2018 – Top 10 Books

For the past several Decembers, I’ve been sharing a list of my favorite books from the year. If you’re interested in my favorites from prior years, check out 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014.

I read very little fiction. I love reading about people, history and books that describe how things work. I’ve broken this list into Business/Technology, How Things Work (this year, lots of politics and government reads), and Biographies/ History.

Business/ Technology

  • The Perfect Weapon by David Sanger. Sanger is a very experienced NYT writer and he explores the brief history of state-sponsored cyber aggression. The book is incredibly well researched and exposes the flaws and risks to cyber attack inherent in societal and governmental systems. He’s also an excellent writer, making this a great read.
  • 7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy by Hamilton Helmer. This is a very succinct and easy to understand book that works through the seven ways companies can compete effectively. Its a great book for anyone starting, building or investing in companies.
  • High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil. This book is chock full of insights regarding how to best build and manage once a company has graduated from startup stage and has entered the high growth phase, with 100 or more people. Elad has a ton of experience and he interviews a host of other great folks including Reid Hoffman, Mariam Naficy and Naval Ravikant. For more on this one, check out my podcast episode with Elad.

How Things Work:

  • Dark Money by Jane Mayer. This book explores the impact that extreme wealth has had on the Republican party and conservatism more generally. From the Koch brothers to the Cato Institute to the Federalist Society, I learned a ton about the systematic efforts underway to reshape politics. Fascinating (and somewhat scary) read.
  • From Cold War to Hot Peace by Michael McFaul. As the former US Ambassador to Russia under Obama (and Stanford alum and professor), McFaul has an incredible vantage point from which to trace US/ Russia relations from Perestroika to today’s sorry state of affairs. Like Red Notice (a favorite from my 2015 list), this book is a good reminder of the adversary that is Putin.
  • The Most Dangerous Branch by David Kaplan. This is a really enlightening book. Kaplan asserts powerfully that the Supreme Court has far over-reached its intended purpose, now legislating as much as it rules on matters of the constitution. He exposes the hypocrisy of the theories of “originalism” and “textualism,” repeatedly showing how justices claiming to adhere to these principles stray from them when convenient to do so. He also personalizes the current justices, which is quite helpful when trying to understand why and how the court rules as it does.
  • Quiet by Susan Cain. This is a terrific book outlining the virtues of being an introvert. Cain discusses the many instances that situations tend to favor extroverts but where introverts actually can thrive. If you’re an introvert or know an introvert, there’s a lot to learn from this book.

Biographies/ History

  • The Tunnels by Greg Mitchell. This is a great historical retrace of the Berlin Wall and the many brave efforts to tunnel underneath the wall to retrieve family and friends from the evils of the Stasi. There are compelling stories in the book, as well as lots of incredible episodes from history. Who knew that JFK hated the media and railed against it as much as Trump, for example?
  • The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone. This book recounts the life and times of Elizabeth Friedman, one of the first cypherist code breakers the US military was able to deploy. She plied her trade during WW I and WW II, eventually cracking the German enigma machine twice (the FBI tried to take credit the first time, tipping off the Germans who re-encrypted everything). Until this book, she hadn’t gotten the credit she deserved (not surprisingly men took most of the credit for her work), but now the real story is told. Long but great.
  • Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. This is a page turner. The scandalous story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos seems like fiction. Carreyrou does an amazing job resisting intimidation and avoiding hyperbole. He dug deep for the facts here and the result is stranger than fiction. A must read.

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