2016 – Top 10 Books

For the past two Decembers, I’ve shared my favorite 10 books of the year. These posts have surprisingly been some of my most popular, so I’ve decided to share my top 10 reads of 2016 (actually top 11 books since I couldn’t whittle this down to 10)! If you’re hungry for more books, check out my list from 2014 and 2015.

I read several good books in ’16. I read very little fiction; I love to read about 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/economics, how the world works and biographies/auto-biographies/historical biographies. I highly recommend each of these books.

Business/Economics:

  • Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter. This is a detailed recount of the story of Stuxnet, the first known computer malware to effectively cripple critical infrastructure, in this case Iran’s clandestine nuclear reactors. Zetter manages to weave a riveting tale. If you want to put Russia’s hack of our presidential election in context, this book is a must read.
  • Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth & Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos. This is a fantastic book. I’ve been to China 49 times in the past 11 years, but I learned a ton about the country from reading this book. Osnos lived in China for several years, but he wrote the book as he was leaving the country, giving him license to be candid. He paints his picture of China from the vantage point of those chasing fortune, those seeking the truth (via journalism primarily) and others practicing faith. Its balanced, rich in detail and exceptionally written.
  • Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons. This is the zaniest of the books on my list this year. Lyons, the former author of the Fake Steve Jobs blog, tech reporter for Forbes and tech editor for Newsweek, obviously has a lot of experience with technology. Circumstance forces him to take a marketing job at HubSpot, a Boston-based SaaS company that is now public. He chronicles his tumultuous stint at the company. Apart from his mis-guided and weirdly misinformed stump speech about tech companies like Salesforce.com being overvalued, the book is quite entertaining – highly recommended for a fun holiday read.

How the World Works:

  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. This book reviews the major extinctions that have occurred in the past on earth, and suggests that we’re entering a similar period now. Rising carbon dioxide levels, acidifying our oceans, has played a major role in at least two, and possibly three, of Earth’s five previous extinctions. Whether you believe in man made climate change or not, this book makes clear the perils of the growing carbon dioxide we’re releasing into our environment. Its also an excellent blend of research and story telling.
  • Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution by John Paul Stevens. As a retired Supreme Court Justice, Stevens not only brings the constitution and several important Supreme Court rulings to life, he’s able to explain the ramifications these rulings have had on society. I found in particular his analyses of the rulings leading to the major revamping of gun rights and gerrymandering that have occurred in the past few decades to be fascinating. Anyone serious about understanding public policy should read this book.
  • How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. This is a very cool book. Johnson traces the “Hummingbird Effect,” where innovations in one field can trigger innovations in other, seemingly unrelated, areas, across six core innovations that have helped produce the modern world we live in today. How did the invention of the printing press help spark our mastery of molecular biology and astronomy? If you’re a geek like me, this book is treasure.
  • The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. If you’re interested in education and education policy this is a great book. Ripley evaluates the top school systems in the world, Korea and Finland, and a rising star, Poland, through the lens of three American high school exchange students attending school in each of these countries. She compares their experiences to those of their classmates in their schools back home. The findings are surprising and suggest a necessary overhaul of our public schooling systems in the US.

Biographies/ Autobiographies:

  • Tuff Juice by Caron Butler. This is an amazing story. Caron Butler, the UConn and NBA basketball star, recounts his life. He grew up dirt poor in the ghettos around Milwaukee. He became a drug dealer at age 12, carried a pistol most of his life and survived several gun fights. As he tried to clean up his life, he had to rely on a loan from a drug dealer friend to afford a year at private school (which ultimately got him to UConn) and the support and trust of a policeman who almost imprisoned Butler at just the time his life was turning around. The story is engrossing and provocative, helping portray how difficult it is for those born into poverty and violence.
  • Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Similar to Tuff Juice, this is an amazing story of a man born into poverty who finds a way to turn his life around. Vance’s story is so incredible – its both uplifting, seeing him climb his way out of a very difficult situation, and disturbing, realizing so many are living in a similar bubble, with no real access to the American dream. Another must read that will get you thinking.
  • Forward by Abby Wambach. While my family and I love watching the Stanford Women’s soccer games and I tune in for women’s soccer during the World Cup and Olympics, I’m just a casual fan. Despite that, Wambach’s story is amazingly compelling, not just because she’s the most prolific goal scorer in US history, but because she’s had to overcome so much and battle demons all along the way. Tracing her history dealing with society’s lack of acceptance of her sexual orientation, her battle with addiction and the immense physical pain she’s endured, this book is quite eye opening.
  • Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I’ve been a Nike shareholder since 1994, have read several books about the company and have even met Phil Knight a few times. This book taught me more about Nike than anything else I’ve read, and the story is just amazing. Equally important, I found Knight’s recounting of the struggles he went through building his team, sourcing and manufacturing shoes in Japan and then China, and financing the growth of the company to be full of great lessons for any founder and early stage investor. A great book, even if you’re wearing Under Armour!

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