Whenever I walk into the library, I think “How can I ever read all these books?”
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For me, finding the right books is hard. And something tells me you might be struggling too!
So here’s a quick review of everything I read this year! If something piques your interest, pick up a copy!
Top Pick: Nonfiction
The Power Law by Sebastian Mallaby. This is on every VC’s list this year for a reason.
Mallaby does an amazing job recounting key moments in the history of venture capital. I found the story about Accel staking out Facebook headquarters to win its Series A fascinating.
If you’re in the technology industry, this is a must read! I wrote a series of posts about it here:
Top Pick: Fiction
Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg is my favorite poet, so a friend gave me this slim volume as a very thoughtful gift!
I find the Sunflower Sutra particularly beautiful. Ginsberg tells us “we’re all beautiful golden sunflowers inside.” This reminds us to value ourselves and not get too caught up in the day to day!
The Rest of the List
Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam. An excellent account of how Michael Jordan came to dominate the NBA.
Jordan was intensely competitive and hard working. But he was also unusually coachable.
I’m never going to rival Jordan on the court, but his example is instructive in any field.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The classic text on launching an MVP and iterating your way to success.
Little did I know that later in the year, Eric and I would wind up co-investors in the same startup!
More on The Lean Startup in this post.
Amp it Up by Frank Slootman. The Snowflake CEO provides great insights on leadership in this engaging and brief volume.
He includes tricks for increasing intensity like asking why a task can’t be completed tomorrow instead of next week. More in this post.
The Founders by Jimmy Soni. A deep dive into the founding of PayPal, one of the most iconic tech companies of our time.
Soni includes fascinating tidbits like how PayPal was originally designed to beam money between Palm Pilots. More in this post.
Hunting the Unabomber by Lis Wiehl. Ted Kaczynski is the mirror image of many of the successful founders profiled on this list.
Like many of them, he was precocious and Harvard educated. But he despised technology and its effects on society.
He also showed early signs of being disturbed, laughing as he tried to scald his mother with spaghetti sauce as a child. Perhaps some people are just born with problems.
Into the MIrror by Norman Mailer and Lawrence Schiller. Robert Hanssen was the highest ranking US official ever to become a spy for the Soviet Union.
This is the fascinating story on how he went wrong, and how the government caught him.
Mayer Amschel Rothschild founded the Rothschild banking dynasty. It became one of the most powerful families in Europe.
But the first Rothschild was born in a dank Jewish ghetto. He was orphaned at 13 and faced extreme discrimination throughout his life.
Rothschild grew his business by going out and finding customers, unlike most bankers. Once he had them, he was a loyal partner, always putting their needs first.
I’ve read this book four times now — it never gets old!
Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction by Jack Goldstone. This book covers revolutions from the ancient world to today, digging deep into their causes.
One surprising insight was that poverty alone doesn’t produce revolutions. A destitute populace is no match for a government’s armaments.
Elites also need to withdraw their support from the regime.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel. In contrast to The Lean Startup, Thiel advises founders to create a highly differentiated product 10x better than alternatives rather than a barebones MVP.
I’m not sure who I agree with. But Thiel’s book is a must for any entrepreneur or investor.
More in this post.
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. I’m almost done with this one!
Simpson tells a fascinating story of breaking his leg on a descent from a massive Andes peak. How he survived this impossible situation makes for a riveting read.
Before a big climb, Simpson told himself “we can do it!” repeatedly. If it works for scaling some of the toughest mountains on Earth, it might work for us too!
It strikes me how few books I read this year. I’d like to get that total up to around 20 next year, perhaps with some of your recommendations!
What was your favorite book this year? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!
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Photo: Author Sebastian Mallaby