A year is never complete without a “best of” list. Here’s a list of books I’ve truly enjoyed reading in 2016:
Internet promised us a future with true peer-to-peer value exchange, a digital return to the free marketplaces of 16th century. Instead, it gave power to monopolies like Amazon and Uber and enabled them to value extraction to scale, without being restricted by geography and borders. Rushkoff argues that our existing economic operating system is incompatible with our modern digital world and needs an upgrade: one that prioritizes needs of people over companies that focus on growth for the sake of growth. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
A must-read for anyone who has ever worked in online advertising, a startup or both. In his roller-coaster ride of a career including crunching numbers at Goldman Sachs, building an ad-tech startup as a Y Combinator graduate, monetizing ads for Facebook and advising Twitter, Martinez lays it out how online advertising works and why success in Silicon Valley has more to do with chance than skills. His writing occasionally sounds like a resentful ex-employee, but his politically incorrect, often cynical and absolutely hilarious writing makes this book super-entertaining.
A fascinating read on how we evolved from our savannah-dwelling, hunter-gatherer roots to become the dominant species on earth through cognitive, agricultural and scientific revolutions. Harari argues that our ability to believe in imagined realities such as religion, nations and money played a big role in allowing us to live together in groups bigger than 150 people, building civilizations and conquering the earth. His writing is intriguing, humorous and entertaining. Reading this book is a bit like playing Civilization, sans the game-play.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything
Chris Hadfield, an astronaut who has logged more than 4000 hours in space shares his experiences in space in vivid detail while explaining how “thinking like an astronaut”, being persistent, sweating the small details and preparing for the worst can help us live better lives on earth. If you’ve ever dreamed of going to space, you will love this book.
The Mongolians are well-known for their hugely successful military campaign that resulted in more land in 25 years than the Romans did in 400 years. This book does a good job of explaining the lesser-known principles of the Mongol Empire, such as free trade, primacy of the state over the church, freedom of religion, diplomatic immunity, and international law—all ideas that gained new importance in their time and contributed to the making of the modern world.
Although I don’t necessarily agree that outsourcing everything to third world countries and exploiting global arbitrage opportunities will necessarily help you spend your days sipping piña coladas in tropical islands next year, this books makes valid arguments such as the importance of focusing on living life “now” rather than deferring it to “retirement”. It introduces the concept of “lifestyle design” while supporting it with great resources on how to start a business while keeping your day job. If anything, it’s worthy of a read in order to appreciate how Timothy Ferris likely built an empire by convincing people that it’s possible to essentially have your cake and eat it too.
Finally, an excellent book on one of my favorite topics: booze. A Wired editor distills scientific research on everything we know about alcohol, infuses it with witty and cynical humor we have learned to appreciate from the magazine. The book goes into detailed explanations about fermentation, distillation, aging and the effects of alcohol on humans. Spoiler alert: we still don’t know what causes hangovers or how to fix it.