Some books we're reading this summer 2024

a16z crypto editorial

Here are some books the a16z crypto team is reading and recommending this summer. The list covers everything from dark academia fantasy to free market economics texts, and chronicles of engineering history to classic literature adaptations.

Repeat recommendations reveal our longstanding interests. This season’s repeats included Unreasonable Hospitality by Eleven Madison Park’s Will Guidara on lessons learned in the restaurant business (that are applicable well beyond); Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir and meditation on an ancient art; and various books by James C. Scott, the Yale political scientist whose treatises on statehood and social planning are perennial favorites.

See more of our recommendations in reading lists from seasons past: including summers 2023, 2022, 2019; and winters 2023, 2022, 201820172016.

…from Brittney Burrows, events team

Babel by R.F. Kuang

“This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read since Name of the Wind. It is a mix of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell with some King Killer Chronicles and Harry Potter thrown in, along with the devastating beauty of Song of Achilles. The story is heartbreaking and left me shattered and crying, and yet I cannot recommend it enough. Read for: Magical schools, found family, revolution.”

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (book #14 in the Wheel of Time series)

About 500 pages in, I began actively avoiding reading out of fear of what was inevitably to come and sadness over the ending of this series which has been a part of my life for the last five years. The slow and intense buildup to the last battle is excruciating, and I do not recommend reading this series if you aren’t ready for hundreds of pages of walking through deserts and battling trollocs. Sanderson (who took the series over when Jordan passed unexpectedly) does a fantastic job of building tension and unraveling the final battle on multiple fronts until it finally explodes in an epic finale.

In addition to the battle itself, readers will be impressed with the expertly tracked storylines of every one of the over 20 main characters, all of whom have satisfying endings. The last 300 pages of this book had me crying non stop, but it was all worth it. The wheel turned, the pattern was woven, and the third age came to an end in an unexpected way, but the only way it could have. My new standard for finales. Read for: prophecy, redemption, epic scale, glory and tears.

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa (translated by Louise Heal Kawai)

“This sweet and cozy read is both heartwrenching and heartwarming, all at once. It is filled with wise observations and sage advice that made it feel like a safe place to escape to while Mr. Proprietor escaped his own labyrinths. Anyone who loves books will find themselves reflected within these pages.

On the translation: Translating from Japanese is, I assume, very difficult, given all of the unique words that English does not have direct matches for. Given this difficulty, the translator did a fantastic job of imbuing this book with the same calming cadence of Japanese. Some untranslatable Japanese words were also kept in the English version which I enjoyed.

…from Michael Blau, deal team

Broken Money: Why Our Financial System is Failing Us and How We Can Make it Better by Lyn Alden

“Alden’s lessons and insights from the history of money present a strong case for how decentralized digital currencies can address both past and current challenges with monetary systems.”

Payments Systems in the U.S.: A Guide for the Payments Professional by Carol Coye Benson, Scott Loftesness, Russ Jones

“This textbook details many aspects of payment systems (wire transfers, ATMs, credit cards, debit cards, etc.). You probably won’t read this cover-to-cover, but it is a great resource if you want to understand the actual flow of money after a credit card swipe. 🙂 More than anything, understanding the complexity of our existing payment systems made me even more excited about the future of blockchain-based payment networks.”

…from Joseph Bonneau, research team

Flying Blind by Peter Robison

…from Sam Broner, deal team

Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott

“Seeing Like a State felt like it cleared some of the fog from how I see organizations operate at every scale. I have been recommending it to anyone running a startup, business, community. Yes, you are what you measure, but you need to decentralize control and encourage grassroots innovation — lessons especially true in the blockchain space. Also, the first half of the book is an awesome history lesson on early bureaucracies.”

…from Chris Dixon, founding general partner

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

“A masterclass in making the creative process a way of life. The lessons apply whether you’re making music (like Rubin), writing, painting, coding, or investing in tech: be open to new ideas, willing to experiment, and ready to move past failure. Crisp, accessible, thought-provoking.”

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough

“McCullough is an exhaustive researcher, and he knows how to weave a narrative. His account of the extraordinary efforts behind one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 19th century is for anyone interested in innovation, technology, and bold leadership. A celebration of the will to build.”

…from Shari Doherty, marketing team

Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson

“I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of books lately that explore the themes of grit and endurance. Fascinating read on the science and psychology of endurance. I particularly enjoyed the stories woven in between the research and science like the author’s behind the scenes access during Nike’s 2-hour marathon project and the chapter on pain featuring cyclists Jens Voight and Eddy Merckx.”

How Bad Do you Want It?: Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle by Matt Fitzgerald

“A diverse collection of epic race stories with insightful and inspirational interviews from elite athletes on what was happening in their brains and bodies during their most challenging races.”

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

“A captivating memoir from Murakami with unexpected reflections on running and writing and their intersection and impact on his life.”

Choosing to Run by Des Linden

“I devoured this memoir. Boston Marathon Champion Des Linden is a gem and grit personified.”

…from Jay Drain, Jr., deal team

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

“As someone who raced their first marathon this spring, my consumption of running related content probably 10x’d this year and Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was one my favorite reads of the winter. Murakami’s memoir captures the most intimate aspects of running. It captures the introspection the sport evokes, as well as the physical and psychological turbulence of training for and running a marathon. The book is humbling, inspirational, and meditative in a way that is characteristic of Murakami’s style; it’s particularly refreshing in a year where running related media has grown chock full of shallow, influencer-style content.

Murakami’s book is a no-brainer for readers that love running or are getting into the sport, but is incisive enough to resonate with anyone familiar with the commitment and self-discovery that comes with any serious and dedicated pursuit, be it running, writing, or another endeavor.”

…from Adina Fischer, technical operations team

From Hoodies to Suits: Innovating Digital Assets for Traditional Finance by Annelise Osborne

“I really enjoyed reading this book. It bridges between traditional finance and technical engineering and deep crypto. Both sets of people are needed to continue to grow the web3 ecosystem.”

…from Robert Hackett, editorial team

James by Percival Everett

“I picked up Everett’s new novel James after seeing the film American Fiction, which is an adaptation of one of his earlier novels, Erasure. I was not disappointed. James is an inspired work. Everett’s style is full of irony, compassion, and verve. A perfect homage to Mark Twain, whose Adventures of Huckleberry Finn inspired it.”

Writing to Learn by William Zinsser

“I recently learned that the author of On Writing Well, one of the craft’s bibles, has another book on writing. If you’re going to read just one, read On Writing Well, but if you’re a Zinsser superfan, as I count myself, go for both. This sequel is full of clean, clear, vigorous writing samples from masters like Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and many others. His thesis is that anyone can learn any subject — no matter how complex — by writing about it in plain, simple language. It’s a beautiful conviction, and all the more so for being true.”

…from Andy Hall, research team

Blight: Fungi and the Coming Pandemic by Emily Monosson

“An open-minded and thought-provoking book that doesn’t just mean to terrify you about fungi pandemics but instead gets you thinking about evolutionary competition and the strategic battles that rage between a variety of living creatures and the fungi that sometimes extinguish them. Fans of crypto will notice many logical links to the challenges of designing systems that anticipate and mitigate strategic adversaries.”

…from Mason Hall, deal team

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time is a masterful blend of science fiction and evolutionary biology that takes readers on an epic journey through space and time. This novel explores the rise and fall of civilizations, the resilience of life, and the unintended consequences of humanity’s quest for survival. It’s so hard to make epic, hard science fiction books both intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging, and this book is both. It will captivate your imagination and leave you pondering long after you are finished. The themes of this book are so deeply grounded in reality that they feel like the fictional extension of Dawkins, Dennett, and Deutsch.”

…from Bill Hinman, policy team

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane 

Great beach read — Dennis Lehane at his best.”

The CIA: An Imperial History by Hugh Wilford

“A new angle on the Agency told largely through the actions of key players.”

…from Maggie Hsu, go-to-market team

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

“This book introduced me to the idea of kairos. The ancient Greeks had two words for time – one was chronos, the standard linear, chronological time that we are all familiar with, as measured by clocks. The second was kairos, representing the opportune time, or the “right” time, that is only experienced by existing in the now. Kairos is a timeless time that occurs during a decisive or meaningful moment. None of us can change chronos (despite sometimes wanting time to move faster, and sometimes slower!), but we can all increase the amount of time we live in kairos. This is an older bestseller, and it’s worth a re-read.”

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 by Joanna Faber and Julie King

“I’m a proponent of mental models in web3. However, upon seeking the equivalent mental models for parenting, I was left wanting. This book has several frameworks and tactical tools for resolving conflict, handling emotions, and my favorite – getting kids to move from activity to activity in a timely and non-stressful manner.”

…from Brett Kim, engineering team

Tao Te Ching by Laozi

“The truth is within you!”

…from Scott Duke Kominers, research team

Sid Meier’s MEMOIR!: A Life in Computer Games by Sid Meier

“The creator of Civilization — as well as dozens of other computer games — recounts how he and his collaborators built what became one the greatest game franchises in the history of, well, civilization. In addition to tracing the history of computer hardware, graphics, AI, and game design, Meier’s memoir is full of top-notch advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and creators. It’s also laugh-out-loud hilarious.”

The Noh Mask Murder by Akimitsu Takagi

“A locked-room mystery with a multi-layered author–narrator–detective structure so innovative and unique as to rival Agatha Christie’s groundbreaking novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. As with other honkaku-style mysteries, the solution yields to logic — all the evidence is written down. Yet even so, one is left grasping at threads as the intricate story rises to its almost poetic climax.”

𝛗, 𝛑, e, and i by David Perkins

“Fun to read linearly, but even better to leaf through. You never know when you’ll happen onto your new favorite identity featuring some of math’s best-known numbers. (For example, check out pages 89-91!)”

Glinky by Ray Vukcevich

“What’s that, up in the sky — is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Glinky — the Glinkest sci-fi short story that ever did Glink! What’s that mean? Who cares! You know you’re curious now, so why not read it — come on, do it for the Glinkster! (Available in multiple anthologies: Year’s Best SF 10 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, and Boarding Instructions by Ray Vukcevich. Content warning: contains Glinky.)”

AI Needs You: How We Can Change AI’s Future and Save Our Own by Verity Harding

“Harding, an expert on the interplay between artificial intelligence and public policy, uses the last ~century of technology movements as a lens into understanding the emergence of modern AI. This ‘humanist manifesto for the age of AI’ makes a case that the impact of AI on society is far from preordained, and it’s incumbent on the body politic — i.e., all of us — to help drive the technology towards its maximum social potential.”

Graph Theory and Additive Combinatorics: Exploring Structure and Randomness by Yufei Zhao

“My friend Yufei Zhao has written a beautifully exposited, high-energy text on how structure emerges from apparent randomness in combinatorics, and vice versa. A fun introduction to the ethos of the field, covering everything from Szemerédi’s Theorem to the card game SET.”

The Curious Culture of Economic Theory by Ran Spiegler

“A fascinating, dynamic collection of essays examining the intellectual history and philosophy of economic theory. Spiegler discusses the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the way economists reason about topics like strategic behavior, (ir)rationality, and information — simultaneously teaching the conceptual frameworks and anthropologizing the field.”

…from Eddy Lazzarin, engineering team

Against the Grain by James C. Scott

“In Against the Grain, James C. Scott inverts the commonly-believed logics of civilization: animals, plants, and fire domesticates man; the lifestyles of so-called ‘barbarians’ were cleaner, healthier, and emerged as important and economically necessary counter-parts to states; these early states didn’t develop taxation — instead, the ability to tax agriculturalists by seizing highly visible above ground domesticated cereals is what led to early states. The economic, technological, and political systems we inhabit all have accompanying stories to explain how they came about. In some cases, these stories are inversions of a more mundane but more powerful real explanation. In what ways are we making the same mistakes today?”

The Ancient City by Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges

“What did the ancients’ ancients think? We have understandably focused on the histories and beliefs of the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Indians since we have greater access to their writings. But what do we know about the beliefs of their ancients? That is, the beliefs of the Proto-Indo-European peoples whose culture is shared by ancient Romans, Greeks, Indians, Persians, etc., and which became the foundation for western civilization.

The Ancient City (1864) is surprisingly readable despite its age. It explores what we can infer about these people based on ancient writing and linguistics. The result is the cleanest single articulation I’ve read of the development of western culture until Christianity. Thanks to Marc Andreessen who has recommended this book for years.”

…from Mike Manning, marketing team

Stop-Time: A Memoir by Frank Conroy

“This is a coming-of-age story and a recounting of rebellious teenage years that, despite being true, was more fascinating to me than JD Salinger’s fiction. The writing is impeccable.”

Nuclear War by Annie Jacobsen

“Annie Jacobsen draws from top sources to outline the world’s nuclear capabilities and policies, in the context of a hypothetical attack on the U.S. It’s eye-opening in many ways, one being that it will keep you awake at night.”

…from Collin McCune, policy team

Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect by Will Guidara

…from Valeria Nikolaenko, research team

A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols

“An amazing account of the first round-the-world race, solo sailors going non-stop! Held in 1968-1969, with participation widely open to anybody – the reason why most of the racers did not have much prior experience. The winner finished the journey in 312 days (current record for solo is 42 days). I think there are a lot of parallels to start-up founders: most did not know what the journey entailed, they had to fix major issues with the boats under sail, and the journey itself felt for some so much more important than the money price and honor awaiting them at the end.”

…from Aadi Shidham, deal team

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Indirectly does a great job of describing the undercurrents of what I think of as ‘creation culture’ in the western U.S. Also — Timshel!”

…from Arianna Simpson, deal team

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson

It’s a super captivating (true!) story — I recommend not reading the back cover (or anything about the book in advance) as it’s much more fun to have the mystery unfold to you at the same time it unfolds to the characters.”

…from Ross Shuel, network operations team

The Wager by David Grann

The Wager is a gripping true tale of survival and humanity on the high seas during the age of exploration.”

…from Aiden Slavin, policy team

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

“Masterfully interweaving the stories of a greenhorn CIA operative, a wayward marine private, and a proselytizing Canadian nurse, this propulsive Vietnam War spy thriller doubles as a reflection on American history, myth, and much more.”

…from Helen Stoddard, events team

Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect by Will Guidara

“What I loved about this book was the ‘behind the scenes’ insights with a very driven and charismatic leader. With the relentless focus on customers at the center of the experience, its fascinating to see outcomes based on who is leading. Great read with fun personal examples.”

…from Tim Sullivan, editorial team

The Model Thinker: What You Need to Know to Make Data Work for You by Scott Page

The Model Thinker came out a few years ago, but I recently revisited it after reading Algorithms to Live By. The book teaches a bunch of mathematical models, from networks to Markov chains to signaling, and shows how they apply to data sets. Which makes it sound as dry as dust — far from the truth. Instead, Page shows how to use these mental models in the real world and argues that, since any one model is a poor representation of the real world, we need a multiplicity of models to navigate our lives. Summer is a great time to add some new tools to your mental toolbox.”

Slow Horses by Mick Herron

“What happens to MI5 spies who can’t be fired but who are no longer fit for the A-Team? These misfits get remanded to Slough House, where they work on the worst possible espionage jobs — killing time until they quit or retire. In this inventive, smart, and fun spy novel, these so-called “slow horses” find themselves thrust back into the the limelight when a kidnapping spirals into a deadly conspiracy. It’s the first in a series, which promises many more hours of reading (and an Apple TV series with Gary Oldman).”

…from Guy Wuollet, deal team

The Modern Diet is a Biosecurity Threat by David Oks

An interesting and practical analysis on how and why the modern diet is killing us.”

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

A beautiful and haunting trek through the human experience and western America.”

…from Ali Yahya, deal team

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

“Packed with insight about how to think about basic economics.”


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