A reading guide to building the future

I wrote an essay for TechCrunch that explores the literary culture of Silicon Valley. It digs deep into the feedback loop between books and innovation and turns up weird gems along the way. Think of it as a reading guide to building the future:


“Every year, Bill Gates goes off-grid, leaves friends and family behind, and spends two weeks holed up in a cabin reading books. His annual reading list rivals Oprah’s Book Club as a publishing kingmaker. Not to be outdone, Mark Zuckerberg shared a reading recommendation every two weeks for a year, dubbing 2015 his ‘Year of Books.’ Susan Wojcicki, CEO of Youtube, joined the board of Room to Read when she realized how books like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate were inspiring girls to pursue careers in science and technology. Many a biotech entrepreneur treasures a dog-eared copy of Daniel Suarez’s Change Agent, which extrapolates the future of CRISPR. Noah Yuval Harari’s sweeping account of world history, Sapiens, is de rigueur for Silicon Valley nightstands.”

Cloud Atlas, The Inevitable, The Overstory, Gnomon, Folding Beijing, and AI Superpowers might appear to predict the future, but in fact they do something far more interesting and useful: reframe the present. They invite us to look at the world from new angles and through fresh eyes. And cultivating beginner’s mind is the problem for anyone hoping to build or bet on the future.”

“The Kindle was built to the specs of a science fictional children’s storybook featured in Neal Stephenson’s novel The Diamond Age, in fact, the Kindle project team was originally codenamed ‘Fiona’ after the novel’s protagonist. Jeff Bezos later hired Stephenson as the first employee at his space startup Blue Origin.”

“Just as technological innovations are incremental and relational—machine learning wouldn’t exist without the internet which wouldn’t exist without the transistor—literature is best described as a single extended conversation. One author in particular made a significant impact on both Harkaway and Gibson, as well as many of the most influential computer scientists and venture capital investors in Silicon Valley: Jorge Luis Borges.”

“Life is parochial. Every one of us is born into our own little pocket universe with a unique set of parents, friends, opportunities, threats, circumstances, and choices. To make sense of the world around us, to catch a glimpse of underlying reality, to notice those invisible forces, we must step outside ourselves. Reading is one way to do that. Books are windows into other hearts and minds. Books allow us to communicate with the dead and to imagine countless alternate dimensions. Books contain the ideas of our greatest philosophers, the insights of our most brilliant innovators, and the tales of our most inspiring storytellers.”

Complement with why business leaders need to read more science fiction, my Whose Century Is It? interview, and my monthly reading recommendations.

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