in Book Summaries

The Best Books I Read in 2016

I’ve been neglecting for the past two years, but the knowledge curated there and the power of the right book introduction remain undiminished. So when I saw a flurry of The Best Books I Read in 2016 posts come out from friends like Titiaan Palazzi, Tam Pham and Nat Eliason, I decided to revive the practice as a yearly tradition.

Below you’ll find the best books I read in 2016, along with my main takeaways and links to public notes, if any. I’d love to hear if you end up reading any of these off my recommendation.

Happy Reading! (WordPress isn’t displaying the images here somehow, see Medium for version with pictures)


Memoir/ Biography



Steve Martin’s autobiography isn’t especially notable other than it emphasizes the importance of practice – Steve’s been performing nonstop his entire life. Also, that his jokes have always been very silly.


A well-researched, comprehensive look at the man behind the myth. Elon truly has been working on his current problems for his entire life, and has been catastrophically close to failure on several occasions.

There’s also several fun anecdotes in here, like him sleeping in the office and having engineers kick him awake, or trying to calculate how many hours a wife required per week. A worthy question, but now one you’ll answer with science!

I read this book because I loved Shantaram by David Gregory Roberts, and this is the other book all travellers rave about.

It’s a true story about an English drug dealer who went to a Bolivian prison that’s so corrupt that prisoners have to pay for their cells, tourists take tours, and cocaine is made in the basement.

It’s a harrowing book due to the subject matter, but quite an adventure. I’m just glad I didn’t have to live it myself. I had to take reading breaks to get out of the prison myself.

Definitely my favorite book at the close of the year. It’s the memoir of a Wall Street quant who founds a YC backed adtech startup that survives lawsuits to be acquired by twitter, but ditches them to join Facebook.

The author is whip smart with the wit to match and makes full use of both as he tells his story.

Invisible Book Club

My company Invisible Technologies has a book club where we all read the same books and discuss them. This list is a good way for anyone to brainwash themselves to believe the same things we do (And that our company will succeed!)


All meat, no filler. This was my second read through of this book, and it might as well be the manifesto demanding our company’s founding. Definitely worth a read for any businessperson.

My rough notes are here.


CEO Ed Catmull talks about his journey through Pixar and how it’s run today. A great story and a great management manual.

What stuck out most was Notes Day, once a year when all of Pixar spends the whole day talking about how they can make the company better, by starting with the assumption that it’s happened, and asking how it got there.

A truly powerful manifesto from a master futurist. I can’t believe this wasn’t already on my radar. Incredibly ambitious, and it hits the mark.

Kevin Kelly argues that while Technology is not sentient, it still ‘wants’ things, namely innovation.  It can be a force for bad, but that’s our fault. It’s fundamentally a force for good because the presence of options is always superior to the lack thereof.

Find my rough notes here.

Joseph Campbell was a tenured professor, but he talks like a Zen mystic. It’s awe inspiring to watch him trace the similarities in myths around the world.

Self Development

The grandaddy of all self help books, and you can see why. Those same ideas are laid out here in the plainest and most direct language possible.

That said, the prose is rather alienating if you’re not used to the direct marketing style of writing, but the deeper meanings he refers to ring true. A good non denominational introduction to spirituality, though you’ll need to go elsewhere to get deeper.

Not Ryan’s strongest book, to be honest, but a great collection of stories from history proving that you shouldn’t listen to your ego. Almost like a companion piece to his superior Stoic work The Obstacle is the Way.

I think of him as my personal researcher, whether it’s surfacing stellar books in his monthly newsletter (where many of these came from) or historical anecdotes around a theme with his books.

A strong and short manifesto arguing that the future belongs to the creatives. If you don’t believe that, read this. If you do, read this to back up your thinking with Taylor’s excellent research and firsthand experiences.

There were several statistics in here I wasn’t aware of, pointing out how traditional businesses are on their way out. I guess its just a question of whether the Technological Singularity comes before the Entrepreneurship Singularity.

The best book at interviewing I’ve found, from a former Playboy writer, no less. It’s about researching your subject beforehand, forming good questions, and letting the conversation take itself from there.

Pop Science

A fun Gladwell – esque read about how to be original, likely only helpful for intra-preneurs.

Some stats that stuck out for me where the fact that entrepreneurs with day jobs have 33% higher chances of success,  Nobel prize winners are more likely to be involved in the arts, leading with the problems in your idea makes criticism more difficult, and to allow time for an idea to settle before making a decision.



Fascinating deep dive into the world of pop music and the industrial machine that produces it. Did you know 80% of modern pop music is made by the same few Nordic producers? You should.



A surprisingly lively read where a few CS nerds apply computer best practices to normal living.

I learned several helpful heuristics and formal names for tradeoffs I already knew, like Explore/Exploit or Search/Sort. They solved the Prisoner’s Dilemma too – add a Godfather who makes both choices worse (tax or death), and the incentives line up best for all!



By the end of this book you’ll be questioning if there’s still a You. I never get past the first chapters of his other bible Godel Escher Bach, and this is a much more focused discussion of similar themes, namely that the self is a lie.

Hofstadter is a wonderful tour guide – similar to Richard Feynman in that irreverent scientist persona. This one still drags a bit, but the good parts more than make up for the lengthy thought experiments.

My other favorite book of 2016. The most fun history book you’ll ever read. I’ve gushed about it enough already in my Takeaways, so read that first if you still need convincing.


Science Fiction

Oh man, this was such a fun read, and eerily possible. A hacker unleashes a program that manipulates humans like If/Then loops, telling them to go places and do things in return for money (or else), as part of a master plan to take over the world. Things get crazy in the second book, in the VR-based gamified world economy. Did I mention the program uses bladed motorcycles with blinding laser pointers as shock troops?


A true scifi classic, and one of the most engrossing worlds built since Star Wars. So much going on here, from the Canterbury Tales structure, to everything named after Keats poems, to the battle against AI, to the time-independent bladed nightmare known as the Shrike. First 2 books are required scifi reading, and the second two just for fun.


A bit dated and simplistic, like all Golden Age scifi, but a decent read for the libertarian in all of us about the moon declaring independence.



This was the year I finally boarded the GRRM hype train. All the hype makes sense now!

Some of the most intricate and character-driven fantasy out there, rugged and tough with just enough dragons and magic to keep you interested. Books 1-3 are something else, while 4 and 5 lag, but by then you’ll be so into the world it won’t matter.

Super fun quick read about a coder who finds the source file for reality and goes to Middle Age England to be a wizard where people respect him. Except that he’s not the first to do so!

If you liked Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, you’ll love this world. It’s full of irreverent hacker fun and pop culture references. I’m looking forward to the other two books in the series.

A rollicking adventure story about an assassins guild in a roguish world filled with lackadaisical murders and intrigue.

Some of the best insults and one liners I’ve ever read.

Not Exactly 2016

I read these before this year, but after the last book roundup, so I don’t want them to get lost!


Cheryl Strayed is a queen. You’re probably heard of her as the author of Wild after the recent movie with Reese Witherspoon, but this is an even more intimate at her shockingly rough life, squeezed out into some of the best life advice you’ll find anywhere. Raw, authentic, and helpful – don’t miss.



Cal Newport’s convincing argument that skills trump passion in the professional world. Instead, find a few things you’re good at, and become the best person at the intersection of those things.

You should be moderately interested in them, but you being talented is more important than you being interested, even if you’re optimizing for fun.

Heartbreakingly beautiful love story set in gothic Barcelona. The prose, oh the prose!