Top Ten Books – 2014

Several of you have asked me for suggestions on books to read, so I’ve decided to try something new – a top 10 list from the past year.  We’ll see how this goes. Let me know what you think, and if enough people find it useful, I’ll do it again next year.

I read many thought-provoking and enjoyable books over the past 12 months.  Warning – I read very little fiction; I love to read about real people, historical episodes and books that describe how things work.  I’ve broken this list into a few categories that also align with my interests: business/management/economics, historical biographies and sports.  I highly recommend each of these books.

Business/ Management/ Economics:

  • Startup Land by Mikkel Svane.  If you want to learn about how companies really get off the ground, “Startup Land” is one of the most sincere and detailed recounts I’ve ever read, and @mikkelsvane writes openly, with humility and wit (knowing him well, this is very expected!)  This is a fun read – great for the holiday.
  • Moments of Impact by Lisa Solomon & Chris Ertel.  @Lisakaysolomon is my wife and best friend.  I’m so proud of her, and it was thrilling to watch her take the journey of writing the book.  The really good news is this is an excellent book.  If you need to figure out how to communicate with people in a way that will move them, this is your guide.  Check out the starter kit in the back to look like a pro fast.
  • The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh.  In this great book, Walsh talks about how he took the over the last place San Francisco 49ers and turned the team around, winning the Super Bowl just a few years later.  Walsh’s “Standard of Performance,” the lightening-rod he used to modify culture, is a concept I’ve been using in my own life.  Tons of wisdom for business managers in here.  H/T to @Rabois for this suggestion.
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.  @bhorowitz is a great writer and uses this book to both tell the story of Loudcloud/ Opsware and to relay a bunch of business/leadership suggestions in more of a user manual type approach.  Lots of good insights.  Plus, I liked reading great things about friends like @skupor and Jason Rosenthal.  Plus plus, I’ve got to respect a man who tried something out of the movie “Freaky Friday,” which I just watched with my kids, in a business context.
  • The Benefit and The Burden by Bruce Bartlett.  This is a fairly dry read, but if, like me, you like to geek out on understanding how our government really works, then you’ll really like this one.  Bartlett cuts through politics and examines tax policy in detail, scrutinizing the hackneyed arguments of both the Right and Left by looking at real data.  Spoiler alert – both the Republicans and the Democrats tend to feed us inaccurate, or, at a minimum, incomplete arguments on the topic of taxation, government spending and their impacts on the economy.

Historical Biographies:

  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  The story of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner from USC who survives innumerable atrocities and calamities as a WW II POW of the Japanese.  This is one of the best books I’ve ever read.
  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  The story of an improbable gold-medal winning Olympic 12-man crew team from the University of Washington at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin in front of Hitler.  The win is only a small part of the story.  Riveting story lines around survival in the depression era, the craftsmanship and art that is boat making and racing, and the evolution of propaganda in Nazi Germany make this book hard to put down.
  • Rosewater (fka Then They Came for Me) by Maziar Bahari.  The first person recount of being held unlawfully as a prisoner in Iran during the 2009 election cycle.  I’m a big Daily Show fan and this is the book about which Jon Stewart has recently made a movie.  Bahari is such a compelling character and the story ends well for him, but this is also a scary read about the murky inner workings of the Iranian state.

Sports

  • Brave Dragons by Jim Yardley.  This is really fun read about a reporter who embeds for a season with the first Chinese professional basketball team to hire an NBA coach (Bob Weiss).  It’s a great lesson in Chinese culture and the “minor leagues” of basketball.  The Bonzi Wells stories are priceless.
  • Rags to Roses – The Rise of Stanford Football by Joseph Beyda, George Chen & Sam Fisher. As a maniacal Stanford fan, I really enjoyed this book.  But, I think even CAL fans would find it an interesting read.  The story of the turnaround from a 1-11 Walt Harris team, replete with Bear Crawls and discontent, engineered by Jim Harbaugh is intriguing.  Although Stanford football dropped off from elite status this past year, Harbaugh inherited a miserable team and took it to a BCS game four seasons later.

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