(A three-part series)

Today, we’re wrapping up our three-part series on Fenton Staff Picks for our favorite geek reads of 2010. If you want to get your geek read on in 2011, check out today’s list of recommendations – as well as Part One and Part Two of the books, blogs and articles that inspired us in 2010.

Today’s highlights include an anti-gadget manifesto, the freaky insights gained from seeing the world through an economic lens, the power of stories to transform social change and the seemingly magical influence of our friends’ friends’ friends on our behavior.


You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Jaron Lanier)

Recommended by John Gordon, Vice President, Digital, New York

Jaron Lanier is the bitter old hippie ninja of Silicon Valley. In You Are Not A Gadget he screams at the Web 2.0 kids to get off his lawn. The book is a collection of his writings that rail against the algorithms, trivial collaborations and mashed-up content that he believes are dumbing down the modern Web. In Lanier’s mind, the standards that have given shape to the Web have also muddled the spirit of its potential. He believes that order has seeped into all aspects of culture, stultifying creative expression. Despite his tendency to deliver with a smugness that would give pause to the Comic Book Guy, there are many ounces of useful wisdom in his manifesto including his prescient vision of social networks as artifice for advertising segmentation and his belief that the character limitations of Twitter and the tight construct of Facebook profiles are forcing us toward a common banality.


SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner)

Recommended by Jeremy Morgan, Technical Producer, New York

As agents for progressive change, we generally understand the nuances of a particular issue. But do we also look at the issue economically? Economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner believe that we should and they make their case in SuperFreakonomics. A favorite chapter focuses on altruism using examples of the murder of Kitty Genovese, crime rates as affected by television and economic experimental games such as Prisoner’s dilemma, Ultimatum, and the work of John A. List. For further related reading, the Freakonomics Blog on NYTimes.com is excellent and a must-read.


Re:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World (Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough)

Recommended by Liam O’Donoghue, Senior Account Executive, San Francisco

Cesar Chavez famously said, “The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” Unfortunately, many nonprofits and grassroots movements have failed to follow Chavez’s advice. Instead of developing compelling narratives driven by inspirational stories to promote social change, they cling to the misguided belief that statistics and carefully reasoned logic are the best way to win hearts and minds. RE:Imagining Change by Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning is a powerful and accessible guide to overcoming the Left’s widespread creative constipation. This is more than a book – it’s a toolkit for activists that explains the core concepts of effective communications and provides tons fascinating case studies to illustrate each lesson.


Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler)

Recommended by: Robert Pérez, Senior Vice President, San Francisco

Happiness is contagious. Your friends’ friends’ friends will determine whether you are heavy or thin. The woman in your friend’s friends’ Harley Motorcyle Club (or book club) will influence whether you vote. All incredible revelations brought to you by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. While there may be six degrees of separation (and Kevin Bacon), the science of social networks shows that there are three degrees of influence. We are almost magically influenced by three people removed from us – people we don’t even know. Some people are better positioned to be influencers based on their spot in a social network. For those who care about social change, identifying and recruiting these well-placed, über-connected individuals can help set off a social-change chain reaction.


Geek Read: Fenton Staff Picks for 2010 – Part One

Geek Read: Fenton Staff Picks for 2010 – Part Two