2019 Book Recommendations

(Mostly new; a couple from previous years I reread)

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Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology — Each chapter illustrates one of life’s puzzles and makes you think differently about the world. Would life even be possible without quantum phenomenon like tunneling which we use extensively in semiconductors? Could cells transport potassium as they do without quantum? And it ends on the intriguing note: is the brain a quantum computer mediated by electromagnetic forces at levels considered too low for classical science?

By Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili

Ranking: 10 (highly recommended); one of the few books I have read twice!

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Lifespan: Why We Age — and Why We Don’t Have To —This eye-opening narrative reveals incredible scientific breakthroughs about aging and ways we can slow down, or even reverse, the process. Why is this more possible than anyone thinks? Should we solve diseases or solve aging that increases the propensity for diseases?

By David A. Sinclair, PhD with Matthew D. LaPlante

Ranking: 10

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An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives — Explains for the lay reader the intricate biology of our immune system. Really an engineering “how it works” story. For all its astonishing complexity, however, the immune system can be easily compromised by fatigue, stress, toxins, advanced age, and poor nutrition — hallmarks of modern life — and even by excessive hygiene. Paradoxically, it is a fragile wonder weapon that can turn on our own bodies with startling results, leading today to epidemic levels of autoimmune disorders.

By Matt Richtel

Ranking: 8

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The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success —This book transforms how our success-obsessed society approaches their professional careers and long-term goals. And it is network science applied in the same way we may apply network theory to network medicine and decide if a drug works on a particular patient. Network theory at it’s broadest. As Naseem Taleb says “his is not just an important but an imperative project: to approach the problem of randomness and success using the state of the art scientific arsenal we have.”

By Albert-László Barabási

Ranking: 8

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The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind — Raghuram Rajan offers a way to rethink the ties between the market forces (business) and civil society (government) and makes the case to strengthen and return power to local communities as a remedy to growing despair and unrest. This book provides a solid framework as to why things begin to deteriorate, and how society can successfully find their way back to a secure and stable plane.

By Raghuram Rajan

Ranking: 8

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The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming — A look into the future and how global warming will impact everything, from the transformation of global politics, to the sustainability of capitalism, and the trajectory of human progress. A great read even though I think it overstates things. It scares, and it’s time to be be very very scared. The message is more important than the details and it is powerful.

By David Wallace-Wells

Ranking: 8

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Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World —While today’s rich and powerful are fighting for equality and justice, Giridharadas argues that it is being done in a way that will preserve their position at the top of society. This is an important read and it contains many very valuable points. Though I disagree with many of its conclusions, I do agree with the notion of elite circles that are often, but not always, self-centered and self-interested.

By Anand Giridharadas

Ranking: 8

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The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art — A look at the economics and the marketing strategies that enable the modern art market to generate such astronomical prices. I always thought of art as really really snooty as it is manifested (not as it is created) and this book proves the point. The creation of art may have higher significance but the art world is not a good reflection of it. It is mercenary, pretentious, egotistical and social ratification plus other nonsense. You will understand why an art piece might cost $400m just because it allows a buyer to claim they can spend $400M! The role of pretend and social validation over reality is obvious.

By Don Thompson

Ranking: 8

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21 Lessons for the 21st Century — An important examination into today’s most pressing political, technological, social, and existential issues as we move into the unchartered territory of the future.

By Yuval Noah Harari

Ranking: 8

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Blitzscaling: The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies —A great book on blitzscaling: An insightful book on how to scale at a very fast pace​ and more importantly WHEN. Also explains why inefficient use of money can be important​.

By Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh; Foreword by Bill Gates

Ranking: 7

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The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer —This book guides readers through the scientific research transforming immunotherapy from the miraculous to the forefront of twenty-first-century medical science.

By Charles Graeber

Ranking: 7

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The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure —This book dives into the new problem on college campuses, Safetyism, and how it undermines the freedom of inquiry and speech that are indispensable to universities. The consequences of a generation unable or disinclined to engage with ideas that make them uncomfortable are dire for society, and open the door — accessible from both the left and the right — to various forms of authoritarianism. A good companion read to “Winner Takes All”. Can too much political correctness hurt?​

By Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Ranking: 7

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The Inflamed Mind: A Radical New Approach to Depression —This book reveals the new breakthrough on the link between depression and inflammation of the body and brain. A new thesis on what is a major disease state of the brain.

By Edward Bullmore

Ranking: 7

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Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries — This book explores the beauty, quirkiness, and complexity of ideas, especially new and out-of-the-box ones. Loonshots shows how group dynamics and workplace politics conspire against the psychological safety people need in order to boldly share their wildest ideas. A key to understanding why Silicon Valley culture is changing the world.

By Safi Bahcall

Ranking: 7

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What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture — This book brings us on a journey through ancient to modern culture, answering a question fundamental to any organization: who are we? How do people talk about us when we’re not around? How do we treat our customers? Are we there for people in a pinch? Can we be trusted? For me, it shows the value of having principles an organization and its leaders believe in and can stick with when it gets hard to do so and real tradeoffs are involved.

By Ben Horowitz

Ranking: 7

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The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power — This book dives into the largest act of capitalist colonisation ever attempted — the colonisation of our minds, our behaviour, our free will, our very selves. Yet it’s not an anti-tech book. It’s anti-unregulated capitalism, red in tooth and claw.

By Shoshana Zuboff

Ranking: 6

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Friday Black — By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, this book reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day in this country. It’s a way to be exposed to another world living in the same place and the same time as “I/we” do.

By Nana Kwame and Adjei-Brenyah

Ranking: 6

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The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties — This passionate and polemical book outlines ethical ways of healing the deep new rifts that are tearing apart the fabric of the United States and other Western societies.

By Paul Collier

Ranking: 6

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How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence — The true subject of this “mental travelogue” is not just psychedelic drugs but also the eternal puzzle of human consciousness and how, in a world that offers us both suffering and joy, we can do our best to be fully present and find meaning in our lives. It is also a fun exploration of psychedelic drugs, especially for someone who has never tried them.

By Michael Pollan

Ranking: 6

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The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World — Recent years have brought deeply disturbing developments around the globe. American sentiment seems to be leaning increasingly toward withdrawal in the face of such disarray. This is a powerful, urgent essay into why American withdrawal would be the worst possible response, based on a fundamental and dangerous misreading of the world.

By Robert Kagan

Ranking: 6

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The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border —For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Driven to understand the hard realities of the landscape he loves, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the full extent of the violence it wreaks, on both sides of the line. This book provides a different world view for those of us protected from some “reality”.

By Francisco Cantú

Ranking: 6

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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World —This book examines the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists and discovers that in most fields , generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. This book argues that cultivating range prepares us for things we can’t anticipate and adversity. We’ve believed in a single path to excellence: Start early, specialize soon, narrow your focus, aim for efficiency. This book suggests to hold off on starting those piano lessons too early. I’ve always loved exploration so this is very much in sync with my beliefs. Every high school and college student should read it.

By David Epstein

Ranking: 6

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Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age — The richly told narrative of the Silicon Valley generation that launched five major high-tech industries in seven years, laying the foundation for today’s technology-driven world. This book tells the story of the world I have always lived, loved and believed in, despite the recent techlash.

By Leslie Berlin

Ranking: 6

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Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones — Over months and years, the accumulated effect of small habitual daily behaviors is staggering. This book warns that this compounding works both ways, so we’d better make sure we’re making it work in a positive direction, not for the negative. A decent book on self-help tools, not a category I am generally a fan of.

By James Clear

Ranking: 5

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I’ll refrain from covering books that are much lower in my ranking.

entrepreneurship zealot, grounded technology optimist, believer in the power of ideas