Crypto builders and more: Recommended reads for 2023

Continuing our tradition of sharing our reading selections, check out our newly released winter 2023 list of books, games, movies, and more—compiled by the a16z crypto team. Featured below are the books carefully chosen for our giveaway library at the second annual a16z crypto Founder Summit. Alongside this, we’ve added personal notes explaining why certain picks made it into our “staff picks” collection.

Remember: This curated list caters not only to crypto founders but also spans biographies, company building, organizational history, creative inspiration, and science fiction—offering something for everyone in the crypto community and beyond.

…company building, how-to

“The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn” by Richard Hamming (Stripe Press)

“Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems” by Martin Kleppmann

“A highly digestible yet comprehensive exploration of distributed systems’ key concepts, this stands as my top recommendation for budding systems engineers. Kleppmann dissects the challenges inherent in building, maintaining, and scaling distributed systems, delving into data models, system design, and the future of data systems. While not explicitly covering blockchains, the book provides a solid groundwork for engineers seeking a deeper understanding of the distributed systems essential for 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 the related podcast for a discussion on the book’s themes and their relevance in technical contexts, including the crypto industry.

…builder biographies, organizations, and process of innovation

“Chip War: A Comprehensive History of Semiconductor Manufacturing (1947-2022) by Chris Miller

“A succinct and insightful exploration of semiconductor manufacturing spanning from 1947 to 2022, Miller’s work prompts contemplation about what lies ahead. It firmly places all of us, whether founders, engineers, technologists, writers, or participants, within the intricate tapestry of computing history.” — Eddy Lazzarin, CTO

“The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

“My all-time favorite non-fiction book, Rhodes’ narrative gains new relevance with the release of the Oppenheimer film. Beyond that, it delves into the late-19th century, chronicling the evolution of nuclear fission, the creation and deployment of atomic bombs, and their aftermath. Rhodes’ compelling storytelling and adept science explanations make it an engaging read. For founders, it’s a journey through discovery, building, and world-altering endeavors.” — 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

“Adrian Newey’s autobiography, detailing his legendary career as a Formula 1 Aerodynamicist, offers profound insights into the problem-solving mind of an exceptional engineer. Newey shares how he and his team navigated strict Formula 1 restrictions, ingeniously exploiting loopholes for incremental advantages over competitors. This narrative unfolds the story of innovation and resilience in a highly competitive sport, directly influencing the evolution of F1 cars and leaving a lasting impact on various vehicle designs. 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

“David Goggins’ incredible autobiographical journey unfolds in this book, chronicling his life as one of only 36 African American Navy SEALs and an extraordinary endurance athlete. Born with a hole in his heart and severe dyslexia, facing an abusive drug-dealing father, Goggins overcame these challenges to achieve remarkable success in the Armed Forces and as an endurance athlete. His powerful message resonates: If I can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, so can you. A recommended read for every founder and CEO.” — Jason Rosenthal, operating partner

“Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing”

…tech trends, history, open source/ web3 themes

The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Contemplations on Linux and Open Source by an Unexpected Revolutionary – Eric Raymond

The Evolution of Cooperation – Robert Axelrod

Seeing Like a State: Failures of Certain Schemes to Better the Human Condition – James Scott

The Sovereign Individual: Navigating the Transition to the Information Age – James Dale Davidson & William Rees-Mogg

The Inevitable: Grasping the 12 Technological Forces Shaping 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 to each other and individually harmless, they evolve into super-intelligence when forming a cloud. This smartdust concept intriguingly mirrors a blockchain. The novel, a gripping work of high-quality science fiction, remains relevant to this day. — 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 Films, Enigmas, and Wonders 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 Woolridge

Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Global Electrification Race by Jill Jonnes

Creating the Internet: A Work by David Clark

The Demise and Rebirth of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Coding Democracy: Disrupting Power, Surveillance, and Authoritarianism Through Hacking by Maureen Webb


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