Researching and writing the next book

As mentioned before, the next book is about my experience working at

Something I do while working on the first draft of a book is read books that have elements I want to emulate. It could be structure, style, tone or simply a feeling the book gave me as a reader. I go back and reread and it helps me figure out exactly what I want to do in the book I’m writing.

Here’s the list of books I’ve gone back and looked at to help me with the book I’m writing about my experience at

  • Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder. This is one of the first, and greatest, books written about a modern tech project. He followed a team of engineers working on one of the last mainframe computers (Data General Eclipse) in 1981, before the rise of personal computers. The book won the Pulitzer prize for non-fiction.
  • NewJack, Ted Conover – the author worked for a year as a prison guard at Sing Sing prison and wrote a book about his experience. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize and a fantastic read for many reasons.
  • Dreaming In Code by Scott Rosenberg – Rosenberg followed Mitch Kapor (founder of Lotus) and a team of programmers trying to reinvent calendaring applications. He also asks the question why is software hard to make? I enjoyed he book even though I disagreed with many of his answers. I wrote a review of DOC here.

I’ve also been reading many famous diaries / autobiographies. Diary of Anne Frank, My life in France by Julia Child, and Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London.

If you have any favorite company profile books, or exceptionally good books that followed a project, please leave a comment. Same for any books you can think of that use the diary or first person approach particularly well.  Thanks.

20 Responses to “Researching and writing the next book”

  1. Dan

    Chaos – James Gleick. Follows several different groups and individuals through the discovery on non-linear dynamics/complexity.
    The Genome War – James Shreeve. Follows the Human Genome Project. (You could also read Craig Venter’s Auto Bio if you can stomach it)

    1. Scott Berkun

      Chaos was a book I read eons ago – so long ago I don’t recall much about it.

    2. Robert Sharp

      ‘The Information’ by Gleick is also amazing. It’s not about a company, or product, not is it told in the first person, but it is a great history of ideas and he has a wonderful, gripping style.

  2. JuanZe

    Not sure if it fits your needs, but recently I’ve read “Weaving the Web” by Tim Berners-Lee (

    “Valley Boy: The Education of Tom Perkins” (by Tom Perkins) is almost like a novel, I enjoyed very much.

    Not IT related but very interesting read: “Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano’s Story of Life in the Mafia” (by Peter Maas).

    “Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs – A Parody” is very good at using the first person approach, and very very funny.

    1. Scott Berkun

      I read Weaving the Web years ago while researching The Myths of Innovation. I don’t have a strong memory of the book. I’ll check out Valley boy.

  3. Andrei

    I got two for you, but not tech focused or step-by-step project management chronicles:
    Three Cups of Tea and Confessions of an Economic Hitman.
    Both books are first person accounts of how these individuals got certain things done.

  4. Paul W. Homer

    I loved Soul of a New Machine. It motivated me to go into software :-)

    I haven’t read Dreaming in Code, what sort of answers does Rosenberg give that you disagree with? What was your takeaway from Chandler?


  5. Percy

    David Kuo’s Dot Bomb is one that I read long ago and really liked at the time.

    The Common Thread (John Sulston and Georgina Ferry) was a wonderful book, following the Human Genome Project.

    Atul Gawande’s Better, though this is not a single project but lots of stories.

    Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh, where the author “embeds” himself into a gang.

    Glyn Moody’s Rebel Code is a nice history of the Linux movement.

    1. Scott Berkun

      Rebel Code is worth me looking at, given the open source connection. Thanks.

  6. Tom

    A book that uses the first person approach brilliantly, as a sort of culinary travelogue, is John Lanchester’s The Debt To Pleasure.

  7. Robert Sharp

    Here in the UK, we at English PEN (the writers charity printing literature and free speech) just have an award to Duncan Fallowell’s book ‘How To Disappear’. It is “part memoir, part travelogue, part detective story” and is most definitely told in the first-person…

  8. Tony DaSilva

    Microsoft Secrets – Michael Cusumano It was probably written while you were still there?

    1. Scott Berkun

      I read it – very academic unfortunately. There were some good observations in there that few people read.

  9. Sean Crawford

    Before progressive Silicon Valley companies there was Robert Townsend writing articles for business magazines. His masterpiece, from when young men had long hair, is the book Up the Organization, which was radical at a time when everyone else (mistakenly) looked up to big companies like General Motors.

    Townsend’s credentials are good: Avis Rent-a-Car had been in the red for over a decade. He got it into the black in just one year after being brought in to be CEO.

    His book is an easy read: He covers topics, one to a page, in alphabetical order.
    Scott, it’s such a morale raiser.

  10. Kristina Bjoran

    I do this too, Scott.

    One guy who does a fabulous job at first person nonfiction narrative is Bill Bryson. If you’re not opposed to the humorous side of things, check out A Walk in the Woods if you haven’t already.

    It does follow a project, per se — that project just so happens to be hiking the Appalachian Trail :P

    Great narrative though.

    1. Scott Berkun

      Hi Kristina: Indeed. I’ve read a few of his books, including the one about the Appalachian trail.


Leave a Reply

* Required