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What I'm reading this summer

In this installment of CNBC's summer reading series, we caught up with Bill Tai, a venture capitalist, entrepreneur and avid kiteboarder. He co-founded MaiTaiGlobal.org with Susi Mai, where they hold networking events all over the world for entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and athletes, centered around kiteboarding. So, what's he reading?

Bill Tai kiteboarding at MaiTai Necker
Source: Quincy Dein
Bill Tai kiteboarding at MaiTai Necker

This summer, I have several books on my list — three new ones and one that I am re-reading to build my knowledge base to build something cool. I am a voracious reader and travel a lot for my MaiTai gatherings, so, I typically will read on those long flights. Here's what's on my list:

Out of Thin Air

By Peter Ward

"Out of Thin Air" is about the impact of variations in oxygen levels in the atmosphere on the evolution of animals. As an athlete, I am intrigued that slight advantages in a person's capacity to efficiently extract oxygen from the air can mean the difference between performing at the level of a world champion and being in the middle of the pack. After all, wasn't better oxygen utilization what Lance Armstrong was after by blood doping? This book touches on both our own evolution and what the impact might be of today's polluted atmosphere on our health.

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Exploding the Phone

By Phil Lapsley

"Exploding the Phone" is the back story of the "hacker culture" of the software-developer community. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak wrote the forward because it was this community that drew him and Steve Jobs into the tech industry. Their first company was not Apple. Their first venture was building and selling little hacker boxes called "blue boxes" in an underworld of "phone phreaking," allowing users to play a tone into phones that allowed free long-distance phone calls.


The Age of Cryptocurrency

By Michal Casey and Paul Vigna

"The Age of Cryptocurrency" was just published in April of this year. Recently, I got lucky by investing in and becoming a board member of BitFury, which has become one of the world's largest bitcoin-mining companies and I want to keep building my knowledge in this space. This book looks like it is the most current collection of stories on all the relevant players and their opinions on how Bitcoin and other digital currencies may affect the world of global finance as we know it.

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“The Mystery of Capital” author Hernando DeSoto (center) displaying layers of land titles that can be consolidated into a few lines of code on the block chain.  With Bill Tai (left) and George Kikvadze, vice chairman of BitFury (right).
Source: John Dill | MaiTai Global
“The Mystery of Capital” author Hernando DeSoto (center) displaying layers of land titles that can be consolidated into a few lines of code on the block chain. With Bill Tai (left) and George Kikvadze, vice chairman of BitFury (right).

The Mystery of Capital

By Hernando de Soto

I am also re-reading a classic, "The Mystery of Capital," which has new relevancy because of the rapid advances in software technology that enables the "sharing economy."

De Soto, an advisor to 20 nations on economic policy and president of the Institute of Liberty and Democracy, basically lays out the fundamental reason capitalism works, where it works and why it has never rooted in "the other" countries that are home to 4 billion people. He offers recommendations about how to unlock the potential of those people.

If we can do that, we will ignite an amazing period of growth and prosperity for the whole frigging world.

An example by Hernando de Soto of a one inch thick stack of paper based land titles, that can be shrunk to a few lines of code, along with his book, "The Mystery of Capital."
Source: MaiTai Global
An example by Hernando de Soto of a one inch thick stack of paper based land titles, that can be shrunk to a few lines of code, along with his book, "The Mystery of Capital."

With Michael Casey, a Wall Street Journal reporter and co-author of the book "The Age of Cryptocurrency," I was awakened to the idea that de Soto's ideas could be implemented in a very low friction, easy scalable form on the block chain, which is the underlying technology behind bitcoin.

So I decided to do something about it with George Kikvadze, the vice chairman of BitFury. So, we organized a summit in May of this year with Sir Richard Branson and de Soto on Branson's island to come up with ways to make it happen.

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It was MAGICAL to be with people who have the potential to effect so much positive change in this world going forward and to work with them hand-in-hand, leveraging my background in technology, to synthesize practical and implementable solutions.

We assembled an amazing group of people, ranging from James Newsome (former chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission) and Jason Weinstein (former deputy attorney general of the U.S. Justice Department), to Beth Moses (chief astronaut trainer of Virgin Galactic who runs a bitcoin operation as a hobby) and financial technology entrepreneurs. We even had Lucy Liu join by Skype video.

The group got the ball rolling on the implementation of a number of things that could be tracked with the modern technology underlying cryptocurrency, ranging from a carbon-credit marketplace to a very low-cost mechanism to handle the titling of land ownership in Third World countries, to a worldwide system for digital birth certificates or passports, and even a genealogy system for digital music or photographs as they are shared and re-shared on the web.

Commentary by Bill Tai, a partner at Charles River Ventures. Originally trained as a computer-chip designer, Tai has served on the board of seven publicly-listed companies he initially funded as start-ups, including Internet infrastructure operator iAsiaWorks, which he founded as CEO. He co-founded both IPInfusion, the leading provider of Linux-based routing software and Treasure Data, a Hadoop-based "big data" platform, as chairman. He also serves on the Tech Pioneer Committee of the World Economic Forum. Follow him on Twitter @kitevc.

What are you reading this summer? Drop it in the comments box below.