Some books change you in various ways. I had the pleasure of reading these in 2022. The list includes everything from comics, programming, art, history, game design, etc. Depending on your reading interest, some might bring the same joy to you too!
There are way too many books I read and enjoyed this year. To not make this list longer than it needs to be, I try to highlight the most important ones. In no particular order:
The year is 2021. The game industry reports a total revenue of $180bn. This number is bigger than the revenue of the film and music industry combined! The influence games have on our pop culture is stronger than ever.
To me it always seemed bizarre how little game developers think about the responsibility they have to our society beyond self expression and profit. These are concerns which other fields of design (see Language of Vision later in this post) have long started to integrate in academia and practice. You’ve Been Played is a thought provoking book, opening up important topics about gamifications and the power of games.
The book is not perfect by any means. I wished there would be more arguments backing up some of the more general statesmen about our society and capitalism that popped up in the second half of the book, but it is a book that made me reflect a lot on our own journey of designing Puzzling Places, which has its origin in gamifying viewing real places in VR and cultural heritage.
As a genre I usually don’t like super hero comics. The Watchmen, a comic book about super heroes perfectly formulates why.
Something about our societies’ obsession with individual heroes who sweep in and punch away complex dynamic problems makes me sad. Not just because it reflects real world tendencies of trusting dubious characters that promise what can not be done, but also the opportunity cost of inaction in the face of problems that can only be solved by our collective effort. The Watchmen is a criticism of the cultural obsession with heroes. It is carefully constructed and masterfully executed.
Speaking of comics, I read a lot of beautiful independent comics this year, many with similar themes.
Death embodied (goddess) is about to get fired from her job because man has found immortality. This short comic explores our mortal relationship with death and the miracle of life. You follow Death on her journey of self discovery, as she has to meet herself again and again (cryptic, but will make sense if you read it). This comic reminded me of one of my favorite piano concertos, Totentanz from Liszt.
Another one about death and our relationship with it. This was the first book I fully finished in Portuguese (I am learning the language). The end left me in tears. Not of sadness, but an overflow of emotions you get when a book penetrates your being from top to the bottom and resonates with your personal experiences. Another short read. I think the narrative structure is very cleverly done. It explores all potentiality of life, which creates the exact right context for the punchline of the story.
This is a weird one. On its own it has a classic hero story with perhaps a bit of power fantasy. Not the type of story that tickles my deeper desire to learn. But stories are great mediums to teach. And I learned something from this one. An arc of this story is about the wise and benevolent king Solomon. King Solomon has ruled his empire for ages and he makes all the right calls. His people are free of wars and hunger. However there is a big problem. He can not die! His dictatorial tendencies have incapacitated his people’s competence to self govern. While reading this something clicked in me. It finally settled the debate of if a good dictator is a thing or not.
Written by Catmull, the president of Pixar and Disney animation (also a graphic programmer) Creativity Inc is one of those you won’t shut up about after reading. In a world of ego centric CEO types, it is a fresh air to hear of the success story of a leader, who puts their focus on empowering the various people contributing to the success of a company. Reading this reminded me of The Illusion Of Life. A lot of effort goes into maintaining a healthy team culture that can produce creative work. Few books I have read have expressed this as eloquently as Creativity Inc.
So much of what we do in tech and how we do it has to do with capital flow and the contracts and incentives surrounding it. This book gave me a very good summary of a lot of processes that directly effect my day to day work.
I have a slight (maybe unhealthy) obsession with history. Recently I realized that while I am well versed in the ancient history of Iran, I barely know the modern history of my country. This book fixed that for me. Decade by decade, at times even year by year, Amanat covers all important events that has happened in recent history.
This book is quite a time commitment, so unless the topic is of interest to you, I won’t recommend reading it. If you want a more general view of the middle eastern history, you could for example read Destiny Disrupted.
This is one of those books that broadend my horizons as a programmer. Before it I knew nothing about sounds, after it I was modelling procedural sounds for real time usage. It is well written and covers whatever you would need as a beginner.
This year I started reading some of the essays by Milton Glaser, Paul Rand and Saul Bass. So many amazing stuff there, for example Paul Rand’s essay covers everything from design workflows, art, corporate branding to politics of doing good design work. But two books touched me in a way that I will never forget.
This book is very special to me. So much of art is about breaking through our mental model of the world and our cognitive chunking of routines and patterns we have already established. It is about putting aside our assumptions of how things should be in favor of seeing them for how they really appear before us. In that Drawing Is Thinking is like a meditation chant. Through affinity and contrast the images create mindfulness. Each image relates to the one appearing after it. Consciously observing these affinities and differences makes us attentive.
If you do decide to give this a read, even if it fails to capture you attention, at the very least you get a lot of pretty images.
Glaser is a master of context. This collection of powerful political posters will be hard for me to forget even if I tried. Though why would I? The images are meaningful in a way few things are and they will be a source of endless inspiration for years to come.
How to describe this giant of a book? Kepes of new Bauhaus school discusses the importance of visual arts and design and its role in our society through out the ages up to the modern time. Language of Vision permanently changed how I view my work as a designer as well the various eras of fine arts. There is a problem with the book however which makes it hard for me to recommend it. The language is … unnecessarily convoluted. Yet another book that needs no fancy tongue to give it authority sacrificed to sophisticated sounding but ultimately inaccessible prose.
Those were some of the books that left an impression on me on 2022. Choosing between so many books that brought me many hours of joy was hard, but these 12 books immediately jumped to mind without the need of looking at my library. So I suppose they were my top books of 2022.