This is a list of some writing I’ve found particularly good, both on the utilitarian and literary sides of things. I’ll update this list periodically as I find new favorites, or as my tastes change. Please comment below with your own recommendations!
Books on Business and Entrepreneurship
Even in today’s Internet-powered world, there’s no substitute for the deep and nuanced exposition found in good books. Here are some of my favorites on business and entrepreneurship, in no particular order.
- Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell: I took a few classes in economics in high school and college, but this book taught me more about what economics actually has to teach us about the world than all of those classes put together. Don’t be intimidated by the length; improbably this was a real page-turner. Thomas Sowell is also an exceptionally clear thinker and writer, and has written many other books that I’m meaning to get to.
- The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco: I started reading this book from a Twitter recommendation, not really expecting to like it as it’s marketed in all caps and seems like it’s a typical self-help book from a genre full of nonsense. I quickly discovered I was wrong: this is the best no-nonsense summary of what living and working as an entrepreneur is really about. I’d already learned many of the lessons in this book from the school of hard knocks before picking it up, but I wish I’d read it years ago. Scientists and engineers interested in entrepreneurship: you’ll find few better uses of a few hours of your time than reading this book.
- Clay Christensen is the absolute must-read writer on the world of technology and innovation, having coined the idea of disruptive innovation among many others. His The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution are classics that I’m reading now, and I also enjoyed a collection of his HBR articles called The Clayton M. Christensen Reader.
- Michael Porter is one of the best writers on business. His work doesn’t have as much to say about emerging industries and entrepreneurship as it does about stable industries, but is well worth a read nonetheless. A good start on his work is this article (thank you to Kathleen Eisenhardt for assigning this in my tech strategy class at Stanford.) Two classics, which I have only skimmed, are Competitive Strategy and Competitive Advantage.
- That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph: A highly engaging warts-and-all view of the entrepreneurial path from the cofounder and first CEO of Netflix. In the mold of, and as good as, Shoe Dog, but for the tech industry.
- Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – the classic story of the decades-long building up of Nike.
- How to Castrate a Bull by Dave Hitz – Another view of tech entrepreneurship from the inside. Also a great and insightful read.
- The Hard Thing about Hard Things: Startup Lessons from Ben Horowitz, one of the best in the game.
- The Soul of a New Machine: This book is a journalist’s account of the development process of a new minicomputer at one of the major players in that space some 30 years ago. A super interesting read: some things have changed completely since then, and others have not changed at all!
- Secrets of Sand Hill Road by Scott Kupor: An insider’s view of venture capital and high-growth entrepreneurship from the perspective of a VC. I found the more technical/law-focused chapters to be dry and not immediately useful, but the other parts of the book were excellent and I expect to return to the more technical chapters as a reference when they become relevant to my work.
- In the same genre, Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson is a gold mine of knowledge about how to raise a round.
- A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs, edited by Trenholme J. Griffin: An excellent collection of startup wisdom from some of the best entrepreneurs and investors. I found the commentary from the author to be less valuable than the quotes he compiled, but his curation is excellent. Seeking out more essays/books/etc from the people quoted in this book wouldn’t be a bad idea.
- The Mom Test and Talking to Humans: Two excellent (and short!) primers on customer interviews, which are as important to do right as they are hard to source and conduct. Definitely read at least one (I recommend starting with The Mom Test).
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel: Rightly regarded as a classic. Focused on competitive differentiation (see also – Michael Porter) via real innovation.
- Principles by Ray Dalio. I’m currently reading this one and getting a lot out of it. Ray Dalio seems to have approached finance with a Silicon Valley mindset – lots of interesting parallels.
- Finding Fertile Ground by Scott Shane. Slightly tedious but very much worth reading for the breakdown of how to think about entrepreneurial opportunities strategically.
- Influence by Robert Cialdini. Most academic psychology findings are either wrong or too limited to be useful, but there are plenty of fields where a keen understanding of human psychology is indispensable, including fiction writing, marketing and sales. Robert Cialdini, despite his academic roots, has written a brilliant book on some of the most important psychological techniques to know that are relevant to marketing and sales (and ultimately, all of life is sales to some degree.) Highly recommended.
- Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs by Berman & Knight is a great primer on corporate finance and accounting for who need to understand the concepts on a high level but not to know as much as a banker or accountant.
- How I Went from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger: 100 years old and has stood the test of time. A great book to understand what sales is about and how to do it well.
Periodicals, blogs, and newsletters
There’s also a lot to be said for shorter-form content. Here are some of my favorite sources for that. Any author mentioned above in the books section is also a good source for shorter-form content online, as applicable.
- The Economist magazine is overwhelmingly the best single source for news, and is well worth the expensive subscription. Unlike most news sources, The Economist is narrowly targeted at those who are willing to pay for insight.
- The Money Stuff newsletter from Matt Levine is better than I could have imagined before I started reading it. Levine manages to make the world of finance, including the intersection of the tech industry with finance, not just interesting but hilarious.
- The Stratechery newsletter from Ben Thompson is another gem, and is well worth the cost of the subscription. Thompson offers a strategist’s-eye-view of the tech industry, and his perspectives are consistently insightful.
- Benedict Evans is the other Ben with a great newsletter on the tech industry, entrepreneurship etc.
- Byrne Hobart‘s newsletter is excellent. His background is in finance, which yields an interesting angle to his thinking about the world, including the world of technology.
- Paul Graham’s essays. A touchstone of the startup world.
- Sam Altman also has some excellent essays.
- Marc Andereesen – He took his blog down but some highlights are archived here. This is also some of the best writing on the industry.
- Others at a16z have written excellent pieces as well – see a16z.com for more. Andrew Chen is among the consistently good writers.
- Elad Gil’s blog is highly insightful: another one of my favorites.
- José Ancer runs a website that is full of good sense at Silicon Hills Lawyer. This one is a must-read for first-time entrepreneurs who want to understand how the venture capital game is played behind the scenes. Not many, if any, insiders write about the game with this degree of candor.
- I’ve enjoyed a number of pieces from Jerry Neumann’s Reaction Wheel blog.
- Alex Danco is another blogger whose writing I’ve enjoyed.
Here are a few of my favorites from outside of the world of business.
- George Orwell’s essays are probably the best of all time in the English language. The clarity of insight and exposition is such that I always enjoy reading his work, no matter the topic. Classics to start with (and short reads at that) are “Shooting an Elephant” and “Politics and the English Language”.
- The Red Queen and The Selfish Gene gave me quite a bit of insight into the workings and implications of evolution. I believe a few of the theories in these books have been disproven but the overall insight into understanding why humans are the way we are is invaluable.
- Man’s Search for Meaning has changed the lives of many readers for the better, and I count myself among them.
- Deep Work by Cal Newport: An unparalleled primer on productivity for creative workers. Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You is another gem from Newport; one of the best career books I’ve ever read. (Develop a “passion” rather than looking for it!)
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is a well-deserved classic.
- The Box: A surprisingly entertaining account of the container revolution in shipping. I did not realize how much of the modern world has been shaped by that decade!
- The Emperor of All Maladies: An excellent history of cancer.
- Endurance: A gripping account of Shackleton’s disastrous voyage, and a lesson in leadership.
- Eichmann in Jerusalem: As advertised, a lesson in the banality of evil. This book changed my view of the world significantly.
- Iron Coffins: A page-turning account of the submarine war in the Atlantic from the German perspective, and a lesson in competence and leadership.
- In Cold Blood: Some of the best long-form journalism ever written.
- Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Excellent essays by Joan Didion.
- Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life: A great adventure story.
- Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman: An ode to the joys of science, and of keeping technical work fun.
- Trust Me, I’m Lying: A peek under the covers of the PR industry. Now that the societal organs that shape and magnify the spread of ideas have become less institutionalized (e.g. bloggers and Instagrammers rather than the NYT editorial staff), so too has the game of how to influence the function of those organs shifted. This book illustrates how. An interesting point of comparison is Paul Graham’s essay The Submarine, which is evidently from an earlier era when the old guard in print media still had a much greater influence over which ideas spread.
Reading fiction has been a mainstay of my life. A few favorites follow:
- Cormac McCarthy: The Border Trilogy, especially The Crossing, has been something I’ve found myself thinking back to and quoting more than any other book. Blood Meridian is another classic.
- War and Peace: Lives up to its reputation. Some of the “war” sections, especially the plotting by generals, can drag on and might be worth skimming rather than reading, but the “peace” sections and the main characters’ parts in the “war” sections are some of the best fiction writing I’ve ever read.
- A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin has been the book that most quickly comes to mind when someone asks me my favorite book. It’s both a remarkable adventure story, a perspective on the beauty of the world that is likely to forever influence a reader’s view of it, and a source of great wisdom. I’ve read it twice despite its length.
- The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson is a new favorite. I picked it up after seeing it recommended online as an excellent piece of historical fiction set in the time of the Vikings, and it turned out to be not just that but one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Even though it was written less than a century ago, it reads like something out of the Decameron or Canterbury Tales and contains equally compelling adventure and social dynamics – something very few authors do well. This book deserves to be much better known in the English-speaking world, especially with how good the translation is. See also Michael Chabon’s review.
- Ernest Hemingway is another favorite. Two of my favorites from him are “The Sun Also Rises” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (both of which I’ve read multiple times).
- East of Eden by Steinbeck is a powerful story and Biblical exegesis. Another one of my all-time favorites. Steinbeck’s other work is consistently very good as well.
- Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald is one of the most unusual and beautiful books I’ve ever read. A story within a story, it paints the world in shades that nobody but Sebald could match. The translator deserves great credit for capturing the tone of this book.
- Stefan Zweig is a writer unjustly forgotten by history. His “The World of Yesterday” (a nonfiction work) is such an evocative portrait of pre-WW1 Europe than it permanently changed the way I perceive Western history and how the wars of the 20th century shattered the civilization that had been built up over centuries. His “The Post-Office Girl” is an understated and excellent novella.
- Stoner by John Williams is another underappreciated classic. A view into the inner life of a quiet man, it evokes unspoken struggles common to everyone.
- Charles Bukowski is another inimitable voice – like Sebald but perhaps the polar opposite. His Post Office is excellent.
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an excellent story and a quiet but firm indictment of communism.
- The Crucible: An all-too-human story and a reminder of our tendency to hunt down and destroy the lives of imagined internal enemies. Relevant to this day.
- I, Claudius is historical fiction at its finest. Graves was a classicist and used his knowledge to paint Roman society as realistically as possible. The sequel is also very good.
- Shantaram is a great story and a lesson in humanity.
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A well-crafted story largely set in the Burmese prison camps of WW2.
- The Naked and the Dead: Another WW2 story set in the Pacific, this one a time-tested classic.
- The Things They Carried is an excellent book about war and its ugliness.
- All Quiet on the Western Front: Another reminder of the ugliness, and the banality of the ugliness, of war.
- All the Light We Cannot See: A beautiful book. Yet another reminder of the irredeemable damage war does.
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: A classic coming-of-age story.
- Bonfire of the Vanities is a modern classic and a great send-up of a society that’s still recognizable in our country in 2020. Before Tom Wolfe’s death, I would have ranked him with Cormac McCarthy as my two favorite living authors.
- Two Years Before the Mast: Really great account of sailing as a merchant mariner by an author on leave from Harvard in the 1830s. Turns out that a lot about long sailing trips hasn’t changed since then! This seems like one of the books that was a huge hit in its time but is much less well known now – often a source of great reads that are a window into a different time and its way of thinking.
- The Good War, an Oral History of WW2: I picked this up by happenstance at an Airbnb and found it really interesting – the book is transcripts of interviews with people (soldiers as well as civilians) who had all sorts of different lives during World War 2. A great window into the 1940s and the mentality of people at the time.