The Best Books on Start-Ups for General Reader

Tyler C., a loyal reader of many years, asks in an email:

What is the best book on start-ups?  Not a how-to book, but a fun book for the general reader.

Another way of putting the question: What is a good book that conveys the fun spirit of start-ups that’s not an explicit how-to?

I replied:

1. Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston is a collection of transcripts with start-up founders from companies like Flickr and PayPal and Google. No editorializing, no analysis, no conclusion. Just long Q&As with founders that give a surprisingly good glimpse of what it’s like to build world-changing technology companies. The lack of narrative spine may make it hard for non-insiders to get into it, though. And there’s no sugarcoating the long, hard slog.

2. Startup by Jerry Kaplan was the classic book of this genre for a long time. It tells his story of developing a pen-based computer. Written in 1994, it’s a bit dated (pre-internet), but still good. I remember reading this several years ago and feeling inspired by the journey.

3. The MouseDriver Chronicles is very fun. Two young Penn grads start a company that develops a computer mouse in the shape of a golf club / driver. Company ends up failing but super entertaining.

4. eBoys by Randall Strouss is a fun book about venture capitalists. It follows Benchmark Capital as they invest in Webvan and eBay during the dot-com boom. Gives a sense of the era.

I think the best how-to book on entrepreneurship, by the way, is Richard White’s The Entrepreneur’s Manual. Amazingly, it’s out of print. Amazon has used copies.

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