What books do some of the world’s busiest Jews crack open in their summer downtime? Not exactly beach reads.
NBC reporter Dylan Byers launched his “first annual Byers Market Summer Reading List” August 2, touting exclusive recs from Silicon Valley and Hollywood types from Facebook Chiefs Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, to top William Morris agent Ari Emanuel to IAC Chair Barry Diller. These business leaders are mostly sticking to history, troubling nonfiction prognostications and game plans for launching social revolutions.
Zuckerberg, true to geeky form, is reading Graham Moore’s historical novel “The Last Days of Night,” about Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse’s race to electrify the United States. His COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is digging into Melinda Gates’s “The Moment of Lift,” a book blurbed by Barack Obama and Malala Yousafzai, in which Gates explains, through data and personal anecdote, how women are moving the world toward progress.
Ari Emanuel, brother of Rahm and inspiration for Ari Gold of “Entourage,” is powering through an eclectic reading list, including Shoshana Zuboff’s “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” about how corporations are striving to learn and curb our buying habits. He’s also skimming Rich Cohen’s “The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, a Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation” about Albert Hicks, the infamous pirate who took a second vocation in his middle-age as the Five Points’ first gangster. Also bookmarked is Lori Gottlieb’s memoir “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” about her life in therapy, both as patient and therapist.
The last book Disney CEO Bob Iger read was David Brooks’s memoir, “The Second Mountain,” wherein The New York Times columnist spoke of his - let’s say interesting - relationship to Judaism and the Christian Gospels. He also re-read Thomas Friedman’s plan for a green revolution, “Hot, Flat and Crowded.” Iger told Byers he’s plowed through nine books of CS Forester’s Horatio Hornblower Napoleonic nautical adventures, so maybe we’ll see a House of Mouse treatment sometime soon (though I’d prefer he revive the “Master and Commander” franchise now that Disney owns Fox.)
Former Disney Studio chair and current head of WndrCo Jeffrey Katzenberg is reading Joan Williams’s “White Working Class,” which questions the typical liberal analysis of that American demographic. Katzenberg is also taking in the recently buzzed-about “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” whose author, Yuval Noah Harari, came under fire last week for changing the Russian editions of the book.
Spotify’s Chief Content Officer Dawn Ostroff is reading Tara Westover’s “Educated: A Memoir,” about the author’s survivalist childhood and her later academic success. Unsurprisingly given her career in audio, Ostroff also recommended a podcast called “The Clearing,” about a woman who learns her father is a serial killer. Ex-HBO CEO Richard Plepler also put in a good for Westover’s book, along with a recommendation of George Packer’s “Our Man,” about career diplomat and UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
Snap Inc. head Evan Spiegel, while known for his high-tech Snapchat camera filters, is exploring a more analogue age with Edward Watts’s “Mortal Republic” about the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. And media mogul Barry Diller is brushing up on his own history with historian Rick Atkinson’s “The British are Coming,” the first in a Revolutionary War trilogy, and Richard Zoglin’s “Elvis in Vegas,” which makes the case that the King mounted his renaissance with his show on the Vegas Strip.
Judging by their syllabi, the leaders of industry are thinking a lot about the future and learning from the past. But let’s be real, we all know they’re reading Olivia Newton-Johns’s new memoir on the sly.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.