Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a single mission: to connect people around the world.
It’s one reason why he decided to launch a Facebook-based book club last year, with a reading list that focused on “different cultures, beliefs, histories, and technologies.”
Although the birth of his daughter, Max, kept him from hitting his goal of a book every two weeks, he ended the year with 23 selections in his A Year of Books reading group.
We’ve put together a list of his picks and why he thinks everyone should read them:
The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun
The Muqaddimah, which translates to “The Introduction,” was written in 1377 by the Islamic historian Khaldun. It’s an attempt to strip away biases of historical records and find universal elements in the progression of humanity.
Khaldun’s revolutionary scientific approach to history established him as one of the fathers of modern sociology and historiography.
“While much of what was believed then is now disproven after 700 more years of progress, it’s still very interesting to see what was understood at this time and the overall worldview when it’s all considered together,” Zuckerberg writes.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Alexander is a law professor at Ohio State University and a civil-rights advocate who argues in her book that the “war on drugs” has fostered a culture in which nonviolent black males are overrepresented in prison, and then are treated as second-class citizens once they are freed.
“I’ve been interested in learning about criminal justice reform for a while, and this book was highly recommended by several people I trust,” Zuckerberg writes.
Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
Why Nations Fail is an overview of 15 years of research by MIT economist Daren Acemoglu and Harvard political scientist James Robinson, and was first published in 2012.
The authors argue that “extractive governments” use controls to enforce the power of a select few, while “inclusive governments” create open markets that allow citizens to spend and invest money freely, and that economic growth does not always indicate the long-term health of a country.
Zuckerberg’s interest in philanthropy has grown alongside his wealth in recent years, and he writes that he chose this book to better understand the origins of global poverty.
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
The Rational Optimist, first published in 2010, is the most popular and perhaps the most controversial of popular-science writer Matt Ridley’s books.
In it, he argues that the concept of markets is the source of human progress, and that progress is accelerated when they are kept as free as possible. The resulting evolution of ideas will consistently allow humankind to improve its living conditions, despite the threats of climate change and overpopulation.
Zuckerberg says that he picked up this book because it posits the inverse theory of Why Nations Fail, which argues that social and political forces control economic ones.
“I’m interested to see which idea resonates more after exploring both frameworks,” Zuckerberg writes.
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Portfolios of the Poor by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven
Researchers Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven spent 10 years studying the financial lives of the lowest classes of Bangladesh, India and South Africa.
A fundamental finding that they include in Portfolios of the Poor is that extreme poverty flourishes in areas not where people live dollar to dollar or where poor purchasing decisions are widespread, but instead arises where they lack access to financial institutions to store their money.
“It’s mind-blowing that almost half the world — almost 3 billion people — live on $2.50 a day or less. More than one billion people live on $1 a day or less,” Zuckerberg writes. “I hope reading this provides some insight into ways we can all work to support them better as well.”
World Order by Henry Kissinger
In former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s 2014 book, World Order, the 91-year-old analyzes the ways different parts of the world have understood the concept of empire and political power for centuries, and how the modern global economy has brought them together in often tense or violent ways.
It’s “about foreign relations and how we can build peaceful relationships throughout the world,” Zuckerberg writes. “This is important for creating the world we all want for our children, and that’s what I’m thinking about these days.”
The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
William James (1849-1919) is “considered by many to be the most insightful and stimulating of American philosophers,” according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy from the University of Tennessee.
The Varieties of Religious Experience is a collection of written lectures that explore the religious consciousness and the mechanics of how people use religion as a source of meaning, compelling them to move onward through life with energy and purpose.
“When I read Sapiens, I found the chapter on the evolution of the role of religion in human life most interesting and something I wanted to go deeper on,” Zuckerberg writes.
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Creativity, Inc. is the story of Pixar, written by one of the computer-animation giant’s founders.
Catmull intersperses his narrative with valuable wisdom on management and entrepreneurialism, and argues that any company should consciously avoid hampering their employees’ natural creativity.
“I love reading first-hand accounts about how people build great companies like Pixar and nurture innovation and creativity,” Zuckerberg writes.
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Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
First published in 2014, Sapiens is a critically acclaimed international best seller by Hebrew University of Jerusalem historian Harari. He uses his book to track the evolution of Homo sapiens from hunter-gatherers into self-empowered “gods” of the future.
“Following the Muqaddimah, which was a history from the perspective of an intellectual in the 1300s, Sapiens is a contemporary exploration of many similar questions,” Zuckerberg writes.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
If there was ever a philosophy book to read by a physicist, it’s probably The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
Since its initial publication in 1962, this look at the evolution of science and the effect it has on the modern world has become “one of the most cited academic books of all time,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Zuckerberg thinks that being aware of how scientific breakthroughs are the catalysts for social progression can be a “force for social good.”
Kuhn’s book is best known for introducing the phrase “paradigm shift,” representing instances in scientific history when a perspective was fundamentally shifted, like when quantum physics replaced Newtonian mechanics.
Dealing with China by Henry M. Paulson Jr.
Zuckerberg has been intensely fascinated with Chinese culture over the past several years. He’s been learning to speak Mandarin Chinese and has said that one of his long-term goals is convincing the Chinese government to let its people use Facebook.
Dealing with China, by the former U.S. Treasury secretary, explores China’s recent rise in global influence and how it affects the world.
“Over the last 35 years, China has experienced one of the greatest economic and social transformations in human history,” Zuckerberg writes. “Hundreds of millions of people have moved out of poverty. By many measures, China has done more to lift people out of poverty than the whole rest of the world combined.”
The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch
Zuckerberg’s final selection of the year was Oxford physicist David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity, a sprawling look at the progress of humanity following the Scientific Revolution. It touches on everything from art and science to politics and philosophy.
Deutsch concludes that human potential is infinite, perhaps the purest expression of the optimism regarding the fate of humanity that connects all of the selections in A Year of Books.
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The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
Zuckerberg admits that this 800-page, data-rich book from a Harvard psychologist can seem intimidating.
But the writing is actually easy to get through, and he thinks that Pinker’s study of how violence has decreased over time despite being magnified by a 24-hour news cycle and social media is something that can offer a life-changing perspective.
It should be noted that Bill Gates also considers this one of the most important books he’s ever read.
If you’d like to save some time, check out our summary of the tome.
Genome by Matt Ridley
Ridley is the only author to appear on Zuckerberg’s list twice.
His 1990 book Genome is an exploration of the evolution of genes and the growing field of genetics.
“This book aims to tell a history of humanity from the perspective of genetics rather than sociology,” Zuckerberg writes. “This should complement the other broad histories I’ve read this year.”
The End of Power by Moisés Naím
Zuckerberg launched his book club with this lofty title from Naím, former executive director of the World Bank and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
It’s a historical investigation of the shift of power from authoritative governments, militaries, and major corporations to individuals. This is clearly seen in what’s now become a Silicon Valley cliché: the disruptive startup.
“The trend towards giving people more power is one I believe in deeply,” Zuckerberg writes.
On Immunity by Eula Biss
Zuckerberg says that Biss’ investigation into the benefits of vaccination is necessary to read, considering the anti-vaccination movement in the U.S. and parts of Europe.
“The science is completely clear: Vaccinations work and are important for the health of everyone in our community,” Zuckerberg writes, adding that this book was highly recommended to him by scientists and public-health workers.
“This book explores the reasons why some people question vaccines, and then logically explains why the doubts are unfounded and vaccines are in fact effective and safe,” he says.
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The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner
Fast Company editor Jon Gertner’s 2012 book The Idea Factory tells the history of Bell Labs from the 1920s through the 1980s, in which the invention of the transistor revolutionized the world of technology and the innovation-fostering management style that rules Silicon Valley was first developed.
Bell Labs’ research has won it the most Nobel Prizes of any laboratory in history, with seven in physics and another in chemistry.
Zuckerberg writes that he chose the book because he’s “very interested in what causes innovation — what kinds of people, questions, and environments.”
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Three-Body Problem was first published in China in 2008, and the English translation that came out last year won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel, an award for sci-fi book of the year.
It’s set during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and kicks off when an alien race decides to invade Earth after the Chinese government covertly sends a signal into space. It’s notable because it’s been reported to be indicative of a cultural shift in China, where rapid modernization and progress have captured the public’s imagination.
Zuckerberg writes that it’s a fun break from some of the heavier material he’s been reading in his book club.
Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh
Venkatesh is a Columbia University sociology professor who, in a radical sociological experiment, embedded himself into a Chicago gang in the 1990s.
Zuckerberg says that Venkatesh’s story is an inspiring one of communication and understanding across economic and cultural barriers.
“The more we all have a voice to share our perspectives, the more empathy we have for each other and the more we respect each other’s rights,” Zuckerberg writes.
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
The Player of Games was first published in 1988 and is the second in the “Culture” series. It explores what a civilization would look like if hyper-advanced technology was created to serve human needs and surpassed human capabilities.
Zuckerberg writes that he went with a sci-fi pick as a “change of pace.” The novel is also one of Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s favorite books because of its entertaining way of exploring plausible advancements in technology.
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Orwell's Revenge by Peter Huber
Huber, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, published this unofficial sequel to George Orwell’s 1984 in 1994, a time when internet and telecommunications technology were opening up new methods of communication. The novel imagines a world in which citizens use the technology that once enslaved them to liberate themselves.
“After seeing how history has actually played out, Huber’s fiction describes how tools like the internet benefit people and change society for the better,” Zuckerberg writes.
Energy: A Beginner's Guide by Vaclav Smil
Originally published in 2006, Energy starts with a basic explanation of what energy is and then moves on to more complex subjects, including the quest to create more efficient and environmentally friendly fuels. It’s by University of Manitoba professor Vaclav Smil, one of Bill Gates’ favorite authors.
“It explores important topics around how energy works, how our production and use might evolve, and how this affects climate change,” Zuckerberg writes, noting that he also plans on reading Smil’s book Making the Modern World.
Rational Ritual by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
Zuckerberg thinks that this book by UCLA economist Michael Suk-Young Chwe can help its readers learn how to best use social media.
“The book is about the concept of ‘common knowledge’ and how people process the world not only based on what we personally know, but what we know other people know and our shared knowledge as well,” Zuckerberg writes.
Chwe’s idea may sound complicated, but it’s essentially a breakdown of the psychology behind people’s interactions with others in public settings, and how they use these communities and rituals to help form their own identities.