The book someone is reading can tell you a lot about them.
Maybe they’re midway through a crime thriller, or a self-help book, or a profile of an industry they’re considering investing in.
So we asked some big names in the tech world — from FCC chairman Ajit Pai to Turner Broadcasting CEO John John Martin — which book they’re working through right now.
We had some interesting responses, with a handful of books being read by multiple people on our list of CEOs, investors, and tech executives.
Read on to find out what the tech world is reading — from J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” to “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight:
Additional reporting by Shona Ghosh, Rob Price, and Sam Shead.
DeepMind founder Mustafa Suleyman: ‘Deschooling Society’ by Ivan Illich
“I’ve recently been rereading Ivan Illich‘s influential ‘Deschooling Society,’ which is a penetrating commentary on the shortcomings of instutionalised education, and carries a wider lesson for how blinded we are by most social constructs which we generally take for granted. Illich achieves the difficult feat of combining a genuinely radical critique with a set of practical and creative proposals.
‘Inventing the Future’ by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams tackles the likely ramifications of intensified automation for the future of work, and the prospects for policies like UBI. They outline a fundamentally optimistic vision for how technology, with good governance and strong oversight, could help us create a much better world.
‘Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars’ by Dava Sobel is another powerful reminder of how society has failed to recognize many contributions of women to the sciences. Alongside the ongoing and urgent need to address gender diversity in science and technology today, we also need to pay much more attention to the enormous impact that generations of women scientists have already made.”
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ by J.D. Vance
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“J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy.’ I had heard a lot about Vance’s work for some time, and I wanted to read it for myself. I’ve enjoyed it so far, but it is a very sobering tour through Appalachia. (I’ll confess that’s it’s been balanced out to some extent by my recent binge-watching of shows like The Crown.)”
Dot Everything founder/Twitter board member Martha Lane Fox: ‘The Glass Universe’ by Dava Sobel
“I’m reading ‘The Glass Universe’ by Dava Sobel about the women in the Harvard observatory and how they started measuring the stars. It’s beautifully written and yet again shows how, when you look, there are women in every scientific and technical story.”
Monzo CEO Tom Blomfield: ‘Chaos Monkeys’ by Antonio García Martínez
“I just finished ‘Chaos Monkeys.’ It’s the autobiography of a Y Combinator founder who joined Facebook as a product manager on the early Ads team. It’s supposed to be an ‘irreverent exposé of life inside the tech bubble,’ but is punctuated by the author’s near-constant misogyny. Is that what life inside the tech bubble is really like? I hope not.”
Invoke Capital founder Mike Lynch: ‘The Medici Money’ by Tim Park
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“‘The Medici Money’ by Tim Park. I have been fascinated how a fundamental and major sin of usury was set aside so that the Medicis could create a vast banking fortune and the banking system, fund the revolution in western art and even get a Pope and the church could eagerly accept their funds. Tuscan pragmatism or hypocrisy?
‘The Leopard’ by Giovanni di Lampedusa
I can’t help but believe I am sitting under a sun drenched lemon tree on a hillside in Sicily, a welcome counter to London today.”
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger: ‘Thank You for Being Late’ by Thomas L. Friedman
“I’m just finishing the latest Friedman book, ‘Thank You for Being Late.’ I’m just finishing that book. I’m about to start reading the next one on my list [which] is the new Clayton Christensen book. I love Clayton, he’s a good personal friend. So I’m about to start his. And the one I read before that was more on the spiritual side, was John Ortberg’s ‘Soul Keeping,’ what does it mean to have a healthy soul? Those are the three reads right now.”
Station F director Roxanne Varza: ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote
“I just finished reading ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote, a book that I had actually wanted to read for ages. Lots of people had recommended it. It’s an incredibly intriguing story, based on the true story of a murder in Kansas. I literally couldn’t put it down, it pulls you right in and keeps you on the edge wondering what really happened. Without revealing too much about the story itself, it’s perhaps one of my new favorites that I highly recommend.”
Hoxton Ventures founding partner Rob Kniaz: ‘The Hardware Hacker’ by Bunnie Huang
“Most recently, ‘The Hardware Hacker’ by Bunnie Huang. It’s a really interesting book on what it takes to build a consumer electronics project today in China – how to sort the manufacturing, constraints and tradeoffs in the process, how parts are sourced etc. It’s a fun mix of how to do business in China, how the electronics market works in China, and how to do manufacturing, all in one.”
Balderton Capital managing partner Bernard Liautaud: ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight
“I am a slow reader, but tend to read a couple of books at a time. I just finished ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ by JD Vance, ‘The Sympathizer’ by Viet Thahn Nguyen, and ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight. Though each book is very different, all three are focused on a character who has grappled with almost insurmountable odds.”
Turner CEO John Martin: ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow
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“I’m reading the Chernow book ‘Alexander Hamilton.’ I’ve seen the play in the States five times. So I’m a huge fan of the play, but I’m about halfway through the book. I’m finding it fascinating, it has rejuvenated my interest in American history. But to be clear, in full disclosure, I watch a lot more TV than I read.”
DeepMind cofounder Shane Legg: ‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Harari
“‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Harari, which uses a series of questions about humanism as a basis for thinking about the future. The first part of the book presents humanism as a philosophical foundation for some of the well known pillars of western societies: democracy for the allocation of political power, consumer demand driven production, investor driven allocation of capital and self reflection as a basis of ethics. The second part considers a society where algorithms play an increasingly important role – not the usual fiction narratives of human-looking robots, but a nearer term future where we could see the deployment of algorithms across a wide range of areas, from medicine to traffic control.”
Entrepreneur First founder Alice Bentinck: ‘The Power of Many : Values and success in business and in life’ by Meg Whitman
“‘The Power of Many : Values and success in business and in life’ by Meg Whitman. There aren’t that many female CEOs of large tech startups/companies which is what makes Meg Whitman’s book even more exciting for me to read. Meg was CEO of eBay from 1998–2007, seeing it through enormous growth. This book focuses on her time at eBay (she is now CEO of HP Enterprise) and is a brilliant business book that combines both her personal philosophies and experiences from running a high growth company. The book has tangible business advice with specific examples from Whitman’s time growing eBay.
‘Let IT Go ’ by Dame Stephanie Shirley. Dame Shirley is famous for going by ‘Steve’ so she could battle gender stereotypes while building the UK’s largest software consultancy in the 1970s. She challenged the status quo around work; in particular about whether mothers could work and about how work operates. She was a pioneer for flexi-working, remote working and for sharing ownership of the company with her employees.”
VP and global head of Workplace by Facebook, Julien Codorniou: ‘The Undoing Project’ by Michael Lewis
“I just finished ‘The Undoing Project’ by Michael Lewis, the story of the two Israeli psychologists who laid the foundations of behavioral economics. I learned something at every page and I keep sending this book to all my friends. You can never go wrong with Michael Lewis.
I’m halfway through the short biography ‘H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life’ by Michel Houellebecq. This is actually Houellebecq’s very first book (1991), it now includes a beautiful preface by Stephen King. I never took the time to read it and he did not disappoint.
I also recently read Mark Millar’s ‘Old Man Logan.’ A masterpiece.”
TransferWise CEO Taavet Hinrikus: ‘Transcend’ by Ray Kurzweil
John Phillips/Getty Images for TechCrunch
“He just finished ‘Transcend’ by Ray Kurzweil and is starting ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight. ‘Transcend’ is an interesting read. We can take charge of our own health and make our own decisions on living well. It helps to have the right information and data.”
Blendle CEO Alexander Klöpping: ‘Walt Disney: The Biography’ by Neal Gabler
“‘Walt Disney: The Biography’ by Neal Gabler. Walt Disney is really a true pioneer. What’s amazing to me is how much of what he did (and what became very successful) he needed to invent first. Before he could use sound in cartoons (as one of the first ones) he needed to figure out how to sync the orchestra to the cartoons (he used light flashes). Before he could use color he needed to figure out how his artists could do that. Also, there were not enough artists so he needed to start a cartoon school to teach people how to do animation.”
“All the way to the first feature length animation film for which he put the whole company at risk, while not knowing at all if anyone had even the patience to sit through a feature length animation film. I never knew that Disney pioneered with so many things before reading this book, and his risk taking and focus really inspires me.”
Google Ventures partner Tom Hulme: ‘The Gene’ by Siddhartha Mukherjee
“‘The Gene.‘ It’s a fascinating exploration into the building blocks of life – related science developments such as CRISPR will pose some of the most interesting ethical challenges of our lifetimes.”
Sunstone Capital general partner Max Niederhofer: ‘Coach and Couch – The Psychology of Making Better Leaders’ by Konstantin Korotov
“‘Coach and Couch – The Psychology of Making Better Leaders.’ While founders are getting more and more professional due to better access to knowledge about how to start startups, we still see enormous potential in leadership development among usually very young management teams. I want to be a better coach to my entrepreneurs, hence the current focus on the topic.”
Atomico entrepreneur in residence Harry Stebbings: ‘Predictably Irrational’ by Dan Ariely
“I am reading Dan Ariely ‘Predictably Irrational.’ I have always had a passion for economic behavioral psychology. What drives consumers to act the way they act. What incentives have the largest ROI and what triggers that belief psychologically. I think this not only allows you to build theses on pricing and product development but also founder evaluation and assessment.”
F-Secure CRO Mikko Hypponen: ‘Racing the Beam — The Atari Video Computer System’ by Ian Bogost, Nick Montfort
Rob Price/Business Insider
“‘Racing the Beam — The Atari Video Computer System’ by Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort. It’s amazing how much you can do with so little. The original home video gaming console (Atari 2600) did not even have a system clock — everything was timed by the beam drawing the TV screen. So the games were coded to literally ‘race the beam.’ A book like this is a real treasure for a geek like me!”
Entrepreneur First founder Matt Clifford: ‘The Making of the Atomic Bomb’ by Richard Rhodes
“I’ve just finished ‘The Making of the Atomic Bomb’ by Richard Rhodes (recommended to me by Bill Earner of Connect). It’s a history of the science and politics of the creation of nuclear weapons. Although it has extraordinary breadth and depth of material, it’s as gripping as a novel.
I think it potentially has interesting parallels to the the development of AI and, as I read it, I kept returning to that lens. If you think that general AI may happen in our lifetimes, we’re almost certainly going to see something analogous to the Manhattan Project for AI. It’s too powerful a technology for the government not to be want to monopolise it.”
Twitter parody account Prof Jeff Jarvis: ‘The Undiscovered Self’ by Carl Jung
“I am reading ‘The Undiscovered Self’ by Carl Jung. It’s weirdly resonant now: about how European individuals lost their way during the 30s and 40s and did not stand up to the worst collective impulses that took over, and resulted in war and the Holocaust. Really interesting book on the importance of self-knowledge and being inwardly critical to avoid groupthink and dangerous movements like fascism.”
White Star Capital managing partner Christian Hernandez Gallardo: ‘The Accidental Superpower’ by Peter Zeihan
White Star Capital
“I was reading ‘Homo Deus’ and ‘The Gene;’ but put both on hold to devour ‘The Accidental Superpower’ which gives a fantastic view on why the US has so much going for it in terms of geography, demographics and energy (and why the rest of the developed world, Europe included) does not. Makes you think about the macro and geopolitical trends that are likely to influence the decades to come.”
Evernote CEO Chris O’Neil: ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott
“I’m reading ‘Radical Candor.’ [Author] Kim Scott is my executive coach. I’ve known her since my days at Google. She’s phenomenal. We try to do radical candor. I know Dropbox, Twitter were starting to do it. Stewart [Butterworth, founder of Slack] is starting to do it, Sheryl [Sandberg, Facebook COO] has been a fan from a few years ago. I also finished ‘Tools of Titan ‘last week.”