The Washington Post

The innovator’s 2013 summer reading list: Eight books to make you smarter

Selections from this year’s Innovations summer reading list curated by Dominic Basulto.

The summer vacation season is finally upon us, meaning now is the perfect time to catch up on your reading. Part of being an innovator is being able to think differently and to skate where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.

The cover of "To Save Everything Click Here" by Evgeny Morozov The cover of “To Save Everything Click Here” by Evgeny Morozov

With that in mind, this summer reading list includes eight different titles from iconoclastic thinkers who have the potential to give you new insights and unique perspectives on the world.

I’ve found these individuals to be actively challenging the status quo rather than just hyping the next big thing. Reading these will give you something interesting to talk about when you’re hanging out on the veranda, cocktail in hand, enjoying a summer barbecue.

A. To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov

The cover of "Mission to Mars" by Buzz Aldrin. The cover of “Mission to Mars” by Buzz Aldrin.

The ever-controversial Morozov – not afraid to take on tech heavyweights like Tim O’Reilly – argues that many of the Internet-centric solutions we’re being given by technologists are actually part of the problem. “Solutionism” makes it seem as though we can fix everything with technology, even when we can’t. In a piece for The Post’s Spring Cleaning special for Outlook this year, Morozov recently made some waves by suggesting that we should even throw out the word “innovation” with our spring cleaning.

B. Our Virtual Shadow by Damon Brown

The latest release in the popular TED Books series explores the impact our digital lives are having on our offline lives.  Brown’s book (available in digital format only) is a quick read, offering his take on how networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are changing who we are as individuals. Debate this with your friends this summer: Social media, far from making us more social, may actually be making us anti-social.

C. Mission to Mars by Buzz Aldrin

Long before Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield captured our hearts as the singing space station commander, Buzz Aldrin was America’s celebrity astronaut, appearing on shows like “Dancing With the Stars.” His latest book outlines the technologies and thinking required to set up a permanent human presence on the Red Planet and its neighboring moons. Some of the ideas are outlandish at best—nuclear-powered hoppers that traverse the Martian landscape—but Aldrin’s hand-drawn diagrams throughout the book offer a uniquely human glimpse at what must be going through an astronaut’s mind as he looks up at the night sky.

The cover of "Our Virtual Shadow" by Damon Brown. The cover of “Our Virtual Shadow” by Damon Brown.

D. Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

Lanier is something of a dreadlocked “digital visionary” who earlier made waves with his book “You Are Not a Gadget.” Now, he’s back with another audacious idea: the relentless digitization of everything is decimating America’s middle class. Entire industries, from media to manufacturing, are under attack from digital capitalism. The fact that Jaron Lanier is actually one of today’s thinkers that Evgeny Morozov agrees with should tell you something about the way that Lanier has turned his back on traditional narratives about the future of technology. Most recently, Lanier has argued that the whole “information wants to be free” argument is really just a lot of bunk.

E. Clash! 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are by Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner

The cover of "Clash: 8 cultural conflicts that make us who we are" by Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner. The cover of “Clash: 8 cultural conflicts that make us who we are” by Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner.

Two Stanford cultural psychologists suggest that, even though the world is getting smaller and flatter, there are still eight cultural conflicts that divide us all. These are hot-button topics such as race, gender and income equality. Any book that gets props from Amy Chua of “Tiger Mother” fame (see the reviews on Amazon) is worth reading to understand the deep cultural conflicts that determine how we raise our kids and who we choose to govern us. This might just be the perfect summer book to read before a family vacation to visit the in-laws.

F. Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking by Daniel Dennett

If you’re in search of new tools to make you a better thinker, Dennett’s latest work is the place to go. Filled with intellectual thought experiments (like Trapped in the Robot Control Room) “Intuition Pumps” offers unique thinking on everything from how the mind works to what free will really means. Not only is Daniel Dennett one of the most outspoken atheists of our era, he’s also a staggering intellect who has written widely about Darwin, evolution, science and humanity’s place within the universe.

The cover of "Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking" by Daniel C. Dennett. The cover of “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking” by Daniel C. Dennett.

G. Time Reborn by Lee Smolin

Now that the Higgs-Boson “God Particle” is cocktail party conversation material and scientists at Google and NASA are working on a quantum computer, it’s finally time to wrap your head around the basics of theoretical physics and quantum mechanics. Smolin first made a name for himself by turning his back on the physics community with his book The Trouble With Physics. Now, he’s back with a controversial new question: Is time real? It’s sure to have you challenging your notions of how the universe really works.

H. March: Book One by Congressman John Lewis

The cover of "March: Book One" by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. The cover of “March: Book One” by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.

Ever thought you’d see the Civil Rights Movement turned into a comic book authored by an American Congressman who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.? Neither did we. The book, due out in mid-August, has already picked up an endorsement from President Clinton. It’s not

so much the content of the book that’s innovative—it’s the creative way of packaging a cultural and historical issue for a wider audience (like your comic book-reading kids). The next time you’re in a boring meeting this summer, stir up the pot a bit by asking, “Is there any way we could turn that idea into a graphic novel or comic book?”

The cover of "Who Owns the Future" by Jaron Lanier. The cover of “Who Owns the Future” by Jaron Lanier.

If you don’t like what you see here (or if you do), take to the comments and let us know what’s on your summer reading list.

Dominic Basulto is a futurist and blogger based in New York City.



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