In keeping with our tradition of sharing our current reads—a regular occurrence here—refer to our newly unveiled winter 2023 compilation of books, games, movies, and more, derived collaboratively from the a16z crypto team. Enclosed are select volumes recently chosen for the giveaway library at our second annual a16z crypto Founder Summit. This time, we've added personal annotations to a few of these "staff picks" to provide insight into our choices.
As always, note that the books featured in this compilation aren't exclusively for crypto founders. The selection encompasses biographies, company building, organizational history, creative inspiration, and science fiction, ensuring there's something for everyone in the crypto sphere and beyond.
…company building, how-to
"The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn" by Richard Hamming (Stripe Press) offers a comprehensive exploration of key concepts in distributed systems. Highly recommended for budding systems engineers, Kleppmann delves into the challenges of building, maintaining, and scaling distributed systems, covering data models, system design, and the future of data systems. While not explicitly addressing blockchains, the book serves as a solid foundation for engineers seeking a deeper understanding of the distributed systems essential for blockchain development. - Sam Broner, Engineering
"Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems" by Martin Kleppmann is a highly digestible yet thorough examination of distributed systems. It's my top recommendation for young systems engineers. Kleppmann analyzes the intricacies of building, maintaining, and scaling distributed systems, covering data models, system design, and the future of data systems. Although the book doesn't explicitly address blockchains, it provides an excellent foundation for engineers seeking to comprehend the distributed systems integral to blockchain development. - Sam Broner, Engineering
"Scaling People: Tactics for Management and Company Building" by Claire Hughes Johnson (Stripe Press)
"A Theory of Fun for Game Design" by Raph Koster
"Thinking in Systems: A Primer" by Donella Meadows
"Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot" by Matt Abrahams
Editor’s note: Explore our related podcast where we delve into the book's themes and their application in technical settings, including the crypto industry.
…builder biographies, organizations, and process of innovation
"Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology by Chris Miller offers a concise and thoughtful history of semiconductor manufacturing from 1947 to 2022. As the book concludes, readers are left pondering what lies ahead, positioning all of us—founders, engineers, technologists, writers, and participants—firmly in the tapestry of computing history." — Eddy Lazzarin, CTO
"The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes stands as my all-time favorite non-fiction book, gaining renewed relevance with the release of the Oppenheimer film. Covering the journey from the late 19th century to the making and deployment of atomic bombs and their aftermath, Rhodes delivers compulsively readable content, coupled with insightful science explanations. For founders, it's a narrative of discovery, building, and engagement in world-changing projects." — Tim Sullivan, editorial partner
"Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed by Ben Rich and Leo Janos"
"How to Build a Car: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Formula 1 Designer by Adrian Newey offers an in-depth look into the mind of legendary Formula 1 Aerodynamicist Adrian Newey. This autobiography unveils the problem-solving prowess of a great engineer, showcasing how Newey and his team navigated strict Formula 1 restrictions, ingeniously exploiting loopholes for incremental gains over competitors. The story serves as an insightful narrative of innovation and perseverance in a cutthroat sport, influencing the current appearance of F1 cars and impacting everything from everyday vehicles to high-performance sports cars and EVs. A must-read for F1 enthusiasts and those fascinated by innovation." — Sagar Dhawan, data scientist
"Shoe Dog: A Memoir from the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight"
"Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins recounts the extraordinary life of David Goggins, one of only 36 African American Navy SEALs and a remarkable endurance athlete. Despite being born with a heart condition and severe dyslexia, with an abusive drug dealer father, Goggins forged an incredible career in the Armed Forces and as an extreme endurance athlete. His powerful message is simple: If I can achieve what I have against seemingly insurmountable odds, imagine your own potential. A recommended read for every founder and CEO I work with." –Jason Rosenthal, operating partner
"Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing"
…tech trends, history, open source/ web3 themes
The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Reflections on Linux and Open Source by an Unintentional Revolutionary, Eric Raymond
The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod
Seeing Like a State: The Failure of Specific Schemes to Enhance the Human Condition, James Scott
The Sovereign Individual: Navigating the Shift to the Information Age, James Dale Davidson & William Rees-Mogg
The Inevitable: Grasping the 12 Technological Forces That Will Mold Our Future, Kevin Kelly
…sci-fi and other fiction
The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem, penned in 1964, stands as one of the pioneering science fiction novels proposing the concept of 'smartdust.' Comprising nano machines, identical in form and individually harmless, they attain super-intelligence when forming a cloud—an idea remarkably reminiscent of blockchain. The novel is a compelling and high-quality work of science fiction. — Valeria Nikolaenko, research partner
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
…more creative inspiration
The Creative Act: Embracing Existence by Rick Ruben
The Nolan Variations: Unraveling the Cinematic World of Christopher Nolan by Tom Shone
…selected repeats from last year’s list
The Company: A Brief Account of an Innovative Concept by John Micklethwait & Adrian Woolrdige
Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Pursuit to Electrify the Globe by Jill Jonnes
Crafting the Internet by David Clark
The Decline and Revival of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Coding Democracy: How Hackers Disrupt Power, Surveillance, and Authoritarianism by Maureen Webb