Recommended Book List (Spring 2021)

Many are approaching the first anniversary of the day that we were quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic (for me, it was March 5, 2020). We’ve discovered creative ways to pass the time while we’re not attending Zoom calls yelling at people about the mute function (“You. Are. Muted.”) I’ve spent a lot of time reading and revisiting some of my favorite books.

As our lives have become busier and noisier, it’s increasingly more difficult to “get lost” in a book. I spent many years reading only nonfiction business books or technical guides because honestly, it was all that I could process in the time available.

In my opinion, the best thinkers can process diverse content and perspectives and have developed their muscles for thinking shallow, deep, fast, and slow. Here are 10 great books to expand your perspective, focus your attention, provoke your thinking, and (maybe) change your worldview (or at the very least, make for great dinner discussions).

10 Book Recommendations for March 2021

1.Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols(Nancy Duarte, Patti Sanchez)

Great leaders anticipate the future.  Any leader can learn how to create galvanizing moments that motivate people. This book is packed with case studies of leaders who have used powerful communication to navigate transformation and and execute bold plans. (indie | amazon)

“Great leaders aren’t measured by their volume but by their ability to be truly heard. To motivate others, leaders must listen and communicate empathetically. With Illuminate, everyone can learn to lead — even without being loud.” —Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and cofounder of Quiet Revolution

2. Captivating Technology (Ruha Benjamin) 

The contributors to Captivating Technology examine how carceral technologies such as electronic ankle monitors and predictive-policing algorithms are being deployed to classify and coerce specific populations and whether these innovations can be appropriated and reimagined for more liberatory ends.  (indie | amazon)

“Benjamin presents a rich and original contribution to critical studies of race and technoscience.”– Clara Hick ― Ethnic and Racial Studies

3. Making a Life (Melanie Falick) 

Why do we make things by hand? And why do we make them beautiful? Led by the question of why working with our hands remains vital and valuable in the modern world, author and maker Melanie Falick went on a transformative, inspiring journey. Traveling across continents, she met quilters and potters, weavers and painters, metalsmiths, printmakers, woodworkers, and more, and uncovered truths that have been speaking to us for millennia yet feel urgently relevant today: We make in order to slow down. To connect with others. To express ideas and emotions, feel competent, create something tangible and long-lasting. And to feed the soul. In revealing stories and gorgeous original photographs, Making a Life captures all the joy of making and the power it has to give our lives authenticity and meaning. (indie | amazon)

“This book is a gem, and one that will inspire you to keep (or begin!) making and creating, a desire that’s inside each of us.” —The House that Lars Built, November 2019 Book Club Pick

4. Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals (Alexis Pauline Gumbs)

Undrowned is a book-length meditation for social movements and our whole species based on the subversive and transformative guidance of marine mammals. Our aquatic cousins are queer, fierce, protective of each other, complex, shaped by conflict, and struggling to survive the extractive and militarized conditions our species has imposed on the ocean. Gumbs employs a brilliant mix of poetic sensibility and naturalist observation to show what they might teach us, producing not a specific agenda but an unfolding space for wondering and questioning. From the relationship between the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and Gumbs’s Shinnecock and enslaved ancestors to the ways echolocation changes our understandings of “vision” and visionary action, this is a masterful use of metaphor and natural models in the service of social justice. (indie | amazon)

“Alexis Pauline Gumbs pushes us out of our comfort zone and into the sea, where other species are moving and mothering in ways that can teach us how to survive. With her beautifully rendered reflections on the habits and habitats of seals, otters and manatees, Gumbs shows us that humans aren’t the only ones affected by climate change, and that other mammals know the pain of having their children hunted. Undrowned is a gift and its message is clear: The natural world offers solutions if we just pay attention.”―Dani McClain, author of We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood 

5. Thinking in Systems (Donella H. Meadows)

Thinking in Systems is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem-solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. This essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing listeners how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.  Some of the biggest problems facing the world – war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation – are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.  (indie | amazon)

“When I read Thinking in Systems I am reminded of the enormity of the gap between systemic thinkers and policy makers. If this book helps narrow the gap, it will be Dana’s greatest contribution.” –Lester Brown, founder and President, Earth Policy Institute

6. The Decision Book (Mikael Krogerus, Roman Tschappeler) 

Every day, we face the same questions: How do I make the right decision? How can I work more efficiently? And, on a more personal level, what do I want? This updated edition of the international bestseller distills into a single volume the fifty best decision-making models used in MBA courses, and elsewhere, that will help you tackle these important questions. (indie | amazon)

Decision making is an evolving science and if strategic thinking is not something that you have pondered over and are at the cusp of making a key decision but don’t know how to, then this book will provide at least one appropriate model that will allow you to effectively evaluate your situation and come to the best possible solution. As the authors have rightly put it “Think of models as tools.” ~Medium Review

7. The Salt Eaters (Toni Cade Bambara)

The novel is written in an experimental style and is explicitly political in tone, with several of the characters being veterans of the civil rights, feminist, and anti-war movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It is set in the fictional town of Claybourne, Georgia. (indie | amazon)

Set in a fictional city in the American South, the novel also “inhabits the nonlinear, sacred space and sacred time of traditional African religion” (The New York Times Book Review). 

8. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” (Greg McKeown)

Essentialism covers a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter. (indie | amazon)

“In Essentialism, Greg McKeown makes a compelling case for achieving more by doing less. He reminds us that clarity of focus and the ability to say ‘no’ are both critical and undervalued in business today.” —Jeff Weiner, ‎CEO, LinkedIn

9. Twitter & Tear Gas (Zeynep Tufekci)

To understand a thwarted Turkish coup, an anti–Wall Street encampment, and a packed Tahrir Square, we must first comprehend the power and the weaknesses of using new technologies to mobilize large numbers of people. An incisive observer, writer, and participant in today’s social movements, Zeynep Tufekci explains in this accessible and compelling book the nuanced trajectories of modern protests—how they form, how they operate differently from past protests, and why they have difficulty persisting in their long-term quests for change. (indie | amazon)

“[Tufekci’s] personal experience in the squares and streets, melded with her scholarly insights on technology and communication platforms, makes [this] such an unusual and illuminating work.”—Carlos Lozada, Washington Post

10. Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions(Brian Christian, Tom Griffiths) 

What should we do, or leave undone, in a day or a lifetime? How much messiness should we accept? What balance of the new and familiar is the most fulfilling? These may seem like uniquely human quandaries, but they are not. Computers, like us, confront limited space and time, so computer scientists have been grappling with similar problems for decades. And the solutions they’ve found have much to teach us. In a dazzlingly interdisciplinary work, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths show how algorithms developed for computers also untangle very human questions. They explain how to have better hunches and when to leave things to chance, how to deal with overwhelming choices and how best to connect with others. From finding a spouse to finding a parking spot, from organizing one’s inbox to peering into the future, Algorithms to Live By transforms the wisdom of computer science into strategies for human living. (indie | amazon)

“I’ve been waiting for a book to come along that merges computational models with human psychology―and Christian and Griffiths have succeeded beyond all expectations. This is a wonderful book, written so that anyone can understand the computer science that runs our world―and more importantly, what it means to our lives.”―David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Kishau Rogers

Kishau Rogers is an award-winning technology entrepreneur specializing in wrangling complexity using computer science, systems thinking, creativity, and common sense. She is the Founder & CEO of Time Study, Inc., a high-growth startup offering solutions for using machine learning, advanced natural language processing, and data science to automatically tell a story of how enterprise employees spend their time and its impact on the areas that matter. As the Founder and CEO of Time Study, Kishau is one of the first Black women in Virginia to raise millions in venture capital to scale her tech startup. She is also the owner of Websmith Studio and the editor of the bigThinking project, a resource for promoting the principles of systems thinking.

Kishau’s work is featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and Black Enterprise. In addition, she is a recipient of many awards, including the VCU Distinguished Alumni (in Computer Science), NAWBO Wells Fargo STEM award, the Lyn McDermid Community Impact Award, and the MBL Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

In her commitment to using technology as a tool for social good, she also serves as an advisor to organizations and initiatives like AI for Afrika, Think Of Us, WAAW Foundation, Level Up Ventures, Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Computer Science, the first U.S. White House Hackathon for Foster Care and SheHacks Africa, a software engineering intensive providing training to women & girls across Africa.

She holds a Computer Science degree and has over twenty-five years of experience in the technology industry and more than 15 years of entrepreneurial leadership.


Join our community of bigThinkers! Subscribe to learn, share and receive resources to apply to wicked problems.

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.