Books and Culture

Silicon Valley guru Paul Graham: This is the book I've been reading amid Covid-19

Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator. Photographer: Guy Calaf/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Paul Graham, co-founder of Silicon Valley start-up accelerator Y Combinator, has recommended over 95 books on Twitter.

"Something I didn't realize when I was a kid: Most books are bad. I used to think 'This author must be an expert on x. After all, he wrote a book on it.' That is not how it works at all," Graham explained via Twitter in August 2019. "Some books are much better than others, and it takes a conscious effort to find them."

Over the years, many of the books that Graham has recommended center around history. His latest recommendation is about history in the making, a book that looks at the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on America.

Graham says he is reading "Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live," by Nicholas A. Christakis.

The book is "a rare combination of broad historical panorama and all-too-topical bestseller. There are interesting insights on every page," Graham tweeted Wednesday.

He also compared the book to Jared Diamond's best-selling 1997 book, "Guns, Germs, and Steel," which argues that geographical factors influenced the development of the modern world (though Diamond and the book have been criticized in recent years).

"It's like 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' but about something that's trying to kill you right now. Which is quite an incentive to learn history," he tweeted.

In "Apollo's Arrow," Christakis, a sociologist, physician and social science professor at Yale, writes about the Covid-19 response in America and what recovery may look like in the near future and post-pandemic. He also talks about how the virus may mutate in the future and discusses past epidemics, like the influenza spread in 1918 and SARS in 2003. (The book's title references the Greek god Apollo, who in Book 1 of "The Iliad," spread plague through shooting arrows.)

Graham's past recommendations include "exciting" history books like "Medieval Technology and Social Change" by Lynn White Jr., which focuses on the Middle Ages, and "Civilisation" by Kenneth Clark, which is about the history of art.

"Reading and experience train your model of the world," Graham wrote in his December 2014 essay "How You Know." "And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists."

Correction: This story was corrected to reflect that the book "Civilisation" is about art history.

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