2022 Best Books- 6 mins
- The Power Law — Sebastian Mallaby
- Working Backwards — Colin Bryar, Bill Carr
- Guns, Germs, and Steel — Jared Diamond
- Invention of Nature — Andrea Wulf
- A Shot to Save the World — Gregory Zuckerman
Much delayed, I’m happy to recommend the books below as the best I read in 2022. Last year, I moved into a new role to help start NewLimit. My literary diet shifted along with the contents of my workday, and I enjoyed exploring different organizational designs and funding structures for technological enterprises. I found both The Power Law and Working Backwards below through that focused search and learned a great deal from both. The remainder of my reading hours were spent indulging in a series of science fiction novels, classics I somehow hadn’t had a chance to read, and tales from the annals of science history that left meinspired to press against the boundary of human knowledge.
My top five favorites from the year are outlined below.
If these books seem interesting to you or you’d like to trade notes, please feel free to shoot me an email!
The Power Law — Sebastian Mallaby
The most impactful businesses of the past half-century have a nearly invariant commonality in their origin stories. Whether the business began in a garage, loft, dorm room, or basement laboratory each was nurtured into existence by Venture Capital. Alongside those businesses, impactful technologies that shape our world blossomed — from Intel’s silicon chips to Genentech’s biologic medicines.
Living in San Francisco for my whole adult life, venture feels like a storied, eternal institution — old as the Sequoias. In reality, the modern structure of a venture firm is scarcely older than some of the technology companies most associated with the asset class. In The Power Law, Mallaby tells the story of venture’s inception as “Adventure Capital,” growing out of family offices and a public holding company into the private partnerships that dominate the industry today. Mallaby reprises his formula from More Money than God, using a cast of the industry’s innovative characters to explain the origin of each feature in a modern firm.
While I don’t endorse every opinion it contains, The Power Law taught me a tremendous amount about an asset class with a larger impact per dollar than any other. I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in technology or finance.
Working Backwards — Colin Bryar, Bill Carr
The nearest grocery store and doctor’s office are both owned by the same company that made my television and the device I read this book on. Amazon is one of the most fascinating businesses in the world, somewhere between a high-technology firm, an old-school conglomerate, and a Sam Walton style discounter.
It seems borderline impossible that each of these diverse business lines can run on the same corporate operating system. And yet. As Bryar and Carr describe in Working Backwards, the entire Amazon empire operates using a shared set of principles and communication mechanisms, even as they differ in nearly every other aspect of their isolated businesses.
The Amazon Way is both a set of abstract leadership principles (including both Customer Obsession and Be Right, A Lot) and concrete management mechanisms (Narratives over slide decks, Press Releases as product plans, Single-threaded decision making). There is no one right way to run a business, and I disagree with some Amazonian principles or mechanisms, but on the whole I find the Amazon operating system incredibly compelling as a baseline for an efficient organization. Bryar and Carr are likely to become canonical references in the school of management, alongside Grove and Horowitz.
Guns, Germs, and Steel — Jeremy Diamond
See full review: Guns, Germs, and Steel
Guns is a classic that was first recommended to me more than 10 (!) years ago. It is a testament to either (1) the growth rate of my book list or (2) my sorting algorithm that I only now got around to reading a book I loved.
Guns asks perhaps the biggest question in contemporary world history — how did a set of societies from a relatively small geographic area in Europe and the Mediterranean come to have such an outsized influence? Diamond reduces this complexity down to a set of highly plausible, if non-falsifiable hypotheses that emphasize the particular influence of geography on human flourishing and the outsized advantages enjoyed by Europe and Asia Minor during the nascent epochs of human development. There are few books that offer such a clarifying lens upon such a large question — a good explanation in the Deutsch-ian sense.
Invention of Nature — Andrea Wulf
Throughout my life, I’ve noticed parks, municipalities, and awards named Humboldt. Never once did I imagine that each was an allusion to one visionary scientist, rather than a collection of references to a common German surname.Such has the star of Alexander von Humboldt faded in the North American consciousness. Invention touches a small spark to the kindling of Humbolt’s work and hopes to reawaken the memory.
Humbodlt was among the last of the old generation of scientists — passionate hobbyists who financed their endeavors with independent wealth or patronage, rather than professionals in an institution funded by government or corporate coffers. He pioneered our modern understanding of ecology, wrote naturalist travelogues that inspired the likes of Charles Darwin and John Muir, kept up correspondence with Thomas Jefferson and the leaders of several European nations — a list so long it is amazing that it fit into a life.
Most striking to me was that his career was built upon a single five year journey through Latin America, climbing the Andes and cataloging one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. These years were the spark of ideas and relationships that he spent the rest of his life expanding, akin to an annulis mirabilis on a grander scale. Invention offers not only the pleasure of following that journey, but an inspiration to venture further along arduous routes, so long as they end in alpine views.
A Shot to Save The World — Gregory Zuckerman
In January of 2020, I began reading news of a flu-like illness spreading in southern China. Until April of 2021, I lived with some degree of anxiety that the flu-like illness would harm me and my loved ones.
Shot offers an explanation for the relatively shocking proximity of those two dates. Prior to the SARS-CoV2 pandemic, the record for the most rapid development of a vaccine stood at four years (see: mumps). Shot recounts how the biopharmaceutical industry beat that record by nearly four-fold in 2020. It’s a story of emerging biotechnologies (see: mRNA, the molecule), young companies turned industry titans (see: MRNA, BioNTech), and countless individuals who worked interminably to render the horse of pestilence quiescent once more.
This is one of the most of the most inspirational stories of technological progress, an Apollo Program for our era. I couldn’t help but swell with pride to know that our species is capable of such feats.