What Book has the Most Page-for-Page Wisdom?

Here is what happened when I asked twenty-seven thousand people “What is page for page the book with the most wisdom you’ve ever read?”

My thinking was, and still is, that you need to filter what you read. Reading, I mean really reading, is not simple. It’s time consuming. So aside from finding time and remembering what you read, you want to make sure you’re reading the right things. There are a few approaches to this filtering. One is to employ the Lindy Effect. But another approach that I use personally is, and this is really going to sound simple, to ask smart people what they’re reading, what they learned from, or, in this case, what book has the most page-per-page wisdom.

The results are often surprising and I usually find one or two books that I’ve never heard of that offer a lot of value.

In no particular order, here is what twitter had to say:

Seeking Wisdom, by Peter Bevelin
This is number 8 on the list of books that changed my life. It is also the book I give away most often, sending innumerable copies around the globe.

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan
This is one of the best-selling science books of all time. I’ve never read it, so I ordered it after reading the blurb: “retraces the fourteen billion years of cosmic evolution that have transformed matter into consciousness, exploring such topics as the origin of life, the human brain, Egyptian hieroglyphics, spacecraft missions, the death of the Sun, the evolution of galaxies, and the forces and individuals who helped to shape modern science.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
A book that a lot of people, myself included, talk about but have never read. It’s time to change that.

Do the Work!, by Steven Pressfield
I liked Pressfield’s, The War of Art enough to pick this manifesto arguing that ideas are not enough, you actually have to do the work.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
I’ve picked this book up at least 3 different times in my life and stopped reading it for one reason or another. Considered a cult classic by many, I haven’t found the right time to read it … yet.

The Conquest of Happiness, Bertrand Russell
First published in 1930, this book attempts to “diagnose the myriad causes of unhappiness in modern life and chart a path out of the seemingly inescapable malaise.” The book remains as relevant today as ever, and in this edition Daniel Dennett, who showed us how to how to criticize with kindness, re-introduces Russell’s wisdom to a new generation of readers and thinkers calling the work “a prototype of the flood of self-help books that have more recently been published, few of them as well worth reading today as Russell’s little book.”

This is Water by David Foster Wallace
This is one of the best things you will ever read (and hopefully periodically re-read). I wholeheartedly agree with this selection.

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
Another of the books that changed my life and also one of the books that I gave away at the Re:Think Innovation workshop. Translation matters enormously with this book, get this one.

Letters from a Stoic, Seneca
Love love love. As relevant today as it was when it was written.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
The person who recommended this book said “you can’t throw away any one page of this book.” You can read a quick overview of the book, but I’d recommend digging in.

Dr Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
I agree. Don’t write it off because it’s a kids’ book. I love this book.

An Intimate History of Humanity, by Theodore Zeldin
I’d never heard of this work exploring the evolution of emotions before. Time magazine called it “An intellectually dazzling view of our past and future.”

The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck
I’d never heard of this book (seriously) either and it’s sold 7 million copies. A book to “help us explore the very nature of loving relationships and lead us toward a new serenity and fullness of life.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
“For all the answers, stick your thumb to the stars!”

19 More Book Recommendations from Billionaire Charlie Munger

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In Book Recommendations from Billionaire Charlie Munger That will Make you Smarter, we covered off some of the books that he’s recommended to readers and Berkshire Hathaway shareholders over the years. As a voracious reader himself, however, he has even more recommendations. Here are 19 others Munger has recommended to the curious reader.

1. No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality
Harris is a great detective and systematically works her way though the currently popular explanations, such as birth order, and explains why none of these solve the mystery of human individuality.

2. Darwin’s Blind Spot: Evolution Beyond Natural Selection
Ryan takes the view that cooperation, not competition, is a factor in natural selection. The dependence, for example, of flowering plans on insects and birds for pollination is symbiosis, or cooperation. Mixing symbiosis with Darwin’s theory we come to a more accurate picture of the natural world.

3. Man’s Search For Meaning
The book sheds light on the horrible experiences of Auschwitz and what they taught Viktor Frankl about life, love, and our search for meaning. When all seems hopeless, why is it that some people push forward while others subside.

4. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design
In the eighteenth century, William Paley argued that a watch is too complicated to happen by accident and so too are living things. Darwin undercut that argument with his discovery of natural selection and here Dawkins offers an elegant riposte. Natural selection has no purpose, it is an unconscious, automatic, and blind watchmaker.

5. Judgment in Managerial Decision Making
This is hands down the most useful book on management decision-making that I’ve ever read. Seriously.

6. The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language
Pinker, one of the world’s foremost experts on language and the mind, explores how language works, how we learn it, and how it evolves. He lands on the site of language being a human instinct, birthed by evoltuion.

7. Master of the Game: Steve Ross and the Creation of Time Warner
This is a biography of Steve Ross, whose career spanned from Wall Street to Hollywood, by an award-winning journalist. Ross was a polarizing figure, both revered and reviled, who sought out risky deals culminating in the empire of Time Warner.

8. In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
This book is no surprise to those who follow Munger closely. He loves learning about engineering cultures.

9. A Universe out of Nothing
Bestselling author and acclaimed physicist Lawrence Krauss looks at the biggest question of all: how everything that exists came to be in the first place. “Where did the universe come from? What was there before it? What will the future bring? And finally, why is there something rather than nothing?”

10. Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
A fascinating look at corporate America and Wall Street culture during the 80s by a masterful storyteller.

11. The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success
A book that details the extraordinary success of CEOs who took a radically different approach to corporate management.

12. Distant Force: A Memoir of the Teledyne Corporation and the Man Who Created It, with an Introduction to Teledyne Technologies
Henry Singleton, the creator of Teledyne detailed in this book, was one of the eight unconventional CEOs mentioned above. If there was a businessman hall of fame, Singleton would be on the first ballot.

13. Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire
How Bill Gates transformed an industry when everyone was trying to prevent him. Gates wasn’t always the richest person in the world.

14. Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street
Our man Claude Shannon comes up again with his fascinating work with John Kelly. Together they applied the science of information theory to make as much money as they could as fast as they could.

15. Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story
An intimate exposure of Enron’s implosion. Think it can’t happen again? Think again.

16. The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century
If science had a hall of fame the five men from this book, born at the turn of the twentieth century in Budapest – Theodore von Kármán, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, and Edward Telle – would all be members. Their work underpinned some of the most important political developments of the twentieth century.

17. Einstein: His Life and Universe
Munger, who reads every Einstein biography, considers this one from Walter Isaacson to be the best.

18. Getting It Done: How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge
An interesting book full of practical ideas that takes a realistic view of organizations and asks how, in a world of matrix management and chaos, do we lead when we are not the one in charge?

19. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
One of Munger’s all-time heroes was Ben Franklin. This autobiography was written as a letter of instruction in the ways of the world.

The Six Books Bill Gates Thinks You Should Read This Summer

Bill Gates Summer 2014 Reading List

Bill Gates is out with his annual summer reading list and, while shorter than last year’s, it’s nonetheless full of interesting reads.

I ended up ordering two of them, one of which is considered to be “the best business book I’ve ever read” by both Warren Buffett and Gates.

Gates writes “I read them all earlier this year and think each one is terrific. Only one, The Rosie Project, qualifies as a typical beach read. But all six are deeply informative and beautifully written.”

1. Business Adventures, by John Brooks.

Warren Buffett recommended this book to me back in 1991, and it’s still the best business book I’ve ever read. Even though Brooks wrote more than four decades ago, he offers sharp insights into timeless fundamentals of business, like the challenge of building a large organization, hiring people with the right skills, and listening to customers’ feedback. He is also a masterful storyteller, peppering his articles with compelling portraits of everyone from General Electric executives to the founder of Piggly Wiggly groceries. His article on the fate of the Ford Motor Company’s Edsel is a classic. Business Adventures is out of print in hardcover and paperback (not true, after a recommendation from Gates they ran another print, which is due out in Sept.), but you can now buy it in e-book form. And you can download chapter 5, “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox,” free. I wish all business writing were half as good.

2. Stress Test, by Timothy F. Geithner.

The central irony of Stress Test is that a guy who was accused of being a lousy communicator as U.S. Treasury Secretary has penned a book that is such a good read. Geithner paints a compelling human portrait of what it was like to be fighting a global financial meltdown while at the same time fighting critics inside and outside the Administration as well as his own severe guilt over his near-total absence from his family. The politics of fighting financial crises will always be ugly. But it helps if the public knows a little more about the subject—what’s at stake, what the options are, what has worked in similar situations—so that the loud talkers resonate a bit less and the knowledgeable ones a bit more. …

3. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

I read a lot about Teddy Roosevelt last year, around the time Melinda and I took our kids to the Panama Canal. He was instrumental in getting the canal built, and I’d assumed it was the highlight of his career. But it wasn’t. It’s a testament to the breadth and depth of Roosevelt’s accomplishments that the canal warrants only a handful of mentions in this biography. There’s just too much other fascinating material competing for space, from Roosevelt’s relationship with the press and his friendship with William Howard Taft (who was brilliant in his own right) to his efforts to fight corruption and reform the political system.

I’m especially interested in the central question that Goodwin raises: How does social change happen? Can it be driven by a single inspirational leader, or do other factors have to lay the groundwork first? Sometimes a single leader can make a big difference: In the field of global health, Jim Grant almost singlehandedly created a global constituency for children, sparking a movement to double vaccination rates and save millions of lives. But Roosevelt’s case was different. Although he tried to push through a number of political reforms earlier in his career, he wasn’t really successful until journalists at McClure’s and other publications had rallied public support for change.

I loved Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and highly recommend this one too.

4. The Rosie Project: A Novel, by Graeme Simsion.

Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s a funny and profound book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. It is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time.

5. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Climate change is a big problem—one of the biggest we’ll face this century—but it’s not the only environmental concern on the horizon. Humans are putting down massive amounts of pavement, moving species around the planet, over-fishing and acidifying the oceans, changing the chemical composition of rivers, and more. Natural scientists posit that there have been five extinction events in the Earth’s history (think of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs), and Kolbert makes a compelling case that human activity is leading to the sixth. Unlike a lot of people who write about the environment, Kolbert doesn’t resort to hype. She just lays out the facts and wraps them in memorable anecdotes. It’s a sobering but engaging and informative read.

6. Reinventing American Health Care: How the Affordable Care Act Will Improve Our Terribly Complex, Blatantly Unjust, Outrageously Expensive, Grossly Inefficient, Error Prone System, by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.

One of the architects of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) makes the case for why the U.S. health care system needed reform and how Obamacare sets out to fix the problems. Although he was deeply involved in its creation, Emanuel is good about making it clear when he’s educating you about the history of health care and when he’s advocating for his ideas. He calls out a few things he disagreed with in Obamacare, like the creation of a separate health-insurance exchange for small businesses. And unlike a lot of experts, he’s willing to make predictions about how health care will change in the coming years. …

And Gates also included a video explaining the reads

20 Book Recommendations from Billionaire Charlie Munger That will Make you Smarter

"In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn't read all the time—none. Zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren (Buffett) readers—and how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I'm a book with a couple of legs sticking out."
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none. Zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads—and how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”

That comment is what really kickstarted my own reading habits. While my 161 books last year pales in comparison to the quality of Munger’s reading habits, it’s a start.

Munger, of course, is the billionaire business parter of Warren Buffett and the Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway.

Not only is Munger one of the smartest people on the planet—his lecture on the psychology of human misjudgment is the best 45 minutes you might spend this year—but he’s put all of those brains to use in a practical way.

If you’re looking for a book to read this summer, this list of books recommended by Munger is a great place to start.

***

1. Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics

It’s a combination of scientific biography and explanation of the physics, particularly relating to electricity. It’s just the best book of its kind I have ever read, and I just hugely enjoyed it. Couldn’t put it down. It was a fabulous human achievement. And neither of the writers is a physicist.

2. Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity

… it’s pretty hard to understand everything, but if you can’t understand it, you can always give it to a more intelligent friend.

3. Fiasco: The Inside Story of a Wall Street Trader
I remember reading this shocking book and thinking, holy shit. This book will make you sick.

4. Ice Age
Of this book Munger said: “(The) best work of science exposition and history that I’ve read in many years!”

5. How the Scots Invented the Modern World
A lot of really important stuff like: the first modern nation, the first literate society, the ideas for (modern) democracy and free markets, all originated with the Scots.

6. Models of My Life
An autobiography of Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon, a remarkable polymath who more people should know about. In an age of increasing specialization, he’s a rare generalist — applying what he learned as a scientist to other aspects of his life. Crossing disciplines, he was at the intersection of “information sciences.” He won the Nobel for his theory of “bounded rationality,” and is perhaps best known for his insightful quote “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” (Also part of five books that will change your life.)

7. A Matter of Degrees: What Temperature Reveals about the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe

… a wide-ranging exploration of how the fundamental scientific concept of temperature is bound up with the very essence of both life and matter.

8. Andrew Carnegie
The definitive biography of an industrial genius, philanthropist, and enigma. At the meeting in May of this year, Munger also mentioned the Mellon Brothers as people to study.

9. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
A book recommended by Bill Gates and Charlie Munger? Gates said, the book “had a profound effect on the way I think about history and why certain societies advance faster than others.”

10. The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

What is it about that two percent difference in DNA that has created such a divergence between evolutionary cousins? … renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning author and scientist Jared Diamond explores how the extraordinary human animal, in a remarkably short time, developed the capacity to rule the world … and the means to irrevocably destroy it.

11. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
A frequent and persistent recommendation from Munger. I believe he’s given away more copies of this book than any other. Here is a quick overview.

12. Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos
While both books are exceptional, I actually prefer Hardin’s other book — Filters Against Folly.

13. The Selfish Gene

Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.

14. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
At 800 or so pages this is the perfect book for a week-long vacation. From humble beginnings to the height of great power Rockefeller did it all. I think you’ll find he has more in common with Marcus Aurelius than today’s billionaires.

Born the son of a flamboyant, bigamous snake-oil salesman and a pious, straitlaced mother, Rockefeller rose from rustic origins to become the world’s richest man by creating America’s most powerful and feared monopoly, Standard Oil. Branded “the Octopus” by legions of muckrakers, the trust refined and marketed nearly 90 percent of the oil produced in America.

15. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor
A best-selling exploration of why some nations achieve economic success while others don’t. As you can imagine, it’s complicated.

16. The Warren Buffett Portfolio: Mastering the Power of the Focus Investment Strategy
This book has been recommended by both Buffett and Munger on a few occasions.

17. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
Science writer Matt Ridely unfolds the genome for us. Munger recommended in 2001.

18. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
The book is one of the primary business texts in North America. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I was first introduced to this as part of my MBA program.

19. Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information
What is the meaning of life? This book takes a look at the work and beliefs of three leading American scientists: Edward Fredkin, Edward O. Wilson and Kenneth Boulding.

20. Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company
Grove gives us an inside account of how he, virtually overnight, changed the path of Intel forever.

***

Of course this is a condensed list of his recommendations. Consider this a look at one of Munger’s many bookshelves.

Two others that might interest you are Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger and, one of my all time personal favorites, Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger.

And before you email me to tell me how expensive some of these books are consider this: ignorance is more expensive.

If you didn’t find anything on this list, check out Nassim Taleb’s list of recommendations.

5 Books That Will Change Your Life

Reading is important to me. Not only is it one way to fill in the gaps left by my formal education but it is a meaningful way to better myself. Reading alone, however, isn’t enough. What you read and how you apply it matters. In the past year, I started reading over 300 books and finished 161 of them.

Reading what everyone else reads is good for conversation, perhaps, but it’s not going to help you to think differently. And if you can’t think differently, you’re always going to be a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest.

With that in mind, here are 5 books that you’ve (probably) never heard of that will help you see things in a new light.

1. Collected Maxims and Other Reflections by La Rochefoucauld
La Rochefoucauld’s critical and pithy analysis of human behavior won’t soon be forgotten. A list of people influenced by his maxims include Nietzsche, Voltaire, Proust, de Gaulle, and Conan Doyle. “The reader’s best policy,” Rochefoucauld suggests, “is to assume that none of these maxims is directed at him, and that he is the sole exception. …. After that, I guarantee that he will be the first to subscribe to them.”

2. The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene
I’ve never read this book in a cover-to-cover sense but I’ve read each of the laws. More than that, I’ve broken each of the laws. I’ll give you an example. The first law is “Never outshine the master.” Once I worked directly for a CEO. I worked as hard as I ever have to show off my talents and skills and at every turn it backfired over and over again. The lesson — “make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.” I wish I read this book earlier in my career, it certainly would have been helpful.

3. Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War by Xenophon
This book sat on my shelf for a year before I picked it up recently. This is the biography of Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus the Elder, who made the oldest known declaration of human rights. The book is full of leadership lessons. Here’s an example. “Brevity is the soul of command. Too much talking suggests desperation on the part of the leader. Speak shortly, decisively and to the point–and couch your desires in such natural logic that no one can raise objections. Then move on.”

4. Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son
This no nonsense collection of 20 letters from a self-made man to his son are nothing short of brilliant as far as I’m concerned. This is a great example of timeless wisdom. The broad theme is how to raise your children in a world where they have plenty but the lessons apply to parents and non-parents alike.

5. Models of my Life by Herbert Simon
An autobiography of Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon, a remarkable polymath who more people should know about. In an age of increasing specializing, he’s a rare generalist — applying what he learned as a scientist to other aspects of his life. Crossing disciplines, he was at the intersection of “information sciences.” He won the Nobel for his theory of “bounded rationality,” and is perhaps best known for his insightful quote “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

And one more… just for good luck.

6. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Ok, this is a bonus pick as I figured a many of you might have read this already. It was, after all, on the 2013 Farnam Street reader’s choice list. If you bought it and haven’t read it, consider this a nudge. The best way to sum up this book is: A simple and powerful guide to life. This book was never intended for publication it was for himself. How many people write a book of epigrams to themselves? Get it. Read it. Live it.

10 Books Bill and Melinda Gates Recommended to the TED Audience This Year

The organizers of TED asked Bill and Melinda Gates to suggest some books that attendees might enjoy. Bill picked 5 and Melinda picked five and their choices couldn’t be more different or interesting. Gates even picked one from his favourite living author.

This isn’t the first time I’ve cherry picked book ideas from Gates. I ordered a few of his 7 best books of 2013 and 2012. The diversity of what he reads is mind-boggling. And, largely because of Gates, I’ve started reading Vaclav Smil.

Bill Recommends

“Each of the books on my list,” Gates said, “had a big impact on my thinking and really informed my work. Four of them are quite optimistic about our ability to make the world a better place. The Vaclav Smil book makes clear that if we hope to address climate change, we’ll have to transform our energy infrastructure—and that will be harder than most of us might realize.”

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker’s carefully researched study stands out as one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Pinker paints a remarkable picture showing that the world has evolved over time to be a far less violent place than before. It offers a fresh perspective on how to achieve positive outcomes in the world. A thoroughly worthwhile read.

Getting Better by Charles Kenny

I know from personal experience that stepping into the public square to announce that foreign aid is important and effective can be lonely work. Charles Kenny’s elegant book on the impact of aid carefully documents how the quality of life—even in the world’s poorest countries—has improved dramatically over the past several decades. With reams of solid data to support his case, he argues that governments and aid agencies have played an important role in this progress.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo spent three years getting to know the people of Annawadi, a slum of about 3,000 people on the edge of a sewage-filled lake in India’s largest city. Her book is a poignant reminder of how much more work needs to be done to address the inequities in the world. But it’s also an uplifting story of people striving to make a life for themselves, sacrificing for their families, and in their own way, being innovative and entrepreneurial in creating a vibrant local economy.

The Man Who Fed the World by Leon Hesser

Norm Borlaug is one of my heroes—and Leon Hesser’s biography is a fascinating account of Borlaug’s life and accomplishments. This is a story of genius, self-sacrifice, and determination. Borlaug was a remarkable scientist and humanitarian whose work in agriculture is rightfully credited with saving the lives of over a billion people.

Energy Myths and Realities by Vaclav Smil

Vaclav Smil is probably my favorite living author. If you care about energy issues, I recommend this volume, though its unvarnished look at the realities of energy use and infrastructure may be disconcerting to anyone who thinks solving our energy problems will be easy. Smil provides a rational framework for evaluating energy promises and important lessons to keep in mind if we’re to avert the looming climate crisis.

Melinda Recommends

The note Melinda sent to TED along with her selections read: “Those of us interested in development spend a lot of time thinking about what it takes to translate a great idea into results on the ground. Each of these books has helped deepen my understanding of how the global development community can drive and sustain meaningful change, even in the face of difficult circumstances. Together, they paint a portrait of a world where progress is achievable if we work together and learn from each other.”

The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow

Roger Thurow movingly chronicles the lives of four Kenyan farmers as they struggle to support their families through the wanjala, Swahili for “hunger season.” This book is both about the importance of investing in Africa’s smallholder farmers and a compelling blueprint for doing it effectively. Thurow shows how, together, we can make this wanjala the last one.

However Long the Night by Aimee Molloy

This is the story of an extraordinary woman: Molly Melching. For more than 40 years, Molly has worked in Senegalese communities to help improve lives for some of the country’s poorest people. Her success is based on her insistence on working in close partnership with local communities. That way, change is always driven from the center out, not the top down. This book reinforced my own belief that developing communities already have the potential and desire to spark the change that will lead to better lives for themselves and their families.

In the Company of the Poor by Paul Farmer and Gustavo Gutierrez

Paul Farmer is longtime friend of mine, and through these pages, you can hear his voice and feel his deep personal connection to improving lives for people who are too often ignored. You also get a sense of his (and Father Gutierrez’s) intellectual commitment to changing the systems that lead to poverty, so that their work has a permanent impact.

Change by Design by Tim Brown

Design thinking is a model of problem solving that could have huge implications for global health and development. It’s an approach that recognizes that the people facing challenges have the best understanding of what solutions will really work for them—so we need to invite them to participate in the design process as well. So many of the women and families I meet already have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty. Design thinking reminds us that to unlock this opportunity, we have to first enlist their help.

Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee

In 2011, Leymah Gbowee became a global figure when she won a Nobel Prize for launching a grassroots women’s movement that led to peace in Liberia. This is an amazing tale of a group of women coming together to change the course of a country’s history—and it’s also the inspiring story of how Leymah overcame her own doubts and fears and found the courage to lead them.

Ben Horowitz: 5 Reads

Ben Horowitz is the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture firm that invested in Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and Foursquare. Of course, they’ve backed a lot of failures too. But suffice to say that few people think about competition as much as Horowitz so I was interested in seeing his reading list.

He recommends the following reads for managers, entrepreneurs, and investors.

1. The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen
Interestingly this is the only business book that Steve Jobs liked. In his biography of Jobs, Walter Isaacson wrote that it “deeply influenced” Jobs. Fittingly the book shows why and how most companies miss out on new waves of innovation — they do exactly what they are taught to do in business school.

2. The Black Jacobins – C.L.R. James
This is a powerful history of the Haitian Revolution of 1794-1803, which became the model for Third World liberation movements. A barely literate slave, Toussaint L’Ouverture, led the people of San Domingo against successive invasions by French, Spanish, and English forces. Oh yea, and in the process he helped form the first independent nation in the Caribbean.

3. Only the Paranoid Survive – Andy Grove
I read this book as part of my MBA program. It’s full of common sense, which, while I didn’t know it at the time, isn’t so common.

4. Focus – Al Ries
This is an interesting pick. Marketing “expert” Al Ries believes that focus is the answer to continued growth and prosperity. You know, the common sense approach that Apple and almost no one else seems to follow these days: focus on core products and avoid the siren song of everything else. Of course this isn’t the only way to success and lots of companies that focus fail while lots of companies that diversify succeed. Notwithstanding that, focus is the key to mindfulness.

5. My Years at GM – Alfred Sloan
This is a book that everyone talks about but few people have read. Bill Gates, who did read it, called it the best business book ever written. Peter Drucker said the same thing. A great story about how to lead, organize, and communicate things at a large organization.

(h/t blinkist)

Bill Gates — The Seven Best Books I Read in 2013

Bill Gates presents his 7 top reads in 2013.

Commenting on the lack of novels on the list, Gates writes:

It’s not that I don’t enjoy fiction. I’ve read The Catcher in the Rye a bunch of times—it’s one of my favorite books ever (and I enjoyed Salinger, the documentary that came out this year). I did read Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, which was entertaining though it didn’t have as much science fiction as I expected.

But I read mostly nonfiction because I always want to learn more about how the world works. And reading is how I learn best.

That’s an interesting statement coming from Gates, especially in light of recent posts on using literature to study decision making under ignorance.

With that said, Gates is an excellent source of reading material for me. His top reads of 2012 led me to order Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a book I added to my antilibrary. And his summer reading list, along with the recommendations of readers, encouraged me to read The Box, a surprisingly enjoyable read on the history of the shipping container. This book shows up again on the end of year list of his top reads.

Here are his picks, in no particular order:

The Box, by Marc Levinson

“You might think you don’t want to read a whole book about shipping containers… But he makes a good case that the move to containerized shipping had an enormous impact on the global economy and changed the way the world does business. And he turns it into a very readable narrative. I won’t look at a cargo ship in quite the same way again.”

The Most Powerful Idea in the World, by William Rosen

“A bit like The Box, except it’s about steam engines… I’d wanted to know more about steam engines since the summer of 2009, when my son and I spent a lot of time hanging out at the Science Museum in London.”

Harvesting the Biosphere, by Vaclav Smil

“Here he gives as clear and as numeric a picture as is possible of how humans have altered the biosphere. The book is a bit dry and I had to look up a number of terms that were unfamiliar to me, but it tells a critical story if you care about the impact we’re having on the planet.”

The World Until Yesterday, by Jared Diamond

“Diamond finds fascinating anecdotes about what life is like for hunter-gatherers and asks which ones might apply to our modern lifestyles. He doesn’t make some grand pronouncement or romanticize tribal life. He just wants to find the best practices and share them.”

Poor Numbers, by Morten Jerven

“Jerven, an economist, spent four years digging into how African nations get their statistics and the challenges they face in turning them into GDP estimates. He makes a strong case that a lot of GDP measurements we thought were accurate are far from it.”

Why Does College Cost So Much?, by Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman

“The authors are good about not pointing fingers but instead talking about how America’s labor market affects the cost of college. My view is that as long as there’s a scarcity of college graduates, a college degree will be quite valuable. So people will pay more to get one. And if they will pay more, then colleges and universities — whose labor is provided mostly by people who paid a lot for their own degrees — can ask for more. Until you get an excess supply of graduates, then you don’t really get any price competition.”

The Bet, by Paul Sabin

“Sabin chronicles the public debate about whether the world is headed for an environmental catastrophe. He centers the story on Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon, who wagered $1,000 on whether human welfare would improve or get worse over time. Without ridiculing either proponent, Sabin shows how their extreme views contributed to the polarized debate over climate change and other issues that continues today.”

Gates’ list is a happy addition to the 2013 collection of reading lists.