July 27, 2020

Sifted’s summer reading list

They’re good books. Sifted readers said so.

With the days of lounging on the beach finally here, we couldn’t possibly let you head off on vacation without at least a few good books to read about European tech and entrepreneurship.

We threw an empty bottle into the sea of startups for the best books to crack this summer, and it came back loaded with more must-reads than you can shake a snorkel at.

So here’s our curated Sifted summer reading list, in no particular order. 

While some titles aren’t focused on Europe, they do provide food for thought for this side of the world too. Many reach way beyond startups, and even technology, to bring worthy ideas and debates to the table.


Have a look, as we raise our frozen margaritas to the wonderful Sifted readers who contributed their suggestions.

Cheers, and happy reading!

  1. “Grow the Pie: How Great Companies Deliver Both Purpose and Profit”. By Alex Edmans.

Edmans, a finance professor at London Business School, explores the idea that the most successful companies don't target profit directly, but are driven by purpose. It’s interesting to see this book coming out of Europe, especially as that “tech for good” type selling argument has been very fashionable with startups and politicians in the region these past months.

  • “Upscale: What it Takes to Scale a Startup. By the People Who've Done It”. By James Silver.

Published by UK startups grouping Tech Nation, the book is a collection of insights on the challenges startups face as they grow, from a series of sit-downs with entrepreneurs, investors and industry veterans. Interviewees include Just Eat cofounder David Buttress, GoCardless’s Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, and ex head of growth at Skyscanner, Shane Corstorphine.

  • “Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It”. By Gemma Milne.

Written by a Scottish science and technology journalist, this book is an investigation into how hype in the tech space tends to misdirect attention from worthy innovation to, well, the less worthy.

  • “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men”. By Caroline Criado Perez.

A British activist on feminist matters, among other things, Perez has made a name for herself battling on issues from female representation in the media to women on banknotes. With in-depth research, her book sets out to demonstrate that the lack of big data about women essentially equates to invisibility for half of the world’s population.

  • “Making Futures: Young Entrepreneurs in a Dynamic Africa”. By Sangu Delle.

Written by an entrepreneur and investor from Ghana, the book is an overview of the challenges and opportunities that founders and startups face across the African region, through the stories of 17 young entrepreneurs from 14 countries.

  • “Capital and Ideology”. By Thomas Piketty.

Piketty’s follow-up to his best-selling “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” isn’t for the faint-hearted, with the hard-cover edition topping 1,000 pages. In it, the French economist sets out to shake up everything we think we know about our economies, making the point that markets, profits and capital are all historical constructs, and that there’s room for alternative approaches.

  • “Uncanny Valley”. By Anna Wiener.

Essentially Wiener’s memoir, about leaving a job in book publishing, and moving from New York to San Francisco to head out and explore work in the new digital economy. Hint: her experience of Valley startups wasn’t all rosy.

  • “Stepping Up. How to Accelerate Your Leadership Potential”. By Sarah Wood.

Written for entrepreneurs, managers and leaders of all sorts, by the British cofounder of Unruly, a video advertising marketplace that was taken over by News Corp in 2015. The book addresses navigating change and guiding others through it. Wood published it a few years after selling the company, in parallel to taking on a more active role promoting London’s tech scene and women in tech.

  • “Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility”. By Patty McCord.

McCord was at Netflix for 14 years...which culminated in her being fired as chief talent officer. She wrote this book a few years later, and advocates for a revamp of human resources departments at companies. It holds some noteworthy lessons on cultivating company culture and team-building.

  • “The Value of Everything”. By Mariana Mazzucato.

An invitation to rethink capitalism that’s shaped as an in-depth analysis of growth, inequalities and where value is created. The author is an economist and a professor from University College London.

  • “BlackBerry Town: How High Tech Success has Played Out for Canada's Kitchener-Waterloo”. By Chuck Howitt.

A dive into the ups and downs of the ecosystem around the once king of smartphones: BlackBerry. Howitt looks at Canada to ask the kinds of questions we often hear about Silicon Valley, about how one ecosystem can lead to flourishing innovation.

  • “High Growth Handbook”. By Elad Gil.

Practical tips on everything from managing growth, the role of the CEO to the keys to hiring executives. The book is targeted toward startups heading over the 100 employees bar and raising money to grow further. 

  • “The Age of Living Machines: How Biology Will Build the Next Technology Revolution”. By Susan Hockfield.

One for the proud geeks amongst us, about the kinds of innovation we can expect from the fields of biology and engineering coming together. The author is a neuroscientist and the former president of MIT. 

  • “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike”. By Phil Knight.

An oldie (published in 2016) but goodie. The book is a memoir about the making of Nike, by its cofounder. It goes over the brand’s history, including quirky anecdotes, like how, as Nike was scaling up, the core team was essentially a mix of unlikely executives for a sports company, from overweight executives to heavy smokers.

  • “When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn't the Life You Want”. By Mike Lewis.

This book is half-way between the self-help and the inspirational sections. Lewis is a corporate type turned professional squash player, who compiled testimonies from a bunch of different people about how they approached making major changes in their careers and lives. It’s who Lewis interviewed that makes this worth the read, with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg topping the list.

  • "Measure What Matters. How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs". By John Doerr.

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. Doerr, a VC investor from the west coast, extracts goal-setting strategies from tech behemoths like Google (Larry Page wrote the foreword) and highlights what everyone else can learn from them.

  • “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”. By Yuval Noah Harari.

The third book in a series by Israeli historian Harari about the past and heading into the future, this one focuses on making sense of today’s issues. A huge chunk of that is technology related, prompting some of the more essential soul-searching on topics from big data to fake news.