Some Books We’re Reading This Summer
Here’s a list of reads — covering everything from algorithms, cryptography, markets, and system design to time travel, space, food, and philosophy — that members of the a16z crypto team are reading and recommending. Whether you’re looking for vacation readings for education or for entertainment, prefer non-fiction or fiction (or science fiction), there’s something on this list for everyone…
By the way: You can also see past recommended reads from some of the folks below in here, here, and here — a recurring theme across all of these lists is books on the history and arc of technology innovation. And if you want to read some software-related whitepapers/ forum posts over the years, check some out here (the list below also includes some papers as well). Finally, if you haven’t already subscribed to our ‘web3 weekly’ newsletter — which curates resources, including research papers, for those seeking to understand and go deeper on all things crypto and web3 — be sure to subscribe now to regularly get other recommended reads!
…from Michael Blau, investing & engineering teams:
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths.
“Even if you didn’t take an algorithms and data structures class in college, you will love this book. It applies famous algorithms and data structures to things we do in life everyday.”
…from Sam Broner, investing team intern:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.
“A beautiful book, both a comedy and epic, about two young men discovering themselves while trying to build a comic book empire in NYC. The book is worth reading in its own right, but of course I observed some themes that seem relevant to what crypto addresses today: the characters get screwed out of ownership as creators; geography has traditionally been an unfortunate constraint to success; and comic books had some of the first distributed communities.”
…from Sonal Chokshi, editorial team:
Station Eleven; The Glass Hotel; and Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel.
“Read these, and in this order, to experience the brilliant ‘multiverse’ (or alternate and simulated) realities that Mandel stitches together across several characters and across several different time periods. I also loved showrunner Patrick Somerville & team’s re-imagining of the first book as a limited TV series — one of the best novel adaptations I have ever seen on screen, and that was possibly truer in essence to the original. (Couldn’t help but see many crypto themes in Station Eleven as well — for instance, DAOs as micro-communities around shared interests, diverse models for governance, decentralization; expertise as earned not credentialed; much more.)”
The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman. “This book is so so so good I can’t stop recommending it to people! Not only is it relevant to so many things across art and commerce — how culture is made, how nostalgia inspires, how generations reference past ones and create new futures — but as an editor, I could not stop wondering about the process behind the outcomes: exactly how did Klosterman do his research, writing, editing, and re-editing?!! Because this is a masterpiece, somehow distilling an entire generation into a single, very readable book, with a clear structure and strong curated point of view… yet still has a sense of comprehensiveness at the same time. I am in awe of this work!” [ed note: related podcast where we briefly discuss/ themes]
…from Chris Dixon, founding general partner:
The Time Traveler’s Almanac: A Time Travel Anthology edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer.
“I’ve always found time travel fascinating. Besides the interesting philosophical questions it raises, time travel also taps into powerful human emotions like nostalgia, regret, and hope. This anthology collects many of the all-time great time-travel short stories. Besides being great reading, it’s also a great way to discover authors you might not have heard of before.”
…from Sam Gelt, deal operations:
The Human Cosmos: Civilization and the Stars by Jo Merchant.
“If you like human history, evolution of religions and society, and our historical relationships with astronomy you will *love* this book. It’s a bit surface level, but is a fantastic overview of humanity’s relationship with the stars, and how that relationship has affected society throughout time. (It’s also not about horoscopes and zodiac signs, except in a historical context.)”
…from Emily Graff, people practices/ recruiting team:
The World As I See It by Albert Einstein.
“The world has dwelt on the science that Einstein pioneered, yet is largely unaware of his good works to help others; this short book shows another side to him. It is an eclectic collection of notes and letters on a broad range of subjects like life, love, happiness, and death.”
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine. “A great book on ancient stoic philosophy but for modern times: This book demonstrates how wise ancient philosophers were, and how they dealt with similar problems we still face today. Some of us completely overlook the power of tranquility and virtue as a way to add meaning to our lives.”
Building Reuse: Sustainability, Preservation, and the Value of Design by Kathryn Rogers Merlino. “An amazing book for architecture and sustainability buffs. The author outlines green reasons for reusing and reimagining existing buildings (and all the case studies she describes are located in my home of the Pacific Northwest).”
…from Robert Hackett, editorial team:
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.
“After chronicling the long arc of human history in Sapiens, Harari casts his gaze forward to the as-yet-unwritten future of our species. He puts into perspective just how epochal a time it is to be alive today.” [ed note: related podcast with the author]
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders. “Keep the reader hooked from line to line; subvert expectation; achieve eternality through specificity… these are just some of the lessons Saunders imparts in his MFA ‘workbook’ covering classics from four Russian writing masters. Saunders’ (and his teachers’) analytical wit and wisdom will heighten anyone’s appreciation or application of the art of storytelling.”
…from Maggie Hsu, go-to-market team:
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker.
“Gathering IRL is a fundamental human need, but too often gatherings are wasted. This book provides approaches for how to gather more meaningfully.”
…from Brett Kim, investing team intern:
Sophie’s World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder.
“This book inspired one of my favorite songs, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’ by Spiritualized — and it got me into philosophy. Flush with secretive letters, nostalgic analogies, and alter egos, this exploration into fantasy is both lighthearted and substantive.”
…from Scott Duke Kominers, research team:
Auctions: The Social Construction of Value by Charles Smith.
“This classic and vivid work of sociology explores how auctions have emerged throughout society as a way of establishing community consensus around value. (Sound familiar?)” [ed note: related podcast on auction design & web3]
The Inner Lives of Markets: How People Shape Them — And They Shape Us by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan. “Ray Fisman and a16z crypto’s own [research editor] Tim Sullivan give an elegant and intuitive introduction to how technology and careful design can transform markets by improving underlying incentives.”
Who Gets What — and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design by Alvin Roth. “Al Roth’s book is the perfect complement: a combination memoir and compendium of case studies on real-world market design.”
The Creator Revolution: How Today’s Creative Talents Are Shaping Our Tomorrow by Catherine Yeo. “Drawing upon her own experiences as a creator, as well as a range of interviews and other sources, my (undergraduate!) student Catherine Yeo documents the rise of the creator economy and the extraordinary opportunities it creates, as well as challenges around labor, community, and burnout. Yeo provides hands-on tips and – especially exciting for the crypto audience – surveys a number of different ways in which web3 offers the potential for a more inclusive and rewarding creator future.”
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. “This classic science fiction novel — the first ever to win the Hugo Award — is a fascinating meditation on the mechanisms of law in a society where telepathy is possible. While fiction, the questions and challenges the book raises are relevant for a world where law is coming to rely more on AI.”
Mathematical Puzzles: A Connoisseur’s Collection by Peter Winkler. “This is hands-down my favorite mathematical puzzle book of all time. QED.”
…from Valeria Nikolaenko, research team:
Proofs, Arguments, and Zero-Knowledge by Justin Thaler.
“Great in-depth coverage of zero-knowledge proofs. (It is also available for download online.)”
…from Ross Shuel, network operations:
Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick.
“This book introduces the science of non-linear dynamical systems with brilliant and beautifully strange ideas. When I first read Chaos in college, it fundamentally reshaped the lens through which I view and analyze the world. If you aren’t already intimately familiar with chaos theory, it may reshape how you see the world today.”
…from Justin Simcock, security team:
One from Many: Visa and the Rise of Chaordic Organization by Dee Hock.
“Philosophical reflection on the genesis and growth of the Visa financial network.”
KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money by J.M.R Higgs. “The story of musical band The KLF, told through the powerful ideas that drove them and that had to be brought into existence.”
…from Arianna Simpson, general partner:
Trust by Hernan Diaz.
“An incredibly well-written novel; has a super well-designed story arc.”
…from Porter Smith, deal and network operations:
Project Hail Mary: A Novel by Andy Weir.
“Great look at life in deep space, and the science it would take to get there, from the author of The Martian.”
…from Helen Stoddard, events team:
The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger.
“Great business and life lessons contextualized and illustrated using real examples and moments. Great pacing, thoughtful points of focus; really made you feel and understand the challenges and opportunities of building a successful business, career, and life. Both inspirational and educational.”
…from Tim Sullivan, editorial team:
Where the Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon.
“The story of the birth of the internet from before ARPANET through its commercialization. It feels relevant to revisit the earlier history of computing given the new computing paradigms we’re in today.”
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner. “Gertner is great on the details of how AT&T used Bell Labs to develop fundamentally new science and technology to solve business problems. The art of the management of the scientists at the lab (some of whom went on to become Nobel Prize winners) is telling, although Gertner’s desire to paint a grand theory of innovation is less convincing.”
…from Cindy Tenner, ecosystem engagement:
The Midnight Library: A Novel by Matt Haig.
“An interesting sci-fi-ish novel about a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. All the feels!”
…from Guy Wuollet, investing team:
The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work by Phillip Rogaway.
“Essential reading for understanding why cryptography matters in society. (It’s a paper not a book, but close enough!)
…from Ali Yahya, general partner:
Designing an Internet by David Clark.
“A great thought experiment of what the internet might look like if it were designed again today with the benefit of hindsight. Its lessons are very general and so apply to systems design more broadly.”
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