Max Levchin: top 10 books for aspiring entrepreneurs

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The best business books for aspiring entrepreneurs recommended by one of the PayPal-founders
Buy on amazon "Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future" by Peter Thiel
- Max Levchin on
Buy on amazon "The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers" by Ben Horowitz

Buy on amazon "The Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton M. Christensen

Out of Harvard Business School Press has come a 'must' on the business book list - Christensen's explanation of why technology changes can derail established companies. He points out the strengths of the companies who use best management practices (listening, aggressive investment in customer demands) but get side-swiped by the paradigm shifts that inevitably happen when disruptive technologies emerge. The cheaper and simpler technology of disk drives, for example, became increasingly more convenient to customers, who then demanded enough to establish that technology in the marketplace – above its competitors.
Buy on amazon “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't” by Jim Collins

Buy on amazon “Too Big to Fail” by Andrew Ross Sorkin
- Max Levchin on
While the title phrase has become a household term for ‘bailout’, the lead-up to the collapse of Bear Sterns and others are just appetizers for the backdrop of the Washington-Wall Street financial destruction of 2008. After 500 hours listening to government officials, spread over 200 interviews and bolstered by even more emails, the journalist’s research has been intertwined with human and humorous moments that make reading through 600 pages a fascinating tour of a system meltdown.
Buy on amazon “The Ascent of Money” by Niall Ferguson

For those tempted to return to the good old days of Mesopotamian sea shells, Ferguson can disabuse you of that notion – and a few others. For instance, Mesopotamia bought and sold goods and services on the barter system, whereas wealth creation and storage was accomplished by precious metal coins and jewelry. Finances are the key to wars and national dominance, insists the author, who pulls out gold bar stockpiles leading to the Waterloo disaster and the Rothchild’s role in the South’s defeat in the Civil War. His conclusions about ‘Chimerica’ are disturbing but worth reading.
Buy on amazon “When Genius Failed” by Roger Lowenstein

The story of the rise and fall of a firm from 1993 to 1998 is truly remarkable in its speed and scope. The firm of Long-Term Capital Management had been making headlines and creating envy until the moment it crashed. The two-year profit margin of over $1.5 billion would be impressive in any firm’s case, but the meteoric fall from $140 billion in assets took months rather than years. The resulting bailout story, in which the Federal Reserve explained the concept of a falling tide sinking all ships (i.e. stock market destabilization) is gripping and applicable today.
Buy on amazon “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely
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It's not surprising that humans act irrationally, says the author. What is surprising is how predictable our irrational behavior can be, especially when we truly think that we're only doing what common sense would have us to do. From consistent overpayments to understimation of the effect of emotions, Professor Ariely lays out 20 years of research (largely on MBA students) into behavioral economics and how we can overcome our own biases toward making better decisions.
Buy on amazon "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert B. Cialdini

A book that's earned its spot on the New York Times bestseller book list, Cialdini has concentrated over 30 years of research into how and why people respond with a “yes” instead of a no. Forbes magazine hailed Cialdini's work on their favorite “75 Smartest” business books list, with its explanation of how people feel obligated to return favors (reciprocity) and why commitment is so powerful. Charlie Munger, the co-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and leader of Wesco Financial, also has a copy on his favorite reading list as one of the top three business books necessary for negotiation success.
Buy on amazon "The Master and Margarita" by Mikhail Bulgakov
- Max Levchin on
Though it took over 20 years for this book to be published in Russia (due to Stalin's control over literature), the originality of Bulgakov's work is undimmed. There are similarities to C.S. Lewis' work The Screwtape Letters, except that the devil's influence, and justification for his evil, are explained in novel rather than letter form. The powerlessness of humans is emphasized by two types of external forces (political and spiritual), and the moral confusion surrounding characters such as married Margarita add to the novel's complexity. Both Daniel Radcliffe and Simon McBurney (director of British theatre company Complicite) keep this book on their top reading lists.
Buy on amazon “Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs” by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman
- Max Levchin on
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