Using high-res photos to catalog all 1,087 books in the lobby of a16z.
tl;dr: I used the high-res images from this Wired article (and some help from Upwork) to catalog 1,000+ books in a16z’s library. Scroll down for the list if you don’t want to read the intro.
When I was a kid, I had a friend whose dad knew everything. I mean everything. Our favorite thing to do was read him questions from the hardest edition of Trivial Pursuit. We’d spend hours listening to him rattle off the answers, along with everything else interesting there was to know about the subject. He was so smart that it was almost exhausting to be in his presence. It was like his system was working overtime just to keep all of the knowledge in his head from exploding into the ether.
All this guy did was read. One wall of their living room stretched the entire span of the house, stacked with books from end to end, floor to ceiling. There were books about modern farming methods and the evolution of reactor design in nuclear submarines. Political biographies and neuroscience textbooks. Books about math and architecture, history of economic theory and a guide to finding edible plants in the North American wilderness. He had read them all. From the looks of it, many of them multiple times through.
Knowledge of this magnitude is awesome. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to snap a few pictures of the bookshelves so that I could have cataloged them later. The best books are hard to find.
All of this reminds me of an anecdote about Warren Buffett:
Someone asked Warren Buffet about the key to success. He pointed to a stack of books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.”
This quote drove me nuts. Like this, he said. Like what? Which books was he pointing at? The act of reading alone isn’t enough. Reading is like food for your mind—not all calories are created equal. Diet matters. What you read shapes how you think and what you think about, which has an outsized influence on who you are as a person. So, if you find yourself drawn to the way a person thinks, reading the books they read is like importing a model of their brain into your own.
You can pick up a few of those books by listening to people give interviews or following them on Twitter. But there is no substitute for the raw data — the books lying around someone’s house and stacked on their bookshelves. That data is hard to find. I can’t imagine ever taking a sabbatical, but if I did I could imagine spending it photographing and cataloging the libraries of the smartest people I could find.
So you can imagine my excitement when I came across the Wired story about Andreessen Horowitz’s legendary library. It turns out that most of the books were pulled from Marc Andreessen’s personal collection. The story mentioned a handful of titles that the Wired author had found most notable, but I was much more interested in the beautiful photos of the library in its entirety.
The beautiful, high-res photos.
I zoomed in on the images and saw that the vast majority of the titles were legible, so I set out to catalog the books as a weekend project. Well, ah, with the help of Upwork. I rotated the images to make the titles easier to read and carved them into numbered shelves to make them easier to digest. The results are embedded below — 1,087 books in total, complete with links to Amazon and Goodreads. The list is awesome.
Some books were too blurry to identify—some were facing the wrong way and thus were impossible to read. But if I ever find myself in the a16z lobby with a few minutes to kill, I’ll see if I can turn the last few around and fill in the rest of the blanks when no one is watching.
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A few notes about the list:
- There are inevitably errors. If you see any, or happen to recognize one that I have missed, feel free to submit a pull request on Github and I’ll update the gist embedded below.
- Each book has an ID that describes its location. The first digit is the bookcase number (clockwise around the room), the second is the vertical shelf (‘A’ is the top shelf), and the third is the book’s position on that shelf (‘1’ is the far-left book).
- Shelves 6 and 9 don’t seem to be visible in any of the photos. I haven’t found a good picture of shelf 1E, but some of the books are visible in the hero image of this post. I haven’t taken a stab at these yet.