Yurij Mikhalevich
June 25, 2021

Books by Basecamp

I’ve recently finished reading the last book of five written by those behind the Basecamp company. I read some of them a while ago, so my memory about their content could be better. Still, I’ll compensate for that by describing my impressions. I’m going to list the books in the order in which I read them, starting from the one I read first. These books can be classified as business books, but, to me, they are also excellent self and time management books, with a focus on productivity and work-life balance. All of the books discuss different processes that allow people at Basecamp to work efficiently and happily. I should explicitly mention that the books are well-structured and written in concise and straightforward language.

Rework by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson (published in 2010, read in 2013)

Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.

Rework is the first book by Basecamp that I read in 2013, back when my friends and I worked on our startup, Cat Taxi. I don’t remember many of the exact things that I read in this book. But I do remember the lasting impression that it left on me. In the book, Jason and David talk about principles they apply at their company, focusing on the most common misconceptions about business and work processes. I remember that the chapter on workaholics impressed me the most. Before reading this book, I felt proud of putting in lots of hours, which, back then and now, inevitably leads to inefficient work. The essence of that Rework chapter is well covered by the linked post written by Jason Fried.

Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way to Build a Web Application by Basecamp (published in 2006, read in September 2019)

Make decisions just in time, when you have access to the real information you need. In the meanwhile, you’ll be able to lavish attention on the things that require immediate care.

Getting Real is by far the best book on time management that I’ve read. And, although it talks about software development, the principles it describes can be easily applied to almost any work process. While reading it, I constantly had deja vu; the book reminded me of Rework and sometimes felt like “Rework v0.1.” Don’t get me wrong; these “Aha, I’ve read this!” or “Aha, I’ve thought of this!” were welcome reactions. Even if you share and follow the principles described in the book, it offers an excellent and concise recap. It’s pretty short, much shorter than Rework; I managed to read it in a few days, only reading it when I cooked myself lunch. To sum up, Getting Real is a great book on time management and software project management that you can read in a few hours, and it’s available for free. I think it’s the best book to start reading “Books by Basecamp” and understand whether you’ll like the others.

Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters by Ryan Singer (published in 2019, read in May 2021)

An appetite is completely different from an estimate. Estimates start with a design and end with a number. Appetites start with a number and end with a design. We use the appetite as a creative constraint on the design process.

Shape Up is the last one of the “Books by Basecamp” and also freely available. Shape Up is the name of the software development methodology developed at Basecamp. Shape Up is the result of 20 years of work and refinements of the internal software development practices. It’s the quintessence of the ideas published in all of the other Basecamp books. When building on these ideas, Shape Up offers concrete methodologies closely tied to software development. The text is full of extremely practical business cases and examples from Basecamp’s experience, with a lot of them featuring their own tool, Basecamp. This is the book you should read if you want to “Shape Up” your company. In my opinion, this is another great book to familiarize yourself with “Books by Basecamp.”

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson (published in 2018, read in May 2021)

We don’t want reactions. We don’t want first impressions. We don’t want knee-jerks. We want considered feedback. Read it over. Read it twice, three times even. Sleep on it. Take your time to gather and present your thoughts — just like the person who pitched the original idea took their time to gather and present theirs.

This is another great book about time and project management. I read this one after Shape Up, and it felt like a broader version of Shape Up. Shape Up goes deeper into the particularities of software development. It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work explores the motivation behind these principles and ideas in more detail. It goes broader and covers a wider spectrum of topics compared to Shape Up, which focuses on software development. Thanks to that, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work is suitable for a wide range of companies. I’ll first recommend this book to people who want to “Shape Up” a non-software development company. The book is still great for software developers — please, go ahead and read it; it’s incredible! But, it would be much more interesting to non-software developers compared to Shape Up. I also loved the bolder language in which this book is written.

The excerpt quoted above refers to favoring async communication before sync (e.g., email vs. IM). Here is an amazing Basecamp article stating clear arguments in favor of async communication.

Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson (published in 2013, read in May 2021)

The ability to be alone with your thoughts is, in fact, one of the key advantages of working remotely.

I wasn’t rushing to read this book mainly because when I first heard of it, I was already enjoying the benefits of remote work and didn’t expect to find many new insights. I read it last and enjoyed it a lot. The reading process, for me, was accompanied by pleasant “Aha, I had already thought of that” and a few exciting “Cool, I didn’t look at this from that perspective!” moments. Now I know which book to recommend to people interested in remote work and those who are thinking about inviting their employees back to the office once the COVID-19 situation dies down.


All of these books are written in the same spirit, and I highly recommend anyone who works in software development to read all of them; everyone else — to read at least some of them. At times the books can be repetitive. Although this can be off-putting to some readers, I enjoyed them since, even if the books discuss the same topic, each of them often offers a unique perspective. I hope that you’ll enjoy them as much as I did!

Builds the future at Lightning AI, creator of the Move Fast and Break Things community of software engineers, DeepLearning.AI mentor, creator of rclip, writes about tech, software engineering, books, what to watch, and beyond, practices creative writing and captures moments through photography
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