A few years ago, I read a great blog post about how you can read 52 books a year with limited effort. While I haven’t been able to quite hit that rate, I have managed to hit half that thanks to a commitment to always reading while I’m on public transportation.

I’ve read ~25 books a year for the last 7+ years. 90% of them are fantastic, and so I’d like to highlight them in case you’re looking for a book on any of these subjects. (Note: The date represents when I finished reading it). If you have any recommendations, please leave a comment with the book and why it’s a must read!

Ratings Scale Explained:

  • 9-10 – One of the best I’ve ever read on the subject. A must-read.
  • 7-8 – Well worth the read if you’re interested in the subject.
  • 6 – The book is only ok. It may be long-winded, redundant or just doesn’t pack enough of a punch relative to higher rated books.
  • 0-5 – I do not recommend the book. Common causes of such a score: too much fluff, bad advice, nothing actionable, or copying content from better books.

You can learn more about my approach to what books I read and why here.  And if you have a great book recommendation, tweet me @Evanish, and check out what others have recommended here on my Amazon Wish List.


1. “How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (9.23.11), (3.14.12), (1.14.13), (2.12.14), (4.19.15), (1.21.17), (4.3.18), (12.31.19)

  • Rating: 10/10
  • Why Read it: This is literally a timeless classic for anyone interested in leadership. Virtually everyone I know that has read this actually re-reads it regularly. No book can single-handedly do more to improve your skills with others. I’ve read this book at least 5 times now and find things to improve in myself every time I read it.
  • Who Recommended: My father.

2. “The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership” by Bill Walsh (6.30.12), (8.14.15)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: Bill Walsh is one of the most successful coaches in NFL history and more of his assistants went on to be successful head coaches than any other ever. This is his defacto book on his leadership approach and is filled with great insights.  It’s not every day you can get a first hand account of how a 3-time Super Bowl champion coach did it from day 1.
  • Who Recommended: Jack Dorsey via Twitter.

3. “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John C Maxwell (11.27.10) & (6.21.15)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it:  Growing as a leader has many stages that are all challenging. John Maxwell breaks each stage down and gives actionable advice on how to grow as a leader through each of the 10 levels. I’ve reread this book many times now and find new things to learn every time I read it. If you think you want to become a leader, read this book. If you are excited to do the things Maxwell discusses, you can be a great leader.
  • Who Recommended: My father.

4. High Output Management by Andy Grove (11.14.14)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you ever want to lead or manage others, then you need to read this book. The legendary CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, breaks down the keys to getting the most out of your team. He does this by helping you understand how to focus effectively on your people and to look at the big picture to understand how you and your team can best fit into your company’s overall systems.  Despite being written over 30 years ago, it has aged like a fine wine.
  • Who Recommended: Ryan Sarver in this tweet.

5. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz (5.18.14) & (4.27.17)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: Building a company is hard. Gut-wrenchingly hard. There are no short cuts to building a billion-dollar-plus business. In this book, Ben Horowitz recounts the insane story of how his company that should have failed dozens of times came back from the brink over and over again.  He shares specific advice for handling the tough situations a founder of a high growth business will face. The longer I’m working on startups as a founder, the more helpful this book has been.
  • Who Recommended: Many friends & avid reader of @pmarca tweets and Ben’s blog.

6. First, break all the rules: What the world’s best managers do differently by Gallup & Marcus Buckingham (9.17.16)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: Being a good manager is hard. You’re rarely given much training and the examples around you are often more of what *not* to do. This book is a compilation of over 80,000 managers and 2,000,000 employees studied by Gallup and the key actions they found that make great managers, which are not what you’d expect. If you want to learn more, I wrote about it on the Lighthouse blog here.
  • Who Recommended: Chris Paul

7. The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Cabane (8.9.14)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read It: To be a leader, to inspire others, you must be charismatic. But what if you’re not naturally charismatic? It’s a skill like any other and the author breaks down the various types of charisma, when and how to use them, and easy exercises you can use to make yourself more charismatic in any situation. I found myself writing all over this book, getting results from the exercises, and reflecting on many of the ideas.
  • Who Recommended: Matt Ellsworth

8. Hacking Leadership by Mike Myatt (3.20.15)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: There are many facets to being a great leader and Myatt explores both what those many areas are and what to do about it. Myatt has a great mix of hitting home on the flaws every leader knows they need to work on and showing you what you can actually do about it. If you want to audit yourself as a leader and learn what you can do to improve yourself and your organization, this is a great read.
  • Who Recommended: Josh Lowry

9. “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith (4.6.13)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read It: Writing a book for beginners is easy. When you know nothing on a subject, everything feels like an amazing insight. What makes this book great is that it’s not for beginners. As I learn more about various subjects, I’m always looking for books that will help me go deeper.  This book is excellent for anyone mid-career who knows they have leadership flaws they want to correct and strive for greatness.
  • Who Recommended: Found on Amazon and was sold by reviews.

10. “The Cycle of Leadership: How Great Leaders Teach Their Companies to Win” by Tichy and Cardwell (9.13.10)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it:  How do you build great leadership into your company as it grows? This book dives into how Jack Welch and his team were able to build an organization full of leaders they could develop consistently.  It’s a long read, but well worth it if you have big questions about growing leaders in a scalable way.
  • Who Recommended: Found on the company bookshelf when I worked at oneforty.

11. “Who: Solve Your #1 Problem” by Smart and Street (5.20.13)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: When starting a business or any organization, nothing, I repeat nothing, is as important as your team. Finding and hiring the best talent can be quite challenging and replacing those that didn’t work out is costly. While I didn’t agree with (and question the legality of) some of the tactics they suggest, the overall process for getting the right person for every job on your team is well worth the read.
  • Who Recommended: Matt Lauzon

12. “Great by Choice” by John Collins (1.8.12)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: This is a classic business book trying to answer the question of “why are some businesses super successful and others fail?” It provides solid advice to apply to your business.
  • Who Recommended: Tweet conversation with Dharmesh Shah and Rob May

13. “Principles” by Ray Dalio (10.25/15)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Ray Dalio is a multi-billionaire who has built his investment firm, Bridgewater Associates, to be a titan in its industry. This book breaks down his philosophy on culture and leadership, and the principles that guide it. It’s fascinating to see the degree of structure he brings to his teams and the thoughtful ways he attempts to give his people frameworks to help them do their jobs better.
  • Who Recommended: Alex McClafferty

14. “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu (5.10.12)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: This is a true classic on battlefield strategy. Much of it applies to startups and business. Definitely one to read and you can get it for free on Amazon.
  • Who Recommended:  Found on Amazon Kindle free books

15. Lead from the Heart by Mark C Crowley (4.10.16)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Being a great leader is about more than numbers. Showing heart, that you care for your team matters. Mark has spent his career investing his people and showing them heart, in the coldest of industries: finance, and had great success. He shares some fascinating research that backs up his great lessons on how to lead from the heart.
  • Who Recommended: I spoke with Mark and wanted to learn more.

16. The Advantage: Why Organizational Help Trumps Everything Else by Patrick Lencioni (2.20.17)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Building a great company does not happen by accident. Lencioni breaks down the keys to strong communication and creating an aligned vision for everyone to follow. Many of the principles he preaches align with all the data I’ve seen since I started Lighthouse.
  • Who Recommended: Norman Tran and Kai Zau.

17. “The Starfish and the Spider” by Brafman & Beckstrom (2.29.12)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: When building an organization, you can build it like a starfish (independent arms that work together) or a spider (every limb answers to the top). This book does a good job of explaining the concept and how you can apply it to your company inside and out (especially if you have an API/ecosystem).
  • Who Recommended: Abby Fichtner

– Culture, Team Building, and Communication

1. “Tribal Leadership” by Logan, King & Fischer-Wright (12.22.11)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: If you read only one book on culture, this is the one to read. It has an easy to follow process for identifying where you and your company are at and specifically how to get everyone on your team to a higher level.  I got Hiten to read it and he loved it so much every member of the KISSmetrics team got a copy.
  • Who Recommended: Willis Jackson

2. “Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull (12.6.14)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: Ed Catmull helped start Pixar Studios, the legendary creators of films like Toy Story and the Incredibles. With all the hits they have produced, it’s little surprise that culture has played a HUGE role in their success. In this book Catmull shares what he did to foster and preserve an incredible, creative-friendly culture not just at Pixar, but also to turn around a Disney animation studio that was crumbling. As if that wasn’t enough, he has an added chapter on what working with Steve Jobs for over 25 years was really like.
  • Who Recommended: Steven Loi, Mathias Meyer, Kevin Lamping, and Lars Lofgren.

3. “Drive” by Dan Pink (3.21.16)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: The modern workforce is mobile, adaptable, and doesn’t always respond to the old “carrot and stick” approach to leadership. Dan Pink shares extensive research to back up his modern management theories that show how today’s workforce must be motivated, especially to get the most out of any role requiring creativity.
  • Who Recommended: I’ve been a big fan of his TED talk and wanted to get the full story.

4. Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg (6.22.18)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Communicating with others whether in work or your personal life can be a real challenge. Especially when we all have different backgrounds, places we grew up, and norms in our cultures, misunderstanding is bound to happen. Marshall Rosenberg has a process that can help improve that communication. I didn’t agree with everything he suggested, but his frameworks for expressing your thoughts to others and getting more out of the people you need to improve relationships with are well worth the read.
  • Who Recommended: Matthew Fornaciari
  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: To succeed in both your personal and professional life, communication is key. This book shows you how to have those difficult conversations that matter most. It’s never easy to broach the tough subjects, but without doing so, your company, your marriage and your friendships will suffer. This book gives great, actionable advice on how to handle all kinds of conversations.
  • Who Recommended: recommendation engine

6. “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni (12.24.10)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Not all startups succeed. Sometimes companies become a wreck with all kinds of people problems. This book highlights the five most common issues and most importantly, how to fix them with vivid examples.  If your team is struggling, this is well worth the read.
  • Who Recommended: Jeff Bussgang via this blog post

7. Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by Ret. Capt. L. David Marquet (11.27.15)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Imagine taking over the lowest performing submarine in the fleet and being asked to challenge convention in the most standard of places (the US Navy). This book covers the tactics Retired Captain L. David Marquet used and that apply well beyond the military. Most interesting, it’s in diary form, so you can follow the journey as he slowly, successfully changes the culture.
  • Who Recommended: Billy Griffin

8. Powerful: Building a culture of freedom & responsibility by Patty McCord (5.4.18)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: It’s always great to learn from successful companies. Netflix is a particularly strong company in our era of turmoil and change in many industries. Patty McCord worked directly with Netflix’s CEO to create their famous Culture and Culture deck. This book adds nuance and clarifies what’s in the deck and is well worth the read for anyone thinking about company culture. (Read my takeaways from the book here)
  • Who Recommended: Saw discussion about it on Twitter.

9. What Your Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz (4.27.20)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: This isn’t as good as The Hard Thing About Hard Things, so read that first if you haven’t. That said, it’s a creative way to reinvent the business case study – lesson structure of business books by talking about the leader of a prison gang, Genghis Khan, and Toussaint Louverture instead of your usual companies. There’s some good lessons in here, but probably could have been a long form essay. It also was a stretch sometimes where the lesson was a stretch when you add all the caveats around rape and violence of his leaders he highlights.
  • Who Recommended: Was interested because of The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

10. “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh (5.7.10)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Zappos is legendary for their culture (before they made a mess with holacracy). This book highlights both the Zappos culture and Tony’s theories on what drives happiness for people. As a bonus, you also get the story of how Zappos survived multiple near death experiences to become the billion-dollar company it is today.
  • Who Recommended: All of the twitterverse went crazy when this came out.

11. Team of Teams by Ret General Stanley McChrystal (5.31.17)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: What happened in the war in Iraq and the War on Terror? How did the US military and intelligence branches evolve to better fight an enemy with no borders, no traditional leadership structure, and a new, civilian-filled battlefield? Though the opening is 100 pages too long, the rest of the book is a fascinating deep dive into the complete reinvention of how the military and intelligence community communicate and move in hours instead of weeks.
  • Who Recommended: Chris Clark

12. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C.L.R. James (2.15.16)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: This tells the story of Toussaint L’Ouverture who led the revolution of Haitian slaves to gain freedom in the 1790s and then struggled to maintain that freedom as every world power tried to undermine them. While Toussaint eventually was undone by their treachery, what he accomplished in his decade plus rein as leader is incredible.
  • Who Recommended: Ben Horowitz in this video.

13. The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Hoffman, Yeh, & Casnocha (7.3.14)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Retaining talent on your team has never been harder due to job hopping, turbulent economies, and a culture of “at will” employment. If you really want to motivate and retain your team, you need an Alliance. Entrepreneurs Reid Hoffman, Chris Yeh, and Ben Casnocha teamed up to share their processes for creating “Tours of Duty” for your people, which solves many of today’s retention problems. The page count is low for a print book, and I’m grateful they didn’t fluff it to hit a page requirement as the ideas are gold.
  • Who Recommended: Read an article about it.

14. “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi (2.11.11)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Your network is one of the most valuable tools you’ll develop over the course of your career. This book teaches you the important skillset you need to start, grow and tend to your network effectively.  It also does a great job of emphasizing the Pay It Forward model, which there can never be enough people bought into.
  • Who Recommended: Ryan Durkin

15. “The No Asshole Rule” by Robert Sutton (12.31.14)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Assholes can ruin your company culture, make people hate their jobs, and stifle creativity. Yet, the business world is filled with them.  The No Asshole Rule does a great job of showing research and data why you shouldn’t tolerate them at your company, and also what to do if you’re stuck working with (or for) one. It also shows why assholes sometimes succeed, which is an important part of understanding and taking away their power.
  • Who Recommended:  Stumbled upon it on Amazon when I was working with an asshole years ago.

16. The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth & Change by Camille Fournier (8.13.17)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: If you manage technical people this is a great “how to” book from someone who has been there and done that. There is a lot of great, thoughtful lessons that help you understand what to expect as you rise from individual contributor, to manager, to director, to senior/executive leadership. The one weakness in this book is that it’s all her views. What works for Fournier may not always work for you, but after reading this you’ll have a good starting point of pitfalls to avoid and tactics to try.
  • Who Recommended: Mike Champion

17. The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker (11.9.17)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: What leads to dynasties instead of just a championship or two? Sam Walker studied hundreds of teams across dozens of major sports and found a common pattern: unheralded captains. Not the strongest, fastest, or best athletes, these leaders had something different: they communicated with everyone, led by example, and lived quiet lives.  This book was really interesting as a sports fan, but to be honest probably could have been a long read essay instead of a book.
  • Who Recommended: Read about it on a sports blog.

18. “The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey” By Ken Blanchard (8.28.10)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: This book teaches you one concept, and it’s an important one. Think of every task as a monkey. The monkey is always on someone’s back. The key is to recognize this and make sure the right person has the monkey on their back. If this is a foreign concept, it’s well worth the quick read.
  • Who Recommended: Laura Fitton

19. “Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” by Kerry Patterson (6.20.12)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it:  In any startup, there are times of disagreement and tension. The key is to handle this conflict professionally and with as little fallout as possible.  There’s a right and wrong way to approach many conversations and this book does a solid job of helping you think through when and how to approach some of the tougher conversations you may need to have.
  • Who Recommended: Steve Cox

20. “Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words” by  Stephen Young (9.14.12)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: This is a book that takes a bit longer than it should to get it’s message across, but it is a good one: be mindful of the words you choose when working with others. Whether written or spoken, how you say something can have as much (or more) of an impact as what you’re trying to say.
  • Who Recommended:  Steve Cox

Biographies of Great Leaders & Entrepreneurs

1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (8.18.13)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: Steve Jobs is the most iconic inventor and entrepreneur of our time having brought consumer revolutions in PCs, music, phones and tablets. He is also largely misunderstood as people only know bits and pieces of his story and not the whole Steve Jobs.  Isaacson does an amazing job of capturing the good, the bad and the ugly of Steve’s career and how he succeeded and failed. As much as he was successful in spite of much of what he did with the Apple I & II, he was directly and deeply responsible for the successes when he had his second reign at Apple.
  • Who Recommended: I bought it like so many others when he died.

2. “Losing my Virginity: Lessons in Business & Life” by Richard Branson (10.25.08)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: Richard Branson is legendary. His story is incredible and well worth learning more about. He’s brutally honest (bordering on over-sharing) in his story and it’s a fun read on top of everything else. If you’re interested in startups or want to build your own empire, this is a great read to see how one of today’s legends got where they are.
  • Who Recommended: Found it myself after Branson’s short-lived TV show

3. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson (2.28.14)

  • Rating: 8.5
  • Why Read it: Ben Franklin is one of the most important of the Founding Fathers of America. He not only has incredible historical significance in the birth of our nation, but he was also the embodiment of the rag-to-riches American Dream. It was amazing to see how much Franklin accomplished from building up a printing business, becoming a notable writer and networker, building up America’s postal system, a key negotiator and ambassador first with Britain then France and then being the wise sage that inspired some of the most important compromises that make our US Constitution so great. A man that personified and championed so much of what it means to be an American is well worth the read.
  • Who Recommended: Dale Carnegie’s book & Danny Sauter

4. Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger  (7.11.14)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: A poor, Austrian boy becomes a body building legend, moves to California, becomes a movie star, marries a Kennedy, and then becomes a successful Governor of one of the largest states in the US. Arnold tells the story only he can on how he did it. He is much smarter, harder working, and observant than I ever gave him credit before. Most importantly, it’s a truly inspiring story.
  • Who Recommended: Nemo Chu, Jonhnson Nakano, and Stepan Parunashvili

5. Sam Walton: Made in America by Sam Walton (6.17.16)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: How did Wal-Mart come out of no where in Arkansas to become the powerhouse company of today? What made Sam Walton so successful? This book, published in 1992 shows the secrets of Walton’s success. I loved how down to Earth his writing was.  The Wal-Mart Sam Walton created is very different than the ruthless one you see today, so even if you’re not a big fan of Wal-Mart now, this is a great, insightful read.
  • Who Recommended: Eric Jorgenson

6. How to Castrate a Bull by Dave Hitz (4.12.20)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: If your company is hitting the rocks and needs to turn the corner, or you want to learn about a company that rode the roller coasters of 1999’s dot com bubble and 2001’s recession, and made it to the other side. Hitz has some great, specific lessons to share that will help any high growth CEO.
  • Who Recommended: I saw Danielle Morill tweet about it years ago and decided to read it when the COVID crisis hit.

7. Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire by Wallace & Erickson (9.8.13)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Starting out in a motel in Albuquerque, Microsoft had the most humble of beginnings only to become the most powerful company in the computer industry. This book is a great recounting of how it all went down until the early 90s. Unfortunately, Bill isn’t someone you can learn from like Branson and Jobs; they always felt like real, flawed people to me. Bill Gates was a semi-genius, workaholic with a ruthless edge and a great skill at writing contracts. I suppose that’s a lesson in itself.
  • Who Recommended: Stuart Crane via a Twitter conversation.

8. It’s All About Who You Hire, How They Lead by Mort Mandel (5.24.15)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Mort Mandel is a billionaire you’ve probably never heard of. He escaped the horrors of WWI Poland with his mother to come to America and eventually started a company with his 2 brothers. In this book, Mandel shares his recipe for leading his company to success over the years as well as helping a number of non-profits have a tremendous impact. There’s an excellent chapter on his relationship with Peter Drucker and some great lessons on values, but the book also feels like it was stretched in the second half.
  • Who Recommended: Eric Jorgenson

9. “The Art of Getting Money” by P.T. Barnum (3.25.12)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: A lot of good business advice is timeless. If you don’t believe me, reading this book from Mr. Barnum from long ago, should hit home; much of what he suggests is the same advice I’ve heard from those successful in business today.
  • Who Recommended: Found on Amazon Kindle free books

10. “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers (3.11.12)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Derek built a company from scratch (CDbaby) almost by accident. He pursued his passions and that made all the difference. If you’re looking for a quick read that will inspire you to do the same, this is worth the read.
  • Who Recommended: Gift from Nick Francis of HelpScout

11. “How to Win at the Sport of Business” by Mark Cuban (3.19.12)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Mark Cuban was not always a billionaire. He wrote some awesome blog posts about his early days building companies and he has now adapted it into a small book. If you’re not familiar with his story, I found it pretty relatable and inspiring.
  • Who Recommended: Saw Mark Cuban tweet about it.

12. “Wooden: A lifetime of reflections on and off the court” by Wooden & Jamison  (7.28.17)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: John Wooden is one of the most successful coaches of all time. He won 10 championships in 12 years as coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team. This book is like sitting on a porch talking about leadership and life with him. If you want to understand the philosophy and mindset of a great leader, this is a good, easy read. (See my favorite takeaways and quotes here)
  • Who Recommended: Been meaning to read something by Wooden and picked this off Amazon based on ratings.

13. “A Way to Wealth” by Benjamin Franklin (12.25.11)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: It’s a super-quick read filled with timeless sayings about life and business. I’m a quote-collecting junky, so this was a fun read for me. If you Google this book, you’ll find a bunch of free copies out there.
  • Who Recommended: Found on Amazon after reading his autobiography.

14. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight (2.16.18)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Nike is one of the most iconic brands in the world today. You can’t watch a major sport, or exercise without seeing the swoosh somewhere. Of course that wasn’t always the case, and this is the incredible story in the founder, Phil Knight’s own words. At times I couldn’t tell if he really is the luckiest guy in the world who succeeded only due to never giving up and in spite of many flaws, or he’s just that humble. It was fun to read, but if I’m honest I didn’t learn much beyond “if you’re growing in a big way, never give up no matter the obstacles.”
  • Who Recommended: Willis Jackson and Jonhnson Nakano

15. “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” (12.11.11)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re curious what Ben Franklin’s life was like before the Revolutionary War, this is a surprisingly unbiased account (given it’s an auto-biography).  The best chapter by far is Chapter 9, where Franklin explains how he created a process for himself to become a much better, more disciplined person through self-accountability.
  • Who Recommended:  Referenced repeatedly in another book I read.

16. The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie (4.10.19)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: Andrew Carnegie is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in American history. He rose from literally nothing (coming to America with his parents dead broke). Starting to work in his teens, he quickly climbed the ladder in every job he did. As he saved money, he built wealth that he reinvested as new markets emerged (like railroads and steel). While fascinating, the book rambles a lot and most of the gems are in a 100 page span of a nearly 400 page book. By the end, he was randomly talking about people he met.
  • Who Recommended: I was curious about his story, and wanted to get it straight from the source himself.

17. Second Wind: Memoirs of an Opinionated Man by Bill Russell (7.31.16)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: If you love the Boston Celtics or admire an NBA legend who won a staggering 11 championships in his career, this is a fascinating read. In many ways, Russell was an average guy with an incredible talent for basketball. Many of the chapters are about Russell’s life: the good, the bad, and the ugly of being an African American in the middle of the 20th century.  There’s also a great chapter on what made Red Auerbach such a great coach.
  • Who recommended: Read about it years ago in a blog post by Bill Simmons.

Psychology & Behavioral Economics

1. “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt (11.21.12)

  • Rating: 10/10
  • Why Read it: Whether you want to understand yourself or others, this book is incredible for helping you understand the underlying motivations and causes of happiness. It’s great for understanding both your personal and professional life and managing your relationships.
  • Who Recommended: Matt Lauzon via Twitter

2. “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely (9.9.11)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: I’ve read many books on Behavioral Economics and this is the best. If you want to understand why people do the opposite of what you think would be logical, this book will help you get there.
  • Who Recommended:

3. Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini (12.21.16)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: The Godfather of persuasion and behavioral economics is back with a long-awaited sequel to “Influence”. If you want to understand why Donald Trump is President, how people can falsely confess to crimes, or just how to be a better marketer, this book is incredible. There are very few books that I wrote in the margins as much, nor sparked as many actionable ideas.
  • Who Recommened: Scott Adams on his blog.

4. “What Every Body is Saying” by Joe Navarro (1.6.11)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: Written by an ex-FBI agent, this book will help you pick up on all the unspoken signals everyone around you is given off.  This book opened my eyes to a world I was basically blind and illiterate too.  I’m a more effective communicator and better understand my surroundings because of reading this.
  • Who Recommended: Searched Amazon for best reviewed body language book.

5. “The Mating Mind” by Geoffrey Miller (6.29.11)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: We are not far removed from true tribal cultures; small villages that moved nomadically through the world is how man evolved for thousands of years. The way we evolved to survive in that world is now placed in our modern society, which creates many struggles and opportunitites. This book does an excellent job of helping you understand it and take advantage of it.
  • Who Recommended: Dave McClure via his AARRR presentation

6. The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal (8.18.18)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: What if I told you that “mind over matter” was true? This book is truly eye-opening as it shows: 1) Stress is a good thing, 2) Your mindset about stress will literally change the chemicals in your body to make stress a good or bad thing for you, 3) You can change how you think about stress as quickly as you’re willing to change your mind. So much in life about performance in sports, test taking, public speaking, and more make more sense now because of this.
  • Who Recommended: This tweet by Keith Rabois

7. Grit by Angela Duckworth (7.15.17)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: What skills and traits make someone successful in life? Psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth wanted to find out. What she discovered was the concept of “Grit”.  While it was about 100 pages too long in the opening, the meat of this book is so good. It helps you think about how to develop grit in your life, in your children, and how to measure it in others. It’s fascinating and critical in a world changing rapidly.
  • Who Recommended: This tweet by Keith Rabois

8. “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer (12.14.10)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you’ve ever wanted to understand how the human mind works on a decision making basis, this book is excellent for understanding both the why and what to expect; much of what we do is counter-intuitive to what you’d logically expect.
  • Who Recommended: Prof. Compaine at Northeastern University.

9.  “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini (1.28.12)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: This is an excellent book on behavioral economics. It’s a great start if you’re new to the field.
  • Who Recommended: Found it after another of his books

10. “Impossible to Ignore” by Carmen Simon (7.23.16)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Persuading others is a big challenge, especially if you’re in the traditionally stale, boring world of business. This book does an excellent job of teaching concepts and explaining exactly how you can apply them to your business. The examples even often include businesses, so if you’re a B2B marketer, this is a must-read.
  • Who Recommended: Scott Adams recommended it on his blog.

11. “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz (8.19.11)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: When given too many choices, the average person struggles mightily to make a decision. This book is a fascinating investigation into the decision making area of behavioral economics.
  • Who Recommended: Prof. Compaine at Northeastern University.

12. “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” by Goldstein, Martin and Cialdini (6.10.10)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Behaviorial Economics is the secret weapon of many marketing and sales tactics. If you just want a collection of rules you can quickly apply, this book is a great place to find them.
  • Who Recommended:

13. Win Bigly by Scott Adams (11.26.17)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you want to know why Trump won, you’ll learn 100X more by reading this than reading Hillary’s book on the subject.  Adams does a good job of explaining the processes Trump uses to win media attention and enough voter’s hearts and minds. The one drawback is Adams teaches you how to get to the right zip code, but not quite enough to easily apply it.
  • Who Recommended: I’ve been reading Adams’s blog since he predicted a Trump victory during the primaries.

14. “10 Powerful Personas” by Kevin Vogelsang (5.21.10)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: You’ll meet many different kinds of people in your life. Kevin does a great job highlighting some of the strongest and how to handle them.
  • Who Recommended: I know the author, Kevin Vogelsang :)

Self-Improvement, Motivation, and Reflection

1. Atomic Habits by James Clear (1.28.19)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: Want to build better habits? Want to get rid of bad ones you have? Wish you understood why you have some good habits that have stuck? This book is super actionable to answer those questions. The tactics and reasons it uses really work as I used some before reading, and now that I’m intentional about it, I’ve broken some bad habits and made great new ones.
  • Who Recommended: Saw many discussing it on Twitter.

2. The Relaxation Revolution: The Science & Genetics of Mind Body Healing by Benson & Proctor (6.23.19)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: The mind has power over the body much more than most Western educated people may believe. This book does a tremendous job of showing exactly how you can use meditation or prayer, combined with a specific approach to visualization to improve a variety of challenging health conditions like heart disease, Parkinson’s, and a lot more. These are backed by double-blind, peer-reviewed studies done at Harvard Medical School. For any skeptics, this is the book for you.
  • Who Recommended: A newsletter I read.

3. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (2.28.17), (4.13.18), (6.29.20)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: The simplest ideas can often be the most powerful. On the surface, this book explains some of the easiest ideas out there. However, if you take the time to really deeply think about them, you might surprise yourself and realize how much truth is in it.  This book made me think about a ton of fundamental things in my life.
  • Who Recommended: Read about it as a favorite book of Tom Brady in this post on his commitment to excellence.

4. The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson (10.26.20)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: This is a great modern philosophy book. If you want perspective in a calm, reasoned way, this will give you a ton of food for thought. If you’re not familiar with Naval, look up his podcast interview with Tim Ferris, or his Youtube channel to see more.
  • Who Recommended: My friend, Eric Jorgenson, authored it, so I knew I had to read it!

5. The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months by Moran & Lennington (4.12.14)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Planning has tremendous value. It helps you anticipate challenges and make sure you focus on the right things. This book is the perfect guide to getting more out of life personally and professional by planning in 12 week bursts instead of annual goals that often get lost. The book is very prescriptive so you will walk away knowing exactly how to enact your own 12 Week Year plans. UPDATE: I’ve been happily following its lessons for 6+ years now.
  • Who Recommended: Jonhnson Nakano

6. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (12.19.13)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: This book has one simple concept: the Fixed Mindset versus the Growth Mindset. In that simplicity lies the keys to almost every aspect of your life from education to your marriage to your career to managing others to raising children. I realized in reading it that I had actually been living a Fixed Mindset in some very important parts of my life. I cannot put a price on both understanding what was blocking me and what to do about it.
  • Who Recommended: Read it was Rajon Rondo‘s new favorite book in this article.

7. “Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less” by Greg McKeown (4.12.17)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: It’s never been easier to fill your life with things, tasks, and activities. Essentialism is a super-actionable break down of how to take control of your life and focus on what really matters. Whether you need more balance in your life, or focus in your work, this book will help you. It has helped me think a lot more about my priorities in life and how to get them.
  • Who Recommended: Nate Klaiber

8. “The Power of Full Engagement” by Loehr and Schwartz (11.2.12)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you’ve ever wanted to be more productive, happier and healthier, this book will help you get there (really). The authors have helped Fortune 100 CEOs and professional athletes reach their peak performance and this book will help you get there too. A few small changes I made based on reading this paid huge dividends.
  • Who Recommended: Brian Balfour

9. So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport (2.8.14)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: The common advice for Gen Y is to “Follow your passion” and yet so many of us struggle to do so. Cal has an awesome counter argument for a better approach to building a career you’ll love. This book logically lays out its case for focusing on developing unique and valuable skills and slowly evolving a core mission that drives you. He also breaks it down so it’s clear exactly what *you* can do so you’re not feeling like you just have a bunch of empty theories.
  • Who Recommended: Al Abut, Marvin Liao and Sam Shepler

10. “The Defining Decade” by Meg Jay (9.15.12)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: I think everyone in their 20s should read this book. There are important aspects of your brain that forms, as well as career and personal life decisions that are irreparably set in that time. I wrote a blog post about this book previously if you want to know more.
  • Who Recommended:  Read a blog post by the author.

11. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen (11.4.13)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re a high achiever, workaholic, career-oriented person, it’s easy to forget to take stock of your life and what’s important. Better known for his books on Innovation, Christensen does an excellent job of taking concepts we’re used to applying in the workplace and using them to reflect on the rest of our lives. Clayton hammers home a simple, but important message: You can have a great career and be a great husband/wife/father/mother, but you must put the effort and focus into both.
  • Who Recommended: Mike Maples via this Startup Grind talk.

12. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Viktor Frankl was a gifted psychologist that survived the Nazi concentration camps in World War II. Shaped by that experience and his long standing ideas on the meaning of life, he wrote this deeply moving book. The first half relays the atrocities he witnessed in the camps and the struggle for life. The second half shows his theory on life, which brought a depth of understanding I hadn’t experienced before. It’s well worth a read and a few hours of contemplation.
  • Who Recommended: Nick Hoffmeister

13. Reboot: Leadership & the Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna (7.19.19)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: You know those flaws you have as a leader? Yeah, those ones that frustrate your team, leave you unhappy when you should be glad, or feel like they’re holding you back in your career and life. They’re something you have to face if you want to be the best version of yourself you can be. Colonna gets raw in this book and takes head on exactly the things we as leaders, and especially if you’re a founder, don’t typically face or know how to. This book does an excellent job helping you understand yourself and the problems deep down you need to take on more than any other, but it unfortunately has no answers on how to do anything about them.
  • Who Recommended: Saw much of startup Twitter talking about it.

14. The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (3.25.17)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it:  This book was an eye-opener for me in understanding how things that I appreciate most from others is not what others appreciate. Equally important, what one person is comfortable doing to express appreciation, isn’t always what someone else wants. These disconnects explain many issues in relationships. Understanding what motivates others and how to show your appreciation for them in a way that resonates starts with your significant other, but can apply to anyone.
  • Who Recommended: A few friends along the way.

15. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (9.10.18)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: What you imagine in your mind is what you’ll manifest in the world; if you think negative thoughts worried about bad things, they’ll happen, while positivity will help you make the most of any situation. As a reforming pessimistic, too-often critical person, this book was really helpful in rethinking how I think. I have already seen a number of times where taking the optimistic mindset has led to better outcomes for me personally & professionally. If you’re not Christian, then large swaths may not resonate, but for those that are, you’ll appreciate the mix of self improvement and leaning on a higher power.
  • Who Recommended: Been meaning to read this Lindy effect, best-selling book (written in 1952!), and it was the perfect followup to The Upside of Stress (8.5/10), which looked at the science of positive mindsets.

16. Deep Work by Cal Newport (10.19.17)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: In our social media, interrupt driven society, it’s easy to be constantly multi-tasking. Cal Newport makes a strong case for a better way. By focusing on creating large chunks of time to do “Deep Work”, you can get more, quality work done. As an academic, some of his suggesteions could use more polish for working a large, matrix organization, but his central thesis is a good one that anyone can benefit from applying.
  • Who Recommended: Bryan Tublin

17. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday (9.28.17)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re interested in stoicism, or how to become stronger in handling what life deals you, this is a great starting point. It’s a mix of self-help and history or stoicism. As a book to read while you’re dealing with stresses, it’s a great way to re-orient your mind to calmness and commitment to seeing challenges through to the other side.
  • Who Recommended: Ryan Ward in a Linkedin comment about unconventional books for leaders

18. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big By Scott Adams (10.30.15)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: This is a great book to read after you’ve read a bunch of the other books on my list. A little marketing, a little behaviorial economics, and a number of life lessons fill this book. Reading it was like having a conversation with someone who had read similar things to what I have and getting deep into their theories on how the world works.  I picked up a number of ideas that made this a worthwhile read and enjoyed the act of being able to think back on a number of concepts he brings up that I read in other books.
  • Who Recommended: Found it on Scott Adam’s blog.

19. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry (8.29.16)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: In most cases, emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important to your career success than pure brain power and skills. We all have to successfully work with others, and doing that well is a skill like any other. This book does a great job of explaining the various aspects of EQ, and how to improve them.
  • Who Recommended: Arjun Dev Arora

20. The Collection by Florence Scovel Shinn (6.16.18)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Your subconscious is more powerful than you realize. Even more important, it can hold you back if it has a negative attitude. This is one of the stranger books I’ve ever read, but it has a fundamental truth: positive self talk is very important and can change your life. You still have to work hard to get what you want in life, but flipping from a negative to a positive mindset can make all the difference in getting what you really want.
  • Who Recommended: Austin Gunter

21. “The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Stephen Pressfield & Shawn Coyne (5.7.13)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: We all hit creative blocks in our lives. Some are bigger than others. This book helps truly capture the difficult to describe enemy that gets in your way of reaching your goals (and sometimes even starting). It also motivates you towards what you were truly born to do. It may sound cheesy, but trust me, it’s excellent.
  • Who Recommended: Patrick Vlaskovits

22. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (9.27.14), (5.20.20)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: What if someone devoted their life to understanding why some people become hugely successful above all others?  Napoleon Hill was challenged by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to do just that, and this book is the product of his 20 year journey to uncover those secrets.  The book reads a little self-help cheesy at times, but it speaks a lot of truths. It’s also fascinating to see how his writings about the average person’s outlook in the Great Depression isn’t that different than today’s Great Recession.
  • Who Recommended:  I forgot to note it :( Was it you? Let me know and I’ll credit you!

23. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (12.8.12)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re interested in learning about the basics of the Zen philosophy and how to meditate this is a great start. The book provides a thought provoking counter to the standard views on life we find in American culture.
  • Who Recommended: Jabe Bloom

24. “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho (5.1.12)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: Life is a challenging journey. I found this book helpful in making sense of the unconventional path I’ve been on. This is a very polarizing book, so you’ll either love it or hate it. It’s worth the read either way.
  • Who Recommended:  Gift from college friend.

25. Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica by Ana Smiljanic (3.30.14)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: You can learn interesting life perspectives by reading Asian philosophers. Little did I know a Christian monk has written similarly about life, emotions and your thoughts until I friend passed me this book.  Elder Thaddeus’s writings gave me a lot of perspective on being mindful of my passionate personality and how emotions can control you.
  • Who Recommended: Austin Gunter

26. Sweet Potato Power by Ashley Tudor (3.18.12)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: The sweet potato is a super food we could all use to eat more of. In a world of carb-consciousness, the sweet potato rises above all as a healthy alternative that provides longer lasting energy and great sources of vitamins. This book teaches you how sugars and other foods affect your body, why the sweet potato is so great and closes with an awesome variety of recipes to make sweet potatoes a big part of your diet.
  • Who Recommended: Chris Keller

27. “The Flinch” by Julien Smith (12.26.11)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: The human “fight or flight” response is an important evolutionary tool that kept us alive when we had many enemies and predators. Today it often prevents us from trying new things. This is a good, quick read that really hammers home the importance of recognizing that fear and overcoming it.
  • Who Recommended: Recommended by Nick Francis of HelpScout

28. The Last Word on Power by Tracy Goss (4.29.16)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: What makes many people successful is creating a system that they rely on to get through challenges and handle problems they face. The author’s theory is that it also can hold you back at certain stages. This book is a very challenging read, but the message is powerful: Step outside yourself and look at how your default systems may prevent you from greater success.
  • Who Recommended: Austin Gunter

29. “Crush It” by Gary Vaynerchuk (1.13.10)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: Want to get fired up to pursue your dreams and work damn hard to get there? This is a Gary V talk in book form.  If that sounds appealing, then I recommend this book.
  • Who Recommended: Saw Gary V talk.

30. “The Dip” by Seth Godin (6.23.10)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: TLDR; if you’re struggling but feel like you’re onto something, you probably are just going through “the Dip”/”trough of sorrow”.  If you like Seth Godin, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s a quick read, so it won’t waste your time with too much filler on a concept that is worthy of understanding.
  • Who Recommended: Found on the company bookshelf when I worked at oneforty.

Strategy & Understanding Industry Trends

1. “The Master Switch” by Tim Wu (4.6.11)

  • Rating: 10/10
  • Why Read it: This is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. It will change the way you look at technology cycles. If you think the disruption that Google, Twitter or any of the companies consumerizing business apps is something new that’s never happened like this before, you’re completely wrong. Tim Wu carries you through the innovation of the telephone disrupting the telegraph all the way to present day in great detail. This book blew my mind.
  • Who Recommended:  Blog post by Antonio Rodriguez

2. Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (6.3.18)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: Nassim Taleb is a modern philosopher the world needs. This book is a massive step up in his writing abilities compared to Antifragile, and still packs the same punch of great insights and lessons. So much of the world can be understood by simply understanding if someone has true “skin in the game” or not, and Taleb expands on this concept and many others that will improve your life and decision making.
  • Who Recommended: Kolton Andrus and this Tweet storm by Brent Beshore.

3.  Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nicholas Nicholas Taleb (12.19.13)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: This book has dramatically changed my life. Taleb has laid out a way of looking at the world and investing financially and in yourself that is transformative. The concepts of antifragility, optionality, and the barbell are simple on the surface, but Taleb gives them great color and depth that give you much deeper understanding that a few words in a glossary could ever provide. This book is a beast and my only complaint is how dense and difficult some sections were. Be prepared to re-read sections to really understand it.
  • Who Recommended: Ev Williams via this Twitter conversation

4. “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen (9.2.13)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: Disruption is a word in technology that has been so abused that the true meaning may be lost on many. Fortunately, we have this incredible book to explain how disruption starts and eventually crushes incumbents in any market. It’s incredible to follow the author’s accounts of many disruptions over the past 100 years and think about current disruptions. Despite publishing in 1997, he predicts does a solid prediction of both what became Tesla and Google Docs.
  • Who Recommended: Steve Jobs in his Walter Isaacson biography.

5. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth by Clayton Christensen (11.12.13)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: Once you understand how to identify new disruptions (or even possibly create them), the next step is knowing exactly what to do as a business to capitalize on it. As the sequel to The Innovator’s Dilemma, this book lays out exactly what to do whether you are a startup or a large company. With exhaustive research backing up every concept, Clayton lays out very specific tactics and strategies like “be patient for growth and impatient for profit.”
  • Who Recommended: Hiten Shah & a Jeff Bezos profile.

6. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel (9.22.14)

  • Rating: 8.75/10
  • Why Read it: Peter Thiel is an incredibly successful entrepreneur and investor in the Valley. His book, Zero to One, is part startup manual to understand how to start a great business and part philosophical exploration of today’s world.  I was surprised to see Nassim Taleb of Antifragile quoted on the back of the book saying how good it was, but he’s right. There are some amazing, deep ideas explained simply in this book and a must add to an entrepreneur’s book shelf.
  • Who Recommended: Marc Held

7. Fire in the Valley: The Making of The PC by Freiberger & Swaine (10.5.13)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: History favors the winners. When you talk about the PC industry, many stories start and stop with Bill Gates and Microsoft or Steve Jobs and Apple. Fire in the Valley is an amazing recounting of of the winners, losers and forgotten innovators. It is the most complete view of the development of the PC from its earliest days and is a great lesson for all of us in disruptive industries.
  • Who Recommended: Marc Held

8. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore (10.13.13) & (2.24.20)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you are in an industry where your current market is early adopters and you’re dreaming of reaching mainstream users, this book is a must read. Moore lays out the process of establishing your beachhead and building a complete product solution that meets the needs of the early majority, which is very different than your visionary, early adopters. Of particular note is that the author worked at Regis McKenna, the famed PR firm that helped Apple cross the chasm in the late 70s to early 80s. Real world credibility doesn’t get any better.
  • Who Recommended: Professor Compaine at Northeastern University

9. Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt (5.9.15)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: There are a million books out there talking about strategy and many are unfortunately a lot of fluff. This is not one of those books. Rumelt breaks down the difference between good and bad strategy, and dives hard into what you should really do.  One of my favorite parts of the book is the breakdown of what it means to “focus.” Unlike a lot of advice that stops at saying “you need to focus”, Rumelt explains *how* you can really focus on the right things.
  • Who Recommended: Eric Jorgenson

10. The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Burger & Starbird (3.12.14)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: “The path to change is not through greater willpower and harder work, but rather through thinking differently.” This book is not a self help book. It is a book that truly teaches you how to think and how to better approach the biggest questions in your life. If you are truly introspective and challenge yourself with the contents of this book, you will be stronger for it after reading it and be empowered to grow greater over time.
  • Who Recommended: Hiten Shah

11. The 7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy by Hamilton Helmer (7.9.19)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: This book is a great breakdown of the 7 best “moats” that a business can have to create competitive advantages. If you want a framework for thinking about how defensible your business idea could be and strategies to win a market, this is a great place to start. My main complaint with this book is that there’s some pointless pseudo-equations in the book and some academic-speak that make parts of the book harder to follow than necessary.
  • Who Recommended: Keith Rabois

12. “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne (12.21.12)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read It: With the speed of innovation today, markets are becoming overcrowded very fast.  This book will help you think through how to get away from the “red oceans” (red from the blood of competition) and find wide open “blue ocean” opportunities. The authors do a great job of not only helping you think of new opportunities in your industry from every angle, but also how to get your team on board with changes. If you’re tired of fighting for “feature parity,” this is a great read.
  • Who Recommended: Ashkan Afkhami

13. Only the Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove (8.14.16)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Andy Grove is a legendary leader and this is his classic explaining how Intel reinvented itself when staring down Japanese competition in its core business. By harnessing a market 10X inflection point, and having a lot of courage and grit, Intel thrived. In an easy to read, matter of fact tone, Grove shares what your company can do to survive the same kind of potential disruption.
  • Who Recommended: Was interested after reading High Output Management

14. The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt (1.18.20)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re tired of the average business book following the Lesson – Case Study – Lesson – Case Study format, this book is a breath of fresh air. It’s a novel that talks about how a guy turned around a factory and saved his marriage. It’s a bit longer than I’d like, but it was a nice change of pace. However, the main lesson is simple: focus on your company’s goal of making money and fix your bottlenecks.
  • Who Recommended: My father + Ryan Durkin

15. “Practically Radical” by William C. Taylor (3.3.11)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Those who stick to the status quo will be left with average success at best. This book, by the one of the founders of Fast Company magazine, makes the case for this with some thought-provoking examples and stories.
  • Who Recommended: Saw blog post by the author about it.

16. “The Mesh” by Lisa Gansky (3.8.11)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re interested in understanding the collaborative consumption movement (ie- car sharing, AirBnb, city bike sharing, etc), this book gives a great overview of the trends and opportunities.
  • Who Recommended:  Gift from a friend

Product Management Skills

1. “Inspired” by Marty Cagan (3.31.12)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: This is the de-facto book for Product Management. I was recommended it many times over when I started my job at KISSmetrics in product. It’s as good as advertised and does a great job of covering all the key topics of product management at a web or mobile startup.
  • Who Recommended: Multiple product people including Rose Grobowski and David Pitkin

2. “Thinking in Systems: A Primer” by Donella Meadows (10.13.12)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it:  The world is governed by systems, many of which are quite sophisticated.  Learning to understand how they work and more importantly, how to work them, is an important skill to develop in building systems in your company and understanding how markets work.  This is the de facto book to re-shape your mind to think this way.
  • Who Recommended: Gift from Patrick Vlaskovits

3. Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process by Ken Kocienda (1.5.18)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: I’ve never read a book before that captures the journey of going from meh to amazing when building a product. This book does it. Part Apple / Steve Jobs pron, part memoir, and part product insights, this book is a great read on how the iPhone came to be and how they solved really hard problems. For anyone that remarks “Apple isn’t what it used to be,” this book helps you see what made the difference then.
  • Who Recommended: Saw Keith Rabois and many others talking about it.

4. The Messy Middle: Finding your way through the hardest and most crucial part of any bold venture by Scott Belsky (11.14.19)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Part autobiography, part startup + life philosophy, and part product book, I could have categorized this in a few sections. However, the strength of this book is clearly the advice and insights for how Scott’s 7+ year journey led to a fantastically successful exit to Adobe for his startup, Behance. The middle of the book is a great mix of anecdotes and tactical things you can apply if your startup is in “the Messy Middle” to turn the corner for your product.
  • Who Recommended: Saw it discussed on Twitter….and then serendipitously met the author on the subway! 

5. The Systems Bible by John Gall (7.18.18)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Does part of your work include designing, architecting, building, or thinking about how systems work? This book is a snarky look at all the reasons systems fail. The author has clearly lived a life in systems design and has no qualms about calling out all the obvious and not so obvious reasons an complex or complicated system struggles. My main qualm was it offered few solutions while pointing out problems.
  • Who Recommended: Eric Jorgenson

– Design:

1. “Design of Every Day Things” by Donald Norman (2.21.12)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: This book changed how I look at doors; if you’ve ever struggled with whether to push or pull, that’s bad design. This book is considered the seminal book on the subject of design of physical products and it’s well deserved.  If you want to change your mind to think more clearly about design, this is the book to help you quickly do it.
  • Who Recommended: Rose Grobowski

2. “Don’t Make me Think” by Steve Krug (4.19.10)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: The original usability book by Steve Krug is the best starter for anyone looking to learn the basics of the subject.  Nothing I’ve read helps crystallize as well the idea of your complicated user flow actually being a mess.
  • Who Recommended: Many.

3. “Simple and Usable” by Giles Colborne (7.14.12)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: I felt like I often saw things that were good or bad design but didn’t know why. Using beautiful full page pictures and simple explanations, this book goes through great principles for building simple & usable apps and sites.
  • Who Recommended: Read a blog post recommending it.

4. “The Non-Designers Design Book” by Robin Williams (7.26.12)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re like me, I knew nothing about fonts, layouts or basic usage of text before I read this. This book uses great, full-color examples to explain the basics of designs. If you don’t know the difference between a serif and a sans-serif font, this is a great place to start.
  • Who Recommended: Read a blog post recommending it.

5. “Rocket Surgery Made Easy” by Steve Krug (6.2.10)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: If you want to learn the basics of usability testing to improve your app or site without breaking the bank, this is the book to get. It’s a quick read completely focused on getting you to actually do your own testing.
  • Who Recommended: Many.

– Lean Startups / Customer Development

1. “The Startup Owner’s Manual” by Steve Blank (5.20.12)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: This is Steve Blank’s textbook to starting a company. It’s the Four Steps to the Epiphany, expanded and much more readable. If you want to deep dive into the Lean methodology, this is the book to read.
  • Who Recommended: Gift from Hiten Shah

2. “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development” by Cooper & Vlaskovits (12.24.11)

  • Rating: 8.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you want to learn the basics of Customer Development in only an hour or two, this is the book to read. This is a book you can give to any member of your startup and have them understand the importance of and how to implement customer development in your company.
  • Who Recommended: Found on the company bookshelf when I worked at oneforty. 

3. “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve Blank (1.4.12)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: This is the book that started the Lean Startup movement. While it is not an easy read, it is packed full of good information and helpful charts and guides.
  • Who Recommended: John Prendergast

4. When Coffee Competes with Kale by Alan Klement (8.16.19)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: If you need to beef up your understanding of the philosophy of how to be customer driven and really understand who you’re building for, this is a great book. Alan does a great job of digging into the jobs to be done concept and helping you understand what it means. The main flaw of the book is it does little to tell you *how* to do it.
  • Who Recommended: Alan is a friend.

5. “The Lean Entrepreneur” by Cooper & Vlaskovits (2.26.13)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: It goes much further and deeper into how to approach actually doing Lean in your business than Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup book. It also has some awesome case studies showing how lean can apply to any industry. See my full review here.
  • Who Recommended: Gift from the authors

6. “Getting to Plan B” by Mullins & Komisar (1.24.11)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: If your company is struggling because your initial idea isn’t working, this is the book to read. It provides a great blueprint for thinking through pivots for your business. As oneforty was considering pivots in Fall 2010, this book proved very helpful.
  • Who Recommended: Read a blog post reviewing it.

7. “Little Bets: How breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries” by Peter Sims (5.13.11)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it:  If you ever needed convinced of the importance of why starting with a small experiment is really important this is the book to convince. With interesting stories from Pixar and amongst others, it makes a compelling case.
  • Who Recommended: Blog post by author.

8. “What Customers Want” by Anthony Ulwick (7.19.10)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: This book was written before the Lean Startup movement, but espouses many of the same concepts. If you feel like you’re starting at zero in understanding what to do to become customer driven, this is a good place to start.
  • Who Recommended: Professor Compaine at Northeastern University

– Creativity

1. “The Creative Habit” by Twylah Tharp (8.23.12)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: This is a great book for understanding how the creative process works. It left me with a lot of ideas I could apply to my day to day to be more creative. After living in the world of startups and business in real life and most of the books I read, it was great to hear how the different world of dance performance can be learned from.
  • Who Recommended:

2. “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life” by Brian Grazer (8.25.15)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read It: Curiosity is an incredibly underrated skill. The art of asking questions and learning from others is a powerful way to enhance opportunities in your career and help spark new ideas. Brian Grazer, an Academy Award winning producer at Imagine Entertainment (he produces all of Ron Howard’s movies), shares how he has met hundreds of the smartest and most famous people and the lessons he’s learned by always being curious. He also shares how you can do exactly what he has done.
  • Who Recommended: Pablo Fuentes

3. “Brainsteering” by Kevin & Shawn Coyne (10.23.11)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Brainstorming sucks. If you don’t know that, read this book to understand why. If you know that but don’t feel like you have a great alternative, this is a book with a great process I have since used and found it to works great.
  • Who Recommended:

4. “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson (5.2.11)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it:  If you’re looking for inspiration and understanding how inspiration comes to you. This is an interesting hybrid investigation of how to come up with ideas and the underlying psychology of doing so.
  • Who Recommended:


1. “Made to Stick” by Chip & Dan Heath (8.14.10)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: This is everything I want in a great book: actionable, easy to read and only as long as it needs to be. It’s loaded with great basic concepts of marketing today that you can definitely apply to your startup.
  • Who Recommended: Professor Compaine at Northeastern University

2. “Own the Room: Business Presentations that Persuade, Engage, and Get Results” by Booth, Shames, & Desberg (5.31.14)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you want one book to teach you everything you need to know about giving great presentations, this is the book. A film director, a psychologist, and an actor share their combined experiences to help improve your content, the design, your movements, and just about every other detail of being a great speaker. It was a slow start, but by the end, I had dog-eared dozens of pages and marked up many more which I was able to directly apply to a major talk I was working on.
  • Who Recommended: Joseph Blackman

3. “Switch” by Chip & Dan Heath (4.14.12)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you aren’t familiar with the concept of the Elephant and the Rider, go read the Happiness Hypothesis (see the Psychology and Behavioral Economics section above). After that, read Switch as it shows how to apply those motivating factors to both inspiring your team and marketing to your customers. Just like Made to Stick, it’s actionable, easy to read and only as long as it needs to be.
  • Who Recommended: Read because of reading Made to Stick

4. Tested Advertising Methods by Caples & Hahn (1.20.14)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: If you want to learn the art and science of copywriting, then this is the book for you. An expert copywriter for decades, Caples breaks down in detail what makes a great ad versus a failing one. It’s loaded with examples and the kind of insights only a veteran can provide. You do need to provide a little imagination as he focuses on mail in based advertising in magazines, which isn’t common today. But really, how different is that from downloading free whitepapers today?
  • Who Recommended: Lars Lofgren

5. Alchemy by Rory Sutherland (9.20.19)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Rory Sutherland was part of one of the most legendary ad agencies in the world (Ogilvy) and shared the truth of what he has seen work best in advertising. The truth is that most of it is totally unexpected and counterintuitive. It was always the craziest, boldest, most unique things that outperformed the “tried and true” methods. This book will help your marketing get out of the incremental rut and on track with bolder ideas.
  • Who Recommended: Saw a tweetstorm on it and picked it up.

6. Obviously Awesome by April Dunford (7.31.19)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Simple, practical, useful. This book is a quick read that covers modern positioning and how to do it. Unlike all the theoretical books out there, this is a VC who lived a life as a marketer (all the way up to CMO/VP) doing this and then worked with more entrepreneurs. This hands on experience leads to a system that is easy to understand and apply. I’m now trying to apply it so this score will rise or fall based on the results we have.
  • Who Recommended: I follow April Dunford on Twitter.

7. “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” by Ries & Trout (12.23.13)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: This is a true marketing classic. Written originally in the ’70s, this book has aged very well by explaining the most important part of your marketing plan: How you position your company and products. This book is filled with great examples that are easy to follow and understand. It all boils down to one thing: Be #1 at something.
  • Who Recommended: Prof. Compaine at Northeastern University

8. Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets  by Peterson, et al (4.1.17)

  • Ratings: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Many of the best companies in the world created a new market as part of them succeeding. This book is a deep dive into key elements in the process of creating a market. It’s one of those books written by consultants sharing their special process, and it does a pretty good job of giving you a process you can follow. Written in 2016, it’s pretty new now, and time will tell if the ideas hold longer term.
  • Who Recommended: n/a

9. “Lean Startup Marketing” by Sean Ellis (5.29.13)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: One of the hardest things about starting a business is getting your early customers. After that, you have to find a way to *scalably* acquire those customers at a cost you can afford (i.e.- profitably). Fortunately, there are thought leaders like Sean Ellis. This is collection of Sean’s greatest wisdom on his startup marketing blog, updated with even deeper insights. A must read if you’re just starting out on a new internet venture.
  • Who Recommended: Hiten Shah

10.  “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd” by YoungMe Moon (7.4.15)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: In today’s world of massive consumer choice, it’s easy to end up locked in competitive battles where no one stands out. Harvard professor Youngme Moon makes a great series of cases for how you can still stand out. What I particularly liked about this book was it’s not like your average marketing book; instead it’s like an extended conversation with Moon exploring key concepts on differentiation without the heavy-handedness of specific rules.
  • Who Recommended: Lars Lofgren

11. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Ries & Trout (1.5.16)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: My favorite kinds of books are to the point and filled with solid, actionable advice. It’s amazing how much wisdom Ries & Trout have fit into a 130 page book. If you want to learn key marketing fundamentals, and avoid major marketing strategy failures, this book is well worth the read.
  • Who Recommended: Eric Jorgenson, Alex Turnbull, and Noah Kagan.

12. “The Thank You Economy” by Gary V. (2.7.12)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: Is there a financially justifiable reason to send a customer an exorbitant gift like a football jersey? Gary makes a very compelling case for such a move and others like it.  It’s a great exercise in thinking about unconventional marketing opportunities.
  • Who Recommended: Saw Gary V speak.

13. “Community Building on the Web” by Amy Jo Kim (10.29.10)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you need a 101 outline of the basics of how to build a community on the web regardless of your business type, this is a good, although now slightly dated, book to check out.
  • Who Recommended:  Found on the company bookshelf when I worked at oneforty.

14. “Enchantment” by Guy Kawasaki (4.18.11)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: It’s a decent coverage of the concepts of planning how to delight your customers from your product’s design to how you support and serve them. However, it felt a bit like a poor man’s Thank You Economy, with less novel ideas and some filler.
  • Who Recommended:  Found on the company bookshelf when I worked at oneforty.


Note: I’m putting a * here as I’m a newcomer to sales. As I grow my startup Lighthouse further and go deeper and deeper in applying my learnings from the books below, I may revisit these scores.

1. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on it by Chris Voss (5.11.17) & (9.5.17)

  • Rating: 10/10
  • Why Read it: Hands down, this book has made me 10s of thousands of dollars. A single sentence I learned from this book has saved multiple major deals for me. Negotiating in today’s world is a different game and there’s a constant power struggle between sides. The author of this book was a hostage negotiator, where saving half the hostages is not a success. I’m still learning to apply his concepts, but the ones I have already make this book priceless. None of the other tactics of the books on this list in sales has had the impact this one has.
  • Who Recommended: A friend at a brunch

 2. SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham (10.10.14)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read It: Neil Rackham and his team did extensive research into what separates the best sales people from the worst. He goes into detail explaining his framework, which conveniently fits the SPIN acronym.  The fact that it’s still heavily referenced and recommended by sales people decades after its writing says a lot about its quality. My experience has been great applying what I’ve learned so far.
  • Who Recommended: Rossi Khoung and Sean Sheppard

3. The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes (8.31.14)

4. The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from $0 to $100 Million by Mark Roberge (9.26.15)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Selling is hard. Building a repeatable model with a team that you attempt to rapidly scale is even harder.  Fortunately, Mark Roberge, who was one of the very first employees at HubSpot shares the processes and frameworks he used to build a sales machine. If you like the principles behind Lean Startups, then his data- and experiment-driven approach to sales will be very appealing.
  • Who Recommended: Ben Sardella & Chris Wilson

5. The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversatio by Dixon & Adamson (2.20.15)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: What do you do if someone doesn’t immediately see how your product will solve their problems? Do you give up? No. With the Challenger Sale, you can see how you can help customers understand why they need what you do.
  • Who Recommended: Rossi Khoung and Lars Lofgren.

6. You can’t teach a kid to ride a bicycle at a seminar by David Sandler (10.8.16)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Sales isn’t easy to learn, especially when you have beginners luck and then hit a wall. This book, from the Sandler Sales Method, gives a good overview of the approach, and why it can be easier to sell when you first start, than once you get into it.
  • Who Recommended: Arjun Dev Arora

7. Selling to Big Companies by Jill Konrath (12.31.15)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: Selling to big companies is a different process than selling to an individual. If you’re new to sales, this book is a great way to understand the added steps and what to do. I loved how actionable the book was. You can literally open it up and know the tactic to use, the questions to ask, or pitfalls to avoid for each step in the process.
  • Who Recommended: recommendation

8. From Impossible to Inevitable by Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin (5.19.16)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: This book is a great overview of the keys to building a repeatable sales model for your SaaS business. It’s a great mix of the best lessons from Jason Lemkin and his SaaStr blog and Aaron Ross’s top tier consulting work. You can skip the last 50 pages which transitions to being a bad self-help book.
  • Who Recommended: Saw many tweets talking about it.

9. “Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into A Sales Machine With The $100 Million Best Practices Of” by Ross & Tyler (4.30.13)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re looking to understand the basics of building and scaling a sales process and team, this book is a great primer. It also goes into great detail in how the author built a better, more reliable method than pure cold-calling to generate leads beyond the marketing team at Salesforce’s efforts.
  • Who Recommended: Multiple coworkers @KISSmetrics were reading it

10. How to Become a Rainmaker by Jeffrey Fox (9.15.17)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: If you like simple books like “ReWork”, this is the sales book for you. Fox has a simple, direct way of sharing advice on how he sees the best sales people operate. Nothing here is Earth-shattering, but if you zoom out, you realize that the little details, the simple things are what trip a lot of people up in sales (myself included). If you want to tighten up your sales game, or just get some fundamentals right, this is a good, quick read.
  • Who Recommended: Was cited in “Never Split the Difference.”

11.To Sell Is Human” by Dan Pink (10.19.14)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: Hate sales people? The thought of selling make you feel sick? This book will not only help change your mind about sales, but also helps you approach sales in a way that is far away from the stereotype of a sleezy used car salesman.  Pink pulls in studies from behaviorial economics as well as many studies and anecdotes from real sales teams to teach a new way to look at sales in the modern world.
  • Who Recommended: A gift from Nate Klaiber

HR & People Operations

1. “Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google” by Laszlo Bock (7.19.15)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re curious how Google built it’s culture and the processes thanks to their extremely data & engineering driven nature, this is a great book. What held it back was being ~100 pages too long and Bock didn’t always understand where what they did only fit at a $100Bn+, mega-profitable company. Still, the insights on the studies on their 50,000+ employees is well worth the read since so few of us can get similar statistical significance to apply to our teams.
  • Who Recommended: Heard about it at the Culture Summit.

Startup Stories

1. “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston (3.12.10)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re just starting out in entrepreneurship and need to know what it’s really like, there is no better book to read. I found it amazing to find out just how ugly startups like Blogger got before they found major success.
  • Who Recommended: Many.

2. “PayPal Wars” by Eric Jackson (7.27.11)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: Paypal survived the dot com crash to become a massively successful company. They also led to the Paypal Mafia, the most famous group of people formerly of the same company that went on to do other successful things. I wanted to know the story of the company and this book covers the good, the bad and the ugly of their journey to success.
  • Who Recommended: 

3. “Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of” by Marc Benioff (12.16.14)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Want to know the story behind how Salesforce was built? This is that story in founder Marc Benioff’s own words.  At times I found him overly prescriptive without an appreciation for his unfair advantages he had (getting to start it while having a big salary at Oracle, having $6Mn in “bootstrapped funding”, etc). However, he also helped pioneer the cloud and SaaS as a business model, so there are many great lessons to glean if you’re building a high-growth SaaS business.
  • Who Recommended: Hiten Shah. 

4. “Iconoclasts” by Gregory Berns (11.23.11)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: I read this because I was curious what sets the greatest entrepreneurs apart from everyone else? Where do they get their inspiration and how did they do it? While this book isn’t completely satisfying, it does provide a number of interesting insights into the likes of Steve Jobs and other such icons.
  • Who Recommended:  Many.

5. “Do More Faster” by many TechStars mentors & alums (11.10.10)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it:  Want advice from other entrepreneurs in short, easy to digest sections? Then this is the book for you. Every company that’s gone through TechStars submitted a lesson from one of its founders for this book.  What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in breadth.
  • Who Recommended:  Gift from Laura Fitton to her oneforty team members.

6. “Buy This Book Before You Buy Facebook: A PandoDaily Expert Guide To The Internet’s Biggest IPO” by Pando Daily writers (5.26.12)

  • Rating: 6.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you don’t know how Facebook became what it is today, this is an interesting account of many of the key steps along the way.
  • Who Recommended: Read teaser on PandoDaily

Startup How To’s

1. The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman (5.10.14)

  • Rating: 9.5/10
  • Why Read it: Starting a company requires you to make tons of important decisions that deeply impact the kind of success and failure you experience. Professor Wasserman of Harvard uses data, research, and anecdotes to paint a clear picture of the absolutely critical decisions you must make in your startup around cofounders, investors, and whether you’re building for control or wealth.
  • Who Recommended: Apollo Sinkevicius and Michael Wolfe

2. The High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil (12.18.18)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: If you plan to scale a company past about 20 employees, this book is an incredible guide to some of the toughest challenges you’ll face. Every chapter covers a different department or aspect (like managing boards, marketing, product, and sales) and includes super actionable advice and an interview with an expert from a multi-billion dollar company. The only thing preventing a 10/10 was that the PR section was fluff; if I had a dollar for every time a friend’s startup wasted $5,000-$10,000 a month on worthless PR firms, I’d be rich. Gil’s chapter on PR was as fluff as most PR firm pitches and results.
  • Who Recommended: David Tran

3: The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up by Burlingham & Brodsky (3.19.17)

  • Rating: 9/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re deep into building a company, or serious about building something that lasts, this is an excellent read. Written by a man who has built multiple $100Mn+ revenue companies. He has a great, matter of fact language and lessons that are key to the most essential parts of building a business. This is a must read for any serious founder.
  • Who Recommended: Mathias Mayer

4. “The Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki (8.2.10)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it:  If you have no idea what it takes to start a company, this is a great book to start with. Guy does an excellent job of covering all the basics quickly and efficiently.
  • Who Recommended:  Found on the company bookshelf when I worked at oneforty.

5. Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff (11.15.16) & (6.23.17)

  • Rating: 8/10*
  • Why Read it: Fundraising, and winning pitches is hard. However, there’s a series of steps you can take to persuade others. This book breaks down a great step-by-step process to control a discussion and steer it to you make the strongest case you can. What I like about this book was how approachable it was, and that it’s basically written by a guy that figured out a winning process and wanted to share it.* = Rating has been improved from 7.5 because over time I’ve found it more valuable.
  • Who Recommended: TJ Ross

6. Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and VC by Feld & Mendelson (9.16.15)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you’re considering raising institutional funding for your startup, then this is a key book to read to understand the fundamentals of the legal documents and terms. It came recommended by a number of fellow entrepreneurs and it didn’t disappoint. I haven’t raised money yet myself so I may change this score up or down significantly once I have that first hand experience.
  • Who RecommendedThis tweet from Danielle Morrill.

7. Pitching Hacks by Venture Hacks (11.3.15)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: This is a really short book that just gets to the point. It’s a great checklist to think about what you need to pull together if you’re going to raise money from investors. It helps you avoid some common pitfalls and gives you a good start on what you need to do to nail your elevator, recruiting, and funding pitches.
  • Who Recommended: Various friends over time.

8. “Mastering the VC Game” by Jeff Bussgang (3.19.10)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: The interests of a Venture Capitalist are different than those of the entrepreneurs building a company they’ve invested in. Jeff does an awesome job of helping explain how you can get misaligned in your goals versus your investors. Fortunately, he also covers how to avoid it.
  • Who Recommended: Got a copy because Jeff Bussgang was on @oneforty’s board

9. “ReWork” by Jason Fried and DHH (4.2.10) & (11.17.13)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: The team at 37 Signals have very strong opinions on how to build a company and much of it is solid advice to consider. This book is particularly great because it’s a simple, quick read; they do not waste your time with fluff.
  • Who Recommended: Mike ChampionRobby Grossman & Rachel Langer.

Being a Well-Rounded Reader

1. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (7.26.13)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: After having multiple friends recommend it, I decided it was time to read a book by the controversial Ayn Rand. I greatly enjoyed the lengthy story of triumph of the creative individual over the status quo, but I found the rape-driven relationship between main characters distasteful and took away from the story.
  • Who Recommended: Paul Hlatky, Ben Carcio, and Brett Hardin

2. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (1.29.17)

  • Rating: 8/10
  • Why Read it: This economics thought experiment is a classic book originally written in 1946. Like most books that follow Nassim Taleb’s “all books worth reading are at least 20 years old” rule, it has timeless lessons throughout. It tackles all kinds of ongoing political/economic concepts like rent control, minimum wage, tariffs, “saving industries”, and more. I didn’t always agree with everything, but it helped think about many of the second-order effects and unintended consequences of policy (many of which we see happening today).
  • Who Recommend: Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame called it one of the books every American should read.

3. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus (1.5.18)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Who are the best engineers and designers in the world? Nature. This book is an interesting, science-heavy look at some really interesting properties in nature we could use to learn from as we try to design new technology.  Benyus takes us across the spectrum from photosynthesis, to agriculture, to spiders. If you want to geek out on a little biology while applying it to technology this is a good read.
  • Who Recommended: I saw a video on biomimicry on a Japanese bullet train redesign and picked up the book as it was mentioned at the end.

4. Decoded by Jay-Z (7.26.13)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: Decoded is a semi-autobiographical book that tells Jay-Z’s story growing up and finding success in hip hop. It also helps you deeply understand the inner-city ghetto struggles (Jay was actually a drug dealer until age 27). In organized sections of hand picked songs with RapGenius-style lyric explanations (note: Decoded came first), you see through his eyes the difficult choices he and so many others faced while listening to some of his best tracks.
  • Who Recommended: I’m a big Jay-Z fan, so I picked this out myself.

5. Permanent Record by Edward Snowden (11.30.19)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: If you care about privacy, or want to understand what the NSA and CIA really do to monitor Americans, this book is an important read. It explains from beginning to end how Snowden became the privacy hero he is today, why he decided to leak the information, and how he did it. It’s an interesting and important read, but also probably 100 pages too long.
  • Who Recommended: I’ve followed Snowden since the original leak and Citizen 4 documentary.

6. Not Caring What Other People Think is a SuperPower by Ed Latimore (4.28.19)

  • Rating: 7.5/10
  • Why Read it: I follow Ed Latimore on twitter. He writes a lot of interest things there, so I was curious to pick up his book to see what he’d say in a longer form. This book is like getting beers and talking life with Ed for about 5-6 hours. Lots of truisms and life lessons that should resonate in the world we live in today. It’s no Earth-shattering, but it is a great way to get more good ideas in your head.
  • Who Recommended: I follow Ed Latimore on Twitter.

7. Bossypants by Tina Fey (6.10.13)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: Not only is Tina Fey a very funny writer, it’s fascinating to have the opportunity to climb inside the head of a successful female leader.  Reading the internal drama within Tina’s head as she thought about whether she wanted a second child while considering how it would affect the 100+ employees that worked for her on 30 Rock was priceless. As a manager, it gives me an understanding and level of empathy I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
  • Who Recommended: Kelsey Albro & Kai Itameri-Kinter

8. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari (12.31.15)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Why Read it: A lot of people have raved about this book in Silicon Valley, so I wanted to see what it was all about. It’s a great interpretation of the history of man. Unfortunately, it has about 10% of the citations it deserves for the subject matter.  I found it a really interesting set of ideas for how to think about how we evolved. I felt there was some inaccuracies, but appreciate having the perspective of an expert.
  • Who Recommended: Saw Sean Rose and Keith Rabois tweeted about it, among others.

9. On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder (6.30.18)

  • Rating: 6/10
  • Why Read it: Given the rise of nationalism, violent groups like ANTIFA, polarization in media, and Godwin’s law applying to every social media discussion, I was curious about how tyranny rises. In essence, my question was: how do we go from the friendly ideas of equality and helping everyone to brutal dictators, mass genocides, economic collapse, and starvation in socialist & communist nations? My friend recommended this book, which provided some interesting ideas from an historian, but left me wanting more.
  • Who Recommended: David Tran

Books I recommend you DO NOT read

1. “Competing on Analytics” (4.29.12)

  • Rating: 1/10
  • Why NOT Read it:  I found about 15 of the 200 pages interesting. The rest of it were empty case studies and platitudes that teach you nothing about how to actually do analytics or really anything else useful.

2. “Trust Agents” by Chris Brogan (1.9.10)

  • Rating: 2/10
  • Why NOT Read it: I value the time I spend reading a book greatly, so nothing frustrates me more than a book that is drawn out to hit a page goal. Coming in at over 275 pages, this book should have been under 100.  If you know how to tweet and add value, you have nothing to learn from this book.

3. “Tipping Point” By Malcolm Gladwell (6.20.10)

  • Rating: 3/10
  • Why NOT Read it: If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s books, you know the formula: 5-10 specific anecdotes and a rule he emphasis throughout.  Save yourself some time and read a blog post or review of the book.

4. “Startup Lessons Learned” by Eric Ries (10.12.10)

  • Rating: 3/10
  • Why NOT Read it: This is a collection of blog posts written on Eric Ries’s blog.  I think it’s much more efficient to search his blog when you have a question or interest in some aspect of lean.

5. “Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks (1.16.15)

  • Rating: 3/10
  • Why NOT Read it: This is supposedly Bill Gates’s favorite business book.  I read the 12 stories and over 400 pages and all I got from it is that Wall Street is as bad as I thought it was. The book is filled with failed businesses, insider trading, and other bad Wall Street behavior. Business Adventures was out of print until Gates called it his favorite book. I think it fell out of print for a reason.

6. “The Lean Startup” By Eric Ries (11.9.11)

  • Rating: 4/10
  • Why NOT Read it: If you actually want to learn how to actually BE a lean startup or how to actually do it, this book will not help you. If you want to learn the high level concepts only then this is a great book. The other books I have above I encourage you to read before this one if you want to truly learn and implement lean practices.

7. On the Shortness of Life by Seneca (3.13.18)

  • Rating: 4/10
  • Why NOT Read it: While it’s only 40 pages, it could have been 4 pages. Basically, many die but few truly live. Don’t waste your life – 1) Wishing for Tomorrow, 2) Drifting without presence in the moment, 3) Chasing celebrity which is a curse once you have it, 4) Living in the past, missing what you can do going forward.

8. Lincoln the Unknown by Dale Carnegie (9.30.18)

  • Rating: 5/10
  • Why NOT read it: This book is depressing. Assuming Dale Carnegie (yes, the same guy who wrote the incredible How to Win Friends and Influence People) is accurate, Abraham Lincoln is the most pathetic historical figure I’ve ever studied. He married a monster he was so afraid of he skipped his wedding before being browbeat into marrying her. His family was destitute and yet refused payment for legal services he provided. Then, as President, he went from failure to failure leading to the dragging on of the Civil War. His one redeeming quality was his indomitable will to preserve the Union, which I knew without reading this book.

9. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Fisher & Ury (9.5.15)

  • Rating: 5/10
  • Why Read it: This book is supposed to be the gold standard on negotiation. It’s what’s taught all over the world and at the best business schools. After reading “Never Split the Difference” and “Pitch Anything” I know now this is BS. Yes, looking for win-wins is good and not being a jerk is a good idea, but the docile approach recommended in this book will leave you on the short end too often. Even more important, you can learn more about the other person and make *both* sides happier with the outcome following Never Split the Difference. I know because I’ve tried both approaches and got much better results from NStD.

22 thoughts on “Books

  1. Pingback: My Philosophy on Reading Books « The Art of Living

  2. Another great one you might consider reading is “How to Argue and Win Every Time” by Spence. This author does a nice job of describing how to honestly ‘win’ in many aspects of life, which means good communication and that everyone feels satisfied with the outcome. Life’s not a zero sum game.

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  5. Thanks Jason! I have been following your blog for about a month now and I just moved to SF in late January. I’m interested in meeting up and sharing ideas. I have a huge list of books I’ve been reading- I mostly listen to them on the bus or in commute (its hard for me to read while getting squished/body slammed on the dirty 30 bus). Hope all is well – reach out if you can meet somewhere in the city- I also commute to San Jose once a week. -Laura

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  7. Great list. I would recommend Peopleware by DeMarco and Lister. It’s a must read when it comes to company culture and managing development teams. It might be a bit dated but the ideas in it are definitely not so!

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  9. Ouch! That is a tough score for Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve never read tipping point but I loved Outliers. I also am about to begin reading What the Dog Saw. I love the fresh perspective he offers on Outliers.

  10. Thanks for the great list of book recommendations, Jason. I just committed to starting my own SaaS business, so your book list hit me at the perfect time. I’ve added a number of your recommendations to my “buy next” list.

    I’m currently reading “The Lean Startup” and was happy to see you gave high marks to several books I’ve got staged on my bookshelf. One book in my queue is “Lean Analytics” – I’ll share my opinion after getting through it if you haven’t read it yet.

    P.S. The URL for the Hiten Shah link under “Lean Startup Marketing” needs fixing.

  11. Pingback: 3 Books Every Investor Should Read « The Art of Living

  12. Hi Jason, I stumbled upon your page on books while looking up something else. It’s really neat how focused you are in carefully selecting what you read. There are a few 10’s for me that I’d love for someone else to read, so wanted to pass them on to you. Let me know if you get around to reading them. Hope you enjoy them like I did. They are not clearly outcome-oriented, results-producing books. Those evidently work amazingly for you- some people are great at reading something in theory, and translating that into their daily lives and making it work. But I think even if you may not realize you’re interested in the subject a book’s about, and even if it has no immediately appreciable use, it can still be worthwhile to read for purposes of plain enjoyment which I think psychologists have demonstrated contributes to efficiency in some way, insights into who you (editorial) are – which most people think is somehow useful in life, and let me get started on the brief list because I really believe it’s good stuff:

    1. Adventures of a bystander by Peter Drucker
    why read it: it’s written by a man with an amazing life. An author’s interesting biography isn’t exactly a reason to read his book, but you know who Drucker is, right? He created management, like bringing into existence something from that which is invisible. This would be similar to reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography.

    In the book, Drucker writes about partly his time growing up, but also I think people he knew as an adult, and his encounters with these distinguished individuals. His family was very well connected so his parents would hold parties where their fellow brilliant intellectuals and maybe even some of the movers and shakers of their society would gather and Drucker as a kid would hang out with them, chat, and soak in their genius. What he ended up doing was not what they did- he came up with something altogether new – interesting case in point. The stories are non-fiction, beautifully written which is amazing given that his field is not journalism or literature, and also because his first language probably wasn’t English (think the original was written in English). Which goes to suggest the very concrete utility of being, in your words, ‘well-rounded’.
    who recommended it: my Dad bought the book.

    2. The denial of death by Ernest Becker
    why read it: again, good writing. Also, it tells you, or gives its well presented opinion on, what drives mankind. I noticed you had a book, The Mating Mind, in your list of things you read and liked. This is similar to that in its central theme. Basically, the sexual drive is important and it’s somehow linked to the denial of death and what makes people do what they do or anything at all. In it, Becker quotes the praise for an author, Rank, whose work Becker’s is a synthesis of, which I’d apply to this very book.

    Rank once wrote something that was described as being ‘beyond praise’. Becker explains it as: “Rank was- as the young people say -“something else.” You cannot merely praise much of his work because in its stunning brilliance it is often fantastic, gratuitous, superlative; the insights seem like a gift, beyond what is necessary.” Becker goes on to say that this may be due to, quoting loosely, “Rank’s thought spanning several fields of knowledge; when he talked about anthropological data and you expected anthropological insight, you got something else, something more. Living as we do in an era of hyperspecialization we have lost the expectation of this kind of delight; the experts give us manageable thrills- if they thrill us at all.”
    Who recommended it: chance, Providence

    3. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
    why read it: you guessed it, good writing. But in a different way. Of course, this is fiction. If you like quotes and you may have said you collect them, this book is full of it. The quotes are delicious both in substance and style. Read and be filled! To persuade you to read it, can I say a bit more. He writes about difficult people of all types and strange situations which when you describe it factually are incredible but it’s the how that makes the pudding, I think. How strange things occur, how good, intelligent, fun people end up being seemingly inextricably linked to dark, most would find dull, clearly manipulative beings more succinctly described as scum. And the ending is very strange. If you end up reading it and understand the ending, please explain it to me! I’ve read the book 2-3 times, and I still don’t quite get the ending. And this is not a magic realism book.
    Who recommended it: I had a friend who read classics and I was jealous of her attention span and wondered how people could stand such boring, thick books. I was also looking at the SATs in a few years at that time so thought it would help brush up my vocab. Nice surprise to say the least.

    This is a book where each time I’ve read it, I find something new in it. I get out of it different things according to where I am in life, what mood I’m in.

    4. Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux
    why read it: the idea behind it is uncanny. It’s an unusual book with a very relevant idea. The idea, I take it (skimmed most of it, didn’t really read it, but may I still recommend it be picked up by another reader?), is that who and what a person is, is encrypted like DNA in their words- their writing and what they say. That your words – as an entirety – are a blueprint of you, and that you can recreate a person, eg. person A, if you were to inject person A’s vast collection of thought in writing, into body of person B, by reading it to them. And this recreated ‘person A- in- body of B’, can then go on to write and speak and ‘be’ / live as, produce new stuff that is faithful to who person A is. Have you ever read a book like that? Well, it reminds a bit of John 1 from the New Testament. If you’ve ever wondered what all that talk about faith coming by hearing and hearing the word, and how in the beginning was the word and the word became flesh and mind baffling words like that, this book is a secular attempt (inadvertent) to answer that. The book isn’t theological in any way – it does refer to religion but only in a social and literary context – but it somehow addresses that conceptual puzzle.

    I didn’t think it was beautifully written as some other stuff I’ve come across – wordy (not that I’m in a position to make that point of criticism), transparently self-indulgent (possibly, nor this), and lacked elegance (“) – but to my knowledge, the book has a monopoly on writing about this unusual and intriguing idea.

    Who recommended it: book club

    That’s the end of this list.

    Very much hope you read some or all of it.
    By the way, probably should have started with this, thanks for putting your list online. I read part of a fraction of it and enjoyed it. Tina Fey is a funny lady indeed.


    P.S. Not sure if you have the time or inclination to do this, but have you ever thought about writing a book on that subject of ‘tech’ for the non-tech or the not so tech people. It sounds like you definitely have the credentials, and it could be like the Greek hero who brought the gift of making fire to earthlings- popular and also useful given the rate technology is developing and how it is inseparable from daily life. Just an idea. You could call it ‘what the hech is tech’ – if it doesn’t violate any copyright issues.

    • Tracy,

      Thanks so much for the detailed comments and book recommendations. I really appreciate it.

      Can you tell me more about your PS? What questions do you have in the field of “tech for the non-tech”?

      What would you like to know? What would a book such as you suggest include?


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  14. Honestly, the PS remark was an afterthought thrown in after feeling like I’d exited a black hole having briefly ventured into the part of your blog on Stratasys and 3D printing.

    Some questions that I’d personally be interested in though, would be:
    – spotify. It’s great for the consumer, but how is it at all lucrative for the people that run that enterprise
    – if tech might one day be a profession, not unlike the others from previous ages, of law, medicine, engineering, even music. People generally go through a commonly understood kind of training to do those professions. Even with corporate business, the usual track I’d think would be the MBA. Just like management evolved after Drucker came up with the idea less than 100 years ago, and now there are business schools, would tech evolve in that way? Would parents one day be prepping their kids to do tech as a profession, if the industry lends itself effectively to standardization of this sort?
    – socially speaking, what is meant when someone says they do ‘tech’. What all does that encompass or can that refer to?
    – if apps and technology would be a way to develop a sustainable and profitable business for areas that lack hard resources, as a means of economic development, not just in terms of countries but maybe for prisoners. Washing laundry or other similar labor is hardly mentally stimulating for them and surely one of the reasons for mischief is boredom. Yet domestic security cannot tolerate unsupervised freedom for many current inmates. A humane and practical solution may be in technology (and music). It could even be used to financially prepare current inmates for life back outside.
    – what would be the understanding of tech required to be a fully functioning and well rounded person. Math is at least a functional need, and a basic grasp of literature is accepted to be a requirement in being a complete person. Would there be an equivalent in technology, apart from knowing how to use a computer for e-mails and power point presentations? Come to think of it, it likely isn’t a black and white issue, but something tailored to each profession.
    – is technology the next (or now) property market in terms of being a place where people invest to improve their financial profile as people used to do previously by buying houses and renting them out, and is it a particularly good option for younger people since firstly, they have less capital and it seems you can invest more easily in tech than in other entities with less (not sure if this is correct), and it feels like there’s a pressure to start investing ASAP for reasons to do with inflation, retirement and other considerations.

    – finally, a very general question. Are there any new, paradigm-changing products or trends in technology that even people whose main line of work is not technology cannot afford to be ignorant of for cultural, economic, political reasons.

    That’s some of it. On re-reading, it doesn’t yet have the makings of a coherent book. Some of this may be answered by simply subscribing to a tech or gadget magazine :). However, anything wittily written with some central theme usually has potential. And writing is fun.

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