Book Report: MasterClass’s Aaron Rasmussen

Five reading recs from a Silicon Valley standout

August 9, 2016 9:00 am

Because there is no greater way to know a man than by the books he calls his favorites, we asked Aaron Rasmussen, co-founder of MasterClass, for the ones he loves most. 

If you’ve been online in the past four months, you’ve doubtless seen the ads for MasterClass, which offers online classes and lessons from some serious heavy hitters: Serena Williams, Kevin Spacey, James Patterson and more. That clever concept only hints at co-founder Aaron Rasmussen’s background: he started coding at 7, took his first college-level course at 11 and designed a sentry gun as a summer project while a student at Boston University. Below, his reading list. 

Says Rasmussen: “I read constantly. I have my whole life. A childhood in the forests of Oregon lent itself well to using books as my window to the world, and I still turn to them now for escapism, information and perspective-altering ideas. Picking just five to recommend is almost tragically difficult, but here’s a sample of some that have made an impact on me.”

Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age by Michael A. Hiltzik
“Like any proper geek, I’ve long been fascinated by the extraordinary innovation that came from Xerox PARC — and often think about whether it could be replicated in the future. I decided to search this book to find an answer to one of the burning questions that we’ve faced while building MasterClass: How do we hire the best people in the world? Not just very good people, or great people, but the best. This book is about another organization doing exactly that. I’m happy to report that I’ve used some of what I’ve learned to snag a few ideal hires.”

Niels Lyhne by Jens Peter Jacobsen
“I cannot recommend this in words more moving than Rainer Maria Rilke’s in the collection Letters to a Young Poet, and I love it for the reasons he did. He writes, ‘Now Niels Lyhne will open to you, a book of splendors and depths; the more often one reads it, the more everything seems to be contained within it, from life’s most imperceptible fragrances to the full, enormous taste of its heaviest fruits. In it there is nothing that does not seem to have been understood, held, lived, and known in memory’s wavering echo …’”

Creativity, Inc. by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull
“As the person scaling creative at MasterClass, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to best support other artists and maintain a cohesive creative vision. I’m an admirer of what Ed Catmull and John Lasseter have created with Pixar, and their stories of success and failure are both inspirational and informative.”

Blindsight by Peter Watts
“Blindsight is a clever and insightful theory hidden under the cover of a sci-fi adventure, filled with plenty of real neuroscience and biology. This is the first book that moved me to write a letter to the author thanking him for the experience. Ignore the space vampire thing — call them something else in your head, trust me. And if you ever want to talk about it, email me.”

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
“Our brains are, by default, terrible at logic and reason, but they don’t have to stay that way. I love books about using our brains — our one tool for parsing the world — in a more effective manner. There are plenty of books on the subject, but this one is a classic. It helps you not only make better decisions, but also understand how your customers make decisions.”

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