Books with big ideas

So many ideas, so little time… Every year, we’re privileged to cover the annual ideacity conference — and every year, we come away with a very long reading list! Many of the “idealists” have published books, and their talks are just a hint of their expertise and experience.

Missed the conference or want to explore some of the talks in more detail?  Here are some big ideas you can dig into with a visit to your library or bookstore.

The End of Growth by Jeff Rubin

When cheap oil is plentiful, our economy thrives — but what happens when oil prices soar? Every recession we’ve experienced in recent decades has been tied to oil, says Jeff Rubin. The speed limit on our economy has changed due to high oil prices. Bailouts have only provided temporary relief — a measure we can’t rely on in the next crisis — and globalization means we now own every other countries’ problems.

With such disasters at hand, Rubin predicts our economic woes are far from over — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. His book argues that an economic slowdown might just save us from environmental disaster as we all learn to make do with less.

(Curious to hear more? Watch Rubin’s ideaCity talk online.)

Fixing the Game by Roger Martin

Ever wondered why shareholders have suffered in recent decades while CEOs and hedge fund managers continue to come out ahead? Economist Rogers Martin has a few things to say about business ethics versus the sticky economic situations we’ve seen in the past couple of decades. Martin argues that we now base our financial system on expectations rather than actual performance in the market — a problem we need to fix.

Using the NFL as a metaphor — where players aren’t allowed to bet on the game — Martin explains how CEO compensation packages are unduly influencing the markets. This book is more than theory: it offers up solutions to fix the broken capitalist system.

(Watch Roger Martin’s ideacity talk online.)

The End of Money by David Wolman

Could we go completely cash-free? Author and journalist Wolman believes physical currency could one day be as anachronistic as the pay phone — but the mere mention of getting rid of cash has many people up in arms.

To find out why we’re so attached to physical currency, Wolman decided to eschew cash for a year and travel the world finding out what money represents to different people — including religious fundamentalists, tech innovators, counterfeiters and currency experts. Wolman makes a convincing case for the future demise of cash. Even if you don’t agree, you might not be able to look at money the same way again.

(For a preview of his findings, watch David Wolman’s talk online.)


Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl

It’s a frightening thought: journalist Mara Hvistendahl warns than countless women are missing from some countries’ populations simply because they were never born. Rigorous population control policies combined with medical advances like ultrasounds and abortion have made sex selection possible — and enabled gendercide.

Based on extensive travel and research, Hvistendahl explores the reasons behind why females are often aborted and what it means for the future when men outnumber women. What, if anything, should we do about it?

A Billion Wicked Thoughts by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam

Why do men and women like the things they do — and what tastes do they indulge when no one is looking? Neuroscientists Ogas and Gaddam analyzed endless streams of web searches, websites, erotic videos, erotic stories, personal ads and digital romance novels to scientifically study human desire. From why men are more likely than women to search for penises online to why women can’t help but fall for Twilight‘s Edward Cullen, their talk offered a few teases from their research.

Though approached from an academic point of view, their book isn’t for the politically correct or socially conservative. (In fact, the introduction comes with a few warnings.)  Instead, it offers insight into the often surprising desires normally taboo for scientific study.

The Genesis One Code by Daniel Friedmann

We’re constantly told that science and the Creation Story in the Book of Genesis don’t agree — but Daniel Friedmann begs to differ. Just as we understand a scale on a map corresponds to a larger whole, Friedmann argues that the Bible has its own scale for time. When you understand the relationship between “creation time” and “human time”, the events of the Bible are surprisingly similar to the estimates science provides.

Written from both a spiritual and academic perspective, Friedmann’s book seeks to answer many of the questions raised by the Evolution versus Creation debate — and may have you wondering if science and religion have more in common than we might think.

The Sign by Thomas de Wesselow

If you’re up for more religious mystery, Thomas de Wesselow’s recent book offers a new take on the controversial Shroud of Turin. Using the tools of art history to prove the shroud is indeed authentic, de Wesselow explores how the artefact may just hold the clue to how Christianity got its start.

This may be one title you’ll want to hunt down in hard copy. Some reviewers have already noted that the images are more impressive in print than e-book form.

(Watch Thomas de Wesselow’s ideacity talk online.)

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

When it comes to the divine, neuroscientist David Eagleman sees himself as a “possibilian” — someone who explores the possibilities in the middle ground between atheism and certainty that there is only one “right” religion to follow.

The idea gained momentum following this collection of short stories which look at different versions of the afterlife. In one, you might be re-created based on your credit card history and internet searches — in another, you could find yourself inhabiting other people’s dreams. Amusing and insightful, the tales aren’t just about imagining the afterlife — they’re about new ways of seeing ourselves now.

(Watch David Eagleman’s talk online.)

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

There’s no escaping it: where we are affects who we are — how spiritual we are, how creative we are and happy we are, says Eric Weiner. From the “atlas of happiness” to the world’s “thin places”, Weiner’s talk made us want to learn more about the world and to imagine new ways of seeing, not just travelling. Why are people in some places happier than others?

The Geography of Bliss chronicles Weiner’s year-long journey to some of the reputed happiest places on earth in order to understand what makes them special — from a self-confessed grump’s perspective, of course. The book may not offer any definitive answers, but offers an amusing travelogue turned philosophical work.

For more information, check out Weiner’s Happiness lessons from around the world and watch his talk online.

The One Week Job Project by Sean Aiken

In 2008, Sean Aiken finished college with no clue what to do with his life, starting him on an ambitious quest to discover what he’s passionate about. His One Week Job project took him all over North America trying out various careers, from a bungee operator in British Columbia to a real estate agent in Beverly Hills. Aiken tried one job each week for a year and donated his wages to charity.

The result? Aiken didn’t just learn about himself along the way: he also learned a lot about what draws people to certain jobs, and why they are passionate about what they do. In his book, Aiken not only shares his journeys but also his message to find meaningful work.

If you think career exploration is just for the young, stay tuned: One Week Job: USA features Linda Chase, a 59-year-old out to prove it’s never too late to reinvent your career.

(Watch Sean Aiken’s ideacity talk online.)

Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Feeling a little pessimistic these days? With all the doom and gloom and end-of-the-world talk, it’s hard to imagine that things are going to get better. With a subtitle like “The Future Is Better Than You Think”, this book may just make us realize how lucky we are. From scientific discoveries to technological innovations, Diamandis and Kotler set us to prove how bright our future will be.

Their arguments fly in the face of the disaster scenarios we constantly hear about, and introduce us to some of the latest innovations paving the way for the future. As other ideacity speakers noted, it’s optimism and hope we need to make positive changes for the future.

Still not convinced? Try ideacity alumnae Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist.

Naturally, this is just a look at a few of the big ideas from this year’s conference. Visit for more information about this year’s speakers and to watch talks online.

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