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10 Books to Gift the Geeky Creative in Your Life

10 Books to Gift the Geeky Creative in Your Life
Published November 23, 2011 by Jocelyn K. Glei
Here at 99U, we have a serious penchant for books that really dig into the nitty gritty of the creative process, productivity strategies, and/or the future of technology. Now, with our tastes fully disclosed, here's a highly subjective list of our favorite new(ish) nonfiction titles that would make great gifts for the brainiac in your life.


The Progress Principle, by Teresa Amabile & Steven Kramer
After studying 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees at 7 companies, seasoned creativity researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer found that progress - not money, not rewards, not status - was the prime motivator for employee productivity. Packed with great insights on increasing workplace engagement and satisfaction, The Progress Principle is a perfect "next read" for fans of Dan Pink's Drive.

Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson
As he tracks "the natural history of innovation," Steven Johnson takes us through tales of great ideas realized (and unrealized), ranging from Miles Davis' jazz evolution to the 9/11 investigation to the invention of Google News. Along the way, he shows how ideas germinate in unexpected ways - slow hunches, errors, serendipity, and exaption, to name a few.

Alone Together, by Sherry Turkle
With our mobile devices and social media, we're supposed to be more engaged and connected than ever before. But it doesn't always feel that way, does it? Here, MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle meditates on a less-talked about topic: The loneliness, anxiety, and disassociation engendered by communicating via objects rather than face-to-face interactions. A thoughtful read.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman
Perfect for the armchair neuroscientist, David Eagleman's captivating new book explains the innerworkings of the brain with a slant toward revealing the gajillion different subconscious processes that are happening all the time as we glide along blissfully unaware. (Unrelated: Eagleman's nonfiction work Sum is also fantastic for gifting.)

End Malaria, edited by Michael Bungay Stanier
A collection of essays about how and what it means to do great work, End Malaria is literally the feel-good productivity book of the year. At least $20 from each book goes to Malaria No More to fight malaria, and you get great essays from Sir Ken Robinson, Kevin Kelly, Tom Peters, Jonah Lehrer, Barry Schwartz, Nicholas Carr, Jessica Hagy, and our very own Scott Belsky. Read more about it in this 99U piece.


The Compass of Pleasure, by David J. Linden
Neuroscience professor David J. Linden digs into the mechanisms that drive us to seek out pleasure in this breezy read, analyzing the built-in "rewards systems" that make us love exercise, sex, drugs, learning, gambling, and more. At best, dipping into this book could help you figure out how to tweak your rewards systems for better idea execution; at worst, it might make you feel less guilty about procrastinating.

Character Strengths & Virtues, by C. Peterson & M. Seligman
How do we build character? And can it be learned? In this exhaustive text, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman share insights into the 24 character strengths that span the ages - from Aristotle to the Upanishads - and look at strategies for cultivating them. Seeing if you can make it through this tome's 800 pages might be a revelation of character in and of itself!

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, by Tim Harford
According to economist Tim Harford, the world has become so darn complex that we can no longer idly rely superiors or "experts" to show us how to solve our problems. Instead, we must tackle them ourselves and learn through good ol' trial-and-error. The upshot? It's time to become very, very comfortable with failure. Learn more in our fascinating 99U interview with Harford.

What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly
As a co-founder of WIRED magazine, Kevin Kelly has long been at the forefront of technology trends and analysis. In What Technology Wants, he thoughtfully compares our technological development to the growth of a living organism - and one that has its own objectives at that. While the concept may sound ominous, the book is not. As one Amazon shopper noted: "The perfect read for any geek whose inner technophile is in constant battle with his inner Luddite."

The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr
As Marshall McLuhan said, "We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us." Here, journalist Nicholas Carr - author of the infamous "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" article - digs into McLuhan's assertion, reflecting on how the Internet is literally changing the way our brains work. If you need an additional endorsement, The Shallows was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction.


What's On Your Reading List?

What great nonfiction/creativity/technology books have you read lately?

This is a very brief list, so we welcome your input & additions in the comments!

More about Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

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