1. Studying History
History is both fun and enlightening. It is fun because we love to hear other people’s stories, especially those we consider “great”. It is equally enlightening because it provides insights into human psychology and behaviour as individuals and groups.
For those reasons, we, as software professionals, might want to take an active interest in studying history, although probably not to the same extent as other disciplines in human sciences, such as cognitive psychology, organisational theory, or complexity science. This is where the books we will be discussing in the following sections step into the light.
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2. What Can History Teach Software Developers?
History provides ample material on interesting phenomena that occur in a variety of human systems (nations, communities, organisations, teams). Studying history with a specific emphasis on these phenomena might allow us to uncover recurring behavioural patterns (see strange attractors in Complexity in Natural and Human Systems — Why and When We Should Care) in human systems so that we can act in them.
More crucially, history will show us that:
All these phenomena more or less manifest themselves in organisations and teams and are, therefore, worthy of software professionals’ attention.
3. What Selection Criteria Were Applied to Construct the List?
In the below list, I have chosen a few history books which have left a mark on me. These books share the following characteristics:
The second and third points are crucial for students of organisational theory as understanding human systems and their evolution requires a holistic approach based on systems thinking rather than a reductionist one, an approach that puts individual and group psychology, culture (religion, narratives, traditions), and natural phenomena (geography, famines, pandemics) on an equal footing with planning and management (politics and military activities).
3. Top History Books in 2023
In no particular order, the top history books we recommend are as follows, with a mini-review of each. We will continue to update the list, adding more
Let us know your thoughts in the comments or if you have any book suggestions worth discovering.