I found myself keeping lists—books I'd read, books I wanted to read, articles, short stories, etc. And since I also very much enjoy talking about these things with people, I thought I'd share these lists here. 


How things work

The books below shine a light on some fundamental characteristic, such as our nature, politics, religion, and mythology.

  Khnemu Shapes Pharoah's Son on a Potter's Wheel While Thoth Marks Life Span  (papyrus, Ptolemaic, Egypt, c. third-century BC)

Khnemu Shapes Pharoah's Son on a Potter's Wheel While Thoth Marks Life Span (papyrus, Ptolemaic, Egypt, c. third-century BC)

  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. The late Joseph Campbell spent his life studying mythologies around the globe and across history. In this, his seminal book, he makes an amazing claim: all mythologies (religious mythologies, ancient mythologies, etc.) share the same basic structure, what he called "Mankind's one great story." That structure, the Monomyth, is as follows: separation—initiation—return. As described in the book:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder (Separation); fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won (Initiation); the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man (Return)

There are other common elements, such as helpers (consider the angel Gabriel and the poet Virgil in the Divine Comedy). The reason this story is so constant is that it flows from within us. The dream is to man what myth is to mankind. Or, myth is mankind's dream. The symbols captured in these myths with amazing similarity are statements of basic truths. One of my favorite lines in the book: "as we are told in the Vedas: 'Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.'"

  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I loved many things about this book, starting with the introduction. I've never heard anyone describe a working relationship with the warmth and respect with which Kahneman described his collaboration with Amos Tversky. I also appreciated the fact that Kahneman pointed out the immense susceptibility of our brains to the errors he describes in the book, highlighting that even he is at risk. Understanding the power of social influence, his goal in writing the book is to create a vocabulary by which we may judge others' decisions. And once we know we're being judged, then we might create processes to make better decisions.

  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Ray Cialdini. Cialdini is a professor of psychology, but he wrote this book by combining research with practice, shadowing highly persuasive people, such as sales people and Hare Krishnas. What emerges are six powerful principles of persuasion. Once you read this book, you'll see them in play everywhere.

  • Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky. If you believe we have a free, impartial press that promotes an unfettered exchange of ideas, you're wrong. In countries where the press is known to be controlled, such as China, the people can at least frame what they're hearing appropriately. The real danger is when you think you have access to a free press and allow your thinking to be shaped accordingly, most significantly by the absence of certain ideas.

  • Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. Most people will say that the opposite of something that is fragile, such as a champagne glass, is something sturdy, like a table. But that's wrong. Where a glass will break with disorder, something that is antifragile will benefit from disorder. Taleb believes that in our modern society, in everything from our decisions around health to our financial system, we've create fragile systems, when we should be creating antifragile systems. His ideas apply to everything from personal decisions to career decisions to parenting to creating companies.

  • The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. Adam Smith's ideas have been narrowly interpreted. When people cite "the invisible hand" as justification for a free market they ignore the fact that the concept had one narrow part in a broader framework within The Wealth of Nations. And The Wealth of Nations itself was part of a broader framework of morality captured in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. The edition linked here has an introduction by Amartya Sen, which is worth the purchase price alone. Another good essay on this topic is here. Reading these things made me realize that an overriding belief in a free market can be religious in nature. Many people want to believe that a free, unfettered market can lead to an optimal society, but like many religious fundamentalists, they're reading what they want to read in the foundational philosophies and texts. (To be clear, I believe that capitalism has a major role in a just society, but tempered by other rules, regulations, and institutions.)

  • Probably Approximately Correct by Leslie Valiant. Leslie Valiant won the Turing Award—essentially the Nobel Prize of computing—in 2011 for his theory of probably approximately correct (PAC) learning, among other contributions. In this book, he applies PAC, a foundation of machine learning, to evolution, with an amazing observation. Valiant pointed out that, while it's clear Darwin's theory of evolution is essentially correct, there is a significant hole: no simulation of evolution demonstrates that we can arrive at the complexity of life we see today within the timeframe under which we know evolution to have worked for various species, humans in particular. This means that something more than random mutation and selection must be taking place, something like probably approximately correct learning. While he focuses on biology and evolution, Valiant points out that this model applies to any learning environment. I think this should apply equally well to companies and countries, or any system that adapts to an environment and then has to evolve as that environment changes. I think the best companies, like Amazon and Bridgewater, have essentially executed this algorithm.

  • The Language of the Night by Ursula Le Guin. Quite independently of Campbell, I began reading Ursula Le Guin's writings after her passing. Amazingly, I found her non-fiction writings to be about the same topic. Three particularly beautiful essays are: "Why are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" "The Child and the Shadow," and "Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction."

  • The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick. I really enjoyed this book for its ability to place our information revolution into the broad sweep of history, from the invention of writing to the invention of the printing press to the telegraph and so on. I think about something Marc Andreessen said—how, when he first got to Silicon Valley, he thought the exciting times were over, that all the good ideas had been taken. This is one of the books that makes it clear we're still very much at the start.

  • Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change by Edmund Phelps. This book (a good short essay by Phelps is here) combined economic and individual growth in a way that resonated strongly with me. "Mass prosperity came with the mass innovation that sprung up in 1815 in Britain, soon after in America and later in Germany and France: It brought sustained growth to these nations — also to nations with entrepreneurs willing and able to copy the innovations. It also brought flourishing to large and increasing numbers of people — mass flourishing. There were experiential benefits: Routine work, dull and lonely, gave way to careers that took twists and turns and jobs that were rewarding. There were also developmental benefits: As people used their imagination to create new things and their ingenuity to meet challenges, they found self-expression, self-realization and personal growth in the process." This last concept of developmental benefits to people is particularly compelling to me because it's quite clear that large numbers of people do not have this today in the United States. And tech today—think Uber, Amazon, etc.—are not orienting themselves to achieve this goal. That doesn't have to be the case.

  • Identity and Violence by Amartya Sen. Sen's basic idea is that there is a tendency to group people into single identities: Muslim, American, Chinese, Democrat, etc. This is a tactic used not only by fundamentalists to foment hatred but often used (with good intent but to ill effect) by many westerners and liberals as well. In reality, each of us is a collection of identities, and our ability to reason among them and reconcile them is key to a peaceful and beautiful society. For example, I am an: American, Muslim, Pakistani by heritage, Wash U alum, HBS alum, Bay Area technologist, Medallian, former BloomReacher, avid reader, squash player, male, father, husband, supporter of the Kurdish cause, liberal, Democrat, capitalist (with serious concerns about capitalism), fan of Noam Chomsky, etc. I can be all of these. Some elements of these identities may clash at times, but it's up to me to use reason to reconcile them. Sen takes issue, in particular, with Samuel Huntington's concept of "clash of civilizations," arguing it is a very narrow way to group people. I wholeheartedly agree.

  • The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen. This book is a collection of fourteen beautiful essays about India. All are worth reading, but my favorite was "Tagore and his India," which revealed fascinating insights in almost every paragraph. In particular, I enjoyed the stories about Tagore and Gandhi's different, often clashing, philosophies.

  • Zero to One by Peter Thiel. This book should be read periodically for its uniquely amazing ability to stimulate your thinking. Every chapter breaks some limit in your thinking. For example: What would it take to achieve your ten year plan—in six months? Also: What is something you believe that nearly no one agrees with you on? (The question highlights something else Thiel believes: it is very difficult and rare to find someone that really thinks for themselves.)

  • Deep Work by Cal Newport. Deep Work is a book that makes a very elegant argument: (i) we're living in a world where there are dramatic returns for high quality creative work (writing, programming, analysis, etc.) and (ii) we live in a world of dramatically increased distraction from mobile devices, social media, email, etc. that prevents us from doing precisely that sort of work. Newport then lays out a plan.

  • How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen. This is an eye-opening, life-changing book. Clay Christensen, a strategy professor at Harvard Business School and author of The Innovator's Dilemma, applies strategic principles to the goal of living a good life.

  • The Act of Creation by Arthur Koestler. I'm astounded by how much research and insight went into this book. Koestler lays out a framework for creativity, combining insights from humor, science, and the arts.

Antilibrary:

  • Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.

  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan.


short stories

All of these stories deeply affected me. I know that because I find myself coming back to them years later, and when I read them again, I find that the way they affect me has changed in some way. I can't fully appreciate a story unless I read it in physical form (preferably a hardcover book) so, where appropriate, I've linked to the book in which I read them (rather than the online version, which for many of them you can find with a simple Google search).

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  • "The Library of Babel" by Jorge Luis Borges (in Labyrinths). Written in haunting prose, Borges creates a fascinating thought experiment. The Library can be a lot of things, but to me, it's a search for meaning. (It also makes an appearance in Christopher Nolan's movie Interstellar.)

  • "The Circular Ruins" by Jorge Luis Borges (in Labyrinths). There's a surprise so I won't say much, but I have vivid images of fire.

  • "The Lady with a Dog" by Anton Chekhov (in Stories of Anton Chekhov). I've never read anything that made feelings so piercingly real.

  • "The Sentinel" by Arthur C. Clarke. This is a great story in it's own right, but it's also famous for inspiring the collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke that led to the creation of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  • "The Body" by Stephen King (in Four Past Midnight). Childhood friendship, summer, sadness. You might know this story from the 1980s movie Stand by Me.

  • "The Word" by Vladimir Nabokov. I remember distinctly when I first read this story. It was December 2005, and I had picked up The New Yorker for flight reading. I sat down in my window seat, picked a random story, and went on a breathtaking, magical journey. Only after I finished did I see that the author was Vladimir Nabokov.

  • "All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury (in The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction). This is a very short story that contains an amazing dance of words to create a vivid world and stark feelings.

  • "Mono No Aware" by Ken Liu (in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories). This book introduced me to a beautiful Japanese concept, mono no aware. Roughly, it means: the gentle sadness associated with the understanding that everything is impermanent.

  • "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories). This story was the first work of fiction to win all three of science fiction's major awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. It's a beautiful story about a boy's relationship with his mother and her magical creations. The short story collection has other amazingly good stories: "The Waves" and "Good Hunting," among others.

  • "Taking Care of God" by Liu Cixin (in Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation). Equal parts wit and sadness.

  • "The Wages of Humanity" by Liu Cixin. The story begins at a fast pace and paints a future world that hold a starting, haunting implication for the world we live in today.

  • “Story of Your Life” and “Tower of Babylon” by Ted Chiang. “Story of Your Life” was made into a movie titled The Arrival, and while the movie is good, the cliche is true in this case—the short story is better. Ted Chiang’s stories are incredibly rich, descriptive, unique, and satisfying.

Antilibrary:

  • Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin. A collection of short stories by Liu Cixin.


Essays, SPEECHES, ANNUAL LETTERS

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  • "Letter from Birmingham Jail" by Martin Luther King, Jr. The single most powerful, most compelling writing I've ever read. This is a powerful reminder that the work here is not done.

  • "This is Water" by David Foster Wallace. DFW, as he was known, lays out a way of thinking about the world that will make you a more empathetic and compassionate person. I also like the method he uses in the speech. Water to fish is used as a device to highlight the thing that is so close and so pervasive that we don't even stop to think about it. This is a useful mental model in other areas as well.

  • "The Psychology of Human Misjudgment" by Charlie Munger. Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, or Warren Buffett's lesser-known but equally important partner, has a saying: "All I want to know is where I'm going to die so I never go there." He means: understand the things that lead you astray in business, investing, and life—and then avoid them. For Buffett and Munger, rationality is king. This talk is a list of the ways human psychology leads us astray, causing us to make irrational decisions.

  • "A Lesson on Elementary Worldly Wisdom" by Charlie Munger. Another saying of Munger's: "It is better to remember the obvious than to grasp the esoteric." An aspect of this is having a broad set of mental models on which to draw on order to make a decision. This talk lays out what Munger sees as the most important mental models.

  • "They're Taking Over" by Tim Flannery. This essay in The New York Review of Books is about jellyfish. The combination of incredibly good writing and an amazing subject matter is mesmerizing.

  • "The Child and the Shadow" by Ursula Le Guin (in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction). The essay begins with a short fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson called "The Shadow" and then proceeds to Carl Jung's ideas to explain the importance of fantasy. "The great fantasies, myths, and tales are indeed like dreams: they speak from the unconscious to the unconscious, in the language of the unconscious—symbols and archetypes," says Le Guin. She describes Jung as "the psychologist whose ideas on art are most meaningful to most artists." The passage describing his concept of the collective unconscious is just amazing. I captured it here.

  • Amazon Annual Letters by Jeff Bezos. After Brad Stone's book, The Everything Store, Amazon's annual letters are a great way to learn about Bezos's operating principles.

  • Berkshire Hathaway Annual Letters by Warren Buffett. Beyond the clear, principled thinking captured in these letters, it's fascinating to see Buffett's thinking about economic and business events (e.g., stagflation in the 70s) as they were happening rather than in hindsight.

  • “Mathematics, Common Sense, and Good Luck: My Life and Careers" by Jim Simons (talk at MIT, 2010). I wrote about this talk here. One statement stuck with me: "Do something new. I love to do something new. I don’t like to run with the pack. For one thing, I’m not such a fast runner. If you’re one of n people working on the same problem in different places, I know if it were me I’d be last. I’m not going to win that race. But if you can think of a new problem or a new way of doing something, that other people aren’t all working on at the same time, maybe that would give you a chance."

  • "Why Software Is Eating the World" by Marc Andreessen (2011). This was a seminal article that offered a simple but powerful framework of the dramatic change the world was experiencing—and likely to experience for decades to come. The framework was updated in 2016 in an A16Z podcast titled, "Software Programs the World" (I noted my takeaways from the podcast here.)

  • "Full Stack Startups" by Balaji Srinivasan, Chris Dixon, and Glenn Kelman. Would you rather: (i) create a new technology and convince companies to buy your technology to improve the widgets they sell to customers ("Buy our technology—you'll make an ROI of 1,000%!"), or (ii) create a company that makes widgets using that technology?

  • "The 'Oh, Shit!' Moment When Growth Stops" by Jeff Jordan. A simple and powerful framework for startup leadership.

  • "Competition Is for Losers" by Peter Thiel. I don't think Thiel said anything dramatically new here, though he deliver it in a controversial wrapper, which certainly helped spread his idea (and increase sales of his book, Zero to One, which at the time of publishing was new). He's essentially saying that a business should be hard, if not impossible, to copy. This idea has been core to competitive strategy since Michael Porter wrote his seminal books. What I like about the article (and the book) is Thiel's reframing of objectives: be different, don't compete, don't copy, invent. Quite simply, as Thiel states in the first paragraph, you can't just create value—you have to capture value, too.

  • "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" by Amy Chua. I don't, of course, think Chinese mothers are necessarily superior. I love two things about this article: (i) its controversial approach as a tactic (you simply can't not read it and talk about it) and (ii) the fact that she is unapologetically subverting conventional wisdom.

  • "Here is New York" by E.B. White. This is probably the classic well-crafted essay. It flows beautifully, magically transporting you to New York in the 1940s. It also has a chilling passage that foretells the 9/11 attacks.

  • "The Principle of the Hiding Hand" by Albert Hirschman. The principle of the hiding hand is an inspiring one, albeit one that could make your life very painful for a long time before leading to dramatic success. Hirschman's observation: "We may be dealing here with a general principle of action. Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be."

  • "How America Can Create Jobs" by Andy Grove. Andy Grove was not only an effective manager and company-builder, he also had a profound respect for people. This isn't because Andy Grove is more of a humanist, where others are more practical or value-oriented. In fact, quite the opposite. I believe Grove has a much stronger grasp of the machinery of value creation and how it works over the long-term. Consider the following insight: "A new industry needs an effective ecosystem in which technology knowhow accumulates, experience builds on experience, and close relationships develop between supplier and customer. ... As happened with batteries, abandoning today's 'commodity' manufacturing can lock you out of tomorrow's emerging industry."

Antilibrary:

  • "The Hedgehog and the Fox" by Isaiah Berlin.

  • "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil" by Hannah Arendt.


Novels

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  • Remembrance of Earth's Past by Liu Cixin. This trilogy is better known by the title of its first novel: The Three-Body Problem. I first learned about it from this article in The New Yorker, which compared Liu Cixin to Arthur C. Clarke and pointed out that, with most science fiction being written by western authors, the stories tended to build on a western view of the world and western history. This trilogy is different. The first novel opens with a beautiful scene from the Cultural Revolution. The third one opens with the siege of Constantinople. There are so many layers to these books that I wouldn't do them justice in describing them, other than to say that they will transport you to another world and are just a joyful read.

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. The book begins with an incredible line: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." The hypnotic, magical story unfolds from there: the Buendía family, the tragic events in the town of Macondo, Melquíades the gypsy, and so on. Marquez says he emulated the storytelling style of his grandmother: “She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness … What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories, and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.” (source).

  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Another amazing opening line: "It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love."

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I can't say much more than is widely written (e.g., this is the greatest novel ever written) other than to say I agree. It's a work of genius—the depth of characters, the insights into human behavior and relationships, the story arc, the language, etc. I haven't read other translations, but I can say that this particular translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is beautiful.

  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith. This was an incredibly fun, engaging read. I laughed out loud a number of times.

  • Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov. Truth be told, I'm in my tenth year of still making my way through this book so I haven't finished it. But I can still say it's one of the best novels I've ever read because every chapter (they're short) reads like a work of art on its own. This was Nabokov at the height of his genius. He's playing with language, reality, and the very idea of a novel itself. It's almost like he's talking to you and toying with your idea of what this novel is as you read it.

  • To Live by Yu Hua. This is a beautiful book about one man's life in China during a period that encompasses the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and other major changes in Chinese society. There are themes of wealth, wisdom, family, and acceptance.

  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. This is an achingly heartbreaking book about poverty in India—and I mean heartbreaking. It's worth reading but consider yourself warned.

Antilibrary:

  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. This novel encompasses seven volumes and is also commonly known by the title of the first of the seven volumes: Swann's Way.

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong. I've wanted to read this after reading The Three-Body Problem. Chinese history fascinates me, and the opening lines of this historical novel is so impactful: "The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, it must divide. Thus it has ever been." I am fascinated by this acceptance of the cyclical nature of things because it's a theme I'm finding that recurs everywhere. Consider this from Will and Ariel Durant's The Lessons of History: "We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution. In this view all economic history is the slow heartbeat of the social organism, a vast systole and diastole of concentrating wealth and compulsive recirculation."

  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Naval Ravikant recommended this book as a source of great wisdom.

  • The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. This has come highly recommended by a number of folks I respect.

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. After Anna Karenina, I definitely want to read more Leo Tolstoy.


History

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  • Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama. This book is an amazing sweep across history, focusing on the rise and fall of political orders. Fukuyama describes the emergence of each of the three elements of political order: an effective state, the rule of law, and accountability. He describes the unique nature of political order in major civilizations, such as the Chinese, Muslim, Indian, and the West (the Catholic church in particular), to highlight key elements of his theory and to demonstrate why each was different. It might sound like a boring read, but it isn't. For example, to describe the emergence of the rule of law, Fukuyama goes deep into religion, which he highlights as the source of just laws. But for that to happen—for the rule of law to be a check on political authority—religious authority first had to declare its independence from political authority. A pivotal event in history was Pope Gregory VII doing just that with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV in 1075 when, as part of a series of church reforms, he declared that only the church could appoint bishops, and not the emperor. So Pope Gregory withdrew this power from the emperor. Henry IV attempted to oust Pope Gregory. Pope Gregory excommunicated the emperor. And in 1077 Henry IV came to the pope's residence and waited barefoot in the snow for three days to receive the pope's absolution.

  • No God But God by Reza Aslan. This book inspired me. Among the many excellent things about this book, such as the history of the ulema, Aslan does an amazing job detailing the goals of social justice within the origin story of Islam. It's unfortunate how much this core element is ignored or overlooked by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

  • After the Prophet by Lesley Hazleton. Lesley Hazleton reconstructed the final days of the Prophet Muhammad and the epic battle that emerged to control Islam, primarily between Aisha and Ali, by reading the History of the Kings and Prophets by Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, who died in 923 AD. Al-Tabari wrote his forty volume history by meticulously documenting specific narrations of events so that each event has multiple versions. The result, with Hazleton's excellent writing, is gripping. It reads like you're there, and like you know the people. The political skill and mastery of the media of the time (plays) by Muawiya is just one of many riveting tales.

Antilibrary:

  • The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant. I've started, but I haven't finished this amazing book. The book is a concise summary of their eleven-volume The Story of Civilization. The insights are incredible, and the language just beautiful.

  • Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. I want to learn more about the partition of India and Pakistan, and this book comes highly recommended.

  • Paul Johnson's books: The History of the American People, The History of the Jews, and Intellectuals.

  • Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt


Business and Creative Histories, Management, and Strategy

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  • Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a breathtaking movie (see it in the theaters if you have the chance), and this book describes the collaboration between Kubrick and Clarke. It's fascinating to learn how the collaboration began and unfolded as well as to get a glimpse into how a movie, particularly one like this, comes together.

  • The Everything Store by Brad Stone. This is a history of Amazon and contains incredible insights into what made Bezos and Amazon so effective. I wrote down some of my insights here.

  • Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schulz. There was no necessary reason for Starbucks to exist. Coffee existed in the United States. People drank it. End of story. The coffee shop as we know it today, with its myriad of subsequent innovations, started with Howard Schulz and a trip to Italy. What resulted is due to his vision, values, and execution. Among the inspiring elements in this story is the deep respect Schulz has for people, informed by the sad story of his father. To create something that makes the lives of both employees and customers better—to me, that is success in business.

  • Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? by Lou Gerstner. Lou Gerstner wrote every word of this turnaround story of IBM. It gives you a real glimpse into the unglamorous world of what it takes to save a company like IBM in crisis. The passage that describes it best is Gerstner at a press conference: "...the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision. What IBM needs right now is a series of very tough-minded, market-driven, highly effective strategies for each of its businesses— strategies that deliver performance in the marketplace and shareholder value. ... [And] if you’re going to have a vision for a company, the first frame of that vision better be that you’re making money and that the company has got its economics correct."

  • Principles by Ray Dalio. This book evolved from a PDF document that Dalio first made available on the Bridgewater Associates website almost a decade ago. Since Bridgewater Associates had a unique mode of operating, where one principle is transparency, Dalio felt he may as well make the principles by which they operate public. The first third of the book is Dalio's life story, which sets the stage for the second two parts: Dalio's life and work principles. I really respected the systematic thinking and practical approach to dealing with the world, or as Dalio calls it: reality. It's a very worthwhile read.

  • High Output Management by Andy Grove. Andy Grove was an engineer by training, and it shows in his approach to the book. He begins by building up the processes of making a breakfast at a breakfast restaurant. Somewhat surprisingly, though, what comes across with the most impact is Grove's deep respect for people. He talks a lot about culture, trust, growing people from within, one-on-one meetings, the sanctity of reviews, etc. He mentions pointedly that he's sent back reviews to managers that he felt didn't write sufficiently high quality reviews. This respect for people comes across in his jobs essay below as well.

  • The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution by Clayton Christensen. Andy Grove, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Marc Andreessen, and Reed Hastings among others have made practical use of Christensen's theories so there's clearly something here. I am amazed, however, how often this book is cited with an incorrect use of the term "disruptive innovation." I suspect the percentage drop on each of these chains is pretty high: cited → read → understood → executed.

  • Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. This is actually a fun strategy book to read, not least because Rumelt is pretty biting in his criticism of bad strategy. Once he describes it, you see it everywhere. My favorite part is the description of Hannibal's win at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC.

  • The Good Jobs Strategy by Zeynep Ton. I've long felt that what Ton so well detailed in this book was true:

  • The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by William N. Thorndike.

Antilibrary:

  • The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. and the Making of IBM by Kevin Maney.

  • My Years with General Motors by Alfred Sloan.

  • The HP Way by David Packard.

  • The Little Kingdom by Michael Moritz.

  • Return to the Little Kingdom by Michael Moritz.

  • Made in America by Sam Walton.

  • Starting Point: 1979-1996 by Hayao Miyazaki.

  • Turning Point: 1997-2008 by Hayao Miyazaki.

  • Shoedog by Phil Knight.

  • Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.

  • The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James Watson.

  • Sculpting in Time by Andrey Tarkovsky.

  • The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker.


Biographies and Memoirs

  • The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder.

  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. This is a beautiful memoir—and not exactly what you'd expect based on the WSJ article above and the popular conception of Amy Chua.

  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

Antilibrary:

  • Idea Man by Paul Allen. It's surprisingly hard to find a good a founding history of Microsoft, and this was recommended as one good source.

  • Models of My Life by Herbert Simon.

  • Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neil Gabler or The Animated Man by Michael Barrier. There's some acrimony between these two writers and a lack of consensus on which is the better biography.

  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro. This is an epic series of biographies (four volumes) about Lyndon Johnson and, more generally, a study of power.

  • Debussy: A Painter in Sound by Stephen Walsh.

  • Damn Right: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger by Janet Lowe.

  • Ben-Gurion: A Political Life by Shimon Peres.


Poetry, MUSIC, BALLET, PAINTING, AND OTHER ART

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  • Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

  • "Shostakovich Trilogy" by Alexei Ratmanksy.

  • "Sunstone" by Octavio Paz.

  • "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot.

  • "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" by Dylan Thomas.

  • The Rebel's Silhouette by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was one of Pakistan's most beloved poets. Like many of his era, he combined themes of love, worship, and revolution. A great example: "Hum Dekhenge," rendered beautifully by Iqbal Bano here.

  • "Claire de Lune" by Claude de Bussy.

  • JMW Turner. JMW Turner is called the "Painter of Light" for amazing paintings like this one:

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Antilibrary:

  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. I have been slowly making my way through this epic and beautiful poem. Recently, though, I found myself even more drawn to it because I learned something amazing from my Joseph Campbell readings. Miguel Asin Palacios, a Spanish priest and Arabic and Islamic studies scholar, wrote a book in 1919 with the translated title, The Muslim Eschatology in the Divine Comedy. He very meticulously detailed how the Divine Comedy draws its core narrative structure and many details from Muslim mythology—in particular, the stories of Isra and Miraj, the Prophet Muhammad's night journey and ascension to the heavens.

  • "The Waste Lands" by T.S. Eliot.