Book Recommendations

Every year, I’m lucky enough to be able to go on a family vacation and, while there, I like to binge on books. I just got back from this vacation, and while there I read The Phoenix Project; it’s a novel that helped to introduce DevOps to a wide audience. I’ve had it for a while and never read it because I was already a DevOps practitioner by the time it was recommended to me, but it helped clarify and expand my understanding about DevOps and its importance from a historical, managerial, and business perspective. I highly recommend it! There’s also a sequel, The Unicorn Project, which takes place over the same timeframe as The Phoenix Project, but told from the Dev side instead of the Ops side. I started that this morning; if you’re interested in reading along with me.

I thought I’d also share a list of books I’ve previously read that have helped shape how I think about things like leadership, organizations, and personal development.


Many of these books have been recommended to me by Bill Higgins or my wonderful wife Anne Biggs. If you’ve got a book recommendation, shoot me a tweet.

The Field Guide to Understanding Human Error: Third Edition
Recommended to me by John Allspaw, one of the foundational thinkers on DevOps and resilience engineering. Book postulates there’s an “old” way to think about errors and a “new” way to think about them, and why the “new” way is better for understanding systems and actions and working to fix problems. A foundational way of thinking for Resilience Engineering and has personally changed how I approach problems.
Structure of Scientific Revolutions
This book is where the term paradigm shift was coined. It’s a philosopher of science’s take on the history of science, which in and of itself is fascinating, but the big take away is understanding what drives change, or paradigm shifts.
Leading Change
From a Harvard Business Review article to a full book, this talks about the steps needed to make organizational change stick at scale. The first few steps align with the paradigm shifts talked about in Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Diffusion of Innovations
This is a harder, longer read, and I haven’t actually read the entire thing, but the pieces I have have been real eye-opening. It’s a whole set of research followed by analysis of that research describing how new ideas, especially new technology, takes root. The theory presented is great grounding for everything from getting ideas to land to introducing products to market .
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters
If you’ve ever felt there was something missing in strategy presentations you see, this will explain why to you. It first talks about bad strategy and what people confuse with strategy, and then talks about the kernel of good strategy; the minimum needed to make an effective strategy, with lots of examples throughout.
How To Be A Star At Work
Based on research of star performers at Bell Labs, this book provides immense practical activities you can do to improve how perform at work, with the edition I have including specific insights for women and members of minority groups.
The Mythical Man-Month
A deeply fascinating look at some of the pioneers of software engineering at IBM, this book is where Brooks’ Law, “adding developers to a late project will only make it more late”, comes from. Great insights into software engineering as a whole that still rings true today.
Make It Stick
The cognitive science of learning, especially retrieval practice. I’ve adopted things I’ve learned in this book to talks and workshops I’ve run with great results.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
A parable-style guide on the five things needed to lead a cohesive team.


My current reading queue includes the following, in no particular order:

The Goal/Beyond the Goal
A novelization, much like The Phoenix Project (in fact, mentioned several times in that book), and its follow-up retrospective, that brought the concepts of lean manufacturing to a wide audience in the same way that TPP did for DevOps.
Strategy: A History
A massive tome discussing the history of strategic thinking.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
A book recommended to me on gentle communication.
Thinking Fast and Slow
A book about the science of how we think; intuition vs logic.
Ruined by Design
The craft of design, how designers ruined the world, and the responsibility designers have to help fix it.
You Look Like a Thing and I Love You
A lighthearted but comprehensive introduction to Artificial Intelligence.
Because Internet
A linguist’s exploration of what shapes human language, how we communicate, and the language of the internet.
Creativity Inc
The story of Pixar and how to lead in order to create great things.
Invisible Women
How bias, especially towards women, is baked into the data and systems that power the world.
Humble Leadership
How to build and lead effective team cultures.
Measure What Matters
It’s a book about OKRs.