Willem Van Lancker's top reads (Chief Product Officer, Oyster).
Two Years Before the Mast*by Richard Henry Dana Jr.
An absorbing true story about a man's two-year voyage from Boston to San Francisco (around Cape Horn) as a part of the merchant marine. It's one of the best accounts of life at sea and an incredible memoir of personal discovery and maturation (the story begins with him dropping out of Harvard). It also doubles as an amazing travelogue of the California coast.
Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino
A short but profound collection of imaginary conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Each section structured around the description of cities within Khan's empire. Calvino's prose is insanely beautiful, but it's the book's ability to make you think about cities and urban design in whole new ways that really makes it stand out to me.
Looking Closer 5 Edited by Michael Bierut and William Drenttel
One of the first books on design criticism I came across while in school, this book is responsible for opening my eyes to an expanded notion of Graphic Design. With essays from heavyweights like Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Milton Glaser, Ellen Lupton, and many others it's content ranges from the practical to the purely theorhetical and introspective.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin* Benjamin Franklin
Even though it's unfinished, this autobiography—by and about one of my favorite historical figures—captures the charisma, genius, and writing skill of Franklin. Written at the inception of the United States, it captures what I hope it really means to be American— hard-working, creative, and striving for more.
The Paradox of Choice Barry Schwartz
I've always been interested in the impact that brands and products have on our decisions and lifestyle, but this book took it a step farther. Part psychological study on what “free-choice” means and part critique on our consumerist culture, it's a book I keep coming back to again and again— now more than ever as I consider how our obsession with “choice” extends beyond the physical into the internet and software products.
*Cover design by Willem Van Lancker