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Book recommendations from Fortune’s 40 under 40 in tech

September 4, 2020, 11:00 AM UTC

The coming-of-age autobiography of one of America’s greatest poets; a shrewd examination of incarceration in the 21st century that is still heavily linked to Jim Crow laws of the 19th century; and a guide to problem solving that might be especially apt during the age of coronavirus.

Here is a selection of book recommendations from this year’s 40 under 40 in tech.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg

Have you ever read the same book a second (or third) time and gotten something very different out of the reread? Or listened to a talk that was only moderately good, but you were in a creative headspace, so the whole experience turned out to be a highlight of your day? I think the book itself is only partially responsible for its being experienced as the “best”; the mental/emotional context of the reader is also critical. So with all that, this evening I’m looking forward to revisiting Nonviolent Communication.

Despite my aversion to superlatives, I consider communication to be one of the most difficult, important, and ubiquitous activities. Whether I’m communicating with a supplier, a specific group of colleagues, any users of a codebase, or my future self, most of my daily activities are dominated by communication. My ability as an engineer and researcher to make progress on truly grand challenges hinges on extensive teamwork. Accordingly, I see on a daily basis how the quality of yesterday’s communication impacts today’s productivity, through lasting effects that can be content-driven but, realistically, are more often emotional. Nonviolent Communication offers a conscientious look at emotional aspects of communication and considers how to embrace them in productive, good-faith exchange. At least for me, insights from the book manifest in speaking as in listening, and develop additional facets upon rereading. —Marissa Giustina, senior research scientist and quantum electronics engineer, Google Research (Google AI Quantum, hardware division)

Open by Andre Agassi

I loved Andre Agassi’s Open. So many good points here, both on achieving success and evolving as a person. Inspiring to read about the hard work, ongoing learning, and level of stress necessary for greatness. When things are tough I think about his line: “Treat this crisis as practice for the next crisis.” There’s also an interesting thread in the book about being misunderstood while trying to figure yourself out at the same time. I think this is something we can all relate to, both personally and professionally. Some of the toughest challenges are either interpersonal or struggles with ourselves. —Kristin Schaefer, chief financial officer, Postmates

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

There are several books I’ve found myself referencing throughout my career, but two have stood out the most. The first is The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, written by a handful of notable career coaches. The book essentially revolves around one main principle of eliminating drama from your life by behaving like an adult.

The second book, written by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, is Man’s Search for Meaning. His book helped me in many different ways including how to be thankful and show gratitude in difficult situations, which makes them easier to manage in real time. By looking at challenges through a different lens, I’ve found that each one has an important takeaway I can learn from. As I apply this to my career, I’m very thankful that I have a job where my work is valued and important to those around me, and beyond. I’m proud to say that the work I do every day is very fulfilling, even when it may be difficult or when I’m faced with new challenges. —Steve Huffman, cofounder and CEO, Reddit

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I do not have THE book that has been equally important to me throughout all the years. But Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is among the top five books. It has helped me to better understand how the human brain works. Another one that has had an impact on me is a fun book called Fish!: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results by Stephen C. Lundin, John Christensen, and Harry Paul. It has taught me that we, ourselves, can choose our attitude every day. And we can choose it to be “positive” each and every day. —Juergen Mueller, executive board member and chief technology officer, SAP

The book I most frequently think about is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It explores how the mind processes different kinds of information and unpacks hidden biases and structures behind how we think and make decisions every day. —Anthony Casalena, founder and CEO, Squarespace

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

I have read some great books in my day that really helped me think differently. Interestingly enough, the one book that was a catalyst for how I thought about and approached both my work—and personal and professional mission—was a book that was not about productivity or self introspection at all. It was about systemic injustice, and the sickening, inextricable link between chattel slavery in the United States and the prison industrial complex that extends and deepens slavery’s devastating effects on Black Americans in present day; this book was The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

At the time of reading, I was already quite aware of the horrors of slavery, and disgusted by the prison industrial complex and school-to-prison pipeline. However, the way Alexander weaves together the grotesque, shameful history of the institution of slavery and shows that through systems both perpetuated and accepted by society, its worst effects were not only allowed to continue—but were thriving. This book is a stunning look at how societal systems connect history to the present, for better or worse, and how warped the message around the truth can become when those in power can’t tell their story or proclaim their injustices en masse. I always knew that I wanted to amplify the voices of those who had been silenced and marginalized. This book and its deafening call to action let me know that I didn’t just want to amplify underrepresented voices, but that this was a calling I must follow at all costs. —God-is Rivera, global director, culture and community, Twitter

Worth the Fighting For by John McCain

A memoir by my former boss, the late Sen. John McCain. To me, he personified service, courage, and integrity—or as he liked to say, “It’s your character alone that will make your life happy or unhappy.” I’ve tried to remember that when faced with hard calls. —Jill Hazelbaker, senior vice president of public affairs and marketing, Uber

Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski

Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership was the first book I ever read in the management science genre at the age of 16. I found it deeply formative for how I approach problem solving and partnership with a servant leadership mindset. I always strive to set a clear vision of the end state and try to recruit others to the cause through listening, learning, and evolving the plan. The specific tactics don’t matter; the journey is about learning, which requires different perspectives, and the goal is success or fast failure. —Rebecca Elizabeth Lipon Weekly, senior director of cloud business strategy and platform enabling, Intel

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant

I appreciate the research of organizational psychologist Adam Grant. In his book Give and Take, he shows that creating an environment that rewards collaboration instead of individual results leads to more success. A collaborative culture allows “givers,” or people who contribute to a solution without expecting something in return, to thrive. Often, givers are the highest-performing individuals in an organization. —Susy Schöneberg, head of, Flexport

Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston

Simple Habits for Complex Times is one of my favorites. Many books I’ve read focus on tactically defining solutions for various types of career challenges. This one is different; it highlights ways to reframe problems altogether to help you find creative solutions. Especially during times of COVID, this book feels especially relevant for me today. —Elizabeth Reid, vice president of engineering, Google

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

I grew up in northern Wisconsin, and this was the first “real book” my father read aloud to me. Later I had the opportunity to study Wildlife Ecology in the University of Wisconsin–Madison department that Aldo Leopold himself had founded. I was so impressed with the practical route Leopold took in his career. Before writing A Sand County Almanac, he wrote Game Management on the mathematics and statistics of wildlife population control through hunting. Leopold was relentlessly curious and never afraid to change his mind after learning new facts. My college graduation present was a copy of the book signed by members of the department, and I keep it on my desk at work both to read and to remind myself that the natural world is incredibly complex, and beautiful, and worth saving. —Dr. Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer, Microsoft

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

One of my earliest memories of reading a book that moved me deeply was in high school when I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. It was the first time I had read one of Dr. Angelou’s books, and I distinctly recall the abundance of emotions I felt. This book made me see and feel in a way that I had not previously thought possible from a book. It showed me how much a piece of content can impact someone’s life—whether to make them cry, laugh, or learn about the world in new ways. And it stuck with me throughout my career. Can I help create content that makes someone feel something, or learn about the world in new ways? —Vanessa Guthrie, head of Snap Originals, Snap Inc.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This is actually not a self-help or nonfiction book, but the book that resonates for me is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The journey of the main character, Santiago, shows that your career is a journey, and it is not about going as quickly as possible from point A to point B. Your career, heavily tied to your personal life, is filled with twists and turns, but you can get to where you want to go if you are passionate about it, continue to pursue it, and don’t be afraid to take risks and fail. Enjoy the ride as you are going on your journey.

My personal journey has taken me on a circuitous route from financial services to Prime memberships to now the current Amazon in the Community team to give back to the community. I have learned a lot in all my previous roles and companies, and I use it in my current work to think about how I can leverage Amazon’s assets—products, logistics, technology—to support communities and families impacted by poverty, hunger, homelessness, and natural disasters. —Trang-Thien Tran, principal product manager, Amazon

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Jean Louise Finch’s journey resonated really deeply with my own professional experience, and I thought it was one of the more authentic coming-of-age stories I have ever read. Learning things you really don’t want to learn that may fundamentally alter your worldview without losing yourself is an exceptionally powerful skill. The book has helped me learn more about the world as it actually is versus how I would like it to be. —Ted Mabrey, head of commercial, Palantir Technologies

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I love books and movies that inspire big ideas. One of my favorite movies (adapted from a book) is Ready Player One. Part of this inspires my dreams of the global, multidimensional, interactive classroom where you can have a vivid, virtual meta-verse that allows real people from around the world to communicate with and learn from one another. The movie really drives my imagination and hope for the future: Students deserve not just to learn about the pyramids, but to see and experience them in a virtual world together with their classmates from across the globe. One day we’ll see this come true, and it’s through VIPKid that we’re helping to inspire the students who will grow up to make it happen. —Cindy Mi, founder and CEO, VIPKid

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

I think the book that has helped me the most is The Lord of the Rings, not because I learned something very important from it, but because it gave me the perfect metaphor to explain why privacy is important to students and other nontechnical experts. Without privacy, we run the danger that someone will build The Ring and destroy society by ruling us all. Privacy is needed. —Carmela Troncoso, assistant professor, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)