Top Ten Books – 2015

Last December, I experimented with a list of my top 10 books of 2014. Many of you told me you found the list useful, so I’ve decided to share my top 10 reads of 2015 (actually top 12 books since I couldn’t whittle this down to 10)!

I read several good books over the past year. As a reminder, 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/management/economics, history/biographies/historical biographies, and personal interest/sports.  I highly recommend each of these books.

Business/Management/Economics:

  • Future Crimes by Marc Goodman. If you want to understand what’s really going on in the cyber-crime world, this is an amazing book. Goodman (@FutureCrimes) manages to create a page-turner from what could be a dry topic. Spoiler alert – you will be scared after reading this book, but it will help put all the hacks in the news into better context.
  • Design to Grow by David Butler & Linda Tischler. My wife turned me on to this book and I’ve since had the chance to meet David Butler, the VP of Innovation at Coca-Cola. This is a fascinating book about Butler’s journey, helping transform and scale Coca-Cola via principles of design, including making design everyone’s responsibility and incorporating a holistic view of the concept. Startups will benefit meaningfully from this book.
  • The Outsiders by William Thorndike. This book details the styles and philosophies of some of the most successful CEOs in terms of shareholder return. Although they come from a variety of industries, from Katharine Graham at The Washington Post to Bill Anders at General Dynamics, the leaders profiled all share common traits such as independence, a willingness to separate from the herd, making bold, albeit unpopular, moves when warranted, and maniacal focus on capital allocation. A good “back to basics” read.
  • Zero to One by Peter Thiel. There are some very compelling ideas in this book such as the importance of technical evolution in the context of globalization, the necessity of founding a company on strong principles where everyone is fanatical and right about something controversial, and monopoly as the virtuous goal of most businesses. The chapters don’t hang together well (the books is actually a collection of lecture notes), but the ideas make it worth the read.

Biographies/ Historical Biographies/ History:

  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. If you’re interested in the history of humankind, this is a marvelous book. I couldn’t put it down and some of the core arguments, such as why homo sapiens came to dominate the earth, the role of imagination in our evolution and the importance of numbers in our ascendancy, have really changed my perspective on the world.
  • The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. I re-read this book in anticipation of a family visit to Gettysburg this past summer.  The book details the three day battle of Gettysburg, which, arguably helped shape US history more than any other episode of the past 200 years. The writing is superb and the various vantage points from which the story unfolds make you feel like you’re there.
  • Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance. Elon Musk is among the most important business leaders of our generation. This book does a good job explaining from where he came and what consumes him today.  The journeys of both SpaceX and Tesla are thrilling to track as well.
  • Red Notice by Bill Browder. This gut-wrenching true story details the rise of Browder’s Russia-focused hedge fund and subsequent attempted annihilation of the fund, Browder and his team by the Russian government. Russia is portrayed as essentially lawless and a very scary place, which jibes with stories I’ve heard from folks who’ve done business there.
  • Spare Parts by Joshua Davis. If you’d like to put our country’s immigration debate into context, this excellent read recounts the true story of a group of undocumented high school students in Arizona who enter a college-level underwater robotics competition, using grit and guile to punch well above their weight class. Another one that will really make you examine preconceived notions.

Personal Interest / Sports

  • The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. We’ve all been programmed to believe that stress is bad for us. In this book, McGonigal convincingly challenges this notion. Most of the stress we face day-to-day can actually enhance our health and our lives if embraced and viewed in context. I’ve believed this for years and found it empowering to review McGonigal’s well researched arguments and her practical steps for stress transformation.
  • How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. This is a great book for all parents of child-age kids. Julie was an RA at Stanford when I was a freshman and subsequently married a friend of mine. She’s brilliant and very experienced with kids and college-aged young adults. The book is chock full of great advice and useful reminders.
  • Scorecasting by Jon Wertheim & Tobias Moskowitz. This is a great book for sports geeks who like numbers (like yours truly). Learn about why home teams win most NBA games, if defense really wins championships and whether there is really no I in team.

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