2023: A Year in Books

My interests are quite varied, reflected in this year’s list of my top 5 favorite books, covering topics ranging from the global semiconductor industry to modern Ireland and Reconciliation.

In the sections below, I include my comments on why I recommend the book, followed by the Goodreads description of each work. Happy reading!

1. The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future 

Author: Sebastian Mallaby

Genres: Non-Fiction, Business, Economics

Why do I Recommend this Book? 

At Venture for Canada, our work intersects with the venture capital industry in various ways. This book demystifies the industry while presenting some of the sector’s future challenges. Given the impact venture capital has on the world, this book is an important read if you are interested in the future of technology. 

Goodreads Description: 

Innovations rarely come from “experts.” Elon Musk was not an “electric car person” before he started Tesla. When it comes to improbable innovations, a legendary tech VC told Sebastian Mallaby, the future cannot be predicted, it can only be discovered. It is the nature of the venture-capital game that most attempts at discovery fail, but very few succeed at such a scale that they more than makeup for everything else. That extreme ratio of success and failure is the power law that drives the VC business, all of Silicon Valley, the wider tech sector, and, by extension, the world.

In The Power Law, Sebastian Mallaby has parlayed unprecedented access to the most celebrated venture capitalists of all time—the key figures at Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins, Accel, Benchmark, and Andreessen Horowitz, as well as Chinese partnerships such as Qiming and Capital Today—into a riveting blend of storytelling and analysis that unfurls the history of tech incubation, in the Valley and ultimately worldwide. We learn the unvarnished truth, often for the first time, about some of the most iconic triumphs and infamous disasters in Valley history, from the comedy of errors at the birth of Apple to the avalanche of venture money that fostered hubris at WeWork and Uber. 

VCs’ relentless search for grand slams brews an obsession with the ideal of the lone entrepreneur-genius, and companies seen as potential “unicorns” are given intoxicating amounts of power, with sometimes disastrous results. On a more systemic level, the need to make outsized bets on unproven talent reinforces bias, with women and minorities still represented at woefully low levels. This does not just have social justice, as Mallaby relates, China’s homegrown VC sector, having learned at the Valley’s feet, is exploding and now has more women VC luminaries than America has ever had. Still, Silicon Valley VC remains the top incubator of business innovation anywhere—it is not where ideas come from so much as where they go to become the products and companies that create the future. By taking us so deeply into the VCs’ game, The Power Law helps us think about our own future through their eyes. Read more here. 


2. Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology 

Author: Chris Miller 

Genres: Non-Fiction, History, Technology

Why do I Recommend this Book? 

The relationship between China and The United States will be one of the defining issues of our era. 2023 was a year of tension between the two countries but also of rapprochement. Miller does an excellent job showcasing how the global semiconductor industry is and will be a major competition between the United States and China. If you are interested in geopolitics, this book is a must-read.

Goodreads Description: 

An epic account of the decades-long battle to control what has emerged as the world’s most critical resource—microchip technology—with the United States and China increasingly in conflict.

You may be surprised to learn that microchips are the new oil—the scarce resource on which the modern world depends. Today, military, economic, and geopolitical power are built on a foundation of computer chips. Virtually everything— from missiles to microwaves, smartphones to the stock market — runs on chips. Until recently, America designed and built the fastest chips and maintained its lead as the #1 superpower. Now, America’s edge is slipping, undermined by competitors in Taiwan, Korea, Europe, and, above all, China. Today, as Chip War reveals, China, which spends more money each year importing chips than it spends importing oil, is pouring billions into a chip-building initiative to catch up to the US. At stake is America’s military superiority and economic prosperity.

Economic historian Chris Miller explains how the semiconductor came to play a critical role in modern life and how the U.S. became dominant in chip design and manufacturing and applied this technology to military systems. America’s victory in the Cold War and its global military dominance stems from its ability to harness computing power more effectively than any other power. But here, too, China is catching up, with its chip-building ambitions and military modernization going hand in hand. America has let key components of the chip-building process slip out of its grasp, contributing to a worldwide chip shortage and a new Cold War with a superpower adversary that is desperate to bridge the gap.

Illuminating, timely, and fascinating, Chip War shows that to make sense of the current state of politics, economics, and technology, we must first understand the vital role played by chips. Read more here. 


3. Girl, Woman, Other 

Author: Bernardine Evaristo 

Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Literary

Why do I Recommend this Book? 

This book wins the award for completely consuming my attention while reading it. Evaristo portrays such evocative characters who are connected to one another in such creative ways. The novel also provides insights into the impact of intersecting identities. 

Goodreads Description: 

Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhoodGirl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends, and lovers across the country and through the years.

Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic, and utterly irresistible. Read more here. 


4. The Valley of the Birdtail: An Indian Reserve, a White Town, and the Road to Reconciliation 

Author: Douglas Sanderson

Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Social Issues

Why do I Recommend this Book? 

As part of The Action Canada Fellowship, I had the opportunity to meet the authors, one of whom is an Action Canada Alum. The Valley of The Birdtail mixes story-telling with policy writing to great effect. If you are interested in Reconciliation, this book provides an overview of relevant history and recommendations for a path forward.

Goodreads Description: 

Divided by a beautiful valley and 150 years of racism, the town of Rossburn and the Waywayseecappo Indian reserve have been neighbours nearly as long as Canada has been a country. Their story reflects much of what has gone wrong in relations between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians. It also offers, in the end, an uncommon measure of hope.

Valley of the Birdtail is about how two communities became separate and unequal–and what it means for the rest of us. In Rossburn, once settled by Ukrainian immigrants who fled poverty and persecution, family income is near the national average and more than a third of adults have graduated from university. In Waywayseecappo, the average family lives below the national poverty line and less than a third of adults have graduated from high school, with many haunted by their time in residential schools.

This book follows multiple generations of two families, one white and one Indigenous, and weaves their lives into the larger story of Canada. It is a story of villains and heroes, irony and idealism, racism and reconciliation. Valley of the Birdtail has the ambition to change the way we think about our past and show a path to a better future. Read more here.


5. We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland 

Author: Fintan O’Toole 

Genres: Non-Fiction, History, Memoir

Why do I Recommend this Book? 

Few countries have changed as drastically as Ireland over the past 60 years. Not that many Irish folks in the 1950’s could have foreseen that in 2023 their national leader would be an openly gay man of South Asian heritage. Ireland’s economic and social transformation is fascinating to study in a rapidly changing world.

Goodreads Description: 

A quarter-century after Frank McCourt’s extraordinary bestseller, Angela’s Ashes, Fintan O’Toole, one of the Anglophone world’s most consummate stylists, continues the narrative of modern Ireland into our own time. O’Toole was born in the year the revolution began. It was 1958, and the Irish government—in despair because all the young people were leaving—opened the country to foreign investment. So began a decades-long, ongoing experiment with Irish national identity.

Weaving his own experiences into this account of Irish social, cultural, and economic change, O’Toole shows how Ireland, in just one lifetime, has gone from a Catholic “backwater” to an almost totally open society. A sympathetic yet exacting observer, O’Toole shrewdly weighs more than sixty years of globalization, delving into the violence of the Troubles and depicting, in biting detail, the astonishing collapse of the once-supreme Irish Catholic Church. The result is a stunning memoir and national history work that reveals how the two modes are inextricable for all of us. Read more here. 

And that’s a wrap on my top book picks for 2023!

Which books made it to your list this year?

Scott Stirrett is the Founder and CEO of Venture for Canada. Entrepreneur, writer, perpetually curious.