2023 Reading List
As usual, I’m back with my annual reading list and as usual I’m late to the end of the year. And as usual, I read less this year than I did last year, sadly. I’m confident that will change in 2024. But it’s not about quantity and this year I read some really great books.
I continued the trend from last year (kicked off in 2022 by The Power Law) of reading about financial history asset class by asset class. This year I covered junk bonds, PE, the corporation itself, venture capital, and the cable industry across 4 books. I don’t know that there’s a “point” to the exercise but it has been helpful to get more context for what’s happening in the world/markets today. More importantly, it continues to be a rewarding survey history, especially when mixed in with some great fiction.
In 2024 I hope to read some more science fiction than I did last year. That lagged substantially in 2023. And I’ll definitely be keeping up the financial history as well.
The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver: it takes a really long time to get going but once it does, the books put historical figures like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotksy in humanizing light and rich context. My mom, my sister, and I read this together before a trip to Mexico City, which was definitely the right context for the book. For someone who’s not a huge visual arts person like myself, it made a second visit to the Frida Kahlo house much more engaging than my first.
Smiley’s People - John Le Carre: this was not my favorite JLC novel (and I read one or two every year). It was probably the most heavily serialized and I haven’t historically made any effort to read his books in any particular order (they generally don’t require that).
Den of Thieves - James B. Stewart: a super in-depth account of the insider trading scandal(s) which shook Wall Street in the 1980s with characters Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky. It’s also doubles as a pretty strong survey of the early history of private equity and leveraged buyouts; that’s what the junk bonds and insider trading was ultimately financing and being catalyzed by. Nat Levy-Westhead and Henry Bradley recommended it to me and I had a great time reading it on the beach, even if it sometimes lost me in the details.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow - Gabrielle Zevin: Everyone I know read this book last year and I totally get why. It’s moving and it moves. The subject (a video game studio across the decades) could be alienating to most people but in Zevin’s hands it’s not. She makes even the most technical parts of game design feel really accessible without sacrificing a character-driven narrative on one hand of verisimilitude on the other. Thanks to my mom for buying me this book.
For Profit - William Magnuson: Magnuson tracks the idea/concept of a corporation from ancient Rome (of which I often think) through the joint stock company boom to the origins private equity and into the present. My favorite parts were definitely the ancient history but overall its a fun one if you care about this sort of thing. I heard about the book on an episode of Slate Money.
The Guest - Emma Cline: Along with Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, this was one the books of 2023 (for folks of a certain age). Many of you likely already read it and if you haven’t, I strongly suggest waiting until summer (or at least spring) to get into it. It’s about a lot of things but it’s literally about the Hamptons over the course of a few days at the height of a very hot summer. It can and should be made into a mini-series.
Cable Cowboy - Mark Robichaux: John Malone was/is a colossal figure in the telecom and media over the last several decades and this is his definitive biography. It’s also the definitive read on the industry itself and how it go to be such a brutal, backstabbing corporate arena. David Haber and Grit Capital recommended it to me way back in 2021. I finally got around to it!
eBoys- Randall E. Stross: it’s kind of crazy this book exists at all. In the late 90s, Benchmark (yes, that Benchmark) let a writer and journalist shadow the partners for a couple years and gave him seemingly unfettered access to the workings of the firm, and through it to Silicon Valley at a crucial moment. The book covers the run up of the dot com bubble and at times verges on hagiographic (according to eBoys the Benchmark guys were perfect pillars morality and clear thinking in an irrational moment) but it feels worth reading for anyone who works in venture.
Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles: For most of this book nothing really happens and that’s not a problem/kind of the whole point. The premise (a Russian aristocrat tossed out in the revolution and placed under house arrest in a fancy hotel for decades) yields a lot of humor and drama on its own without a lot of flash. Recommended by Nat Levy-Westhead and Everett Randle.
The Fisherman - John Langan: this Lovecraftian/cosmic horror set in upstate NY was my favorite book I read this year. It’s very spooky, especially reading it in the Berkshires on a rainy day. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling anything but it definitely stuck with me for a few days. Thanks to Henry Bradley for suggesting it as a holiday read.
You can see my reading lists for prior years here.
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