My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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your critical book list?

I’m still shocked that so many people read my musings here. I also know that most people who read this don’t post. Yet, if you keep coming back, you must be interested in some cross-section of the topics that interest me. So, now i have a question for you…

What books have changed your perspective on the world? What books do you think EVERYONE must read?

And, more importantly, for those of you who see holes in my arguments, what would you recommend to fill them?

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35 comments to your critical book list?

  • A few come to mind immediately:

    Axelrod’s “The Evolution of Cooperation” uses Game Theory and a the results of a programmer’s competion to make the premise that cooperation can evolve naturally. There is a good summary of the book at http://www.virtualtravelog.net/entries/000049.html

    Michael Schrage’s “Shared Minds” (though I think the paperpack edition has a different title “No More Teams”) is a business book came out early in the “Groupware” phase of collaborative software (late 80’s) and is mainly an overview of the software of the time. But his insight that act of creating a shared artifact, in and of itself has real emotional power to bind groups together. The artifact doesn’t even necessarily have to have anything to do with the group’s goal or purpose, but the creating of it will force the group to create a shared language, which will will help the group meet its goals. A review is at http://www.his.com/~pshapiro/shared.minds.html and a more recent interview is at http://www.reveries.com/reverb/marketing_strategy/schrage/

    Related to Axelrod’s book is Daniel C. Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves” which Dennett draws from multiple disciples ranging from evolutionary biology to philosophy to try to understand ‘free will’ in a deterministic world. I’ve not dug into this book as deep as I should, but browsing it has been very interesting.

    An older book that I always find interesting is Robert A. Dahl’s “Democracy and its Critics” which covers the evolution of democracy and problems caused by democracy. Every time I browse it again I see something that resonates with problems today.

    Sort of an odd book to suggest for you is Tom F. Driver’s “The Magic of Ritual” — its subtitle “Our need for liberating rites that transform our lives & our communities” says what it is about in the fewest words. I believe that we sometimes forget that we need ritual in our desire to form communities. I help Shannon Appelcline on this topic as it relates to online games at http://www.skotos.net/articles/TTnT_80.shtml but I think it is much more broadly applicable.

    Hope that some of those are new and useful to you!

  • Walden by Thoreau changed my perspective.

  • Jake

    The book which I’ve found most interesting recently is John Gray’s Straw Dogs “Thoughts on humans and other animals”. It fairly effectively places humans in our position, part of the animal kingdom. This is no cuddly tree hugger this is a sharp street fighter of the academic world. It is quite agressive but you may find it gives support to some of the spiritual ideas you voice here. It is flawed though… but fun. I’m enjoying your blog allot.

  • Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon. It’s hard to believe that this book is pushing 70 years old, but as a stunning, imaginative tribute to the future of life, it continues to become more relevant as it ages.

  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is a grisly and irreverent revisionist historical fiction of the New Old West. It’s up there as one of the classics of American fiction and it changed my perspective on the way I judge and read books.

  • Life Against Death by Norman O Brown – I’m still working my way through my third reading. It’s a psychoanalysis of history, and even if you don’t agree with his dense Freudian treatment of all human motivation, it has a plausible abstraction level I enjoy in considering our shared drives and distastes.

  • Hi, Danah. I´m here only to say that I love your site with Ani´s lyrics. I´m from Brazil and it´s still hard to find something of her here. I saw her at a local tv during an interview….. Of course that she played a song and after that I was absolutly captured! Know I just can´t listen to anything else! She´s been here for a few shows but I didnt know in time. I wish she comes back soon! 🙂
    xxx

  • Danyel Fisher

    Gosh, I wish it was Thoreau. It feels so much more uplifting than the truth, which is Everett Rogers’ “Diffusion of Innovations” and Alan Dundes’ “Cinderella” collection of folklore.

    Reading those my second year of grad school was when I realized that I wanted to study interconnections and ties and changes, not machines with blinky lights.

    The rest is history.

  • Mel

    Dorothy Alison – Skin: talking about sex, class, & literature

    Rainer Maria Rilke – Letters to a Young Poet

    James Joyce – Ulysses

    Marshall McLuhan – Understanding Media

    Thomas S. Kuhn – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

    Luce Irigaray – An Ethics of Sexual Difference

    Chgyam Trungpa Rinpoche – Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior

  • That *everyone* must read? Hm. I’ll say Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” and Borges’ “Ficciones” (although I am teaching an Intro to Lit class this semester and teaching neither of these).

  • Cellulaer

    Hyperion by Dan Simmons

    The Last Dancer by Daniel Keys Moran

  • These spring to mind as books that significantly changed my perspective:

    How Buildings Learn

    Ender’s Game (important to read at least the first 2 in the series, not just the first)

    Foundation

    Breakfast of Champions

    Flatland

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide

  • Gender Trouble, by Judith Butler
    I want to be her when I grow up!

  • Nora

    Infinite Jest. and Cunt. preferably at the same time, but good in any order.

  • Randy Moss

    Although brutal and probably overused, Sun Tzus Art of War and the companion piece by Thomas Cleary. Also there was a book I read in university about a Gorilla that lived in a NYC apartment and recounted the true meaning of life to a reporter. AMAZING! Wish I still had it or could remember the name.

  • Fiction:
    Mason & Dixon – Thomas Pynchon
    Dance Dance Dance – Haruki Murakami
    Swimming in the Volcano – Bob Shacochis
    Pages from a Cold Island – Frederick Exley

    Not Deliberately Fiction:
    Against Method – Paul Feyerabend
    Wayward Puritans – Kai Erikson
    Leviathan and the Air-Pump – Steven Shapin
    Discourses on Livy – Niccolo Machiavelli

  • How to Heal the Hurt by Hating by Anita Liberty.

    Excellent satire about breakups. Quite a riot and a definite must read.

  • I agree with Sean — Flatland.

    I have to think more about this question…

  • Greg

    “Money”, Martin Amis’ hysterical novel about the lust, greed, avarice and decay of the mind of western man.
    “Band of Angels”, Robert Penn Warren’s novel of self discovery and social cause and effect.

  • John D’Emilio’s Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University changed the way I think about writing and researching history. He was one of the first historians to focus on queers. His essay in that book about anti-porn feminism, the old Times Square peep shows, and his reaction to them as a gay man is a benchmark to me of how historians need to acknowledge their own position relative to their subject.

    D’Emilio is also one of the only gay men I know to admit in print that he’s slept with women and wasn’t being closeted or self-deceiving when he did so. He talks in the intro to the book about his former relationship with a lesbian historian, and he doesn’t dismiss it as just-a-phase or any of the ways gay-identified men often talk about relationships with women. I respect him immensely for this.

    Also, hi. 🙂 Good to see you when you were in Boston.

  • The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. Short, simple, and engaging, with great insights into people’s neuroses and hang-ups and their effects on life’s trajectory. Meaningful regardless of one’s take on religion… agree or disagree, it’s great food for thought.

  • Dav

    Off the top of my head:

  • Four, off the top of my head:

    Feeling Good, by David Burns

    What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles

    The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Don Riso and Russ Hudson

    Don Quixote, by Cervantes

    –Ryan.

  • Four, off the top of my head:

    Feeling Good, by David Burns

    What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles

    The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Don Riso and Russ Hudson

    Don Quixote, by Cervantes

    –Ryan.

  • Dav

    Off the top of my head:

  • noel_lapin

    william blake’s songs of innocence and of experience.
    miyazawa kenji’s the night of the milkyway express.

  • for randy: the book with the gorilla in the apartment is ishmael by daniel reed. good great book.

    i loved starhawk’s the fifth sacred thing, sita by kate millett, the looney-bin trip by kate millett, and anything by robin mckinley. non-fiction-wise, i really like carrie bickner’s webdesign on a shoestring and revolting librarians redux, edited by jessamyn west and katia roberto.

    just found this site, from misbehaving.net..

  • John Law’s “Method Assemblage”. It should be out later this year. PS. Looking forward to meeting you at eTech!

  • Ian

    To randy moss: the book about the gorilla living in New York and speaking to the reporter is called Ishmael, though I don’t remember the author. Terrific book!
    Another “must read” is The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay.

  • Steven Johnson‘s latest book, Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, has hit the book stores in force.

    Speaking of great books, Marginal Revolution has a nice post on the best non-fiction books of the 20th Century. Two books not on any of these lists but should have been are:

    1. The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society: A Venture into Social Forecasting (1973) by Daniel Bell. Decades later his prescient analysis of our “post-industrial” society has been used by prominent individuals like Margaret Thatcher, President Clinton and the Unabomber to explain our current world.

    2. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies (1997) by Jared Diamond. Reaching back to the dawn of human civilization, Diamond uses his deep knowledge of historical biogeography to provide a fresh perspective on some very old questions.

  • liz

    Hmmn. Well, what strikes me about this question is not so much books but literary experiences. The Wizard of Oz movie (w/Judy) was on TV when I was about 8, then I noticed a book of the same name on the family bookshelf. I was enthralled; the experience of reading the book was similar but different from watching the film. The same thing happened with The Moonspinners, by Mary Renault, except there the transformative part was learning that you could order books from a bookstore (oooh, bad idea, she says, tens of thousands of dollars later…)In 10th grade, we not only read Homer and the Greek dramatists, we recited vast chunks by firelight….The experience of having this stuffy, “foriegn” material come alive changed my relationship to reading and learning. The Inland Whale (a collection of Northern California Native American Tales) The Silent Language, by Edward Hall (on the variations of using space and time across cultures)and Birdwhistle’s work on body language, because together they let me think about things I had entuited; and Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, becuase her work changed how I view pain.

  • Godel, Escher, Bach.
    Guns, Germs and Steel.
    Sexual Personae.
    Fortunate Son.
    Dune.

  • hi, danah.

    until recently, i read about 200 books a year: mostly on the topics of social networks, business innovation, psychology and social sciences. i used to think reading all that non-fiction made me smart; lately, i tend to wonder if the opposite is more accurate.

    in hindsight, i think the most influential books that have really stimulated my imagination are William Gibson’s Idoru and Pattern Recognition.

    When I found your writings through a blog-of-a-blog, i thought you might also be a Gibson fan given the significance of “apohenia” in PR (coming to paperback on Feb 3!). Of course, that could be just a coincidence…