December 2023

7 books that stood the test of time in 2023

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: when people proudly announce how many books they have read in the past 12 months. 10 books, 20 books, 57 books! Worry not—I know you don’t care, and besides, I have no idea how many books I read this year.

In lieu of that, here’s a short list of some favorite books I read before 2023 that have stuck with me this year and changed the way I think. Seven masterpieces on AI, cooking, art, houses, product design, computational media, and trees:

Six books on a floor, corresponding to the list below in this post
Six of the seven books. The seventh I only have on Kindle, sorry Ken!

The Most Human Human, by Brian Christian

A book about humanity, disguised as a book about AI. It taught me how to have deeper conversations and find more meaning in my work. Amid a sea of spilled ink on AI, Brian Christian has simply asked more interesting questions. Notably, this book was written in 2011, before the current wave—yet it’s still remarkably relevant.

See it on Goodreads

An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler

This book changed the way I cook. It teaches the correct way to think about home cooking – not as a chore, an “obstacle”, or an optimized process… but as a simple, natural act of creativity. One of the wisest books I know.

See it on Goodreads

Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland

A slim little manual about how to overcome the fear and keep creating. Subtle tips on the role of talent, managing the vision-execution gap, quantity vs quality. I might not have kept going with research if I hadn’t read this book.

See it on Goodreads

The Production of Houses, by Christopher Alexander et al.

Christopher Alexander thought people could design their own homes. His most famous books, The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language, are brilliant but can be a bit abstract. The Production of Houses shows what actually happened, concretely, when he and his team helped some people do the thing and design their own homes.

The result: some great successes, some strange contradictions to ponder.

See it on Goodreads

Creative Selection, by Ken Kocienda

This book shows that most product design is a dead end. It describes, in great detail, the Apple way—hard to achieve, but worth striving towards. I’m constantly remembering stories from this book in my own work. “Pick one keyboard!”

See it on Goodreads

Changing Minds, by Andy diSessa

A foundational text for my research. I am always amazed how many people have not even heard of it. If you care about “future of computing”, Bret Victor’s work, “computational literacy”… go read this book! I promise it will change your mind. I reference diSessa’s “nightmare bicycle concept all the time.

See it on Goodreads

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

To the extent that it’s possible to see the world from the perspective of trees, this novel got me to that place. Every time I’m in a forest now, I think about the trees: how long they’ve been there, what they’re communicating to one another.

See it on Goodreads

Look, I could write so much more about any one of these books (and I’m happy to answer any questions!) but honestly, it feels hard to do them justice.

They’re all 5 stars, on both substance and prose. Well worth your time, and could be a great gift to the right person. I hope you have a great holidays!