Detail of cover illustration for "Incognito" by David Eagleman.

10 Books to Gift the Geeky Creative in Your Life

Here at 99U, we have a serious penchant for books that really dig into the nitty gritty of the creative process, productivity strategies, and/or the future of technology. Now, with our tastes fully disclosed, here’s a highly subjective list of our favorite new(ish) nonfiction titles that would make great gifts for the brainiac in your life.


The Progress Principle, by Teresa Amabile & Steven Kramer
After studying 12,000 diary entries provided by 238 employees at 7 companies, seasoned creativity researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer found that progress – not money, not rewards, not status – was the prime motivator for employee productivity. Packed with great insights on increasing workplace engagement and satisfaction, The Progress Principle is a perfect “next read” for fans of Dan Pink’s Drive.

Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson
As he tracks “the natural history of innovation,” Steven Johnson takes us through tales of great ideas realized (and unrealized), ranging from Miles Davis’ jazz evolution to the 9/11 investigation to the invention of Google News. Along the way, he shows how ideas germinate in unexpected ways – slow hunches, errors, serendipity, and exaption, to name a few.

Alone Together, by Sherry Turkle
With our mobile devices and social media, we’re supposed to be more engaged and connected than ever before. But it doesn’t always feel that way, does it? Here, MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle meditates on a less-talked about topic: The loneliness, anxiety, and disassociation engendered by communicating via objects rather than face-to-face interactions. A thoughtful read.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman
Perfect for the armchair neuroscientist, David Eagleman’s captivating new book explains the innerworkings of the brain with a slant toward revealing the gajillion different subconscious processes that are happening all the time as we glide along blissfully unaware. (Unrelated: Eagleman’s nonfiction work Sum is also fantastic for gifting.)

End Malaria, edited by Michael Bungay Stanier
A collection of essays about how and what it means to do great work, End Malaria is literally the feel-good productivity book of the year. At least $20 from each book goes to Malaria No More to fight malaria, and you get great essays from Sir Ken Robinson, Kevin Kelly, Tom Peters, Jonah Lehrer, Barry Schwartz, Nicholas Carr, Jessica Hagy, and our very own Scott Belsky. Read more about it in this 99U piece.


The Compass of Pleasure, by David J. Linden
Neuroscience professor David J. Linden digs into the mechanisms that drive us to seek out pleasure in this breezy read, analyzing the built-in “rewards systems” that make us love exercise, sex, drugs, learning, gambling, and more. At best, dipping into this book could help you figure out how to tweak your rewards systems for better idea execution; at worst, it might make you feel less guilty about procrastinating.

Character Strengths & Virtues, by C. Peterson & M. Seligman
How do we build character? And can it be learned? In this exhaustive text, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman share insights into the 24 character strengths that span the ages – from Aristotle to the Upanishads – and look at strategies for cultivating them. Seeing if you can make it through this tome’s 800 pages might be a revelation of character in and of itself!

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, by Tim Harford
According to economist Tim Harford, the world has become so darn complex that we can no longer idly rely superiors or “experts” to show us how to solve our problems. Instead, we must tackle them ourselves and learn through good ol’ trial-and-error. The upshot? It’s time to become very, very comfortable with failure. Learn more in our fascinating 99U interview with Harford.

What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly
As a co-founder of WIRED magazine, Kevin Kelly has long been at the forefront of technology trends and analysis. In What Technology Wants, he thoughtfully compares our technological development to the growth of a living organism – and one that has its own objectives at that. While the concept may sound ominous, the book is not. As one Amazon shopper noted: “The perfect read for any geek whose inner technophile is in constant battle with his inner Luddite.”

The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr
As Marshall McLuhan said, “We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.” Here, journalist Nicholas Carr – author of the infamous “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” article – digs into McLuhan’s assertion, reflecting on how the Internet is literally changing the way our brains work. If you need an additional endorsement, The Shallows was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction.

What’s On Your Reading List?

What great nonfiction/creativity/technology books have you read lately?

This is a very brief list, so we welcome your input & additions in the comments!

More insights on: Books, Essential Objects, Motivation

Jocelyn K. Glei

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A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with understanding how work gives our lives meaning. She has authored three books about work, creativity, and business, including the Amazon bestsellers Manage Your Day-to-Day and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.
load comments (29)
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  • Llx Nozap

    @flandersdc Never underestimate the power of orbiting the giant Hairball. ::

  • Deskthoughts On...

    I recommend set of books (maybe not for creativity directly, but crucially for self-improvement):

    Stephen Covey “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

    Marcus Buckingham, “Now, Discover Your Strengths”… Raziel, Paul Friga, “The McKinsey Mind”… Tracy, “Time Power”… my opinion – a must-read set.

  • jkglei

    Thanks Deskthoughts. Some great classics in there!

  • jkglei

    Never heard of that one, but it’s a pretty amazing title. Thanks for the rec!

  • AprilB

    I’m less than 100 pages into Civilization: The West and the Rest and it’s mindblowing. Excited to continue reading it every night…

  • Alistair Mackenzie

    Check out Living With a Creative Mind ( by Jeff and Julie Crabtree. He’s a musician, who was principal of an arts college for 20 years, while his wife is a psychologist. They have some incredible theories in how the creative mind functions.

  • Henrik Harr

    “Mistakes were made … but not by me,” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. A few years old, but one of the best explanations of human behavior ever.

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  • JuliaStanley

    So many great titles. I’m so glad I found this post because I have 15 days free unlimited e-books on and I don’t know what to download. I will definitely try some of these books because every one of them has an interesting idea.

  • Lenia Evangelinou

    Hi there, 
    I am new here but I am excited about reading books. Thank you for this list!I also recommend the “Rework”. I am currently reading it and I find it really good.

  • Глеб Калинин

    The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything ( ) by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica might be a good read for anyone who’s creative life hasn’t yet begun or is at the very beginning. It’s full of expiring examples of creative people like Matt Groening, the creator of The Simsons.

  • Christian Ray

    Great list. I picked out a couple of good titles to add to my list. Thanks. Here are some good movies to watch:

  • Christian Ray

    Отличная книжка Глеб, Ken Robinson замечательный человек. 

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  • Anne M Parsons

    Love your list! I’m just finishing “The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites and Partners that Shape Who We Are Today” by biology journalist/professor Rob Dunn:  humans evolved in response to predators and parasites; Dunn presents recent and provocative ideas about how that past continues to shape our bodies & health in the face of our attempts to scrub away nature at every turn…  Really well-written and thought-provoking.

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  • mpt

    Great Post. What about “the third screen” although we all aknowledge the core of what the book is about i think Chuck Martin brings great insights.

  • Juanmacortes

    What about “The Tipping Point”?

  • jkglei

    We actually recommended a Malcolm Gladwell box set over here on our other 99% gift guide!

  • Beth

    I want to also recommend a book that’s due out from HarperCollins this spring: “Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet,” by Andrew Blum. Not in time for Christmas, but still a great read for your favorite geeky creative. http://www.harpercollinscatalo

  • cynthia nelson

    There are so many different concept that really good. Thanks

  • Dan Peck

    Make time to read them by doing a DigitalSilence –  3 days without tech, or DigitalSilence Lite – 3 hours without Tech – All geared to giving you space in your life to be creative/getstuff done/ reconnect with reality/ relax and more.  http://digitalsilence.wordpres

  • Laura

    I love all these books! Does that mean I’m a geeky creative? Don’t you just wish you could sell your used college textbooks just to have these beauties in your library?

  • Guest

    10 Books to GIVE the Geeky Creative…

    Give, not “gift”. “Gift” is a noun.

    A writer should know better.

  • Sean Blanda

    Actually “gift” can be a verb, too:

  • Guest

    You are right. I am wrong. Thanks for making me look it up.

    That said, I think that using gift as a verb is a poor choice. One gains nothing over using “give”. Garner accepts gift as a verb, and says its use dates back to the 16th century, but comments that it’s not standard yet.

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