My esteemed colleague Espen Andersen posted today on The Technology Canon – “a list of books that you have to read to consider yourself knowledgeable – or, rather, educated in the classical sense – within a field.”  His criteria include, “the book must have stood the test of time, to be relevant even though the technology has changed (and, consequently, a book that I will occasionally re-read)…” and “its lessons apply outside the technology it discusses, which is another way to say that it will be readable by non-technologists.”

Espen is a fascinating character – I have frequent opportunities to interact with him as we collaborate on multi-company research into IT topics, and I’ve learned much from his insights and broad knowledge.  I’m quite excited with his ideas for this Technology Canon – as much for the debate and dialog it will create, as for finding books I should have read, but have not (so far!)  For example, Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach is the first book he mentions.  This is a book I pick up every year or so, thumb though, and place back on the bookshelf – intimidated by its girth and depth.  Espen, I will try again, I promise!

The second on his list is Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I read when it first appeared in 1975, and now re-read every few years.  It was one of the few books that not only changed my thinking on so many things, it changed my behaviors in ways which I believe have been to my great advantage.

Anyway, I repeat Espen’s “brief start, just off the top of my head” list below, then add a couple of my suggestions.  I hope you will all chip in with additions, deletions, and perhaps some arguments as to why some belong in the Technology Canon, and why others don’t.

  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid by Douglas Hofstadter
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  • How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand
  • A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander
  • Turing’s Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age by J. D. Bolter
  • The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
  • The Mythical Man-month by Frederic Brooks
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  • The Control Revolution by James Beniger
  • Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation by James Utterback
  • The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton M. Christensen
  • Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett
  • The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler
  • The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World by Lawrence Lessig

My “top of head” additions:

  • At Home in the Universe by Stuart Kauffman
  • Enterprise Architecture as Strategy by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill and David C. Robertson
  • Structure In Fives: Designing Effective Organizations by Henry Mintzberg