Peter Thiel Recommends 7 Reads

Eccentric billionaire Peter Thiel’s book Zero To One should be required reading for Farnam Street readers. Like The Hard Thing About Hard Things, it’s nice to see another business leader come out and write about life in the trenches in their own voice. I pointed out eight lessons that I took away, although there are many more hidden in the book.

In 2012 the Wall Street Journal asked him which books he enjoyed most in 2012, he responded with the following three suggestions:

100 Plus, Sonia Arrison

.. was first published in 2011, but its message is evergreen: how scientists are directly attacking the problem of aging and death and why we should fight for life instead of accepting decay as inevitable. The goal of longer life doesn’t just mean more years at the margin; it means a healthier old age. There is nothing to fear but our own complacency.

Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder

… He tells how the Nazis and the Soviets drove each other to ever more murderous atrocities as they fought to dominate Eastern Europe in the 1930s and ’40s. Even as he calculates the death toll painstakingly, Mr. Snyder reminds us that the most important number is one: Each victim was an individual whose life cannot be reduced to the violence that cut it short.

Resurrection From the Underground, René Girard

… the great French thinker René Girard’s classic study of Fyodor Dostoevsky …. There is no better way to think about human irrationality than to read Dostoevsky, and there is no better reader of Dostoevsky than Mr. Girard. For a fresh application of Mr. Girard’s insights into power politics, that great international theater of irrationality, try Jean-Michel Oughourlian’s “Psychopolitics,” a brief, freewheeling 2012 work by one of Mr. Girard’s closest collaborators.

Of course those were only his favorite books that year. So what then influenced his thinking overall? Luckily he answered this question in a Reddit AMA. Prefacing his response with “I like the genre of past books written about the future,” he went on to list four books:

New Atlantis by Francis Bacon
Bacon writes of a utopian land called Bensalem where people live better lives because of science. Bacon “focuses on the duty of the state toward science, and his projections for state-sponsored research anticipate many advances in medicine and surgery, meteorology, and machinery.” Keep in mind this was written in 1627.

The American Challenge by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber
A book that foresaw the information age. Here is a powerful quote from the book: “The signs and instruments of power are no longer armed legions or raw materials or capital… The wealth we seek does not lie in the earth or in numbers of men or in machines, but in the human spirit. And particularly in the ability of men to think and to create.”

The Great Illusion A Study of the Relation of Military Power to National Advantage
I’d never heard of this book before now, but as one Amazon reviewer summed it up: “(this is) a tightly reasoned and broadly historical perspective challenging the reigning view that man’s nature is inherently evil and that evil nature must dictate human relations.”

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer
I started reading this once and was mesmerized by Stephenson’s imaginative future world. If you like artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, this is the book for you.