Jul 8 · 5 min read

Since the launch of Sequoia’s Seven Questions newsletter last June, we’ve shared weekly book recommendations along with advice from the company-builders in our network.

Today we’re unveiling the most frequently recommended books from this first year to populate your summer reading lists — some business, some personal, some simply interesting or intellectual — along with a few anecdotes on how they’ve inspired each company-builder along their journey. You can sign up here to receive future book recommendations from Sequoia in your inbox each week.

1. Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The book is about how strength can come from uncertainty.” — Tony Xu, Co-Founder & CEO, DoorDash

“The core idea is that the opposite of fragile isn’t just unbreakable, it’s a state where stress or failure actually makes you stronger. On our team, for example, hearing ‘no’ makes us want to push forward even more.” — David Vélez, Founder & CEO, Nubank

“I find Taleb’s ideas about robustness and what sustained success actually means really interesting.” — Nadia Boujarwah, Co-Founder & CEO, Dia&Co

“Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about post-traumatic growth. We’ve been through multiple near-death moments at Wonolo. It’s never fun, but every time, we focused on a solution and made the best out of it. Treating those experiences as learning opportunities and coming out stronger is part of what makes the startup journey so exciting.” — Yong Kim, Co-Founder & CEO, Wonolo

“That book put on paper a lot of things that I had a sense about but couldn’t really articulate. It was incredibly educational.” — Doug Leone, Global Managing Partner, Sequoia

2. Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari

“Harari takes you through the evolution of humankind up to the present.” — David Vélez, Founder & CEO, Nubank

“What I found interesting were the fundamental beliefs that have allowed society to progress. I love books that let me examine a larger landscape beyond my usual thoughts.” — John Riccitiello, CEO, Unity Technologies

“One part that stuck with me is that cooperation is literally how humans found ourselves at the top of the food chain. That’s a great business lesson.”— David Steckel, Co-Founder, Setter

3. The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman and Kaley Warner Klemp

“The book taught me a concept called impeccable agreements, which means committing to doing what you say you’re going to do. Every time. If you can’t follow through, you have to explicitly renegotiate, which is painful — so you end up being much more careful about what you agree to in the first place. It’s allowed Sunrun to move faster as an organization, because we’ve been able to build so much trust.” — Lynn Jurich, Co-Founder & CEO, Sunrun

“What resonated most for me was the idea of extreme ownership — always taking responsibility for what you can do, rather than pointing fingers or acting like the world is happening to you. If one of our portfolio companies doesn’t succeed, it’s not, ‘Oh, that company was no good.’ It’s to their credit if they win, because they’re doing the hard work — but if they fail, that’s our fault. We’re their partners. It’s our job to do everything in our power to help them succeed.” — Pat Grady, Partner, Sequoia

4. The Power Broker, by Robert Caro

“To me, the book highlights the tension between progress and stasis. It’s about a guy named Robert Moses who was probably the most prolific civil builder of the 20th century. His motivation was to bring nature to families who lived in the poorest neighborhoods in New York, but he also destroyed entire communities in the name of progress. It’s interesting to see how history may view the builders of today.” — Mike Vernal, Partner, Sequoia

“Robert Moses was a wild character, and I think Caro is an unbelievable writer. If I could write like that, it’s all I would do.” — Andrew Reed, Partner, Sequoia

5. Radical Candor, by Kim Scott

“The thesis is you can organize leadership styles into four quadrants based on two factors — how direct you are and how strong your relationship is. Radical candor is when you’re direct in a strong relationship. I come from a product background where you have to get things done through influence, rather than by being in charge, and I didn’t know how to translate that as a CEO at first. It helped me realize I absolutely can and should build friendships with the people who work for me.” — Max Rhodes, Co-Founder & CEO, Faire

“It’s about how to articulate the culture around communication, which is something most companies struggle with. If you’re radically candid, you can stick it out through multiple iterations and go much deeper to solve hard, painful problems. But you need to care about someone before you can be radically candid with them — otherwise, you’re just an asshole.” — Ryan Smith, Co-Founder & CEO, Qualtrics

6. Play Bigger, by Al Ramadan, Christopher Lochhead, Dave Peterson and Kevin Maney

“It’s about company-level positioning and category creation, which is important for us at Dropbox. It’s essentially what we did for files with the first version. Now we’re trying to do it again for content, by tying together the collaborative universe.” — Arash Ferdowsi, Co-Founder, Dropbox

“Play Bigger argues that you should create your own category and write your own story, rather than letting your customers or competitors write it for you. I’ve always believed in that approach.”— Tony Xu, Co-Founder & CEO, DoorDash

7. Creativity, Inc., by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull

“The book has some great management lessons about putting people first and constructing a fertile creative environment. A key takeaway for me was how much of a CEO’s job comes down to effectively anticipating and removing roadblocks.” — Tanay Tandon, Co-Founder, Athelas

“We need to be mindful of how fragile innovation is, and protect teams from dynamics that can starve it. There’s always going to be a lot of failing and learning before you get to the right answer, especially when an idea is in its earliest stages. People need room to explore without too much fear of failure.” — Arash Ferdowsi, Co-Founder, Dropbox

Can’t wait for the next summer reading list? Sign up here to receive weekly book recommendations from Sequoia’s network via our Seven Questions newsletter. Happy reading!

Sequoia Capital Publication

From idea to IPO and beyond, Sequoia helps the daring build legendary companies.


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From idea to IPO and beyond, we help the daring build legendary companies. Follow our publication for more Sequoia perspectives:

Sequoia Capital Publication

From idea to IPO and beyond, Sequoia helps the daring build legendary companies.

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