We know few people who read or, rather, listen to as many business and political books as Jacob Glick, general counsel at the tech firm North. We asked him, on your behalf, for recommendations from his 2019 audiobook trove:
“This is the definitive book about the rise of Uber and it’s hard-charging CEO Travis Kalanick,” says Jacob. “The author had great behind-the-scenes sources who were willing to go into excruciating detail on what happened. Some of that is clearly settling of scores but it hardly matters because it makes for a great story. I can’t think of any other book where the reader gets a guided tour of a boardroom beheading and the machinations leading up to it. The relationship between venture capital investors, startup CEOs and their companies is also explored in a way you don’t often read about. Implicitly, the book raises important questions about whether you need to be a certain personality type to succeed as an entrepreneur.” By certain ‘type,’ we gather that Jacob means possessed, sociopathic, assholic, or some combination of these.
“The perfect book,” says Jacob, “for the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing. Donovan tells you about the people, the personalities, the politics and the science behind the improbable landing on the moon in the summer of 1969. The final chapters, a moment-by-moment account of the actual landing are a really special piece of writing. We all know how it ends but it is still gripping to read. The story opens, by the way, with the critical defection of Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. All I’d known about him previously was what I’d learned from the Tom Lehrer song.”
Jacob did not like this book because it “glosses over the really hard choices and nausea-inducing stress that comes with start-up life. With the benefit of hindsight, all of the hard choices were the right ones. All the backstabbing was ‘radical candor.’ All the decisions not to sell to Amazon and Blockbuster were bold risks, but ones worth taking. Netflix is a great and successful company today but if you want a candid and forthright assessment of its early years you should skip this book.”
We asked Jacob for recommendations, not rejections, but good to know, nevertheless. And we suggest Gina Keating’s Netflixed as exactly the kind of book Jacob wants to read about Netflix and its CEO Reed Hastings (above).
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
“A stinging rebuke to modern philanthropy and the self-serving do-goodism of the super-rich,” says Jacob. “A comprehensive look at every aspect of this issue: from new grads who are lured to management consulting jobs on the false promise of doing good through those jobs; to super-rich people who tell themselves that are agents for social change because their companies are changing the world; to the ultra-rich philanthropist whose family business helped create the opioid crisis.”
As the great Gavin Belson (above) says: “I don’t want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place, better than we do.”
Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Tom Wright & Bradley Hope
“A page-turning, cinematic depiction of an epic case of financial fraud. The story of an accused audacious Malaysian fraudster, an allegedly corrupt Prime Minister, and their enablers in global banking is breathtaking in its sprawling criminality. The authors provide painstaking detail of how the crimes were carried out; how money and assets were looted and routed globally, under the nose of regulators, compliance officials and people who ought to have known better. The descriptions of Vegas parties are pornographically vivid.”
Political Tribes by Amy Chua
“The Yale Law School professor (and infamous Tiger Mom) provides a globally comprehensive picture of how group identity shapes politics. She starts by showing how America’s inability to understand group identity led to its follies in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Venezuela. She pivots to America, detailing how the inability of coastal elites to understand and grapple with working-class, less-educated white group identity is a blind spot for the left and a risk to social cohesion. As thoughtful a diagnosis of today’s America, put into a global context, as you will read. I bet you’ve never considered the similarities between American nationalism, Hugo Chavez and The Taliban.”
Destined for War: America, China, and Thucydides’s Trap by Graham Allison
Without a doubt, the best book Jacob heard this year (written a few years ago) is Graham Allison’s Destined for War: “Where to start… The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides describes the war between Athens and Sparta, two regional powers that really had nothing to go to war about other than that one was a hegemon and the other was an emerging power. In this sense, they were ‘destined for war.’ This tension between hegemon and emerging power is known to international relations scholars as ‘Thucydides’s trap.’ There have been eighteen (or so) times throughout history where it has arisen, resulting in devastating war twelve times.
“Allison reviews the most interesting of these conflicts, describing why the countries did or did not fall into Thucydides’s trap. Then he turns to the current relationship between the US and China. You might not sleep after you read the hypothetical yet totally plausible mistakes, miscalculations, and misadventures that could result in World War III.”