What I Read On Spring Break

Amy and I just spent a week off the grid in Hawaii with my partner Ryan, his wife Katherine, and their son. It was a much needed break – I was once again totally fried – from work, travel, and all the training for my upcoming 50 mile race. Amy is about halfway through the mending process for her broken arm so it was nice for her to just relax and be ministered to, especially by her man servant – me!

I read nine books on this this trip. I was with an eight year old boy so we had plenty of Percy Jackson and the Olympians in between the more serious stuff. I had a lot of business books that I’d been avoiding reading so I decided to take my medicine and read some of them so at the minimum I could delete them from my Kindle.

The full list of reading (not including People, US, Vanity Fair, Time, and Glamor) follows:

How They Started – Carol Tice and David Lester: This was a bunch of short essays about the founding and development of various companies, including LinkedIn, Zynga, Twitter, Groupon, Etsy, Dropbox, IBM, RIM, eBay, Microsoft, Pixar, Chipotle, Jamba Juice, KFC, Coca Cola, Pinkberry, Zipcar, and SPANX. The mix of companies was fun, although like most business history I was amazed at the missing info and the rewriting of important moments around the founding of the company. The authors did a good job but, given that I knew a few of the stories in detail, missed some important points.

The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan: This was my first Percy Jackson book. It had a similar formula to Harry Potter (and many other heroic children coming of age books) but with a fun mythology underpinning. Perfect for a smart eight year old who loves to read along with a 46 year old who still likes to think of himself as in his early teens.

The New Road to Serfdom – Daniel Hannan: My uncle Charlie told me to read this. Hannan is an MEP who is outspoken about British, Europe, and America’s economic and political problems. He believes in the theory of localist and giving strong power to local government and weak power to national / federal government. I enjoyed some of the book and found myself nodding in parts, but found others unnecessarily polarizing and tone deaf to the continually evolving macro scene, at least from my perspective. I wouldn’t have read this unless Charlie put it in front of me – I now understand his (and my Dad’s) political position more clearly.

Into The Forbidden Zone – William Vollman: Easily the best non-fiction book of the week. Last year on spring break we cancelled a trip to Hawaii (with the McIntyres) because of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan. This is a well written short travelogue by Vollman who spent a few weeks in Japan after things had settled down and wrote about his experience and observations as a westerner traveling through some of the impacted areas. Not a “fun” book, but an interesting and thought provoking one.

The Sea of Monsters – Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson book #2. Better than book #1 – more fun, better characters, faster pace.

Who – The A Method For Hiring: I wasn’t looking forward to this book – I find books like this excruciating to read and generally hit “skim” by about page 30. I found this one to be really good – it drew me and and ended up being a very practical guide to how to hire great people. I’d recommend it to anyone in an entrepreneurial company who is responsible for interviewing and hiring people. I rarely send out book recommendations to the Foundry Group CEO list – I sent this one the day I got home.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Josh Lerner: The subtitle summarizes the book nicely – Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed–and What to Do About It. As I continue to grind through writing Startup Communities: How To Create An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City, I’m trying to maintain a steady diet of complementary books. Lerner does a good job of dissecting government efforts and involvement around the stimulation of entrepreneurship and does a thorough job. This is a negative leaning book, but there is some positive and constructive stuff in it.

The Titan’s Curse – Rick Riordan: Book #3 of Percy Jackson. Not as good as Book #1. I’m not bored of this yet – I’ll definitely read book #4 and #5, but that might be it.

The Design of Business – Roger Martin: Ugh. Given the subtitle (“Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage”) I was hoping for something amazing and magical about design and how important it is in the context of creating great companies. Instead, I got a handful of boring stories about big companies including a long section on how amazing innovative RIM is and how their strategy around design in the consumer market will blunt the iPhone’s entrant into the enterprise. Ok – whatever.

I expect Q2 to be much more about writing than reading, and then this summer will be about both. Either way, the infinite pile of books I have is easy to carry around due to my Kindle (well – the Kindle app on my iPad) so I always have plenty of them with me at all times.

  • you are an inspiration. My record is 3 books on a 1 week trip. 9 and magazines in beween…well done!!!! Now that is a productive vaca.

  •  Pls keep these coming – I get a lot of my reading recs from these posts!

  • Read Think Write Do

  • Lerner’s book sounds really interesting. Thanks for the tip!

  • 9 books in 7 days?!? How do you do that? Seriously, it’s worth a blog post to tell us more about your speed reading technique.

    • I’ve always been a fast reader. Lots and lots and lots of reading as a kid.

  • carlmilsted

    Regarding “The New Road to Serfdom:” conservatives who want to move power back to the states and localities are working at cross purposes when also calling for flatter taxes at the federal level. The states have difficulty taxing the rich. Localities even more so. This is partly why we started centralizing during the Progressive Era. To go back to a truly federal system, we need either steeply progressive taxes at the federal level or a ctizen dividend. “Steeply progressive” does not necessarily mean higher top rates. They could mean simply lower middle class rates. (If federal spending were cut sufficiently.) For more, see http://www.nationaldebtsolutions.org/waste/why-federalism-fails/

  • Welcome back!
    On the topic of great reading M. Suster linked to the reading list for a new Harvard class on startups called “Launching Tech Ventures” that is a shockingly well informed and current list – well worth checking out.

  • Thanks for sharing those books Brad. Our former CFO introduced us to the book, Who, a couple years ago. I outlined the interviews for each stage and have found them very worthwhille in adding to our team. Good call in forwarding to your CEO’s.

  • Just bought “Who”. Thanks for the rec B.

  • You are a supernatural fast reader.

    Six days hanging in hammock in Tulum, I read three books and considered that a lot.

    This nudge to read more may be as useful as the list of books.

    Did reread Blue Ocean Strategy after years. Still great thinking there.

  •  The states have difficulty taxing the rich. Localities even more so.
    This is partly why we started centralizing during the Progressive Era.
    To go back to a truly federal system, we need either steeply progressive
    taxes at the federal level or a ctizen dividend.

  • Amenet

    Brad: for design in the context of creating great companies, you may want to try “Designing for growth” by Jeanne Liedtka & Tim Ogilvie. I find Jeanne Liedtka approach of growth problematics in large organizations very insightful, her previous book “Catalyst” was right on.

  • rbrke

    If you haven’t done so already, please, please don’t finish “Startup Communities” without reading Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” apparently not available on Kindle.  Don’t let that stop you.  I’ll send you a copy if you’d like.  One quote: “City diversity represents accident and chaos.” 


    Thirty years after its publication, The Death and Life of Great American Cities was described by The New York Times as “perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning….[It] can also be seen in a much larger context.  It is first of all a work of literature; the descriptions of street life as a kind of ballet and the bitingly satiric account of traditional planning theory can still be read for pleasure even by those who long ago absorbed and appropriated the book’s arguments.”  Jane Jacobs, an editor and writer on architecture in New York City in the early sixties, argued that urban diversity and vitality were being destroyed by powerful architects and city planners.  Rigorous, sane, and delightfully epigrammatic, Jacobs’s small masterpiece is a blueprint for the humanistic management of cities.  It is sensible, knowledgeable, readable, indispensable.   

    • I have it in my pile at Keystone and will definitely read it before I finish.

  • hmm, something about Hawaii and 1.3 books per day doesn’t seem to mix well.

    • Why not? It’s awesome. I just lay in a beach chair all day and read!

      • Don’t they have beach chairs in Colorado?  Might not have beaches though.  I guess that is part of the experience.

  • Awesome list, thanks Brad. I’m trying to read as many books on e-ship as I can and summarize for other entrepreneurs them on my blog (http://elevatorposts.com/category/elevator-books/) and just got through “Lucky or Smart”, “4-hour Work Week”, “Crush It”, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, and “Illusions of Entrepreneurship” over the end of Spring Break. I’ll be posting those summaries throughout the week, and definitely have some good ones to continue with thanks to you!

  • You read or devoured? Did you read them electronically or paper versions. 

    • Electronic. Everything was on Kindle via my New iPad.

      • That’s what I figured. Speed reading gets a boost with e-reading. I recently went through 3 e-books much faster than otherwise. One of them I recommend: Grouped. It frighteningly corresponded with my current thinking on the Social Web. 

  • coffeeking

    You should do a blog post on how you read books so fast, what are the reading strategies you use, do you go through the book page-to-page or skip over the topics you may already have good knowledge of. I am certain a lot of us can benefit from such a post. What do you think?

    • On the list to post – I’ve been asked this many times and it’s time to write something about it.

  • Brad, do you recommend any good books on hiring programmers? I’m curious what the current wisdom is. I can’t believe some of the ridiculous interview stories I’ve been hearing lately, especially at startups in SV. Some of their HR/hiring practices sound utterly counter-productive.

    • Nope – I don’t have any specific books on hiring programmers that I can recommend. And yes – there are lots of insane / wacky / just-plain-weird hiring stories.

  • I understand it at large companies, but I don’t understand how many startups think they can survive when they have no clue about qualifying good talent. And there’s a lot of good talent out there right now. I’d love to hear your extended thoughts on this in a post.

  • Lee

    Looks like FS Hualalai?… I added how they started to my iBooks, so far I am really enjoying it.

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