The Library (of Links)

Every Monday for the past 3+ years I've published my personal newsletter. This page is the collection of the best content I've ever shared.

My goal with this page is to create a relaxed place for you to explore ideas at your leisure. Like a physical library, take your time to look around. Collect a few books and articles & sit down to read them. No one's rushing you - take all the time you need to emerse yourself.

I hope this curated collection will bring you closer to the ideas that are most interesting and useful to you.

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Society & Science

The Cost to Bribe People of Power in Peru

A paper with detail on how much it cost 1 individual to run the entire democracy of Peru via bribery during the 90’s. For example, some judges received $2.5k - $10k USD per month, various politicians were paid up to $20k per month to change parties, TV stations were paid up to $9M / year.

The spy who never came in from the cold

How the CIA station chief of Lebanon was abducted and killed. I like this because you only rarely get a glimpse into the inside of how government intelligence units operate - this goes back to 1984. Also is a lesson in storytelling.

Icarus

An amateur bike racer tries to make a documentary about beating the game by cheating with steroids, and ends up discovering a lot of the backend on how Russia ran its Olympics program. Highly recommended.

Red Notice

An American investor in Russia gets put on Putin's list and immediately starts running into serious trouble. Written by the investor himself, Bill Browder

Why Being Flaky in San Francisco Might Be More Acceptable than Other Cities

One of the things I've learned in tech and entrepreneurship is that a lot of the societal norms and expectations that are assumed in polite society often hold people back from greatness.

The Mastermind

7 part series on a guy who used bitcoin to run his billion dollar, world wide operation. Save this one for the weekend and your couch

Team of Rivals

Fantastic book about the team Abraham Lincoln built during the Civil War. One takeaway that was new to me and feels extra relevant today is how divided the North was throughout the war: some wanted peace at any cost (e.g. let the South go & continue slavery) while others were true Abolitionists and viewed the war primarily as a battle against slavery.

The Radicalism of the American Revolution

We underesetimate the degrees of nuance that existed in social class hundreds of years ago. For example, the family you came from used to matter more than **anything**. The aristocracy wasn’t just the idea that there was a King, but that there were also many mini-Kings (“The Elites”) whose family each had their own dominion over their area. The meta lesson of this book is that old societies were far more different than we regularly imagine because of the culture and customs they embodied. Fun fact: the author is one of the historian’s mentioned in the early bar scene in *Good Will Hunting*.

John Adams, by David McCullough

Adams had much bigger role in the Declaration of Independence than is commonly understood. He also wrote the Constitution for Massachusetts (currently the oldest active constitution in the world). A favorite part of biographies is seeing the mental weaknesses & worries of people who eventually get statues and buildings with their names. This one doesn’t disappoint.

Albion's Seed book review

Scott Alexander (my personal nominee for greatest writer of the 21st century) writes book reviews that are often superior to the book itself (though to be clear I'm not making that claim about this book). Albion's seed is a 900 page tomb that tries to explain today's political tribes and group affiliates by where those they emmigrated from. The review is amazing, and the theory is fascinating. Feels plausible and has enormous consequences that we're probably not ready to deal with. Or as Matt Levine once said: "Does anyone else think about this article every day?"

Social Class in America

This gave me a new lens through which to view social status, why people choose certain jobs, and how the separation of money from prestige has far-reaching consequences.

Philadelphians Sure Drink a Lot More Alcohol Since the City's Soda Tax Was Imposed

File under "unintended consequences" - a vast trove of mostly untold stories

The Richeset Man Who Ever Lived

How Jacob Fugger became history’s first millionaire in the 16th century.

I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup

You don't get points unless you accept the people who you truly find repulsive

“I’m Not Mopping the Floors, I’m Putting a Man on the Moon”

We all need someting bigger than ourselves to work towards. It can take many forms: starting a company, having kids, volunteering. In the 1960s in America, for many people, it was putting a man on the moon. The takeaway is that the meaning we give our work is often based on the context of the work. The same act done for different reasons can bring different feelings, from excitement and joy to apathy or disgust.

The Revolt of the Public

The Internet has changed everything, and we've only barely begun to understood those implications. One of the transitions we're in is that the institutions of the old world - governments, religions, big companies - are heirarchal. But the masses - the public - live in a networked world. This has serious implications for many reasons, one of which is that the masses often (though certaintly not always) have better information than the institutions. This leads to distrust and deteriotion of the institutions - and the cycle gets worse & repeats itself.

The Epic Saga of Target's Entry into and Failure in Canada

Never assume success. Target is known as one of the best retailer operators and brands in the US, and even it failed to rollout into a country that's as similar to its home culture as one can ask for. How does that happen? What went wrong? Sometimes I think the threshhold between failture and success is so small, and a gust of wind one way or the other makes the difference. I think that might have happened here. Unfortunately, when you do fail and it was a close call, the outcome makes it look like it was a disaster start to finish and you never had any business trying in the first place. That's only the narrative though.

iTunes Case: Technological Innovation

"While we should care about discovery and invention because they are necessary precursors, real impact comes from innovation, not invention. An innovation is an invention that is useful and is put to use." Apple’s received some grief in the past for marketing previously “invented” technologies as if Apple itself had created them. While that’s not strictly true, Apple deserves all the credit it gets because its the one who took a new invention and turned it into something actually useful. One example of this is multi-touch, first demoed here for the first time at a Ted talk. You'll notice that even though that talk happened a year before the iPhone was announced, the video was posted a week after the iPhone introduction. They saw Apple getting all the credit for multi-touch and wanted some of the love! But of course if Apple hadn’t made something useful using multi-touch no one would care about TED’s demo video in the first place.

Cities and Ambition

The places you live send you messages. Be a little smarter, or work harder, or be more like the Jones's. The point is - be careful about where you select to live, and who you give your attention to.

Interview with a Mexican Hitman

“In the eyes of the U.S. government, the Mexican drug industry is very organized, its cartels structured like corporations, perhaps with periodic meetings. But on the ground with the sicario, there is no structure. He kills all over Mexico, he works with various groups, but he never knows how things are linked, he never meets the people in charge, and he never asks any questions.“

David Foster Wallace reporting on 9/11 from the midwest

“As Midwest cities go, the only remarkable thing about Bloomington is its prosperity. It’s recession-proof. Some of this is due to the county’s land, which is world-class fertile and so expensive you can’t even find out how much it costs. But Bloomington is also the national HQ for State Farm, which is the great dark god of consumer insurance and for all practical purposes owns the town…”

Peter Thiel on universities and the knowledge economy

Knowledge is a positive sum good - you can repeat it infinitely and it doesn't lose value. So, say, why don't more universities let in more students to teach them this wonderful knowledge?

1 Genetics Research Paper Overturns 20 Years of Psychological Research

Always go deeper in the stack if you can justify it. In this case, genetics researchers wiped out what an entire industry of social scientists had taken for granted. “I love this paper because it is ruthless. The authors know exactly what they are doing, and they are clearly enjoying every second of it.”

Apollo 11 documentary

I don’t want to overhype this but this was one of the most moving things I’ve watched in years. With all of the negativity on twitter and in politics and in the news, with people thinking the world is ending, or talking about the cold civil war, or how half of the country is evil… with so many trying to take instead of build, or Europe trying to basically roll back the internet, and others trying to solve things by shouting, or legislating, instead of making things…It was so refreshing to see this. It’s like being reminded of an old dream: oh yes that’s right, we can in fact set a huge goal and then actually go do it. That’s something real human beings do! One imagines what the press would say about the Apollo program if it happened today. And yes there’s some nostalgia happening here. Yes America was at peak Vietnam involvement just the year before. Of course the world also had big problems back then, and inflation was on its way. But guess what: we made a decision to land on the moon and then we did it. This is no great man theory, this is great people, choosing to make something so. I read this quote from Herb Kelleher over the weekend, when he was asked what his plan for his company was: “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” America set out with an ambitious but very specific goal. And then we did it. More of that, please.

How discount brokerages make money

A nuts and bolts description of a relatively obfuscated industry that we all still interact with on a regular basis.

The Psychology of Human Misjudgment

Charlie Munger on where our judgment all often goes wrong.

The Refragmentation

The 1900s was a time when people were more similar to each other than probably any time in history. We often assume that will continue, or even increase. But this essay makes the case that this sameness was an exception, not a new rule. I agree - I believe the Internet will only continue to amplify our differences. "Average is over." When Friction is reduced assets are given instantly to their most productive user.

Voice vs Exit

Balaji's talk on what to do when your host country is unreformable - what happens when voting no longer has any effect?

Technology & Business

What is Amazon?

The defining article of how Amazon things, operates, and runs.

The ideal cofounder

Use this as your guide if you're not technical and are looking for a technical cofounder. There are lots of places where you can add value. A bunch of them are simple things that almost anyone can do, like moving quickly, staying optimistic, and creating momentum. Be the force of will.

The Job to Be Done

The Jobs To Be Done framework is the idea that consumers purchase products to solve specific needs or "jobs" for them. This leads you away from marketing via demographics (e.g. "middle-aged women with children in the midwest") and towards talking about your product in language and terms that the customer would use to describe the problem themself. This video is one of the best introductions to the theory, and it comes from the creator Clayton Christensen himself.

"We Don't Sell Saddles Here"

If you're going to sell a software widget like a chat app, how do you tell people what your thing is? Do you say "this is a better way to chat" - or do you inspire them to an entire new version of productivity in how they run their organization.

Sequoia's investment memo in YouTube

This is more detailed than I expected given how early stage YouTube was at the time of the investment.

The Internet Has Massively Broadened Career Possibilities

The Internet removes friction, so you can now scale any obsession or idea to a global audience. And if you do it right by being your authentic self, no one will be able to compete with you. Individuals are truly unique.

Status as a Service

Humans seek status, and will get it by the quickest methods available. Well, it turns out that one of the fastest ways for people with a lot of time but little money (read: the youth) to get status is by going viral on the Internet.

Mark Zuckerberg's 2015 Vision on why Facebook should invest in virtual reality

Internal strategy memos are some of the most underrated writing that the world generally doesn't get to see.

Summary of High Output Management

Summary of Andy Grove's classic book. You can read the full version here

How to Be Successful

Sam Altman has been up close with many successful people, so this is as accurate a list as you'll find anywhere.

Zero to One

Peter Thiel's classic. 0 to 1 in this context means building something entirely new - instead of making a faster car, what if instead we went to Mars? How do you build a business like this? How must one think if they are to attempt such a fate?

Climbing the Wrong Hill

Famous A16Z investor Chris Dixon explains how to avoid the career mistake of getting stuck on a local maxima.

It doesn't f*cking matter

A wake up call for anyone asking permission to start something. What's unfortunate is I don't think people realize they're asking permission. Asking for feedback on a domain name, or a website design doesn't sound like asking permission, but it 100% is - because instead of talking to a customer, you're waiting to be told you're good enough. "Uber did not take off because they chose the right invoicing software."

Invisible Asymptotes

Most startups worry about getting to product/market fit, but what happens when you're all the way on the opposite side and have to worry about growing your market? This happend to Amazon. And they discovered the key to unlocking more growth was creating cheaper shipping.

Aggregation Theory

Why are Internet companies like Google and Facebook and Netflix so powerful? What makes them different than the old powerhouses of e.g. oil, automobiles, and telco? Because they control demand (versus the old world of supply), by offering a superior product to consumers. The Internet removes friction from all parts of society and aggregation theory tries to explain some of the consequences.

How to Get Rich

Funny title but an amazing book from an honest man about how one gets rich. One of the parts that made me smile was his definition of being rich: "if you can count your money you're not rich"

23 things Austen Allred learned building a school

You learn some interesting things when you start taking anyone regardless of their ability to pay

How to sell to large enterprises

Patrick McKenzie at his best - explaining the world of marketing, sales, and software in a way that is both easy to understand and actionable. These are the types of posts that fundamentally change the power dynamics of founders and everyone else in the ecosystem versus even the late 90s.

Jack Ma pitching Alibaba to 5 friends in 1999

When companies get big they protect their founders and give them media training, which means they never get to say anything interesting in public anymore. This is rare glimpse of Jack Ma selling the future to a few of his friends.

Nick Kokonas on Invest Like the Best

Nick was a hedge fund manager who turned into a restaurant entrepreneur. I want to show this to anyone who says there's no such thing as the skill of "business" (maybe it can't be taught but that's a different story). My favorite move he pulled for his restaurant was increasing revenue by having customers pay up front. This means more people show up, fewer tables are empty, and you can better prepare because you know exactly who's coming in

Email is a skill

Patrick McKenzie details some of the things we all take for granted as part of "email culture" - these are the types of things that probably hold others back. They're not explicitly taught anywhere, and serve as a great example of how social class (not to be confused with economic class) can keep people back, without them or the people in the class they aspire to even knowing what's happening.

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Philosophy

Bret Victor's website

Bret is nominally a designer, but I'd argue he's a philosopoher who happens to make things. His site is full of interesting ideas, strong points of view, and models of the world. You could spend hours playing around here, and I recommend you do.

How to practice as an intellectual

Tyler Cowen explains how he continuously improves himself. Self-recommending.

"Everything you see is made up by people no smarter than you"

Steve Jobs on why you too can influence the world and accomplish great things. When I say I optimize decisions for what makes me feel alive, this is the video I often come back to.

The age of the essay

"If you want to notice things that seem wrong, you'll find a degree of skepticism helpful. I take it as an axiom that we're only achieving 1% of what we could. This helps counteract the rule that gets beaten into our heads as children: that things are the way they are because that is how things have to be."

You and Your Research

Get inspired to work on the most important and impactful problems in your industry. Think bigger. Do more. These are the messages of Dr. Hamming.

Is the outgroup merely uninformed, or are they deliberately attacking you?

An optimistic and perhaps naive view of the world is that people have incorrect beliefs and models of the world because they don't know any better. And if only we could get them the right information, their views would change. Well - what if people are presenting those views of the world not because they're uninformed, but because they are attacking your way of life. They don't want to act in good faith not because they don't know what good faith is, but because they're trying to destroy you.

How to fairly divide talking time

A researcher makes an attempt at solving the problem of large-ish group conversations being dominated by only a few individuals. I love new, unique ways of solving every day problems.

Rick & Morty and the meaning of life

My personal compass for both long-term decisions and day to day life is "what makes me feel alive?" Rick & Morty present a similar question to the audience: "Will you crumple in despair knowing the terrifying truth that life is totally meaningless or will you saddle up the universe and strike out for a life of fun and adventure?"

Feeling Good

Justin Kan's guide on how to feel good

Nobody Cares

A reminder when you're doubting yourself about a decision, or something dumb you said - nobody cares. Nobody will remember. This is liberating - hold on to it.

Solve for the feedback loop

One of the things that makes software such an amazing product category to work on is that you can get feedback on whether what you're doing is working as quickly as refreshing the browser. Unfortunately, some workplaces and industries are the total opposite - it takes months or even years to see if what you're spending time on is "working". In that case, the problem to solve is no longer the original problem, but the problem of "how do we create a shorter feedback loop".

One good idea makes up for all the bad

Many of the most successful people in the world often have outrageously terrible and awful ideas. Part of what makes them successful is that they're willing to try crazy, stupid-sounding ideas. Most don't work, but the ones that do end up changing everything.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

The philosophy of the rationlist community told through a fan fiction version of Harry Potter

Concept-Shaped Holes Can Be Impossible To Notice

How can you know you're missing an important idea when you've never experienced it?

Becoming a Magician

How do you become so good at your craft that your competitors can't even conceive of how you did it? At first everything new has this taste to it - if you've never programmed before, the idea of creating an app seems literally impossible. How does one survive the crossing of the gap between no model to a perfect model?

Gratitude

Sam Harris is great at reminding me the reality of the situation we all find ourselves in. It's likely that, if you're reading this, you're one of the luckiest people to ever live in the history of the world. That might sound exaggerated or pompous, which isn't my intent. This is an earnest reminder of how lucky we all are, and to take the time to feel alive as often as we can

How BoJack Horseman Subverts Narrative

“Bojack, you are all the things that are wrong with you. It’s not the alcohol, or the drugs, or any of the shitty things that happened to you in your career, or when you were a kid. It’s you.” Redemption and forgiveness have to be earned. Real life is made up of moments in life. There’s no closure. Existing is hard.

Life is a disaster, life is beautiful

A moving defense of using religion as an engine of meaning even if its factually untrue.

An Ode to Free Trade

A simple list of goods purchased on eBay. The buyer notes that she has "no idea how sellers are making any money on some of these things. That's the magic of the invisible hand.

Kant's One Rule

Immanuel Kant was one of the most influential philosophers of his time, but a lot of his work can be dense. Mark Manson does a great job of boiling down some of his work into a useful and entertaining post

This is Water

David Foster Wallace's classic comencement speech.

Questions

Patrick Collison's list of important questions. These are the big ones, like "Why do there seem to be more examples of rapidly-completed major projects in the past than the present?" and "How do people decide to make major life changes?" and "How do we help more experimental cities get started?"

The Courage to Be Disliked

A Japanese book that uses Socratic dialogue to teach a combination of Adlerian psychology and Stoic philosophy. Easy read that will challenge your assumptions about why you do things. One of my favorite reads of the 2010s.

The Most Important Question of your Life

While super popular I still think Mark Manson is an underrated writer. The answer to this question by the way is not “what are you passionate about”, or “what do you want in life"

What You Can't Say

“Have you ever seen an old photo of yourself and been embarrassed at the way you looked? Did we actually dress like that? We did. And we had no idea how silly we looked. It's the nature of fashion to be invisible, in the same way the movement of the earth is invisible to all of us riding on it. What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They're just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they're much more dangerous.”

Drew Carey on the WTF podcast

Little known fact is Drew served in the military before doing comedy. I love how he approached his craft - as a numbers game. He did the math on how many jokes he needed to write every day so he could have a full 45-minute show by the end of the year, and then did it.

The Evolution of Trust

The best explanation of game theory I've ever seen. A delightful "game" of sorts with lots of explanatations. If you want to be successful and happy in live, build trusting relationships.

How to Win

John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars and half of the youtube vlogbrothers duo, on how to progress when you feel like you should give up hope

Applause Lights

When speakers use positive words like "teamwork" or "democracy" to get you to clap, but the words don't actually carry any meaning

Tyler Cowen's Career Strategy

All of his work feeds itself

Naval Ravikant interview with Shane Parrish

No one is going to be able to compete with you being you. By making your own path, you create a monopoly because you are 100% differentiated from all of the competition. If someone wants what you make, they have to go to you.

The Dove Sketch Beauty Scam

Everyone was very moved when the Dove Sketch advertisements came out - but this author asks an incredible question, which is why do we anchor our cultural values in what advertisers say? Why does it matter at all what Dove Inc. thinks about the morality of the world?

Spurious Correlations

We all intellectually know correlation != causation, but still emotionally fail to see where we make the mistake. This site makes you feel that error all the way in your bones.

Media

How to do visual comedy

I love watching people who are experts in their craft explain something about their craft in great detail. In this case, "Every Frame a Painting" talks about visual comedy in movies - how to get more of it, and why a lot of recent American comedy films are mediocre.

Alex Blumberg interviews Ira Glass

Alex interviewed me for season 1 of his original podcast, Startup. He's an amazing interviewer, and I almost felt helpless in giving him the verbal content that ended up in the podcast. Well - Ira Glass is the man who taught him almost everything about how to create an audio show. Note that one of the things Ira's most proud of is that, even though they were maing art, he excelled at the business side. By coming at the show with more of a business lens, he was able to get distribution that other shows didn't - making his art more successful.

Jason Hirschhorn on the media business

A lot of inside baseball on the media business. Goes into detail on how Netflix was laughed at when it was first purchasing content rights, a lunch with Bob Iger, Jason's relationship with the Murdochs and insight into Fox News, etc.

Bill Goldman's emails to Bill Simmons

The writer of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All The President's Men, and The Princess Bride, was friends with Bill Simmons. These are some of their emails - they're wonderful, the goofy things you hope you have plenty of friends to talk to about.

Making an Episode of Seinfeld

33 minutes on how a single episode of Seinfeld was created. The interviews with Jerry and and David are the best

The NYT Banned the word tweet in 2010

Perhaps we shouldn't be too unkind - it's hard to predict the future. But it is incredible to see a tool go from something being dismissed by the paper of record, to becoming more powerful than the government itself (some would way)

Make Happy

Bo Burnham's comedy act from 2016. Don't want to give anything away, but this is one of my favorite pieces of content from the decade.

Ambition & Greatness

Grow the Puzzle Around You

Jessica Livingston's inspiring and useful story on how to create your life. In my ideal world this gets turned into a book that gains massive mainstream popularity.

The 5 Cognitive Distortions of People Who Get Stuff Done

A Stanford researcher and investor studied a bunch of successful entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and created this. I'm not 100% sure how the first 5 or so pages fit in, but the rest matches only perfectly with my experience working with various entrepreneurs.

Get Specific

When you're stuck, get specific. When you don't understand something, get specific. When you're asking for help, get specific.

David Foster Wallace on Perfectionism

We shouldn't let the image of the perfect in our head get in the way of building the inferior but at least real good thing in the physical world.

Open, by Andre Agassi

A glimpse into what it takes to be the best in the world, while simultaneously hating a large part of the life you've chosen. Or so he says!

Virginia college basketbal coach post game interview

This came after a historic lost - Virigina was the first #1 seed to lost to a #16 seed in the history of college basketball. The interview with the coach is inspiring because he shows extreme class, and accepts responsibility for the loss. He aludes to the "man in the arena" speech in the sports context, but it's clear he's trying to teach broader life lessons to his players. When I want to remind myself what character and class is I watch this 1 minute video.

Jerry Seinfeld on the Tim Ferriss show

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most interesting people and comedians alive. Not because he's made more money than any other comedian, but because he's unafraid of who he is, and of showing that to the public. I went to a show of his once in San Antonio, and one of his bits was about how most of life just isn't that interesting. You know why? Because even he, Jerry Seinfeld, who could be doing a lot of interesting things with interesting people basically anywhere in the world, was instead with all of us in San Antonio on that night. The bit hinged on him being different from us, and he not only was totally okay saying that, he embraced it to the point of making it the premise of the joke.

Repeatedly Follow Up to Show that you Care

A lot of people complain very loudly on Twitter about getting too much email, or that some people are too persistent. That discouraged me from reaching out to people, even though I wasn't even close to the type of behavior they were describing. This Derek Sivers post helped show me why it was not just OK but actually encouraged to be persistent with people.

Narrative & Storytelling

Non-fiction writing advice

Scott Alexander gives a peak into what makes his writing great. Actually, his ideas are what makes it great - but he he uses structure like these tips to make his ideas more accessible and likely to be read and spread.

Compress to Impress

If you want to lead you need to convince people of your ideas. And if you're working with a lot of people you need those ideas to both spread, and maintain their structure. One of the best ways to do this is by packaging the ideas in rhetoric that is make them memorable but big. Memorable in that they should be easy to repeat, and big in the sense that they should carry a lot of meaning. Eugene Wei uses the examples of "lean in" "Yes we can" "move fast and break things", and Jeff Bezos' famous "it's always Day 1". If you're going to take the time to create an idea, you might as well spend the extra time to package it in such a way that it will spread

Be Suspicious of Stories

A brutal but amazing 15 minutes from Tyler Cowen on why you shouldn't trust stories. I mostly agree with this - if you want to wield influence the lesson here is to become a better storyteller. Grow your audience using stories.