Dan Ackerman on the Building Blocks of “The Tetris Effect”


“As a first-time author but lifetime reader, I drew from decades of influences to put together The Tetris Effect. I cycle between reading nonfiction heavily for a few years, then fiction for a few years. So while writing, I drew from both schools to tell this twisting, thrilling Cold War story in a way that felt a bit like a spy novel, while staying true to the real-life events around the secret history of Tetris and its escape from the Soviet Union.”


The Accidental Billionaires
By Ben Mezrich

“This is a master class in telling a business story, diving deep into complex business deals and technology while remaining accessible to anyone. It’s about the founding of Facebook, but more important, it has the one thing a gripping nonfiction story needs — great real-life characters like Mark Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins (the book was later filmed as The Social Network). Mezrich also isn’t afraid to put himself in the room during key events. Many have copied this style (myself included), but no one does it better.”

Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline

“This novel went from cult hit to Spielberg film in just a few years and showed there’s a deep, almost instinctual love out there for retro video games and game culture. When an incredibly obscure ’80s computer role-playing game called “Dungeons of Daggorath” gets namechecked, I almost started shouting at the book, ‘Hey, I used to play that on my Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer!’ Of course, all that made it even more thrilling when Ernest Cline very graciously wrote a back cover blurb for my book.”

All the President’s Men
By Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

“Money, business, technology, crime — it often all comes back to politics at some level. And no one made the shady side of politics more addictive than the super-team of Woodward and Bernstein. Even now, forty-plus years later, it still reads like a contemporary thriller. When I was trying to figure out how to tell a story that largely takes place in the Cold War−era Soviet Union, I went back to this book’s treatment of government bureaucrats as powerful figures operating in the shadows.”

Game Over
By David Sheff

“There have been many books written about video game history, but anyone doing any sort of research into the boom years of the 1980s and early 1990s has probably read this exhaustive 1993 history that covers the end of the Atari era and birth of the Nintendo juggernaut. I interviewed many of the same people Sheff did when writing about Tetris, but his interviews have the benefit of being conducted more than twenty years ago, when memories were fresher and, in many cases, emotions were still raw.”

The Da Vinci Code
By Dan Brown

“Everyone has their guilty literary pleasures, and for me, it’s Dan Brown and his mile-a-minute thrillers, which mix highbrow history and action movie stunts. It might be surprising to think this worldwide mega-hit inspired my nonfiction account of 1980s international software licensing deals, but The Da Vinci Code taught me the most important lesson I ever learned as a writer — find a way to end each chapter with a hook or cliffhanger, so the reader can’t resist the urge to turn the next page.”