Books I enjoyed reading in 2017
Each year I read about 20-30 non-fiction and a few fiction books. This year I have an increased interest in design theory and philosophy. I am also exploring different flavors of design that are beyond our usual, daily practice. Here are four books I especially enjoyed reading, in no particular order.
The brain that changes itself
The book challenges the dominant view of human brain the modern science holds — that after adolescence it can’t change dramatically. The new discoveries in neuroscience show that the brain is as malleable as the plasticine you kids play with — hence the name neuroplasticity. The book is full of case studies, such as the ones that explain incredible recoveries from brain injuries. I like the variety of studies and experiments (though some were brutal experiments on animals). For example, in one study people who exercised finger muscles gained 30% of a muscle mass, while people who only visualized exercising gained 22% of the mass. Hard to believe, right? He also talks about how plasticity and anxiety (and especially OCD) are connected and offers practical lessons to deal with these conditions. The chapter on love and sex put me off a little bit, so I haven’t read it entirely. This new wave of neuroscience is still in its infancy and I’m eager to learn more about new discoveries.
Sapiens: A brief history of humankind
Harari writes about origins and rise of our spices and how we ended up dominating the planet. But wait, it’s not a typical book on history. Harari talks about human condition throughout centuries one revolution at a time. He sees agricultural revolution as the biggest fraud in history that worsened our human condition. I find this incredibly interesting to consider. I particularly like his view on collective beliefs, and how they shape our reality. I have to admit I enjoyed Harari’s opinions and biases throughout the book. His second book, Homo Deus, continues the story where he ideates about possible future for humankind.
The shape of things: A philosophy of design
While the book is about design philosophy, it’s not an incomprehensible read. It’s a collection of short, witty essays (it’s only 120 pages long) on design. The first essay alone, “On the word Design”, is worth buying the book. It examines design through the lens of deception and trickery! Another essay “Design: Obstacle for/to a removal of the obstacles” (page 58), talks about unintended consequences – one of the issues I like to analyze and discuss the most. I think this is an essential read for designers and I wish I read this book years ago.
Design, when everybody designs: An introduction to design for social innovation
Manzini calls for rethinking our role as designers in the modern society, which is based on individualism and consumerism. Our current way of living is simply not sustainable anymore. However, small “islands” of more humane, social interactions are emerging all over the world and give a hope for an alternative future. Our role as designers then shifts from almighty problem solvers to facilitators of social change that work together with non-designers to make that change. What I like about the book is that it is really a provocation that inspires an action rather than a theoretical analysis of the social innovation.
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