YCombinator's summer list of 2016

Books that YC members recommended in the summer of 2016.
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The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

by David Deutsch

About the book:  The New York Times bestseller: A provocative, imaginative exploration of the nature and progress of knowledgeIn this groundbreaking book, award-winning physicist David Deutsch argues that explanations have a fundamental place in the universe—and that improving them is the basic regulating principle of all successful human endeavor. Taking us on a journey through every fundamental field of science, as well as the history of civilization, art, moral values, and the theory of political institutions, Deutsch tracks how we form new explanations and drop bad ones, explaining the conditions under which progress—which he argues is potentially boundless—can and cannot happen. Hugely ambitious and highly original, The Beginning of Infinity explores and establishes deep connections between the laws of nature, the human condition, knowledge, and the possibility for progress.


Notes:  “Deutsch is another physicist who succeeds in causing us to rethink what we know about history and humanity’s place in the universe. He centers his conversation around ‘explanations’ which he claims are far more fundamental than you might otherwise think.” –Geoff Ralston

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Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline

About the book:  It's the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We're out of oil. We've wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS - and his massive fortune - will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation. For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions - and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.


Notes:  “Beautiful and terrifying visions of our possible futures. Think Pokémon Go on steroids, for better and worse :)” –Luke Iseman

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How Buildings Learn

by Stewart Brand

About the book:  Presents an illustrated analysis of contemporary buildings and architecture, making an argument for creating structures that are adaptable and allow redefinition of space and design and construction integration.


Notes:  “Stewart Brand lovingly describes how and why buildings can get better with time. Bonus points: he wrote it from inside a shipping container!” –Luke Iseman

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Find Me Unafraid

by Kennedy Odede,Jessica Posner

About the book:  Find Me Unafraid tells the uncommon love story between two uncommon people whose collaboration sparked a successful movement to transform the lives of vulnerable girls and the urban poor. With a Foreword by Nicholas Kristof. This is the story of two young people from completely different worlds: Kennedy Odede from Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and Jessica Posner from Denver, Colorado. Kennedy foraged for food, lived on the street, and taught himself to read with old newspapers. When an American volunteer gave him the work of Mandela, Garvey, and King, teenaged Kennedy decided he was going to change his life and his community. He bought a soccer ball and started a youth empowerment group he called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Then in 2007, Wesleyan undergraduate Jessica Posner spent a semester abroad in Kenya working with SHOFCO. Breaking all convention, she decided to live in Kibera with Kennedy, and they fell in love.Their connection persisted, and Jessica helped Kennedy to escape political violence and fulfill his lifelong dream of an education, at Wesleyan University. The alchemy of their remarkable union has drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike—The Clintons, Mia Farrow, and Nicholas Kristof are among their fans—and their work has changed the lives of many of Kibera’s most vulnerable population: its girls. Jess and Kennedy founded Kibera’s first tuition-free school for girls, a large, bright blue building, which stands as a bastion of hope in what once felt like a hopeless place. But Jessica and Kennedy are just getting started—they have expanded their model to connect essential services like health care, clean water, and economic empowerment programs. They’ve opened an identical project in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest slum, and intend to expand their remarkably successful program for change. Ultimately this is a love story about a fight against poverty and hopelessness, the transformation made possible by a true love, and the power of young people to have a deep impact on the world.


Notes:  “Incredibly inspirational story of Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner – the founders of a world class non-profit operating in some of the poorest slums in the world. In their lives they have encountered the best and worst of humanity, and their story is a testament to the power of perseverance. (Full disclosure: I became a contributor and board member of SHOFCO, in part because of this book!)” –Robby Walker

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Hadrian's Wall

by William Dietrich

About the book:  A fusion of Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire and the movie Braveheart; a novel of ancient warfare, lethal politics, and the final great clash of Roman and Celtic culture. For three centuries, the stone barrier we know as Hadrian's Wall shielded Roman Britain from the unconquered barbarians of the island's northern highlands. But when Valeria, a senator's daughter, is sent to the Wall for an arranged marriage to an aristocratic officer in 367 AD, her journey unleashes jealousy, passion and epic war. Valeria's new husband, Marcus, has supplanted the brutally efficient veteran soldier Galba as commander of the famed Petriana cavalry. Yet Galba insists on escorting the bride–to–be on her journey to the Wall. Is he submitting to duty? Or plotting revenge? And what is the mysterious past of the handsome barbarian chieftain Arden Caratacus, who springs from ambush and who seems to know so much of hated Rome? As sharp as the edge of a spatha sword and as piercing as a Celtic arrow, Hadrian's Wall evokes a lost world of Roman ideals and barbaric romanticism.


Notes:  “Hadrian’s Wall begins with a preliminary chapter on Roman history. I expected this to be boring; preliminary chapters almost always are. But this one was remarkably insightful. So I’m hoping the rest of the book will be equally surprising.” –Paul Graham

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The Magicians

by Lev Grossman

About the book:  Haboring secret preoccupations with a magical land he read about in a childhood fantasy series, Quentin Coldwater is unexpectedly admitted into an exclusive college of magic and rigorously educated in modern sorcery.


Notes:  “The Magicians is kind of like Harry Potter but for adults. Sadly there are only 3 books instead of 7. Great story with vivid imagery and twisty plot.” –Finbarr Taylor

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Leviathan Wakes

by James S. A. Corey

About the book:  The first novel in James S.A. Corey's SF New York Times bestselling Expanse series. Humanity has colonized the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond - but the stars are still out of our reach. Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for - and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why. Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything. Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations - and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.


Notes:  “The Expanse Collection is real space opera with a deep, long-running storyline about a lost civilization.” –Finbarr Taylor

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Our Mathematical Universe

by Max Tegmark

About the book:  Max Tegmark leads us on an astonishing journey through past, present, and future, and through the physics, astronomy, and mathematics that are the foundation of his work, most particularly his hypothesis that our physical reality is a mathematical structure and his theory of the ultimate multiverse. In a dazzling combination of both popular and groundbreaking science, he not only helps us grasp his often mind-boggling theories, but he also shares with us some of the often surprising triumphs and disappointments that have shaped his life as a scientist. Fascinating from first to last - here is a book for the full science-reading spectrum. Max Tegmark is author or co-author of more than 200 technical papers, twelve of which have been cited more than 500 times. He has featured in dozens of science documentaries, and his work with the SDSS collaboration on galaxy clustering shared the first prize in Science magazine's "Breakthrough of the Year: 2003". He holds a Ph.D from the University of California, Berkeley, and is a physics professor at MIT.


Notes:  “Tegmark’s book is one of those few mind-altering books that give you a completely different way of looking at the world. It is a wonderfully readable combination of profound thoughts about the nature of reality combined with an explanation of what physicists and cosmologists know today.”–Geoff Ralston

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Team of Rivals

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

About the book:  An analysis of Abraham Lincoln's political talents identifies the character strengths and abilities that enabled his successful election, in an account that also describes how he used the same abilities to rally former opponents in winning the Civil War.


Notes:  “Team of Rivals was great. Too many reasons.” –Aaron Harris

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Algorithms To Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

by Brian Christian,Tom Griffiths

About the book:  A fascinating exploration of how computer algorithms can be applied to our everyday lives.


Notes:  “People make decisions all day with limited time and information. These constraints are familiar to programmers, and many of the principles of computer science can be applied to understand why we make decisions the way we do. Modern neuroscience is revealing more and more about the way people make decisions, which helps us understand why some decisions are harder to make correctly than others. This is an accessible book summarizing a mountain of recent fundamental research.”–Trevor Blackwell

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Moral Tribes

by Joshua Greene

About the book:  “Surprising and remarkable…Toggling between big ideas, technical details, and his personal intellectual journey, Greene writes a thesis suitable to both airplane reading and PhD seminars.”—The Boston Globe Our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us) and for fighting off everyone else (Them). But modern times have forced the world’s tribes into a shared space, resulting in epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities. As the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling. We fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming, and we wonder where, if at all, we can find our common ground. A grand synthesis of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy, Moral Tribes reveals the underlying causes of modern conflict and lights the way forward. Greene compares the human brain to a dual-mode camera, with point-and-shoot automatic settings (“portrait,” “landscape”) as well as a manual mode. Our point-and-shoot settings are our emotions—efficient, automated programs honed by evolution, culture, and personal experience. The brain’s manual mode is its capacity for deliberate reasoning, which makes our thinking flexible. Point-and-shoot emotions make us social animals, turning Me into Us. But they also make us tribal animals, turning Us against Them. Our tribal emotions make us fight—sometimes with bombs, sometimes with words—often with life-and-death stakes. An award-winning teacher and scientist, Greene directs Harvard University’s Moral Cognition Lab, which uses cutting-edge neuroscience and cognitive techniques to understand how people really make moral decisions. Combining insights from the lab with lessons from decades of social science and centuries of philosophy, the great question of Moral Tribes is this: How can we get along with Them when what they want feels so wrong to Us? Ultimately, Greene offers a set of maxims for navigating the modern moral terrain, a practical road map for solving problems and living better lives. Moral Tribes shows us when to trust our instincts, when to reason, and how the right kind of reasoning can move us forward. A major achievement from a rising star in a new scientific field, Moral Tribes will refashion your deepest beliefs about how moral thinking works and how it can work better. From the Trade Paperback edition.


Notes:  “People’s intuitive sense of what is ethical often differs from what a utilitarian philosopher would say is the greatest good for the greatest number. Through carefully digging into the corner cases of what people say is right or wrong and correlating with brain activity, Greene reveals a great deal about the underlying mental mechanisms.” –Trevor Blackwell

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Work Rules!

by Laszlo Bock

About the book:  A New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Daily Telegraph, Huffington Post & Business Insider Top Business Book to Read 'Every year, 2 million people apply for a job at Google - so what's the secret?' Guardian A compelling manifesto with the potential to change how we work and live, Work Rules! offers both a philosophy of the new world of work and a blueprint for attracting the most spectacular talent and ensuring the brightest and best prosper. The way we work is changing - are you?


Notes:  “This book is full of interesting ideas and observations. It’s particularly valuable to companies trying to scale their workforce up past the first 150 people, where ad-hoc methods really start to break down. While my experience doesn’t always jibe with the ideas in the book and some of the insights seem somewhat specific to Google, it’s still really worth reading if you’re a leader in any organization.” –Emmett Shear

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The Intelligent Investor

by Benjamin Graham,Jason Zweig

About the book:  Taking account of both the defensive and the enterprising investor, outlines the principles of stock selection, explains simple portfolio policy, and offers advice on a range of strategies.


Notes:  “I was told to handle these ideas with caution because early stage investing is so different than public markets but it’s been a wonderful and insightful read. I’m sure this will become one of the best books I read this year.” –Qasar Younis

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Where Vultures Feast

by Ike Okonta,Oronto Douglas,George Monbiot

About the book:  A devastating case against the world's largest oil company.


Notes:  “I’m re-reading this book since I last picked it up a little over 10 years ago. In our culture where corporations are held up at high esteem, this book had a tremendous impact on me in highlighting the blind spots created by markets. Also it provides insight into the history of oil on the Niger Delta which in itself is pretty interesting.” –Qasar Younis

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Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

by Lawrence Weschler

About the book:  "Robert Irwin, perhaps the most influential of the California artists, moved from his beginnings in abstract expressionism through successive shifts in style and sensibility, into a new aesthetic territory altogether, one where philosophical concepts of perception and the world interact. Weschler has charted the journey with exceptional clarity and cogency. He has also, in the process, provided what seems to me the best running history of postwar West Coast art that I have yet seen."--Calvin Tomkins


Notes:  “Irwin has me rethinking how I listen and ask questions. In his words, ‘Questions are more profound than answers because when you finally get an answer, they immediately ask another question.'” –Craig Cannon

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Thoughts Without a Thinker

by M. D. Mark Epstein

About the book:  One of the most sophisticated integrations of therapeutic and spiritual disciplines. -Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence


Notes:  “Reading this book felt like a meditation on psychoanalytic psychology, which I guess is the point. Epstein marries two historically different vantage points on the tangle of human psychology and explains why it’s beneficial to keep both in mind as you think about your relationship to your self…if such a ‘self’ were to exist ;).'” –Amy Buechler

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