Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a single
mission: to connect people around the world.
It's one reason why he decided to launch a
Facebook-based book club last year, with a
reading list that focused on “different
cultures, beliefs, histories, and technologies.”
Although the birth of his daughter, Max, kept
him from hitting his goal of a book every two
weeks, he ended the year with 23 selections
in his A Year of Books reading group.
We've put together a list of his picks and
why he thinks everyone should read them:
The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun
The Muqaddimah, which translates to “The
Introduction,” was written in 1377 by the
Islamic historian Khaldun. It's an attempt to
strip away biases of historical records and
find universal elements in the progression of
humanity.
Khaldun's revolutionary scientific approach to
history established him as one of the fathers
of modern sociology and historiography.
“While much of what was believed then is
now disproven after 700 more years of
progress, it's still very interesting to see what
was understood at this time and the overall
worldview when it's all considered together,”
Zuckerberg writes.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander​
Alexander is a law professor at Ohio State
University and a civil-rights advocate who
argues in her book that the “war on drugs”
has fostered a culture in which nonviolent
black males are overrepresented in prison,
and then are treated as second-class citizens
once they are freed.
“I've been interested in learning about
criminal justice reform for a while, and this
book was highly recommended by several
people I trust,” Zuckerberg writes.
Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and
James A. Robinson
Why Nations Fail is an overview of 15 years of
research by MIT economist Daren Acemoglu
and Harvard political scientist James
Robinson, and was first published in 2012.
The authors argue that “extractive
governments” use controls to enforce the
power of a select few, while “inclusive
governments” create open markets that allow
citizens to spend and invest money freely,
and that economic growth does not always
indicate the long-term health of a country.
Zuckerberg's interest in philanthropy has
grown alongside his wealth in recent years,
and he writes that he chose this book to
better understand the origins of global
poverty.
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley​
The Rational Optimist , first published in 2010,
is the most popular and perhaps the most
controversial of popular-science writer Matt
Ridley's books.
In it, he argues that the concept of markets
is the source of human progress, and that
progress is accelerated when they are kept
as free as possible. The resulting evolution
of ideas will consistently allow humankind to
improve its living conditions, despite the
threats of climate change and
overpopulation.
Zuckerberg says that he picked up this book
because it posits the inverse theory of Why
Nations Fail , which argues that social and
political forces control economic ones.
“I'm interested to see which idea resonates
more after exploring both frameworks,”
Zuckerberg writes.
Portfolios of the Poor by Daryl Collins,
Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and
Orlanda Ruthven
Researchers Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch,
Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven spent
10 years studying the financial lives of the
lowest classes of Bangladesh, India, and
South Africa.
A fundamental finding that they include in
“Portfolios of the Poor” is that extreme
poverty flourishes in areas not where people
live dollar to dollar or where poor purchasing
decisions are widespread, but instead arises
where they lack access to financial
institutions to store their money.
“It's mind-blowing that almost half the world
— almost 3 billion people — live on $2.50 a
day or less. More than one billion people live
on $1 a day or less,” Zuckerberg writes. “I
hope reading this provides some insight into
ways we can all work to support them better
as well.”
World Order by Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger
In former US Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger's 2014 book, World Order , the 91-
year-old analyses the ways different parts of
the world have understood the concept of
empire and political power for centuries, and
how the modern global economy has brought
them together in often tense or violent ways.
It's “about foreign relations and how we can
build peaceful relationships throughout the
world,” Zuckerberg writes. “This is important
for creating the world we all want for our
children, and that's what I'm thinking about
these days.”
The Varieties of Religious Experience by
William James​
William James (1849-1919) is “considered by
many to be the most insightful and
stimulating of American philosophers,”
according to the Internet Encyclopedia of
Philosophy from the University of Tennessee.
The Varieties of Religious Experience is a
collection of written lectures that explore the
religious consciousness and the mechanics of
how people use religion as a source of
meaning, compelling them to move onward
through life with energy and purpose.
“When I read Sapiens , I found the chapter on
the evolution of the role of religion in human
life most interesting and something I wanted
to go deeper on,” Zuckerberg writes.
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Creativity, Inc. is the story of Pixar, written by
one of the computer-animation giant's
founders.
Catmull intersperses his narrative with
valuable wisdom on management and
entrepreneurialism, and argues that any
company should consciously avoid hampering
their employees' natural creativity.
“I love reading first-hand accounts about how
people build great companies like Pixar and
nurture innovation and creativity,” Zuckerberg
writes.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
First published in 2014, Sapiens is a critically
acclaimed international best seller by Hebrew
University of Jerusalem historian Harari. He
uses his book to track the evolution of Homo
sapiens from hunter-gatherers into self-
empowered “gods” of the future.
“Following the Muqaddimah, which was a
history from the perspective of an intellectual
in the 1300s, Sapiens is a contemporary
exploration of many similar questions,”
Zuckerberg writes.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by
Thomas S. Kuhn
If there was ever a philosophy book to read
by a physicist, it's probably The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions .
Since its initial publication in 1962, this look
at the evolution of science and the effect it
has on the modern world has become “one of
the most cited academic books of all time,”
according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy. Zuckerberg thinks that being
aware of how scientific breakthroughs are the
catalysts for social progression can be a
“force for social good.”
Kuhn's book is best known for introducing
the phrase “paradigm shift,” representing
instances in scientific history when a
perspective was fundamentally shifted, like
when quantum physics replaced Newtonian
mechanics
Dealing with China by Henry M. Paulson Jr.
Hank Paulson
Zuckerberg has been intensely fascinated
with Chinese culture over the past several
years. He's been learning to speak Mandarin
Chinese and has said that one of his long-
term goals is convincing the Chinese
government to let its people use Facebook.
Dealing with China , by the former US Treasury
secretary, explores China's recent rise in
global influence and how it affects the world.
“Over the last 35 years, China has
experienced one of the greatest economic
and social transformations in human history,”
Zuckerberg writes. “Hundreds of millions of
people have moved out of poverty. By many
measures, China has done more to lift people
out of poverty than the whole rest of the
world combined.”
The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch
Zuckerberg's final selection of the year was
Oxford physicist David Deutsch's The
Beginning of Infinity, a sprawling look at the
progress of humanity following the Scientific
Revolution. It touches on everything from art
and science to politics and philosophy.
Deutsch concludes that human potential is
infinite, perhaps the purest expression of the
optimism regarding the fate of humanity that
connects all of the selections in A Year of
Books.
The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven
Pinker​
Steven Pinker
Zuckerberg admits that this 800-page, data-
rich book from a Harvard psychologist can
seem intimidating.
But the writing is actually easy to get
through, and he thinks that Pinker's study of
how violence has decreased over time despite
being magnified by a 24-hour news cycle and
social media is something that can offer a
life-changing perspective.
It should be noted that Bill Gates also
considers this one of the most important
books he's ever read.
If you'd like to save some time, check out our
summary of the tome.
Genome by Matt Ridley​
Ridley is the only author to appear on
Zuckerberg's list twice.
His 1990 book Genome is an exploration of
the evolution of genes and the growing field
of genetics.
“This book aims to tell a history of humanity
from the perspective of genetics rather than
sociology,” Zuckerberg writes. “This should
complement the other broad histories I've
read this year.”
The End of Power by Moisés Naím
Zuckerberg launched his book club with this
lofty title from Naím, former executive
director of the World Bank and senior fellow
at the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace.
It's a historical investigation of the shift of
power from authoritative governments,
militaries, and major corporations to
individuals. This is clearly seen in what's
now become a Silicon Valley cliché: the
disruptive startup.
“The trend towards giving people more power
is one I believe in deeply,” Zuckerberg writes.
On Immunity by Eula Biss
Zuckerberg says that Biss' investigation into
the benefits of vaccination is necessary to
read, considering the anti-vaccination
movement in the US and parts of Europe.
“The science is completely clear: Vaccinations
work and are important for the health of
everyone in our community,” Zuckerberg
writes, adding that this book was highly
recommended to him by scientists and
public-health workers.
The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner
Fast Company editor Jon Gertner's 2012
book The Idea Factory tells the history of Bell
Labs from the 1920s through the 1980s, in
which the invention of the transistor
revolutionised the world of technology and
the innovation-fostering management style
that rules Silicon Valley was first developed.
Bell Labs' research has won it the most
Nobel Prizes of any laboratory in history, with
seven in physics and another in chemistry.
Zuckerberg writes that he chose the book
because he's “very interested in what causes
innovation — what kinds of people, questions,
and environments.”
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Three-Body Problem was first published in
China in 2008, and the English translation
that came out last year won the 2015 Hugo
Award for Best Novel, an award for sci-fi
book of the year.
It's set during Mao Zedong's Cultural
Revolution and kicks off when an alien race
decides to invade earth after the Chinese
government covertly sends a signal into
space. It's notable because it's been reported
to be indicative of a cultural shift in China,
where rapid modernisation and progress have
captured the public's imagination.
Zuckerberg writes that it's a fun break from
some of the heavier material he's been
reading in his book club.
Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh
Venkatesh is a Columbia University sociology
professor who, in a radical sociological
experiment, embedded himself into a Chicago
gang in the 1990s.
Zuckerberg says that Venkatesh's story is an
inspiring one of communication and
understanding across economic and cultural
barriers.
“The more we all have a voice to share our
perspectives, the more empathy we have for
each other and the more we respect each
other's rights,” Zuckerberg writes.
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
The Player of Games was first published in
1988 and is the second in the Culture series.
It explores what a civilization would look like
if hyper-advanced technology was created to
serve human needs and surpassed human
capabilities.
Zuckerberg writes that he went with a sci-fi
pick as a “change of pace.” The novel is also
one of Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's
favourite books because of its entertaining
way of exploring plausible advancements in
technology.
Orwell's Revenge by Peter Huber
Huber, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for
Policy Research, published this unofficial
sequel to George Orwell's 1984 in 1994, a
time when internet and telecommunications
technology were opening up new methods of
communication. The novel imagines a world
in which citizens use the technology that
once enslaved them to liberate themselves.
“After seeing how history has actually played
out, Huber's fiction describes how tools like
the internet benefit people and change
society for the better,” Zuckerberg writes.
Energy: A Beginner's Guide by Vaclav Smil
Originally published in 2006, Energy starts
with a basic explanation of what energy is
and then moves on to more complex
subjects, including the quest to create more
efficient and environmentally friendly fuels.
It's by University of Manitoba professor
Vaclav Smil, one of Bill Gates' favorite
authors.
“It explores important topics around how
energy works, how our production and use
might evolve, and how this affects climate
change,” Zuckerberg writes, noting that he
also plans on reading Smil's book “Making
the Modern World.”
Rational Ritual by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
Zuckerberg thinks that this book by UCLA
economist Michael Suk-Young Chwe can help
its readers learn how to best use social
media.
“The book is about the concept of 'common
knowledge' and how people process the
world not only based on what we personally
know, but what we know other people know
and our shared knowledge as well,”
Zuckerberg writes.
Chwe's idea may sound complicated, but it's
essentially a breakdown of the psychology
behind people's interactions with others in
public settings, and how they use these
communities and rituals to help form their
own identities.



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