In previous posts, I provided must-read suggestions from some of the most famous entrepreneurs in the world. If I were to generalize, each reading list would have the following "personality":

Mark Zuckerberg's amazingly diverse list (it includes a 14th-century treatise on economics, a groundbreaking study of U.S. race relations, and a rewrite of Orwell's 1984) is imaginative, eclectic, and thought-provoking:

1. Dealing With China

Subtitle: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower

Author: Hank Paulson

Summary: A Goldman Sachs executive's observations on China's rise as an economic power. Or, if you prefer, a battle between a giant vampire squid and a fire-breathing dragon to consume the entire world, as told from the squid's perspective.

Best quote: "We face daunting challenges in today's increasingly complex and inter-connected world. Almost all of them, from cybersecurity to opening big markets for American exports, will be easier if the United States and China can work together or in complementary ways. Our task will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to solve if the world's two most important economic powers work against each other.

2. Gang Leader for a Day

Subtitle: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

Author: Sudhir Venkatesh

Summary: A graduate student spends almost a decade hanging out with J.T., the head of a crack-dealing ring, creating an uneasy friendship while learning about entrepreneurism on the wrong side of the law. This book is best read alongside of The New Jim Crow (see below), which explains how government policy has created the ideal conditions for crack-dealing rings to prosper.

Best quote: "J.T. once asked me what sociologists had to say about gangs and inner-city poverty. I told him that some sociologists believed in a 'culture of poverty'--that is, poor blacks didn't work because they didn't value employment as highly as other ethnic groups did, and they transmitted this attitude across generations. 'So you want me to take pride in the job, and you're only paying me minimum wage?' J.T. countered. 'It don't sound like you think much about the job yourself.' His tone was more realistic than defensive. In fact, his rejoinder echoed the very criticism that some sociologists applied to the 'culture of poverty' view."

3. On Immunity

Subtitle: An Inoculation

Author: Eula Biss

Summary: An intelligent and surprisingly sympathetic inquiry into why some people are so confused and fearful about immunization that they don't get their children vaccinated. In a larger sense, the book explains why people deny science when it runs contrary to their own emotions.

Best quote: "The fact that the press is an unreliable source of information was one of the refrains of my conversations with other mothers, along with the fact that the government is inept, and that big pharmaceutical companies are corrupting medicine. I agreed with all these concerns, but I was disturbed by the worldview they suggested: nobody can be trusted. It was not a good season for trust. The United States was engaged in two ongoing wars that seemed to be benefiting no one other than military contractors. People were losing their houses and their jobs while the government was bailing out the financial institutions it deemed too big to fail and using taxpayer money to shore up the banks. It did not seem unlikely that your government favored the interests of corporations over the well-being of its citizens."

4. Orwell's Revenge

Subtitle: The 1984 Palimpsest

Author: Peter Huber

Summary: A reinterpretation of the classic book 1984 that connects everything to create a utopia rather than the depressing dystopia in the original. It's not hard to imagine why Zuckerberg wants people to believe in this Bizarro-land vision of the future.

Best quote: "For Orwell, then, the end of freedom will be the ultimate in electronic Nosey Parkers--a machine used by Big Brother to drown out the song of birds with tinny music and to spy on the citizenry with a tinny ear and eye. It's the gangster-gramophone pushed to the limit--the photograph, film camera, and radio transmitter rolled into one. The tele screen is the logical end of the machine age, the age of Salvador Dali and ruined families, the age of debauched tastes, the Dneiper dam, and the latest salmon canning factory in Moscow. The tele screen is the eye in the glass. It is the brain in the bottle."

5. Rational Ritual

Subtitle: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge

Author: Michael Suk-Young Chwe

Summary: The premise is that rituals (religious or secular) create shared experiences which then disseminate themselves into the culture. The author uses this observation as a lens to reexamine crowd behavior in general.

Best quote: "Public rituals can thus be understood as social practices that generate common knowledge. For example, public ceremonies help maintain social integration and existing systems of authority; public rallies and demonstrations are also crucial in political and social change. Social integration and political change can both be understood as coordination problems; I am more likely to support an authority or social system, either existing or insurgent, the more others support it. Public rituals, rallies, and ceremonies generate the necessary common knowledge. A public ritual is not just about the transmission of meaning from a central source to each member of an audience; it is also about letting audience members know what other audience members know."

6. The Better Angels of Our Nature

Subtitle: A History of Violence and Humanity

Author: Stephen Pinker

Summary: The author explains how, despite all appearances, humanity's propensity for violence has decreased in proportion to its increased ability to inflict it.

Best quote: "If the past is a foreign country, it is a shockingly violent one. It is easy to forget how dangerous life used to be, how deeply brutality was once woven into the fabric of daily existence. Cultural memory pacifies the past, leaving us with pale souvenirs whose bloody original have been bleached away. A woman donning a cross seldom reflects that this instrument of torture was a common punishment in the ancient world; nor does a person who speaks of a 'whipping boy' ponder the old practice of flogging an innocent child in place of a misbehaving prince. We are surrounded by the signs of depravity of our ancestors' way of life, but we are barely aware of them. Just as travel broadens the mind, a literal-minded tour of our cultural heritage can awaken us to how differently they did things in the past."

7. The End of Power

Subtitle: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn't What It Used to Be

Author: Moiss Nam

Summary: Explains why the "powers that be" haven't managed to use technology to completely overwhelm all resistance and how irrepressible "micropowers" continue to create both opportunity and chaos.

Best quote: "This is not to say that power has disappeared or that there aren't still people who possess it in abundance. The president of the United States or China, the CEO of J.P. Morgan or Shell Oil, the executive editor of the New York Times, the head of the International Monetary Fund, and the pope continue to wield immense power. But less so than their predecessors. The previous holders of these jobs not only dealt with fewer challenges and competitors, but they also had fewer constraints--in the form of citizen activism, global markets, and media scrutiny--on using the power they had. As a result, today's power players often pay a steeper and more immediate price for the mistakes than did their predecessors. Their response to that new reality, in turn, is reshaping the behavior of those over whom they have power, setting in motion a chain reaction that touches every aspect of human interaction."

8. The Muqaddimah

Author: Ibn Khaldun

Summary: Written in 1377 and virtually unknown in the U.S. and Europe (except to scholars), this book contains a fascinatingly modern interpretation of history and economics through the eyes of a Muslim scientist and philosopher.

Best quote: "Throughout history many nations have suffered a physical defeat, but that has never marked the end of a nation. But when a nation has become the victim of a psychological defeat, then that marks the end of a nation."

9. The New Jim Crow

Subtitle: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Author: Michelle Alexander

Summary: This groundbreaking book shows how "the war on drugs" as implemented by national, state, and local governments has served to limit the economic advancement of African-Americans even more effectively than the Jim Crow laws did prior to the civil rights movement.

Best quote: "Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest the whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color. [Despite that,] in some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men."

10. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Author: Thomas Kuhn

Summary: The author argues that scientific progress takes place in leaps, starts, and insights rather than through the gradual accumulation of experimental data.

Best quote: "The transition from a paradigm in crisis to a new one from which a new tradition of normal science can emerge is far from a cumulative process, one achieved by an articulation or extension of the old paradigm. Rather it is a reconstruction of the field from new fundamentals, a reconstruction that changes some of the field's most elementary theoretical generalizations as well as many of its paradigm methods and applications. During the transition period there will be a large but never complete overlap between the problems that can be solved by the old and by the new paradigm. But there will also be a decisive difference in the modes of solution. When the transition is complete, the profession will have changed its view of the field, its methods, and its goals."

Published on: Jul 22, 2015
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