Books I listened to In 2023 & My Top 3 Recommendations

Ali Tamaseb
7 min readDec 19, 2023

This is now the 8th year I’m writing this blog post, hopefully you will find a couple of books from this list that you like and that you get to read over the holidays or next year.

Many of you know that I mostly listen to books on Audible while I commute. I’ve read over 150 books since first writing these blog posts so the commute has certainly been helping. It was a blessing to read from different authors and about different topics. Check out the end of the post for my top 3.

First, a shameless self-plug here. I spent 5 years collecting the largest dataset on startups and found what are the elements that actually help a startup company become successful and the other factors that are just a stereotype. I also interviewed founders of companies like Zoom, GitHub, Nest, Instacart, and many more and authored a book on the topic which became a bestseller. If you haven’t read or listened to it, I’d promise it would make for a good read over the holidays. Check it out here.

Now without further ado, here’s the list.

1) Play Nice but Win by Michael Dell

This is an autobiography by the founder of Dell Systems, another one of those super young entrepreneurs who create a massive company by the sheer force of their will and fighting failure points. Loved the story and this book.

2) For Blood and Money by Nathan Vardi

This is the story of a successful biotech pharma startup and how they were able to create a blockbuster drug after many years of challenges and nearing bankruptcy many times. There are lots of books on the stories of great tech companies but very few on the biotech ones. Great storytelling, I’d recommend it if you like the life sciences.

3) Chip War by Chris Miller

This book is about the semiconductor industry, specifically Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), and how this company and its strategic value is important in the geopolitics of Taiwan, USA, and China. I liked this book as well and learned lots about the importance of this private company in world politics!

4) Scaling People by Claire Hughes Johnson

This book is written by Stripe’s Chief People Officer about the culture and processes to implement at an organization for managing the human capital and talent and scaling them. I expected a lot from this book and Claire’s experience but unfortunately didn’t find much interesting insights or new information. I would not recommend it.

5) Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech by Sally Smith Hughes

This is a good book chronicling the early days of Genetech, a company that kickstarted the biotech revolution in south San Francisco. I would recommend it if you’re interested in the life sciences space.

6) Ten Drugs by Thomas Hager

This is an interesting book about the history of some ancient medicines, plants, powders, and pills, like opium, viagra, antibiotics, and others. It’s certainly an entertaining read and I’d recommend it.

7) Prisoners of Geography — Ten Maps that Explain the World by Tim Marshall

What a wonderful read it was. I was looking for a book to explain geopolitics and was recommended this one. A fascinating book that talks about how the location of rivers, seas, and mountains impacts the advancement of countries, wars, and borders. Definitely would recommend it.

8) I Love Capitalistm — Ken Langone

This book is written by the founder of Home Depot. I expected it to be a great story, but it was just way too long, with too many irrelevant details and an old-school type of writing. I would not recommend it.

9) Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

This book is about the world of high-frequency trading in the finance world. It’s a great read if you like hedge funds, investment funds, and trading in general. It’s not about how to invest, but the story and history of high-frequency trading.

10) Venture Mindset by Ilya Strebulaev

I had a chance to read a draft of this book by Professor Ilya Strebulaev, a prominent professor of private equity at Stanford Business School. The book is not published yet but will be in 2024. It’s about how venture capitalists think about risk and investing, and how to take parts of that mindset to organizations and corporates. You can pre-order the book now!

https://www.amazon.com/Venture-Mindset-Smarter-Achieve-Extraordinary/dp/0593714237

11) Debt — The First 5000 Years by David Graeber

This book is about the long history of debt since money itself was invented. It’s interesting, was way too long and had more history than I cared about. I would not recommend it.

12) Charter Schools and Their Enemies

This is a very specific book about the US education system and the author’s assertion that charter schools result in better educational outcomes. It’s a debate and was an interesting perspective to read while there’s opposing scrutiny on charter schools. Only recommend it if you are interested about the education system.

13) Skunk Works by Ben Rich

Skunk Works is Lockheed Martin’s advanced projects lab, the core R&D arm of the longstanding defense contractor. It was set up to be a stealthy, small, and separate part of Lockheed Martin so it can move fast and deliver results. Skunk Works is responsible for some of Lockheed’s major products and engineering advances. The book was OK, not something I’d highly recommend.

14) How to Build a Car by Adrien Newey

Adrien Newey is a famous Formula 1 Car designer with a long history of being involved with car design. The book has some interesting stories, but I’d only recommend it if you’re a car or F1 fan.

15) The Age of Walls by Tim Marshall

Another book on geopolitics by the author of Prisoners of Geography, this one mostly concerned about borders and how borders between countries and regions have historically been shaped. I’d recommend his other book more.

16) World Order by Henry Kissinger

Continuing my quest to learn more about the history of world politics, I read this famous book by Henry Kissinger, a former US Secretary of State that dealt with Russia, China, and Iran among other international interactions. The book was good but didn’t rock my boat.

17) Understanding the US Government by Jennifer Nicoll Victor

I’ve been long interested in learning more about US politics and government structure and history and this book was spot on. It’s part of the Great Courses series of books, all of which I’ve loved reading. I’d recommend this book.

18) The Story of Lululemon by Founder Chip Wilson

Chip Wilson also follows the Super Founder characteristic that I discuss in my book. After selling his first garment business, Chip founded Lululemon to build high-quality technical apparel for yoga. The book is great storytelling, however, sometimes it’s about the founder trying to justify his actions and his drama with investors and the board. I’d recommend it.

19) Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson

The story of Elon Musk is an intriguing read and I have read various biographies of him over the years, but Walter Isaacson is a different kind of an author and an expert on biographies. Lots of interesting details about the life and work of Elon Musk. I would recommend this book.

20) Einstein by Walter Isaacson

After reading Elon Musk by Walter, I decided to read another classic book by him. This is Einstein’s story, his love life, and his work. It’s so fascinating to me that Einstein didn’t fit the classical academic route, and some of the most impressive scientific breakthroughs of the century were developed outside of traditional academia.

21) A Man for All Markets by Edward Thorpe

This is an autobiography by a person who invented card counting for blackjack and his initial applied math theories as a professor were focused on gambling games. He’d later start a hedge fund and pioneered several arbitrage and hedging strategies back in the 70s. Great book again if you like the history of hedge funds and Wall Street.

22) Be Useful by Arnold Schwarzenegger

This is an autobiography by Arnold about his life and seven lessons he learned from his experience as an athlete, actor, and politician. It was OK but didn’t rock my boat.

Top Three Books Recommended For You

Here are my top 3 recommendations for you from the books I read this year:

  1. Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson
  2. Play Nice but Win by Michaell Dell
  3. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

If you’re looking for more recommendations, you can find the list of books I read in the last six years and my favorites among them here: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017.

Happy Holidays!

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Ali Tamaseb

Partner at DCVC ($4Bn VC firm) and author of “Super Founders”. #1 bestseller new release VC book on Amazon. https://getbook.at/superfounders