Marc Andreessen’s (now dormant) Twitter feed was like the Venture Capitalist’s Review of Books. He issued a steady stream of dozens of recommendations (more than 100), revealing a catholic diet of science fiction, economics, American history, political science, and deep dives into the American hippopotamus industry. They’re still coming.
In an interview with startup founders in the Stripe Atlas program at the payment company Stripe, the Netscape co-founder and VC who has backed in some of the biggest hits of the last decade (e.g. Airbnb, Twitter, Facebook), summarized the most challenging books he’s reading to better understand the world.
Andreessen, like all VCs, is paid to invest in the next big thing. One of the ways he does that is by keeping an eye on “what do nerds do on nights and weekend,” what he called the single most reliable source of new ideas adopted by the broader culture and economy (if interested, check out cryptocurrency, biohacking, quantified self, synthetic biology, virtual reality, drones, and self-driving cars).
But investors also want to know the broader trends: Where are we going, and how did we get here? How is the past informing the future? Books are one answer. Answering a question about books that have challenged his ideas, he replied with this list. You can read the full interview here.
The Sovereign Individual—written 20 years ago, this is the most thought provoking book on the unfolding nature of the 21st Century that I’ve yet read. It’s packed with ideas on every page, many that are now fast becoming conventional wisdom, and many that are still heretical. Two related books to read are The Twilight of Sovereignty and Cryptonomicon.
The Baroque Cycle—a work of rigorously researched historical fiction with only the slightest overlay of science fiction—tells the story of the emergence of the modern world and its systems (democracy, the scientific method, financial markets, etc.) in a way that is wholly fresh. These novels make me think about what a Neal Stephenson of 2300 may write about our times and us.
The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Lean Startup, and Zero To One are the defining trilogy of intellectual thought on the art and science of modern technology startups. Virtually every page of each is open to debate and yet as a whole they provide intellectual scaffolding for our endeavors that I wish had existed when I started in 1994!
The book I am most looking forward to is The Square and the Tower, on the rise and fall and rise of networks and the eternal battle between networks and hierarchies at all levels of human life.