I’ve been moving away from screens and checking out books from our town library. I found lists online that mentioned the best non-fiction books in recent years, and I checked a bunch out. I found most to be riveting.
Bad Blood. This is the tell-all book about Theranos and how it enticed a slew of known people to invest, none of whom had any life sciences experience. It’s a page turner and hard to put down. There are villains and a few heroes in the book, and I walked away thinking that there’s a very fine line in one’s mind between selling and duping. You always need to be self-aware before you get on that slippery slope.
The Contrarian. This is a book about the entrepreneur, investor, and political activist Peter Thiel of PayPal, Facebook, and Palantir fame. I knew that many in his closest circles shared conservative politics, but I had no idea how libertarian so many of them are. It’s a fun book to read, full of intrigue, but it made me realize again how Citizens United really changed how politics happened in our country: now, the wealthy and their SuperPACs can set political agendas by evading the usual limits to political contributions.
The Cult of We. Each year, I teach a case on WeWork and recently did the same to the Harvard Business School Alumni Board. In every market top, there’s a Pets.com or Enron, and I think WeWork is one of those archetypal companies. How does a very tall and charismatic visionary create a company from nothing? Adam Neuman has moved on from WeWork but it today trades at a $4B market cap., well below the $47B private-market valuation at its peak.
Empire of Pain. This is an incredibly well-researched and well-written chronicle of the Sackler family and their business in opioids. Another page-turner, it delves deep into multiple sources, such as interviews and court documents. The book states that to this day many Sackler family members feel that they did no wrong, in spite of ample evidence of which they knew that Oxycontin could be highly addictive. It’s a sad blight on capitalism.
Bloodlands. I listened to Ezra Klein’s interview with Russian specialist Fiona Hill. The latter recommended this book. She said that in order to understand Ukraine today, you need to read its history. Bloodlands chronicles the 14 million deaths that occurred in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and the Baltic states in the 1930s and 1940s. As Stalin consciously starved Ukraine into submission and killed Soviet citizens of Polish and Ukrainian descent, the crimes of Nazi Germany served as an unbelievable second act in a region already soaked with grief and murder.
Eat the Buddha. This book takes a look at Tibet. I’m a huge fan of the Dalai Lama and was intrigued. The book is a bit laborious but is still worth the read, as it chronicles the live of everyday Tibetans and the struggles they’ve been through as the PRC government has forcibly tried to stamp out Tibetan culture and identity.
Nothing to Envy. Gosh, what a well-written book that delves into the lives of everyday North Koreans as they went from a people’s revolution to a failed state that featured massive famine, corruption, and successful brainwashing.
The Man Who Ran Washington. Jim Baker served as Secretary of State, Treasury Secretary, chief of staff to two U.S. Presidents, and managed four national presidential campaigns. This book is an excellent profile of Baker and provides an insider’s view of the Reagan Revolution, the first Gulf War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. You can see the seeds of extremism begin in the GOP and how it today is a party that many Republicans have abandoned and no longer recognize.