We're always trying to find new wisdom nuggets (aka Wiznugs) that we can use to make ourselves better at what we do, so we read a lot of books and then yammer on about them on our weekly podcast, Coffee with Butterscotch.
At the request of our listeners, we've distilled that list of books down to our favorites, so if you want to take deep dives into some of the texts that have shaped our thinking about life, business, and working in the games industry, then hop on in! The water is INCREDIBLY HOT AND UNCOMFORTABLE. But it builds character.
Want to discuss these books with others in the Bscotch Community? Hop into our Book Club channel in the Bscotch Discord!
Core Reading List (Applies to everyone!)
We have ordered the Core Reading List in a loose priority order, so if you read them from top to bottom, you'll get a really good bang for your buck.
Deep Work - The ultimate summary of what it really means to dive deeply into your work, why that matters, and how to do it. If you read only one book on this list, read this one! That's why it's FIRST!
The Power of Habit - Although we like to think that people are the product of their choices, they are far more defined by their habits: the automatic behaviors they do constantly, day in and day out, without thinking. The Power of Habit provides an incredible look into this aspect of human nature that will redefine the way you think about nearly every aspect of your life. This book helped all of us understand that we needed to consciously reshape the world around us to make it easier to fight our weak human desires to sit around and do nothing.
Mistakes were made (but not by me) - Learn about how we're all wrong, nearly all the time, yet always think we're right. This will help you understand yourself and the world around you, though it can mess with your head a bit! This book shifted Adam's world view significantly.
Getting Things Done - Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all the STUFF you have to do? Well, NOT ANYMORE! Getting Things Done is the quintessential book on taking control of your time and energy and learning how to get a lot more done while being a lot less stressed. No matter what your goals are in life or what your discipline is, Getting Things Done has something to offer. The book goes into a lot of detail for implementing a specific organizational method, but you'll get plenty out of the general ideas and can skim the details.
So Good they Can't Ignore You - Part philosophical, part practical, So Good They Can't Ignore You is all about understanding what it means to find fulfillment in your life and career through hard work and honing your craft. It also has some great advice on the folly of the "find your passion" ideology, instead advocating for a "Crafstman" approach. Ask not what the world can give to you, but what you can give to the world!
The War of Art - A concise dive into what it means to be a professional creative, The War of Art will light a fire in your belly and give you insight into what it takes to reach your creative potential.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - Put on your anti-bamboozling-boots! Learn how to navigate social scenes in a way that lets you get more accomplished and not be bamboozled by others.
Thanks for the Feedback - This book deconstructs why Feedback is so hard to receive and shifts the responsibility for taking feedback from the giver to you, the receiver. If you have a hard time when someone critiques your work, find yourself getting defensive in personal relationships, or want to understand why others don't take your feedback well, this is one seriously useful book.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Although this book is extremely eccentric, its core message rings true: If you change your environment, you will change yourself. This is a step-by-step guide on how to reimagine and then rebuild your surroundings, so that you can do the things you want to do with your life.
Amusing Ourselves to Death - Amusing Ourselves to Death seeks to examine a claim made in the 1960's by Marshall McLuhan: "The media is the message." This book pushes the idea that it's not the content we consume that changes us, but rather, how that content is delivered. What happens to a person who watches 2 minutes of content at a time, constantly interrupted by rapid-fire commercials, for thousands of hours? (Hint: It's bad.) And what happens to our culture? Written in the 1980's, Amusing Ourselves to Death focuses primarily on television, but the message is still relevant today in the age of the internet.
The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains - A modern extension of "Amusing Ourselves to Death," The Shallows continues the discussion by analyzing what happens to the brain of a person who spends thousands of hours per year in a medium whose primary purpose is to constantly provide a churn of content at a breakneck pace with no end in sight.
The Attention Merchants - A look into the abyss of advertising, and how our lives have been absolutely defined and dominated by an industry that constantly seeks to harvest and resell our most precious resource: our attention. A must-read that will shift your perspective on the world around you in a dramatic way.
The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives - Even if you think the world is pretty messy, it's a lot messier than you think! We talk a lot in our podcast about how it's truly impossible to know anything for sure, and this book does a great job of explaining why. It's a highly informative (and fun) read.
The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses - This book offers up a great set of perspectives on different ways to think about how games are pieced together. One of the first books we encountered on game design, and still the best.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels - Ten short stories detailing the creation of some of the most famous games of our era. You will get to explore the cultures and processes of other studios, which will help put your own work into perspective.
Phoenix IV: The History of the Video Game Industry - Although focused purely on console & handheld gaming, this comprehensive history book goes extremely deep into the birth of the video games industry, dating all the way back to a "beat the computer" tic-tac-toe game using X and O-shaped light bulbs, through the rise of Atari, the crash of the home video games industry, the rise of Nintendo, all the way through the modern console wars. They say that those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it. Learn that history and save yourself a lot of time!
Console Wars & The Ultimate History of Video Games - For those interested in the business of making and selling games, it's a good idea to be familiar with the history of the industry. These two books are fantastic for that, and are also simply great stories no matter in what part of the industry your interest lies.
Clean Code - Is your code HIDEOUS? Can you not tell the difference between your software and a bowl of spaghetti? Whether you're a new programmer or an expert, Clean Code is the quintessential guide on how to approach structuring your code in an organized, flexible, and human-readable way.
The Pragmatic Programmer - What does it mean to be a programmer? This insightful book covers the whole gamut, from taking the craftsperson approach to programming, to how to select your programming tools, to how to think about programming as a career, to practical advice for tackling programming challenges.
Code Complete 2 - A well-respected opus on best-practices for coding. Probably not for complete novices, though you may still get a few drops of wisdom from the firehose of knowledge that is this book. It is quite long and dense, and is useful as a reference as well as something to try to work your way through. For intermediate and above programmers, this book provides a ton of hugely valuable advice and practices.
Writing Idiomatic Python - A super-short read for those getting started with Python. All languages have their own quirks, tricks, and beauty, and Python is no different. This book dives into the details of what makes Python unique so that you can use it as effectively as possible. This book helped Adam get past his desire to try to force all languages to behave exactly the same way.
What every web developer should know about HTTP - Whether you're a web developer or not, it's probably true that you have to use the Internet sometimes. You'll probably even need to write code that fetches things from the web (hey, now you're a web developer!). This super-short book does a great job of explaining how content is sent over the web (focusing on the HTTP protocol) and, despite its name, is useful reading for anyone.
MongoDB: The definitive guide - If you're curious about using a NoSQL database, MongoDB is probably the one you'll end up with. This book is already a bit out of date (dang web technologies!) but is still a super useful overview of MongoDB, how it works, and how to use it. Adam recommends renting it and then blazing through it over a weekend to get a rough understanding of the tech, and then experimenting with Mongo (perhaps on Docker!) and using the official documentation for up-to-date information.
The Docker Book: Containerization is the new Virtualization - Despite the unwieldy title, this is a well-organized and super useful book for anyone thinking about getting into Docker. If you are doing web development, it's Adam's opinion that you should absolutely be using Docker. This book is cheap and kept impressively up to date.
The Artist's Way - If you've ever felt like you are in a rut, or that there has always been something you wanted to do with your life but never got around to it, The Artist's Way is for you. It's a book about "creative healing," rethinking your approaches, deep introspection, and understanding (and reclaiming) your passion for creation.
Unbroken - The incredible true story of a prisoner of war who goes through such a ludicrous series of tortures that you'll gain some life perspective.
Team of Rivals - A detailed analysis of Abraham Lincoln, his cabinet, and how he and his crew worked to keep the country together. If you want an appreciation of history, great storytelling, and some good examples of how teams function, this is it.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - This book is likely to break your brain with the introduction of the concept of Quality (capital Q intended). If you can work through the occasionally arduous word slog it's an absolute stunner.
- Positioning - Take an afternoon to breeze through this easy-to-read book and learn how to think about anything you're making (be it games, books, a bakeshop, etc) and position it for success in the market.
Algorithms to Live By - You don't need to be a computer scientist to get something out of this. Computer science is the study of how to define and solve problems as efficiently as possible, and it turns out that we need to do that in our everyday life as well. This book extends well-studied computer science problems (and their solutions) into life, and in the process makes some fascinating discoveries. While many of the results end up seem obvious in retrospect, you may still find a few life-changing ideas.
How Not to be Wrong - Looking at life through the eyes of mathematical thinking. This book is really about our cognitive biases and how math can be used to save us from them. It's written for a general audience and filled with fascinating real-life examples of where gut reactions get people into trouble. We've found incredibly parallels in our own work and lives to many of the ideas in this book.
Thinking, Fast and Slow - The psychology book to read, if ever there was one. The author is one of the great contributors to the overall field, and the book is well written and weaves story, experiment, and takeaways wonderfully. You'll learn about how your brain works, which in turn will help you do better!
On Writing Well - A classic. This should definitely be at the top of your reading list if writing well is at all important to you.
On Writing - Stephen King, the world-renowned fiction writer, unmasks his process for pumping out an incredible volume of high-quality work. Similar to the War of Art, in that it provides examples on how to be a creative professional.
Economical Writing - Good writing is all about getting your point across as efficiently as possible. This pocket-sized book teaches you how to do that!
Examples & Explanations: Intellectual Property, Fourth Edition - If you're going to be making software, games, or anything else that is described under "Intellectual property" (so, pretty much everything), it's a good idea to be familiar with intellectual property law. This is a great, high-level intro to the topic with plenty of examples to help you understand the confusing details.
Law 101 - If you're running a business, you better not be completely ignorant of the law (even if you have a lawyer on retainer). This is an easy intro that will provide a nice overview of the terms and thinking that sit behind the American legal system. (Note that there are a few versions of this book -- it's unclear if they're all the same or not!)
The Phoenix Project - If you're self-taught like us, you've probably heard of things like DevOps and Continuous Delivery (among other buzzwords) but have no idea what that means. Now, imagine a fiction novel about a guy learning those very things on the job, used as a vehicle to explain those concepts and their value. That's what this book is. Adam was surprised to truly enjoy reading a book about IT and DevOps, and you probably will be too.
Gesture Drawing for Animation (free PDF) - Walt Stanchfield approaches drawing with brevity, wit, and plenty of great sketches in this foundational book for anyone looking to get more life into their drawings (not just animators). It's the first art book that actually got Sam's attention, after dozens of attempts and fails. See if it grabs you, too.
The Practice and Science of Drawing - While this book can be an occasional grind to get through, it possesses that rare combination of artful insight and extremely clear prose that can lead to plenty of AHA! moments with your art practice.
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