August 21, 2023

The Simply Put reading list

The late author Cormac McCarthy once said in an interview that “books are made out of books.” Novels and non-fiction books alike are the product of taking a lot of ideas from out in the world, mixing them up with a splash of your own perspective, and baking until you have something new and interesting.

In the process of researching and writing Simply Put, which comes out in just a couple months, there was a lot of that. Stories and examples, ideas and studies, came from every corner to make the final product. In anticipation of the rapidly-approaching launch, I’d like to share a few of these resources in case you’d like to dig deeper into these ideas:

Applied Empathy by Michael Ventura

I may be biased as I’ve known Michael for some time – but his book, like all of his work, is excellent. One of the principles of simple messaging is empathy, and Ventura’s definition and work in this space directly inform that piece of my own book. If you’re interested in diving deeper into using empathy as a design tool, this is the book to pick up, read twice, and put in a place of prominence on your shelf.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

My love for “The Boss” is no secret, and part of the reason for his half-century of success has been because of that very title. He’s the boss, he’s in charge – and by taking creative leadership, he empowers those around him to produce their best work as well. Beyond those lessons, this memoir is a ton of fun, and you can hear his voice come through on every page. Excellent read.

Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer

As the former copy chief at Penguin Random House, Benjamin Dreyer has perhaps done more editing and style-shaping than anybody else alive. His own book, Dreyer’s English, entertainingly peels back the hood on his process and perspective – and is probably the most enjoyable and informative style book for contemporary English. He even made a companion game; how many other editors get to do that?

Emotional Design by Don Norman

Don Norman is one of the most influential design researchers and writers of all time, and I cite his research repeatedly in different sections of my book. There’s a line in this 2003 title that I quote as well, explaining the mental challenge of our current tech ecosystem: “you are a part of two different spaces, one where you are located physically, the other a mental space, the private location within your mind.” If you want to become a good designer, just pick up all of his books and enjoy.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

There’s a funny old saying about this book, “Knowledge is knowing that Frankenstein is not the monster. Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein is the monster.“ Regardless of who you think is the monster, the “creature,” as Shelley describes it is a useful metaphor for an unfocused idea: it can be comprised of individually beautiful pieces, as Dr. Frankenstein uses, but together this mish-mash can form a gruesome composite.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Sinek’s flagship book has sold a bajillion copies and inspired half-a-bajillion keynotes and workshops. All for good reason: it’s a good idea and a great read. His “golden circle” model, of communicating from the why to the how to the what, is an effective companion to the process I outline for designing beneficial messages – both help you get down to the core of what you’re trying to do and say.

Subtract by Leidy Klotz

Professor Leidy Klotz and his team have conducted some fascinating research into our bias toward addition (and our corresponding tendency to avoid subtraction). His book is an entertaining and enlightening read that explains the origin and process behind those studies, tells more stories of addition by subtraction, and also happens to include a mention of Bruce Springsteen as well.

Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe

The thousand most common words in English make up about 50% of the language as it’s used. So that’s the toolkit that author and illustrator Randall Munroe used to write this book on “complicated stuff in simple words.” In it, he explains everything from the big flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates) to food-heating radio boxes (microwaves) with just the “ten hundred” most common words – and he does an incredible job making these ideas clear and compelling in the process.

If you enjoy these , please pre-order Simply Put today, available October 10 wherever books are sold.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just wrote his first book (Simply Put), and works with cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

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