Books for crypto builders and beyond (2023)

a16z crypto editorial

In the spirit of sharing what we’re reading — a regular tradition around here; see our just-published winter 2023 list of books (+games, movies, and more), as crowdsourced from team a16z crypto — below are some of the books we recently curated for the giveaway library at our second annual a16z crypto Founder SummitThis year we also included a few personal notes on why some of these “staff picks”… 

As always: The books in this list are not just for crypto founders! The list spans biographies to company building and organizational history to creative inspiration and science fiction, with something for everyone in crypto and beyond. 

…company building, how-to

The Art of Doing Science of Engineering: Learning to Learn by Richard Hamming (Stripe Press)

Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems by Martin Kleppmann

“An extremely digestible, yet very comprehensive examination of the big ideas in distributed systems, this is my #1 recommended book for young systems engineers. Kleppmann starts by breaking down exactly why distributed systems are challenging to build, maintain, and scale — before going through data models, system design, and the future of data systems. While the book does not touch explicitly on blockchains, it is a great foundation for any engineer looking to better understand the distributed systems necessary to build with blockchains.” — Sam Broner, engineering

Scaling People: Tactics for Management and Company Building by Claire Hughes Johnson (Stripe Press)

A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster

Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows

Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot by Matt Abrahams

Editor’s note: See also this related podcast where we discuss the themes of the book, and how they apply to technical settings including the crypto industry.

…builder biographies, organizations, and process of innovation

Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology by Chris Miller

“A concise and thoughtful history of the manufacturing of semiconductors, from the 1947 to 2022. It’s the kind of book that, when it ends, leaves you wondering what’s next — and situates all of us (as founders, engineers, technologists, writers, and participants) firmly in the history of computing.” — Eddy Lazzarin, CTO

The Making of Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes 

“This is my favorite non-fiction book of all time, and has new life with the release of the Oppenheimer film. But the book is so much more: Beginning in the late-19th century, Rhodes covers the advent of nuclear fission all the way through the making and dropping of the bombs and their aftermath. It’s compulsively readable; Rhodes is also a great science explainer. As for founders: it’s all about discovery; building; and world-changing projects.” — Tim Sullivan, editorial partner

Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed by Ben Rich and Leo Janos

How to Build a Car: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Formula 1 Designer by Adrian Newey

“This is the autobiography of Adrian Newey, a legendary Formula 1 Aerodynamicist. It provides incredible insight into the problem solving mind of a great engineer. Newey describes how he and his team would circumvent the strict Formula 1 restrictions and find extremely clever loopholes to eek out the smallest bit of gains over their competition. It’s truely insightful story of innovation and grit in a very cutthroat sport. The loopholes, performance improvements, and designs Newey has come up with have directly shaped what F1 cars look like today and have influnced everything from simple road going vehicles to high performance sports cars and EVs. A total treat if you’re into F1 at all, but still interesting.” — Sagar Dhawan, data scientist

Shoe Dog: A Memoir from the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins

“This is the incredible autobiographical story of David Goggins, one of only 36 African American Navy Seals and incredible endurance athlete. He was born with hole in his heart, with severe dyslexia. His father was an abusive drug dealer. Despite these challenges, Goggins had an amazing career both in the Armed Forces and as an extreme endurance athlete. His message is simple yet powerful: If I can do the things I’ve done with the deck seemingly stacked against me, imagine what you are capable of. This is a book I tell every founder/CEO I work with to read.” –Jason Rosenthal, operating partner

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing 

…tech trends, history, open source/ web3 themes

The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings On Linux And Open Source By An Accidental Revolutionary by Eric Raymond 

The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod 

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

The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age by James Dale Davidson & Wiliam Rees-Mogg

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly

…sci-fi and other fiction

The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem 

“Written in 1964, it is one of the first sci-fi novels to suggest an idea of ‘smartdust’, which consists of nano machines, all exact replicas of each other, that are harmless by themselves — but when they form a cloud, they become super-intelligent. This smartdust idea strongly resembles a blockchain! The novel itself is very gripping high-quality sci-fiction as well.” — Valeria Nikolaenko, research partner

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson 

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

…more creative inspiration

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Ruben

The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries, and Marvels of Christopher Nolan by Tom Shone

…selected repeats from last year’s list 

The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea by John Micklethwait & Adrian Woolrdige

Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes 

Designing An Internet by David Clark

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Coding Democracy: How Hackers Are Disrupting Power, Surveillance, and Authoritarianism by Maureen Webb

curated by Sonal Chokshi and Brittney Burrows