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2024 Reading List

·5 mins

How we choose to spend our time is important and maintaining a growth mindset is critical to continuing to innovate. Each year, we publish a list of key book recommendations with a short rationale. They are also added to a cumulative reading list

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big #

This book is an amazing analysis of company culture and how avoiding growth often appears critical to sustaining innovation and achieving greatness. This book helps explain much of our mindset and would be great to read before joining or shortly afterwards.

Starship Troopers #

The organization’s name is inspired by this classic sci-fi book so if you haven’t read it before joining, this should be at the top of the list. It is a fairly quick read and it is important to caution that it appears problematic at times, glorifying military service and violence. However, the fundamental lesson of only letting people vote who are invested in improving their society is laudable. The other key lesson to take away is decentralization - the mobile infantry has small groups of people who are highly autonomous but are supported. This is how our organization works - it is fundamentally different from how other people run private enterprises and we believe in making this trade-off.

Civic Tech: Making Technology Work for People #

This book by Andrew R. Schrock is a great shorter read which introduces the core concept of Civic Tech and provides great real-world examples of the impact that can be made. Small groups of innovative teams are incredibly powerful - it is unfortunate that usually the next steps are successfully scaling into a large organization that seeks to destroy that same spirit of innovation.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World #

This book is the reason that I shut down my non-profit and completely reconsidered my approach to making an impact in the world. It shattered some of my illusions and was disruptive to my life, so I would highly recommend it but recommend being prepared to re-think some assumptions. Another key thing it highlighted was the importance of sharing and limiting power - if we focus on building systems that limit individual power, this is a more effective way to ensure proper use of power then bureaucracy.

Fahrenheit 451 #

This book talks about a future in which everyone is constantly watching a “wall” of entertainment and books are banned. Firefighters now focus on creating fires to destroy books. It is certainly a dystopian future but I think important to read and consider since in 2024, the government doesn’t need to ban books - big tech has done a great job distracting people with endless entertainment and social media so that it is not uncommon for people to not read or see the value in books.

Atlas Shrugged #

Very long and has numerous sections which can be skimmed. However, there is an outstanding core message that I took away even though it contradicts the author. Ayn Rynd spends much time attacking capitalism and extolling the values of capitalism but both systems have the same flaw. People are the problem - in almost every society and corporation in the world, we see people at the top who have large amounts of resources and are able to live off the work of other people. She calls them the “Looters” and I would argue that capitalism is also full of them. So how do we build an organization that doesn’t encourage or support Looters?

Dune #

Can you see the future? Of course not but one of the things that struck me when reading this book is that with enough experience, it is possible to predict likely outcomes. The core Messiah figure (there is some heavy critism of organized religion in the book) is able to unlock his ancestor’s memories which are stored genetically - imagine having thousands of years of experience to draw from in order to predict how events will unfold. To others, this ability looks like pure prescience. Many in our modern society have glimpses of likely outcomes and often profit but it could be possible to focus on improving this ability in a structured manner and then using it to better society.

Brave New World #

Barbarian’s recommendation. A dystopian world in which society is extremely high tech - making babies in test tubes, predetermining their careers, genetically limiting their potential so they will be happy with their lot in life. Instead of technology being used to enable and support humans, it is crushing all the best aspects of humanity. Most people don’t see any of the issues because they are sleepwalking through life, using “soma” (a recreational drug) as a way to increase happiness and complacency. In our society we have many real drugs and equivalents to soma which accomplish the same objectives but ironically it isn’t the government pushing them on the population, it is large corporations who know that a complacent society won’t seek to disrupt their profit margins or market dominance. The Barbarian is a key figure who fights against the issues in this society - and is the inspiration for the name of the chapter.

Fight Club #

Another Barbarian’s recommendation and as a disclaimer, we are not advocating to start Project Mayhem or anything similar. Once again, there is a criticism of how people are sleepwalking through life and working at meaningless corporate jobs that only sustain the status quo. When you finish reading it, an interesting question is what is your “Ikea”? That fairly harmless habit that numbs you to the problems of society so that you don’t seek to do anything meaningful with your life. You don’t need to join or start a fight club but if you find the things that are numbing you and keeping you asleep - it is possible to wake up and do something meaningful with your life. “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”