Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made a tradition of dramatic New Year’s resolutions, and in 2015 he decided that he’d read a book every two weeks.
“Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today,” Zuckerberg wrote on his personal Facebook page. “I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”
To achieve this, he started the A Year of Books book club, in which he discusses the books he’s reading with members of the Facebook community.
We’ve put together a list of his picks and why he thinks everyone should read them.
‘The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation,’ by Jon Gertner
Today’s Silicon Valley natives may disagree, but Jon Gertner argues in “Idea Factory” that the golden age of innovation took place between 1920 and 1980 within the walls of AT&T’s Bell Labs.
Gertner tells the story of some of the country’s greatest and most ingenious inventions of the century, including the first fax machine, the first long-distance TV transmission, and the introduction of cellphone technology.
Whatever incredibly advanced devices come out of the digital age probably got their start somewhere inside Bell Labs.
‘World Order,’ by Henry Kissinger
In the weeks following the birth of his daughter, Max, Zuckerberg says he’s been thinking a lot about the importance of creating a peaceful world for future generations.
“World Order” instructs the reader on the finer points of how various countries have traditionally dealt with one another, made mistakes, and learned to show compassion for different points of view.
It is a book perfectly suited for a modern age in which global conflict can sometimes seem impossible to resolve.
‘Why Nations Fail’ by Daren Acemoğlu and James Robinson
“Why Nations Fail” is an overview of 15 years of research by MIT economist Daren Acemoğlu and Harvard political scientist James Robinson, and was first published in 2012.
The authors argue that “extractive governments” use controls to enforce the power of a select few, while “inclusive governments” create open markets that allow citizens to spend and invest money freely, and that economic growth does not always indicate the long-term health of a country.
Zuckerberg’s interest in philanthropy has grown alongside his wealth in recent years, and he writes that he chose this book to better understand the origins of global poverty.
‘The Rational Optimist’ by Matt Ridley
“The Rational Optimist,” first published in 2010, is the most popular and perhaps the most controversial of popular science writer Matt Ridley’s books.
In it, he argues that the concept of markets is the source of human progress, and that progress is accelerated when they are kept as free as possible. The resulting evolution of ideas will consistently allow humankind to improve its living conditions, despite the threats of climate change and overpopulation.
Zuckerberg says that he picked up this book because it posits the inverse theory of “Why Nations Fail,” which argues that social and political forces control economic forces. “I’m interested to see which idea resonates more after exploring both frameworks,” Zuckerberg writes.
`Portfolios of the Poor’ by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven
Researchers Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven spent 10 years studying the financial lives of the lowest classes of Bangladesh, India, and South Africa.
A fundamental finding that they include in “Portfolios of the Poor” is that extreme poverty flourishes in areas not where people live dollar to dollar or where poor purchasing decisions are widespread, but instead arises where they lack access to financial institutions to store their money.
“It’s mind-blowing that almost half the world — almost 3 billion people — live on $2.50 a day or less. More than one billion people live on $1 a day or less,” Zuckerberg writes. “I hope reading this provides some insight into ways we can all work to support them better as well.”
‘The Three-Body Problem’ by Liu Cixin
“The Three-Body Problem” was first published in China in 2008, and the English translation that came out last year won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel, an award for sci-fi book of the year.
It’s set during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, and kicks off when an alien race decides to invade Earth after the Chinese government covertly sends a signal into space. It’s notable because it’s been reported to be indicative of a cultural shift in China, where rapid modernization and progress have captured the public’s imagination.
Zuckerberg writes that it’s a fun break from some of the heavier material he’s been reading in his book club.
‘Genome’ by Matt Ridley
Ridley is the only author to appear on Zuckerberg’s list twice.
His 1990 book “Genome” is an exploration of both the evolution of genes and the growing field of genetics.
“This book aims to tell a history of humanity from the perspective of genetics rather than sociology,” Zuckerberg writes. “This should complement the other broad histories I’ve read this year.”
‘The Muqaddimah’ by Ibn Khaldun
“The Muqaddimah,” which translates to “The Introduction,” was written in 1377 by the Islamic historian Khaldun. It’s an attempt to strip away biases of historical records and find universal elements in the progression of humanity.
Khaldun’s revolutionary scientific approach to history established him as one of the fathers of modern sociology and historiography.
“While much of what was believed then is now disproven after 700 more years of progress, it’s still very interesting to see what was understood at this time and the overall worldview when it’s all considered together,” Zuckerberg writes.
‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari
First published in 2014, “Sapiens” is a critically acclaimed international best seller by Hebrew University of Jerusalem historian Harari. He uses his book to track the evolution of Homo sapiens from hunter-gatherers into self-empowered “gods” of the future.
“Following the Muqaddimah, which was a history from the perspective of an intellectual in the 1300s, ‘Sapiens‘ is a contemporary exploration of many similar questions,” Zuckerberg writes.
‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ by William James
William James (1849-1919) is “considered by many to be the most insightful and stimulating of American philosophers,”according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy from the University of Tennessee.
“The Varieties of Religious Experience” is a collection of written lectures that explore the religious consciousness and the mechanics of how people use religion as a source of meaning, compelling them to move onward through life with energy and purpose.
“When I read ‘Sapiens,’ I found the chapter on the evolution of the role of religion in human life most interesting and something I wanted to go deeper on,” Zuckerberg writes.
‘The New Jim Crow’ by Michelle Alexander
Alexander is a law professor at Ohio State University and a civil-rights advocate who argues in her book that the “war on drugs” has fostered a culture in which nonviolent black males are overrepresented in prison, and then are treated as second-class citizens once they are freed.
“I’ve been interested in learning about criminal justice reform for a while, and this book was highly recommended by several people I trust,” Zuckerberg writes.
‘The End of Power’ by Moisés Naím
Zuckerberg launched his book club with this lofty title from Naím, former executive director of the World Bank and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
It’s a historical investigation of the shift of power from authoritative governments, militaries, and major corporations to individuals. This is clearly seen in what’s now become a Silicon Valley cliché: the disruptive startup.
“The trend towards giving people more power is one I believe in deeply,” Zuckerberg writes.
‘Creativity, Inc.’ by Ed Catmull
“Creativity, Inc.” is the story of Pixar, written by one of the computer-animation giant’s founders.
Catmull intersperses his narrative with valuable wisdom on management and entrepreneurialism, and argues that any company should consciously avoid hampering their employees’ natural creativity.
“I love reading first-hand accounts about how people build great companies like Pixar and nurture innovation and creativity,”Zuckerberg writes.
‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ by Steven Pinker
Zuckerberg admits that this 800-page, data-rich book from a Harvard psychologist can seem intimidating.
But the writing is actually easy to get through, and he thinks that Pinker’s study of how violence has decreased over time despite being magnified by a 24-hour news cycle and social media is something that can offer a life-changing perspective.
It should be noted that Bill Gates also considers this one of the most important books he’s ever read.
If you’d like to save some time, check out our summary of the book.
‘On Immunity’ by Eula Biss
Zuckerberg says that Biss’s investigation into the benefits of vaccination is necessary to read, considering the anti-vaccination movement in the US and parts of Europe.
“The science is completely clear: Vaccinations work and are important for the health of everyone in our community,” Zuckerberg writes, adding that this book was highly recommended to him by scientists and public-health workers.
“This book explores the reasons why some people question vaccines, and then logically explains why the doubts are unfounded and vaccines are in fact effective and safe,” he says.
‘The Player of Games’ by Iain M. Banks
“The Player of Games” was first published in 1988 and is the second in the “Culture” series. It explores what a civilization would look like if hyper-advanced technology were created to serve human needs and surpassed human capabilities.
Zuckerberg writes that he went with a sci-fi pick as a “change of pace.” The novel is also one of Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s favorite books due to its entertaining way of exploring plausible advancements in technology.
‘Gang Leader for a Day’ by Sudhir Venkatesh
Venkatesh is a Columbia University sociology professor who, in a radical sociological experiment, embedded himself into a Chicago gang in the ’90s.
Zuckerberg says that Venkatesh’s story is an inspiring one of communication and understanding across economic and cultural barriers.
“The more we all have a voice to share our perspectives, the more empathy we have for each other and the more we respect each other’s rights,” Zuckerberg writes.
‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ by Thomas S. Kuhn
If there was ever a philosophy book to read by a physicist, it’s probably “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”
Since its initial publication in 1962, this look at the evolution of science and the effect it has on the modern world has become “one of the most cited academic books of all time,”according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Zuckerberg thinks that being aware of how scientific breakthroughs are the catalysts for social progression can be a “force for social good.”
Kuhn’s book is best known for introducing the phrase “paradigm shift,” representing instances in scientific history when a perspective was fundamentally shifted, like when quantum physics replaced Newtonian mechanics.
‘Orwell’s Revenge’ by Peter Huber
Huber, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, published this unofficial sequel to George Orwell’s “1984” in 1994, a time when internet and telecommunications technology was opening up new methods of communication. The novel imagines a world in which citizens use the technology that once enslaved them to liberate themselves.
“After seeing how history has actually played out, Huber’s fiction describes how tools like the internet benefit people and change society for the better,” Zuckerberg writes.
‘Energy: A Beginner’s Guide’ by Vaclav Smil
Originally published in 2006, “Energy” starts with a basic explanation of what energy is and then moves on to more complex subjects, including the quest to create more efficient and environmentally friendly fuels. It’s by University of Manitoba professor Vaclav Smil, one of Bill Gates’ favorite authors.
“It explores important topics around how energy works, how our production and use might evolve, and how this affects climate change,” Zuckerberg writes, noting he also plans on reading Smil’s book “Making the Modern World.”
‘Dealing with China’ by Henry M. Paulson Jr.
Zuckerberg has been intensely fascinated with Chinese culture over the past several years. He’s been learning to speak Mandarin Chinese and has stated that one of his long-term goals is convincing the Chinese government to let its people use Facebook.
“Dealing with China” by the former US Treasury secretary explores China’s recent rise in global influence and how it affects the entire world.
“Over the last 35 years, China has experienced one of the greatest economic and social transformations in human history,” Zuckerberg writes. “Hundreds of millions of people have moved out of poverty. By many measures, China has done more to lift people out of poverty than the whole rest of the world combined.”
‘Rational Ritual’ by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
Zuckerberg thinks this book by UCLA economist Michael Suk-Young Chwe can help its readers learn how to best use social media.
“The book is about the concept of ‘common knowledge’ and how people process the world not only based on what we personally know, but what we know other people know and our shared knowledge as well,” Zuckerberg writes.
Chwe’s idea may sound complicated, but it’s essentially a breakdown of the psychology behind people’s interactions with others in public settings, and how they use these communities and rituals to help form their own identities.
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