20 book recommendations from sci-tech leaders

23 Dec 2021

Image: © Mary Long/Stock.adobe.com

Here are just some of the book recommendations we got from tech, science and business leaders in 2021.

Throughout our Leaders’ Insights series on SiliconRepublic.com, we’ve asked a host of leaders from the worlds of technology and science about their careers, their industries and their leadership styles. We’ve also asked them to recommend books that our readers might be interested in.

This year, we got suggestions covering tech advances, scientific mysteries, leadership advice and entrepreneurial insights. So if you’re looking for a new read or audiobook to tuck into this festive season, here are 20 recommendations.

The colourful covers of eight different books.

The Phoenix Project – Gene Kim, George Spafford and Kevin Behr

This is a novel about IT, DevOps and helping your business win, and Annertech’s Stella Power said it’s one she would recommend to colleagues and IT organisations.

“It uses a story format to illustrate the importance of completing tasks and focusing on increasing the speed to delivering value from projects, while being pragmatic about how this is achieved,” she explained.

BearingPoint’s Gillian O’Sullivan added that The Phoenix Project was the first pick for her company’s book club. She described it as a “real eye opener for teams working in IT”.

Survival to Thrival – Bob Tinker and Tae Hea Nahm

Survival to Thrival aims to provide practical advice for entrepreneurs and leaders on the start-up journey. Fidelma McGuirk, founder and CEO of Irish fintech company Payslip, said it’s a book that “frames the B2B SaaS growth path very well”.

Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans – Melanie Mitchell

For tech fans, here’s a recommendation from the reading list of SiliconRepublic.com editor Elaine Burke.

Computer scientist and professor Melanie Mitchell takes a deep dive into the current state of AI, from its turbulent history to recent innovations and emerging fears about this technology.

Information Security: A Strategic Approach – Vincent LeVeque

Mark Brown, who heads up cybersecurity and information resilience at BSI, said this is a “great guide for cybersecurity professionals looking to elevate beyond the technology into the business aspects of information security”.

Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage – Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew

Yet another non-fiction pick, Blind Man’s Bluff covers US Navy submarine operations during the Cold War.

“This true story is a page-turner, full of technology innovations and tales of bravery, and it has eerie parallels to the cyberwar being waged right now,” said Sonrai Security boss Brendan Hannigan.

Your Computer is on Fire – edited by Thomas S Mullaney, Benjamin Peters, Mar Hicks and Kavita Philip

Another recommendation from the SiliconRepublic.com team, Your Computer is on Fire features a series of essays looking at how inequality, marginalisation and biases have been woven into our technological systems.

Contributors include tech historian Mar Hicks and Safiya Noble, whose essay is about race and gender stereotypes in robotics.

The Ride of a Lifetime – Robert Iger

The Ride of a Lifetime has been described by Bill Gates as “a business book I’d actually recommend”. It is written by Robert Iger, who was the CEO of Walt Disney and is now executive chair.

“It is an interesting book that brings the reader through some of the biggest business decisions Iger had to make as he transformed the company,” SSE Airtricity’s Klair Neenan told SiliconRepublic.com.

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention – Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

For more business insights, No Rules Rules draws on hundreds of interviews with Netflix employees and stories from co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings to provide a window into the world of the streaming giant.

It was recommended to us by KBC Ireland’s Lavinia Morris.

Creativity, Inc – Amy Wallace and Ed Catmull

This book, recommended by Irish tech business leader Adele Cooper, is a combination of a memoir and a business management guide.

Co-written by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, it brings the reader into the heart of the animation giant and discusses creative processes in business.

Hit Refresh – Satya Nadella

Written by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, this book deals with transformation in the company, the transformation of tech and personal transformation.

“It reminds us all of the fragility of life and the need to maintain a healthy work-life balance,” noted BSI’s Mark Brown.

Why Evolution is True – Jerry Coyne

For those looking for a science read, FutureNeuro’s David Henshall said Why Evolution is True is “the best popular science book” he has ever read.

“The topic is my favourite subject outside of what I work on and he weaves together all the evidence in a way that I think even the great Richard Dawkins never quite managed.”

Innate – Kevin Mitchell

Another science-focused recommendation from Henshall was Innate, which deals with “how we are who we are”. It was written by Kevin Mitchell, who is associate professor of genetics and neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin.

Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari

Written by the author of Sapiens, Homo Deus traces the history of the human experience and possibilities for the future. Raluca Saceanu of Smarttech247 described it as “a great, thought-provoking book”.

The Order of Time – Carlo Rovelli

Saceanu also recommended this book by Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, which tries to reveal the mysteries of time.

“The author managed to create a world where physics and philosophy meet in this book, which makes it a must read!”

Good to Great – Jim Collins

This management book about why some companies make the leap and others don’t has been recommended plenty of times throughout the history of Leaders’ Insights. Declan Colfer of Wellington IT described it as a “wonderful piece of literature to inform the operation of a well-run business”, while Annertech’s Stella Power said she read it not long after starting her own business.

“I found the advice within that really useful, particularly the part about having the right people on the bus,” she added.

The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande

The Checklist Manifesto was written by surgeon, writer and public health researcher Atul Gawande.

“This book focuses on the use of checklists in the business world and in medicine,” Speed Fibre Group’s Claire Murphy told us. “I am a big advocate of checklists, I view them as a simple way to ensure you get things right.”

Radical Candor – Kim Scott

Leadership books, unsurprisingly, proved very popular with the sci-tech leaders we spoke to. But BearingPoint’s Gillian O’Sullivan said she thought Radical Candor by Kim Scott had “a refreshing take on leadership”.  

The One Thing – Gary Keller

Meanwhile, Kefron’s Paul Kearns said The One Thing “offers important insights into leadership, innovation and results-focused organisations”.

“I think it’s important to regularly remind yourself of the purpose of your organisation, and Keller’s book is a great guide,” he added.

Good Strategy/Bad Strategy – Richard Rumelt

Sidero’s Carmel Owens said Good Strategy/Bad Strategy is a book she has returned to several times.

“I like it because unlike other strategy books, which can be too aspirational, the author cuts through buzzwords and fluff and remains very pragmatic. It outlines how to honestly assess your company’s current situation and offers practical steps on how to set and realise an achievable but ambitious strategy.”

Failure Is Not An Option – Gene Kranz

Finally, UiPath’s Renzo Taal said this is a book that really captured his imagination. It’s an account by former NASA flight director Gene Kranz, who was part of the team that brought the Apollo 13 astronauts safely back to Earth in 1970.

“The thing that grabbed me was the lack of time,” Taal explained. “He had one chance to save their lives, one shot to achieve something incredible – and he did it. He faced mechanical issues and mathematical challenges, but most of all, psychological pressure like nothing else. But he rose to the occasion and succeeded. I found that story very inspiring.”

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic