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Big Bang Disruption


Insights in “The Laws of Disruption” include ideas borrowed from other writers and even other disciplines. What follows is an annotated list of the most important references. Just click on the book jacket if you want to learn more about the book or buy it at

Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre, The Spychips Threat.
The most recent version of Albrecht’s screed against RFID technology makes explicit the connection between her concerns about the technology and her beliefs about the Second Coming.
Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks.
A dense academically-written book about the conflicts between old and new economies, written by a law professor at Harvard’s Berkman Center. Interesting reading for those wishing to dive deeper into network theory.
Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma.
Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen unlocks an important clue in the disruptive potential of new technologies on business. Why is it so hard for market leaders to maintain their lead in the face of disruptive technologies that affect their core products and services? It is not because they don’t see them coming.
Nobel Prizewinning economist Ronald Coase explains, among other things, transaction costs, the nature of the firm and why he doesn’t consider himself an economist! “The Nature of the Firm” is perhaps the most important essay written in economic theory since the time of Adam Smith.
Corporation for National Research Initiatives.
CNRI, a non-profit organization, publishes a remarkable series of monographs by Prof. Amy Friedlander on the history of key elements of business infrastructure: telephone, electricity, banking, railroads, and radio. The lessons of these dramatic stories have even more to teach us today as new business infrastructure is created in the form of digital technology, with both the help and hindrance of regulators.
Erik Davis, TechGnosis.
In this remarkable 1998 book, Erik Davis explores the ever-present connections between disruptive technologies and mysticism, from the ancient Greeks right up through the rise of the Internet. Essential reading for those trying to understand the often irrational or non-rational response to new innovations by consumers, regulators, and businesses alike.
Larry Downes and Chunka Mui, Unleashing the Killer App.
Killer App, my first book, describes the process of strategy design in the early days of the Internet revolution. It introduces the concept of the Law of Disruption and addresses it from operations and marketing standpoints. Now it’s time to bring the legal department into the mix.
Larry Downes, The Strategy Machine.
My 2002 follow-up to Killer App, The Strategy Machine explores the concept of information assets in more depth and gives practical guidance to businesses hoping to incorporate their value into their strategic plans.
Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat.
Friedman’s most compelling book to date looks at the ways in which technology has intentionally and unintentionally removed local and national borders in trade, social interaction and culture, and some of the disruptive impacts that result.
Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu, Who Controls the Internet?
Two law professors look at the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which regulations, both private and public, determine ownership, access, and control over the Internet infrastructure and its content.
Professor Kuhn’s seminal study of the difficulty of propagating scientific breakthroughs in the thinking of current practitioners of the science. His overused term “paradigm shift,” is equally applicable to the process by which companies and those who work for them resist the reality of change brought on by any disruptive technology, and why they use the legal system to hold it back as long as they can.
William L. Landes and Richard A. Posner, The Economic Structure of Intellectual Property Law.
Pioneers in the application of economic principles to legal analysis, Landes and Posner take on the foundations of the information economy, including copyright, trademark, and patent law. Must-reading for the serious economist.
Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has written several powerful and influential manifestos urging a new regime of information regulation based on the non-rivalrous economic properties of information. These three represent the most accessible of his important work.
Steven D. Levitt, and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics.
This entertaining and enlightening book is a great introduction to economic thinking, using the economist’s tools to explain counter-intuitive aspects of everyday life.
Karl N. Llewellyn, Bramble Bush.
Influential 20th century legal scholar Karl Llewellyn’s demystifying book explaining to incoming law students how judicial reasoning works (or doesn’t), “Bramble Bush” is an essential starting point to understanding how to read a judicial opinion.
John Markoff, What the Dormouse Said.
NYT long-time Silicon Valley sage John Markoff reveals surprising but essential connections between the development of “personal computing” and the counter-culture movement centered in North California.
Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital.
Nicholas Negroponte’s distillation of his early columns from Wired Magazine is still the best text written on what the digital revolution means in everyday life.
Two important recent books from the greatest judicial mind of the last 100 years. The first looks at how the Constitution can and cannot be interpreted to shape data collection, surveillance and other technologically-advanced forms of intelligence-gathering in response to new threats. The second paints a candid and realistic picture of how judges really decide cases.
Jeffrey Rosen, The Unwanted Gaze.
Law Professor Jeffrey Rosen looks at some of the defining moments in the creation of a law of personal privacy in the U.S., especially as they are being challenged by advances in information technology.
Carl Shapiro and Hal R. Varian, Information Rules.
Two economists tackle the difficult problem of the unusual properties of information in the market. An excellent guide for executives coming to terms with the reality that information increasingly determines profitability.
Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics.
The eminently readable study of new and successful organizations taking advantage of the unique economic properties of information to develop products and services based on mass collaboration.
Alvin Toffler, Future Shock.
The book everyone bought in the 1970’s. Just for fun, read it again (or for the first time) to see how remarkably prescient Toffler’s prediction were about life in the 21st century. More to the point, the malady described by the title has only become pandemic, and particularly so in business life.
Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History.
One of the most influential essays in the history of historical studies, Turner persuasively makes the case that new environments evolve their own social, cultural, and legal institutions, ultimately rejecting those brought along by their settlers.
Prof. White’s stunning investigation into the relationship between disruptive technology and long-term social change—set in the Middle Ages. Reading his stories about the stirrup, the plow, crop rotation, and eyeglasses will make you realize how little things have changed and how little we have learned from our past.
Oliver E. Williamson, Markets and Hierarchies.
Not for the casual reader, Professor Williamson’s important work picks up from Coase’s initial description of transaction costs and treats them to a thorough study.
Last but not least, Prof. Zittrain’s provocative study of the movement from open Internet applications to closed technologies including cell phones and other proprietary devices, file types and standards, and the implications that shift has for the culture of digital life.