YC's Winter Reading List

by Y Combinator12/6/2016

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation


“It’s amazing how prolific Bell Labs was — the transistor, information theory, Unix, amongst other creations — but it’s fascinating to understand it as an organization. Researchers at Bell Labs performed basic research that was open-ended in approach, but the problems addressed very much influenced by the problems parent company AT&T faced with deploying and iterating on their products. It’s made me think a lot about the best ways for companies to help guide and catalyze basic research.” –Matt Krisiloff

Strangers in Their Own Land


“A book about conservative America – very helpful for understanding the other half of the country” –Jared Friedman

The Rent Is Too Damn High


“Fascinating look at the impact of high housing prices on the rest of the economy” –Jared Friedman

City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism


“The story of how Dubai got built.” –Jared Friedman

Don Quixote


“It’s useful to read about a dreamer who keeps going despite getting repeatedly beaten up.” –Aaron Harris



“Just finished Titan. It was the best analysis of the rise of a monopoly powered by technology I’ve ever encountered.” –Aaron Harris



“It’s the best book I have read on how to discover and build passion as well as perseverance. I love her thesis on why ‘effort counts twice’.”

Talent x Effort = Skill
Skill x Effort = Achievement

–Anu Hariharan

Pandaemonium: The Coming of the Machine As Seen by Contemporary Observers, 1660-1886


“This is an incredible read, and as we sit in the middle of the software revolution it’s worthwhile to see what people thought as the industrial revolution was happening.” –Sam Altman

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike


Recommended by Geoff Ralston

The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of ‘Hallelujah’


Recommended by Geoff Ralston

The Enemy


“My first Jack Reacher novel. It’s sorta fun.” –Geoff Ralston

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower


“A tale of an inexperienced navy man realizing he has a natural talent for problem solving and leadership.” –Finbarr Taylor

A Guide to the Good Life


“A modern exploration of stoic philosophy.” –Finbarr Taylor

On Becoming a Person


“This collection of articles and essays, mostly about the concept of client-centered therapy, had a big impact on how I thought about myself and experienced life. It’s very thoughtfully and carefully written and, although there’s some overlap in the treatment of concepts throughout the collection, a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish.” –Scott Bell



“It’s about Jesus, the person (as opposed to The Christ) from a purely historical perspective. I highly recommend – it was super interesting.” –Carolynn Levy

Going Clear


“L. Ron Hubbard = wacky, to say the least.” –Carolynn Levy

War in a Time of Peace


“A history of US foreign policy in the 1990s. Recounts US involvement in the Balkans during the Serbian crisis.” –Tim Brady

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations


“It is the followup to Hot, Flat and Crowded.” –Tim Brady

Silence Once Begun: A Novel


“An fascinating look at the Japanese criminal justice system told through a story about a wrongly accused suspect. The premise was what got me: a Japanese thread salesman mysteriously confesses to the vanishing of eight people from their homes. However, a journalist ends up trying to figure out the truth when the salesman refuses to talk after the initial confession.” –Kevin Hale

Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction


“Art informs life in Nathan’s entertaining reference book. This may be my new recommended starter for people looking for an introduction to interface design.” –Kevin Hale

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution


“Failure is inevitable. The trick is how to get back up when you fall? Brene’s work is always amazing and I’ve been a fan since I saw her TED lecture. A solid recommendation for entrepreneurs.” –Kevin Hale

Red Notice


“It’s a true story of Browder’s investment in Russia and the former Soviet Union. It reads a little like Liar’s Poker, and is a first hand account of one of the most prolific investors in Russia and Putin critics.

The story itself is absolutely crazy and culminates with the famous murder of Sergei Magnitsky, who was Browder’s lawyer in Russia, while he was in Russian custody.” –Yuri Sagalov

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt


Recommended by Ali Rowghani.

The Agony And The Ecstasy


Recommended by Dominika Blackappl.

Finding God in the Waves


“A story of God and religion that isn’t stuck in the usual believer/non-believer tarpit.” –Paul Buchheit

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life


“Unsurprisingly maybe, there are many similarities to starting a stand up career and being a founder. Stand up is one of my favorite forms of entertainment because how unvarnished it is. You can’t fake being a good stand up comedian. Similarly you can’t fake building a great product. Martin, without any pretension, revels the struggle of the art. The book is honest, entertaining and moving.” –Qasar Younis

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis


“I just finished Hillbilly Elegy, an excellent memoir by J.D. Vance. It tells the story of his family and the Appalachian community he grew up with. I came away from the book thinking it could be a great equalizer if the US asked all young Americans to do 2-years of service (not necessarily military) before or after university.” –Kat Manalac

Also recommended by Robby Walker.

Weapons of Math Destruction


“A tour of how algorithms paired with big data can lead to injustice across industries. O’Neil’s core concern boils down to: how can we ensure processes that are becoming more automated remain fair, even if they offer more efficiency?” –Fred Benenson

A Gambler’s Anatomy


“A wildly entertaining book about a back gammon gambler who think’s he psychic but may just have a tumor.” –Fred Benenson

Manna: Two Visions of Humanity’s Future


“Lays out an interesting vision of where technology is taking humanity and the societal problems/decisions we will face.” –Immad Akhund

Seveneves: A Novel


“Explores a lot of interesting space exploration/survival technology concepts in a fictional post-apocalyptic setting.” –Immad Akhund

Creativity, Inc.


“Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter, on how they built a culture of openness, honesty, self-reflection, and risk-taking that protects new ideas and creativity instead of squashing them.” –Aaron Epstein

Jocko Podcast

“Jocko Willink’s a retired Navy SEAL that reads and reflects on military history through his podcast. Each episode is a reminder to detach from your current situation and stay focused on the larger strategy. Discipline = Freedom. :)” –Craig Cannon




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