exuberant and positive person, at a celebration for Douglas Englebart, the computing pioneer in Silicon Valley. Additional meetings with Lanier over the years made clear that he was a serious technologist—happily so. It was a surprise, then, to see this manifesto full of concern about the technology he so passionately made the center of his life; that makes this book of criticisms all the more important. He is not against the Internet—far from it—he is an avid user of it, but he is highly disappointed in the social software that has been written and put in place that pigeon-holes people and experiences and will result, he feels, in "lock-in and loss of individuality". Pitted against each other in this battle are the "digital Maoists" (many of the leaders and pundits of the current Silicon Valley ecosystem) and the humanists (Englebart, Kay, Gelernter, Schneiderman, Winograd and their disciples). Lanier finds himself awkwardly split across both camps, with friends in both, but his heart with the humanists. Here is where the Manifesto becomes pointed: "emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad mob-like behaviors; this leads not only to empowered trolls, but to a generally unfriendly and unconstructive online world". Lanier compels readers to take an unbiased (if that is possible) view and look at the power — and limitations — of human interaction in a socially networked world. He opines that the software we have accepted in the name of providing greater services has in fact locked us into a homogenizing experience (all the better for advertisers to pitch to us and collect information from us free of charge) of endlessly rehashed content and that the "fake friendship of social networks" is the catnip. For Lanier there is no wisdom of crowds, only a cruel mob. Ultimately it is about what these technologies we have embraced do to individuality on the one end and to troll-like group behaviors on the other. He tells us, "Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks and lightweight mash-ups may seem trivial and harmless, but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned personal interaction." Lanier may infuriate many, much as the film, The Social Network, angered loyal Facebook users, who have invested time and care in Facebook and its possibilities for connecting. Lanier just sees a different kind of connection between people, one that he thinks celebrates individuality and optimism. Regardless of where you fall on this issue, this manifesto is important to read and consider.
By Scott E. Page
Scott Page is Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan and an external faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute. His presentation on diversity at a recent Highlands Forum on collective intelligence was a precursor in some respects to his new book (to be released in December), Diversity and Complexity. He has long been interested in how information can be brought together from diverse sources to examine problems. He told us that "predictions come from variance, and diversity helps to capture this. No variance means average error equals the collective error". The information aggregate is when different people know different things. Problem solving is knowing different techniques/tricks to solve problems. What we see are big jumps in innovation stemming from total shifts in the perspective of the problem. Page's new book provides a deeper introduction to the role of diversity in complex adaptive systems. A complex system—such as an economy or a tropical ecosystem—consists of interacting adaptive entities that produce dynamic patterns and structures. "Diversity plays a different role in a complex system than it does in an equilibrium system, where it often merely produces variation around the mean for performance measures. In complex adaptive systems, diversity makes fundamental contributions to system performance". Page is onto something fundamental as we think about how to address complex problems and the role of diversity in collective mechanisms to arrive at resolution.
By Philip E. Tetlock
As we prepared for the recent Highlands Forum on The Frontier of Prediction, we ran across Philip Tetlock's 2005 book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? This book is the result of twenty years of study by Tetlock, a psychologist at UC Berkeley. What he found was "that people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us". Tetlock was concerned, as many of us are when they hear someone tell us with certitude what the outcome of an issue will be at some point in the mists of time, and the soothsayer is not held accountable. He decided to keep score. This is a seminal study of expert political judgments from over two hundred well-regarded personas with loyal followings. With the full cooperation of his subject-matter-expert "subjects", Tetlock asked them to offer their predictions on events which would or would not come to pass, on both topics where they maintained expertise and others where they were clearly not "fully informed". Tetlock collected and tracked over 80,000 predictions from this esteemed group over two decades. The scientific method is rigorously followed and the data is exhaustive. The supporting graphs, notes, and technical appendices provide ample insight into the methodology and Tetlock's explanations. Tetlock tells us that people are too quick to make up their minds; too slow to change them, and too quick to see patterns in what is just noise. But he does see an important role for the expert—"they can tell you what indicators to look for". We're no experts, but we recommend Expert Political Judgment.
By Serpil Bagci (Author), and Massumeh Farhad (Editor)
Whether by consulting the position of the planets, casting horoscopes, or interpreting dreams, the art of divination was widely practiced throughout the Islamic world. The most splendid tools ever devised to foretell the future were illustrated texts known as the Falnama (Book of omens). Notable for their monumental size, brilliantly painted compositions, and unusual subject matter, the manuscripts, created in Safavid Iran and Ottoman Turkey in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, are the centerpieces of Falnama: The Book of Omens. We first saw these remarkable compositions in late 2009 at the Sackler Gallery's comprehensive exhibition in Washington, DC, and knew that they would nicely inform the upcoming Highlands Forum on The Frontier of Prediction. This first exhibition devoted to the extraordinary manuscripts, Falnama: The Book of Omens, was captivating and shed new light on their artistic, cultural, and religious significance. The exhibition comprised more than sixty works of art from international public and private collections and was accompanied by this fully illustrated catalogue.
By Ann Pendleton-Jullian
In this elegant small volume, Four (+1) Studios, architect and designer Ann Pendleton-Jullian uses the world of design as a constructive process "by which the imagination takes on problems, frames them, models them, and creates a response through the distribution of material—real or virtual material— in space". She describes the beauty of the design process through its non-linearity, and creates a way of engaging complexity that is important for us to understand. She cites two major forces in the sciences that are creating an impact, massive in scope and at a scale not seen before. One is the stunning complexity of the questions and problems at hand in the sciences—a complexity that requires highly productive interdisciplinary work in which members of teams have deep knowledge of their respective fields; second, digital technologies have caused a shift in the pace and amount of information produced to take on these problems. The need to integrate diverse forms of information across various complex disciplines is not a trivial problem, and among the ways she suggests we address these problems is through game design and play. Pendleton-Jullian tells us, "Playing strategic games creates a situation in which students are immersed in complex adaptive systems. Through the playing of the games, they develop tacit understandings of how to work within these systems. They come to understand how every move alters the rest of the game—how every move has different degrees of resonance... They learn about risk and reward and they learn how to influence both... The games prepare students to see how connections in these complex systems work and how the environment evolves".
By Warren Berger
Continuing in our preparation for Highlands Forum 42 on Shaping, we found several very interesting and informative books on design. These works have taken us well beyond the notion of shaping, but have helped us to consider approaches to addressing some of the complex problems facing us. In Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life, and Maybe Even the World, author Warren Berger examines the work of designers and creators to get a glimmer on the creative design process and how it might be useful in thinking about, framing, and solving really big problems. Berger focuses his light primarily on the amazing Bruce Mau (also featured here in the 2010 book list with his own book on design thinking, Massive Change), who has worked to "design" such disparate things as a symphonic hall (with Frank Gehry), a university's organization and learning structure, a recyclable carpet, and the city of Mecca. Berger points to three primary ways that design can be used in addressing the difficult and often complex challenges we face: (1) designers ask truly fundamental questions; (2) designers create visual, graphical representations of problems that allow people to see the problem in different ways; and, (3) designers "force their brains to go sideways and consider solutions that are off the path." This is an enjoyable book to read, and it allows the reader an easy insight into the world of design. Taken with Pendleton-Jullian's deep look at the principles of design in the studio, and Mau's own explosively graphic Massive Change, these three books on design are an excellent way to reconsider problem solving.
By Howard Bloom
Howard Bloom has been called "the Darwin, Einstein, Newton, and Freud of the 21st Century" by Britain's Channel4 TV and "the next Stephen Hawking" by Gear Magazine. Bloom comes from the world of cosmology, theoretical physics, and microbiology. He built his first Boolean Algebra machine when he was twelve, co-conceived a primitive but award-winning game-playing computer that same year, worked in the largest cancer research lab in America--the Roswell Park Cancer Institute--when he was sixteen, and did research in B.F. Skinner's programmed learning at Rutgers University's Graduate School of Education before his freshman year of college. But he did 20 years of fieldwork in the world of business and popular culture, where he tested his hypotheses in the real world. In 1968 Bloom turned down four graduate fellowships and embarked on what he calls his Voyage of the Beagle, an expedition to the dark underbelly where new myths, new historical movements, and new shifts in mass emotion are made. Bloom returned to science full time in 1988. A number of authors tell us that the Web is ushering in a new era of global consciousness. But Bloom tells us that life has been a collective mind from the very beginning. His major work is Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. "It is the first book to present strong evidence that evolutionary, biological, perceptual, and emotional mechanisms have made us parts of a social learning machine--a mass mind which includes all species of life, not just humankind. It is the first to take this idea out of the realm of mysticism and into the sphere of hard-nosed, data-derived reality. Global Brain says that a worldwide web has been with us since the first moments of life, and that global connectivity isn't a product of our technology, it's built into our biology. It's in our cells, our bodies, and our brains".
By Bruce Mau and the Institute Without Boundaries
"For most of us, design is invisible. Until it fails".
So begins Bruce Mau's exciting, extertaining, thoughtful, colorful, and explosively graphic book, Massive Change. Mau goes on to tell us that "Massive Change is not about the world of design; it's about the design of the world." Over the course of this absolutely captivating book Mau intrduces us to such challenges as urban economies, energy economies, information economies, military economies, manufacturing economies and living economies (and many other fascinating explorations into worlds and ecosystems that we take for granted). He peers below the surface to show us these worlds and then incorporates interviews with people deeply concerned with each of those worlds, including: the late Nobel laureate Rick Smalley on energy; Stewart Brand on the long view; architect William McDonough on economy, ecology, and equity; esteemed scientist Freeman Dyson on genetic engineering; renowned engineer and inventor Robert Langer on tissue engineering; and Jeffrey Sachs on poverty reduction. Mau asks us in the opening of the book, "Now that we can do anything, what will we do?" He proceeds to mark a path across these stimulating chapters with declarations to answer this question, each beginning with "We Will... "(tap into the global commons, embrace paradox, reshape our future). A book of positivity, Massive Change shows us what we can do, and starkly demonstrates design thinking as a pathway to achieving success in addressing our greatest challenges.
By B. J. Fogg
B. J. Fogg is an experimental psychologist and professor at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. His research is directed toward how computing products, from websites to mobile phone software, can be designed to change people's beliefs and behaviors. In his book, Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do, Fogg vividly shows us how social media and mobile devices are changing our lives. He describes the concept of captology, "the design, research, and analysis of interactive computing products created for the purpose of changing people's attitudes or behaviors. It describes the area where technology and persuasion overlap". Fogg's research is clearly captured in Persuasive Technology; he discusses how we are learning to persuade users to take a particular action: to buy more, play more, lose weight, quit smoking, or register to win; how mobile phones will be the game changers for everyday life; and how social media sites place triggers in front of motivated users to build out their networks. The idea of captology addresses the extent to which an interactive device (be it a website or mobile phone) succeeds in changing users' attitudes and behaviors. The importance of this research is obvious, particularly for marketers looking to sell more goods, or a person who turns to a motivational website to quit smoking. Fogg's research goes even further, examining how these technologies can be used as "peace technologies", means to co-creation of dialogues among people in belligerent states. Usability was the watchword of websites for most of the last decade; Fogg tells us that is not enough—now the trigger for the motivated person must be placed in such a way as to persuade.
By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
Since the beginning of the Highlands Forum sessions we have addressed the issues of risk and forecasting over the course of our conversations. Of all the topics we have discussed, none has generated so much interest—and heat. We have heard from Phil Tetlock (Expert Political Judgment) and Nassim Taleb (The Black Swan) in the Forums on what constitutes the "frontier of prediction". Staking out very different ground is highly regarded New York University political science professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, in his book The Predictioneer's Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future. He uses game theory, which assumes that people are rationally self-interested, as a basis for dealing with how people choose in strategic interactions, taking into account the other person's reactions—but he tells us it shouldn't replace debate and analysis. In The Predictioneer's Game, Bueno de Mesquita explains what we need to know to predict. He lays out a model that asks: who has a stake in the decision; what do they say they want; how focused are they on the problem compared to other issues; how much persuasive influence they could exert; and how resolved are they—how important an agreement is to them as opposed to sticking with their position, even if it means going down in a blaze of glory. His ideas have been considered by corporations and by government agencies, especially when considering critical binary questions over a discrete, relevant range of time, e.g., "Will Iran develop a nuclear weapon by the end of 2011?" Bueno de Mesquita takes the process one step further—if we can predict, we can shape. This controversial and thoughtful book will provoke you and it will likely offer insight into how game theory might be an essential element of decision making in both the public and private sector.
By Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis, the author of The Blind Side and Moneyball has delivered one of the books of the year and perhaps the single most important and readable account of the financial meltdown of 2008 in The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. He tells the story of the complex, impenetrable financial world in a most readable, understandable, and entertaining way. Told through the experiences of a number of the personas who were responsible for creating the incomprehensible vehicles that served as bets against the markets, this becomes a story of people and institutions, where the creators and sellers of toxic mortgage derivatives understood what was happening in the markets and how to profit mightily from them, and where the institutions (most of them) clearly did not. Lewis's characters discover a "new, rapidly growing industry of specialty finance, the mortgage bond was about to be put to a new use: making loans that did not qualify for government guarantees. The purpose was to extend credit to less and less creditworthy homeowners, not so that they might buy a house but so that they could cash out whatever equity they had in the house they already owned". What they saw was not understood or seen by the leaders of the major banks, government regulators, Treasury Department policy makers, or the Federal Reserve. Who would have thought that bonds and mortgages could be so entertaining and exciting? Lewis is an exceptional writer and brings this painful chapter in our recent history to life in a way that few others have been able to capture. We highly recommend this remarkable book.
By Clay Shirky
This follow-up to 2008's Here Comes Everybody starts with a tale of how rapid industrialization and urbanization caused early-18th century London to be awash in cheap gin, with predictable social consequences and a backlash against the resulting chaos. Bans were enacted, sermons preached, drinkers imprisoned, all to little avail. What ultimately soaked up all that gin, Clay Shirky writes, is the rise of what we'd now call civil-society organizations such as mutual-aid societies, the first permanent coffeehouses and restaurants, and urban political parties. These innovative organizations and venues provided a distinctly modern structure and goals for the new urban middle class, giving them more interesting outlets for their spare talent and energy than booze provided. The excess time those industrializing Londoners faced is the "cognitive surplus" of the book's title, and he asserts that the modern world has faced a similar surplus for decades: the trillion or so hours of spare time humans have each year for activities of their choosing, time not spent working, commuting, eating, or otherwise addressing survival issues. Idleness being the devil's workshop that it is, the immediate question is how cultures use this huge amount of surplus thought or labor. Shirky notes that in developed countries the answer, during the late 20th century, was "Watch as much TV as possible." After all, there were few other media options and TV was more entertaining than doing nothing, so people used their cognitive surplus to watch television like it was their job. This slavish devotion led broadcasters and theorists to assume that people almost genetically preferred to consume media passively, rising from the couch only to microwave more popcorn. But now we're as awash in spare time and entertainment options (many of them participatory) as 18th-century London was awash in spare time and gin. Some of that time will be used for purely personal or communal endeavors, but in this book Shirky is hopeful about the civic contributions social-networked groups may make: "If we want to create new forms of civic value, we need to improve the ability of small groups to try radical things...It's from groups trying new things that the most profound uses of social media have hitherto come and will come in the future."
By Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, and James H. Fowler, PhD
Books about networks, whether social, computer or neurological, have long found a home on the Highlands Forum Web site—as well as ever-expanding shelf space in bookstores. The current wave of books about networks stretches back to Albert-László Barabási's Linked: The New Science of Networks (2002), and also includes Duncan J. Watts' Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (2003), Malcolm Gladwell's unkillable The Tipping Point (2002), Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs (2002), Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom's The Starfish and the Spider (2006), and now Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler's Connected. These volumes use varying science-to-anecdote ratios to answer a single question: How do you affect others and how do they affect you? With Connected, however, it's possible that network books are now moving out of a look-what-we've-discovered phase and into a practical one where, with the power of network phenomena assumed, writers and readers become more interested in manipulating networks than in explaining their existence and properties. Christakis and Fowler are in a prime position to comment on network phenomena. Christakis is an internist at Harvard Medical School and social scientist who conducts research on social factors that affect health, health care, and longevity at Harvard University; Fowler is an Associate Professor in the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems at CALIT and the University of California at San Diego. They are both heavily involved in sociology, medicine, technology, and health policy. Both researchers were specifically interested in how altruism and goodness helped networks grow, which led to joint research on how our influence extends outward beyond the people we know:
"We began by studying various health effects. We discovered that if your friend's friend's friend gained weight, you gained weight. We discovered that if your friend's friend's friend stopped smoking, you stopped smoking. And we discovered that if your friend's friend's friend became happy, you became happy. Eventually, we realized that there were fundamental rules that governed both the formation and the operation of social networks".
By Ben MacIntyre
Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and an Assured Allied Victory may be among the best books of the year. It is densely plotted, intricate in detail, and breathtakingly surprising in the tradition of spy novels. It is not a novel. Author Ben MacIntyre, an associate editor for The Times of London, gained access to never-before-seen files finally declassified. In 1943 the Allies were set to strike Europe after gaining successes in North Africa. The Nazis awaited the big push and were trying to consolidate their forces to repel the attack and shove the Allies back into the sea. That meant knowing the location of the European landing, and intelligence assets were anxiously looking for any bit of information that might give them the upper hand. British intelligence had the task of convincing the Germans that the attack would come from another location, causing them to shift critical forces and thin out their defenses, allowing the Allies to overwhelm and defeat the depleted German lines. Thus was born Operation Mincemeat, a deception operation so remarkably detailed that it was written and lived like a novel, by a group of planners called The Group of Twenty, which just happened to include a number of authors and future novelists. Feeding ideas, such as using a dead body to carry false information, to the Group of Twenty were other intelligence and deception specialists—in this case a young officer named Ian Fleming, the future creator of James Bond. Mincemeat, Macintyre writes, "began as fiction, a plot twist in a long-forgotten novel, picked up by another novelist, and approved by a committee presided over by yet another novelist." The main character of Operation Mincemeat is the body of Major William Martin of the Royal Marines. Martin's uniformed body washed ashore off the coast of Spain with an attaché case locked to his body. In the case were the plans for the Allied attack on Greece and Sardinia. In reality, the big push would come on Sicily, and the body of Major Martin was that of a derelict from a London Morgue. The intention of the British deception group was for the documents to fall into the hands of the German army with help from sympathetic Spanish government officials. Despite the fact that we know from the outset that the plan worked, the suspense of the planning, richness of detail, and execution of the plot hold up to create one of the most fascinating stories of the year. MacIntyre is a great storyteller and he has delivered one of the best reads of the year; we highly recommend it to you.
By John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison
Push programs have dominated our lives from our very earliest years. That has all changed. Authors John Seely Brown, John Hagel III, and Lang Davison, demonstrate a "big shift" to a complex, interconnected world that allows individuals to find ideas, resources, and other people to be connected in ways that were previously the domain of large companies. In The Power of Pull: how small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion, they detail the movement from knowledge stocks to networks and flows—enabling anyone mastering the knowledge flows in networks to compete and succeed. As Hagel, Seely Brown and Davison demonstrate in their research, institutions tied to the knowledge stocks model have stopped competing, and worse, have stopped working effectively. Their Shift Index displayed the fall of U.S. public companies with a massive decline in return on assets since 1965 with a remarkable rise in labor productivity at the same time. Institutions that have learned to connect and to develop talent appear to have a significant edge, as do small start ups which recognize that the next wave of social media is not just important in the ability to connect people, but to connect them to do or to create. What is the power of pull? It is "the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address opportunities and challenges. It gives us unprecedented access to what we need, when we need it, even if we're not quite sure what 'it' is. . . The power of pull provides a key to how all of us - individually and collectively - can turn challenge and stress into opportunity and reward as digital technology remakes our lives." Seely Brown, Hagel, and Davison have given us an important new book that celebrates how the power of pull enables geographically dispersed people to come together and innovate in response to unanticipated events, and expand the opportunity for creativity in dealing with complex problems.
By Stewart Baker
Stewart Baker has been at the center of legal debates and policy making on matters of national security throughout his career. He was the law clerk for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, served as General Counsel of the National Security Agency, and recently completed a stint as the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security. Using that unique vantage point he has carefully considered existential threats to our security and vulnerabilities to our infrastructure, along with the means to address them, throughout his career. Foremost in this highly readable memoir and policy discussion, Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren't Stopping Tomorrow's Terrorism, Baker considers the role of privacy and civil liberties, weighing both sides of the arguments thoughtfully. Where you come down on these issues says much about us and about the world since 9/11. This is a book likely to provoke, and that is a good and important task as we move into a world where the mundane things in life could serve as targets or as carriers of threats. Things we have taken for granted demand thoughtful consideration as far-reaching decisions will be made by legislators and the courts, impacting all of us, and life will be different. Baker examines two essential technologies of 21st century life and explains why he believes that they could become the conveyors of destruction: information networks for cyber crime, espionage, and attack; and biotechnology, which he believes could result in loss of life on an extraordinary scale. These are clearly two-edged swords, capable of great advancements in connecting us socially and driving our economic engine, and enriching and extending our lives, and at the same time bringing us to our knees. Baker sees the potential for future disasters that are inherent in the malevolent use of these technologies and argues for building prudent new security measures around them. This is important ground that he is covering and he challenges the reader to take a stand, not skate.