Gearhead's 2013 Summer Reading List

So many good geeky books and so little time; Gibbs lines up the tomes you need to read

As I note in Backspin, as of the 24th of this month, I've been writing for Network World for 20 years and 6 days. And my first Gearhead column published a mere 17 years, 4 months and 5 days ago (see page 52). I'm going to leave the peering into the rearview mirror to see how we got here to Backspin and, instead, do as I always do: Talk about cool, geeky stuff you need. Today, I have your summer reading assignments.

First, "Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell," by Phil Lapsley. Lapsley takes us through the multiple generations of the telephone system -- from the system driven by switchboard operators to the mechanical switching system (invented by an undertaker, no less) and to the digital switching systems -- and documents what he calls "the billion dollar flaw." Well-researched (the book took five years to write), well-written and, with a forward by Steve Wozniak, one of the most famous of the "phone phreaks," "Exploding the Phone" is hard to put down, even by people who aren't geeks. Highly recommended.

My next choice, "The Argument Culture: Stopping America's War of Words," by Deborah Tannen, is an old one that I recently re-read. This is a book that should be studied by everyone who has to deal with argumentative people (which is, to say, everyone you come into contact with). Published in 1999, this book examines how we communicate at home, at work and in the media and how argumentation distorts intent and corrupts cooperation.

Tannen is one of the most famous linguists and her insights into how verbal conflict gets in the way of getting things done should be read by everyone who has to deal with the politics of the corporate world.

Another book I highly recommend for everyone in IT is "The Limits of Strategy: Lessons in Leadership from the computer Industry," by Ernest von Simson. Simson has had a fascinating role in the IT world through his consultancy, The Research Board, where he got to work with a who's who of the computer business. Simson discusses why businesses fail, why corporate "vision" is often inadequate, how the best laid plans of mice and CEOs "Gang aft agley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain." What I got from this book, beyond a better insight into the formative years of the IT industry, was that even the best companies have real, hard limits on what they can cope with in terms of a changing marketplace.

And my final book choice is one I've just started and which was recommended to me by my old friend Chuck Pappageorgiou. The book, "Business Model Generation," which describes itself as "A handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers," was created by a coalition of 470 strategy practitioners from 45 countries led by a core team.  The real value of this book and its approach is to re-frame and organize how you go about building or examining a business model. There's also an iPad app and a Web service that provide the tools to get the job done and lots of examples of how real world business models work.

So, there's your summer reading list. I expect a report from each one of you. And if you've got any "must read" books of your own, let me know.

Shhh, Gibbs is reading in Ventura, Calif. Checkout your choices a gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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