Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made a tradition of dramatic New Year’s resolutions, and this year he decided that he’d read a book every two weeks. He wanted his selections to focus on “different cultures, beliefs, histories, and technologies.” To achieve this, he started the A Year of Books book club, in which he discusses the books he’s reading with members of the Facebook community.
We’ve put together a list of his picks and why he thinks everyone should read them.
‘Why Nations Fail’ by Daren Acemoğlu and James Robinson
“Why Nations Fail” is an overview of 15 years of research by MIT economist Daren Acemoğlu 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 forces. “I’m interested to see which idea resonates more after exploring both frameworks,”
‘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.”
‘Genome’ by Matt Ridley
Ridley is the only author to appear on Zuckerberg’s list twice.
His 1990 book “Genome” is an exploration of both 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 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.