Chris Herd

@ChrisHerd

A CryptoPunk Startup Founders 2018 Reading List

The Prince | Machiavelli

Has a terrible reputation that never came through in the books. I found it a timeless resource for understanding the decisions people have made throughout time. Why people in power keep it, and why the careless cost themselves opportunities through mismanagement and a fundamental understanding of how the world works. This book elucidates principals on how to manage a corporate takeover — make sure you situate your own people within the organisation otherwise there will likely be a rebellion — and a host of other things which pull through truly sage advice. This might have been the most ingenious book I read this year, and to avoid it due to the perception of many is your loss indeed. This is as educational a read as you will find.

Nexus Trilogy [Nexus, Crux, Apex] | Rames Naam

Interested in how the world will look once every human on earth augments themselves with artificial intelligence? The prose is simplistic, and a little meh at times, but the content is thought-provoking in the extreme. Humanity is on the brink of self-directed evolution and there will be moral and ethical choices we are forced to make as that reality dawns. This book makes you consider those possibilities from a very smart position and takes every position that you could imagine, entwined within an easy to understand story. It’s an easy read, it’s gripping at points, and it is prescient of the near future we are accelerating toward. All in all an important read for those interested in preparing themselves for the future we are like to inhabit sooner than we think.

Factfulness | Hans Rosling

The most important book I read this year — absolutely awesome from cover to cover. You need to read this immediately. The world as you know it doesn’t exist. The smarter you are the more wrong you are likely to get it. Our vision of it is rooted in the 1960s but the world has improved dramatically since then. Things can be both better and bad. I’ve gifted this book more than any other I’ve ever read to my business contacts and friends. All found it valuable.

Prisoners of Geography | Tim Marshall

If you want to understand why other countries act the way they do this is a great place to start. Why did Russia annex Crimea? Why are they collecting troops on the border with Ukraine? Why have China and India rarely had any conflict? The answer is in the geographies these countries are a prisoner to. China and India are split by the highest mountain range in the world, meaning they couldn’t go to war — or if they did it would be incredibly difficult to fight it. Russia’s reaction was spurred by their need for a warm water port from which to launch their military and project global power. This book looks at the whole world through time and educates us on the principals and constraints that enabled nation states to grow while projecting the things that will happen in the future.

Debt: the first 5000 years | David Graeber

Firstly, this is a slog. It’s long, dense, complicated and frustrating. That said, it’s one of the most enlightening books in the world with respect to finance and ethnography. It combines a history of humanity through the ages and why money and debt have evolved with us through time to enslave us. Debt is a philosophical concept we subscribe to and it infiltrates almost all of our lives when we don’t realise it. Guilt, the value of people, money as a mechanism of control required for exchange have shaped the world we live in. This isn’t a sit back and enjoy the words that paint a picture in your head type of book. It’s an alternative perspective on how slavery came to be and gender differences. This isn’t something you enjoy but it is something you appreciate the knowledge and understanding from greatly.

Digitocracy | Andy Weir

Super short story, super powerful message. AI is coming whether we like it or not. This story splices it’s potential benevolence while questioning whether we, ourselves, are not the real monsters — at least that is my interpretation. Machines and algorithms already know us better than we know ourselves how long until they can predict our behaviour and manipulate it for their own benefit — or their agents.

Artemis | Andy Weir

Not as good as the martian, but a fairly enjoyable vision of what life on the moon might look like. The story follows a thief in the moons biggest city and chronicles her story as she plots to uncover a conspiracy which led to the death of one of it’s richest inhabitants. Exciting, ambitious and readable, I enjoyed it’s pace and high-level concept without loving it.

Before Mars | Emma Newman

An artist is on mars when she discovers a painting only she could have drawn down the side of her bed. The problem — she only arrived yesterday and has never been there before. This book starts out great but fizzles out a little. The premise is awesome, the characterisation good, the direction great, but the depth of ending needed left me wanting more. Maybe not a bad thing.

Down and Out in Magic Kingdom | Cory Doctorow

Social or reputation based currency is inevitable. It’s being trialed in China already and it will travel around the globe within the next two decades. This book is a philosophical text hidden beneath a superficial storyline. Set in Disneys Magic Kingdom the world has evolved to feature ephemeral reputation-based currency as it’s medium of exchange. If you’re unpopular or do something the public at large dislike you run the risk of becoming a non-person. This book is prescient and startling because the subjects it straddles are coming for all of us.

Blood Sweat and Pixels | Jason Schreier

Love games — this is how they’re really made. Games designers are the artists of our times. Where Leonardo painted Frescos which were consumed by private citizens or the masses, games have become a type of public commentary consumed by every type of person imaginable. As escapes from everyday life they succeed, but what of the people who make them? This is a no holds barred run through of some huge successes, so lesser known journeys and some massive failures. This is an insight into the minds of creatives and the struggle, stress and strife they overcome to please us with their creations.

Masters of Doom | David Kushner

Now, this is a story. John Carmack might be the most underrated programmer in the history of the world. He is literally the father of 3D gaming in a form that we recognise today. He is literally responsible for coding the physical worlds in which some of the most recognisable games in history were created. He now leads Oculus’ efforts in doing that all over again. John Romero is a Rockstar, he’s the Ying to Carmacks Yang, the visionary that delivered the imagination which birthed these games. This is how it all happened. Their relationship, the people behind the legend of Doom. This is what startups and business are really like — people are hard and they don’t always get along. There are ego’s fall outs, family, money, need, greed and this is dripping from every page of this book. Doom lover, read it. Technology enthusiast, read it. Thinking about starting a business, read it. Started a business, read it. It’s awesome and you will love me for recommending it.

Foundation | Isaac Asimov

Prescient with where the world is today, what might happen in reality. Every day I feel like I encounter more and more learne helplessness. We have great knowledge but people become more niche. We are less capable of the general and more capable of the specific. Foundation follows that line of thinking. The world is far more evolved than we are today, but there’s a problem. They have awesome technology but people’s ability to understand how it works and fix it are going extinct. Foundation is about the establishment of a Foundation — a group of talented artisans and engineers positioned at the twinned extreme ends of the galaxy — to preserve and expand on humanity’s collective knowledge, and thus become the foundation for the accelerated resurgence of this new galactic empire. The Trilogy follows it.

Quiet | Susan Cain

I’m an introvert and this book was useful in diagnosing a number of my ‘behaviours’. It’s interesting to understand why and what makes certain types of people tick without being prescriptive of the course of action. I’m not entirely convinced these labels apply to things or people as we think — people can be either or depending on a specific situation. I found it useful without being groundbreaking. I probably wouldn’t read it again and would have preferred to have caught a summary of it or read it on Blinkist.

Ender’s Game | Orson Scott Card

My second favorite book I read this year. There's a reason a teenagers fiction book makes it on to the recommended reading list of the US Military. Ruthlessness is critical. This book is awesome, I read it twice this year.

Neuromancer | William Gibson

The preeminent work of the cyberpunk genre. Cyberspace was created within its very pages. It is an inspiration for the film the matrix. With respect to the internet, it has been said “what if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?” this is the book that did that. There is no way to overstate how powerful Neuromancer has been as an influencer of technological development. This is a must-read not only for cyberpunk enthusiasts but anyone who uses technology. To be written in the 1980s, have influenced popular culture since then, predicted the rise of the most important technologies in the world, Gibson created a work of Art which was a roadmap for the future we grew into.

Pre-suasion | Robert Cialdini

The follow up to Persuasion. What do clouds on a website have to do with selling Sofas? Nothing, except for the thoughts it inserts in your head with respect to what you are about to view. This is a classic trick used to make people perceive a companies sofas to be more comfortable. The mind is pushed, pulled and manipulated more than we can ever regonise. Pre-suasion opens your eyes to the methods used. If you are in the business of building a brand this is essential reading. It literally could be the difference between your companies life or death.

The Three-Body Problem | Liu Cixin

Popular within science fiction circles, my honest opinion? Overrated. I found it interesting, the high-level concept is ambitious — but I found it tedious, slow and not particularly interesting. I was forced to read it by the overwhelming sense of positivity that follows it around and waited for the story to hook me. Unfortunately, it never did. Maybe I just didn’t get it. The advice is that it gets better through the trilogy so I must read the second to find out whether that is true. So far though, memories of the first have stopped me doing that.

Radical Candour | Kim Scott

A lot of common sense advice we take for granted and could do better with. This is about candidness in work. As managers, we hold back the truth of what we should say until it’s too late. Kim tells the story of a colleague whose work she oversaw who was producing terrible results. Eventually, she had to sack him only for him to ask why she never told him before it got to this? Radical Candour is a framework for open discussion in an environment where making the right choice is critical to a business's success. As a startup founder, I took a lot from it and applied many of the teachings to my business. It’s not for everyone — some people don’t want the truth — but for the most part, I think adopting many of its principles is essential for modern businesses.

Seveneves | Neal Stephenson

This is a long book, just short of 800 pages. The first sentence sets the tone “The moon blew up suddenly and without warning.” and amazingly it lives up to this. This is a triumph of storytelling, sprinkled with accurate scientific principles. It’s easy to read, easier to understand and immensely enjoyable. Without giving the plot away, the power of the story weakens by the end, but not to the point of making it unenjoyable. A great, long read which makes you think about our future off planet.

The Virgin Banker | Jayne-Anne Gadhia

I loved this book. How she grew to become an indomitable force, changed banking and created the most customer-friendly bank on the high street. The Virgin Banker is one woman's relentless quest to build something that makes a difference and I admire nobody more than Jayne and her character, fictitious or real, from any book I have read this year. Her story is inspirational and accessible. There are no throwaway platitudes which make you roll your eyes. This is how it happened warts and all, what it’s really like to be on the inside trying to change the world in a startup.

Why Information Grows | César Hidalgo

What is the difference between information and knowledge? A Bugatti Veyron sports car sells for $2.5m. How much is it worth if you drive it into a wall? All the atoms in the car would still be there, the only thing that has changed is the arrangement of them. Order reflects the information embedded in the product, which in turn reflects the knowledge and know-how of its designers and manufacturers. Hidalgo has made a bold attempt to synthesise a large body of cutting-edge work into a readable, slender volume. This is the future of growth theory and his thought-provoking book deserves to be widely read. He just hasn’t captured the essence of that perfectly in this attempt.

Babylon Revisited | F. Scott Fitzgerald

Next.

Money: the Unauthorised Biography | Felix Martin

Did you know clam shells were used as money once upon a time? How about huge stone circles? What about the fact one of these was lost at Sea and the family who mined it traded on its alleged size for a very long time. That’s not indifferent to the facade of our banking system today. People still think money is tied to some asset or commodity — not true, and it hasn’t been for nearly 100 years. Did bartering ever happen? This isn’t the most in-depth study ever written, but it implores you to discover more and that’s the most valuable type of books do — they dare you to peel back the curtain and search deeper.

Hellbent | Gregg Hurwitz

What would you get if you crossed Jason Bourne, with Jack Reacher and a subtle hint of James Bond? Someone less cool than Evan Smoak. The third in the Orphan X series lives up to the other two, in this fast-paced thriller which is never predictable. For me, the character is more vulnerable than the other heroes mentioned which is why I invest more in him as a person and enjoy the story more. He has flaws, he bleeds, but he cares deeply which puts him in harm's way. I could read all 3 from cover to cover again.

Snow Crash | Neal Stephenson

I’m a CyberPunk and this is one of the Holy Trinity of the Genre. Neal Stephenson is a genius, the book a masterpiece and every page is filled with a nugget of wisdom. Written before the emergence of the internet the futurist world this novel portrays is what we came to realise as the internet. With good reason, this book has influenced everyone from the creators of google earth, the developers of Quake and the makers of the X-Box.

The Little Prince | Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Sometimes cute children's books have important stories to tell us which we easily forget. This is one of them and is worth a read for yourself or your kids.

To Pixar and Beyond | Lawrence Levy

A wonderful history of Pixar from the perspective of the financial Wizard who helped facilitate it’s success additionally serves as an alternative perspective on Steve Jobs. The first book I read this year was read nearly cover to cover in one sitting. I loved it, and it packages sage advice for entrepreneurs in a story which reads equally well for Disney lovers, history buffs or Jobs aficionados.

How the Other Half Bank | Mehrsa Baradaran

Banking is broken — if you disagree with that statement read this book. Likely the most fascinating adventure history I read this year. It provides a historical overview of banking evolution in the US from the civil through to today. It lets you see that republicans and democrats will not always as fixed in their positions as they are now — with Democrats acting the role of Republicans in almost every major development that people needed to get better access to banking and credit services. If ever there was a book that elucidated on exactly why crypto is an alternative this is it. The number of underbanked who have no access to banking services in the United States is astounding. The number of people who use payday loans because they can’t access credit or short-term loans is sickening. Banks — even though they are effectively public institutions who were bailed out to the tune of nearly $7 Trillion (TRILLION!) — only work for the wealth. There are alternatives, a public bank run from post offices, but Crypto is a more radical but interesting route. Maybe.

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