The 10 Best Books I Read in 2019

Reading Counts…

For all my flaws, one of the things that’s really helped me as a professional is my love for reading.

The general diversity in the genres that interest me are very well reflected in the list I present to you today – the 10 best books I read in 2019.

While 2019 was a great reading year for me, personally, I’d like to read a lot more in 2020.

The ability to read across a whole range of areas teaches three things:
1. The world is a lot more fascinating that what TV or the newspapers tell you.
2. It teaches you humility- one cannot know everything about everything.
3. It provides you with frameworks and ideas that you can cross-pollinate with your area of expertise, thereby, giving you a unique, competitive edge.

Let’s find out more about the 10 best books I read in 2019…

“Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman

What happens when someone trained in theoretical physics with a passion for literature writes vignettes about what Einstein might’ve been dreaming about when he was coming up his Theory of Relativity?

You get Alan Lightman and Einstein’s Dreams.

A stunning series of 30 chapters based on the most lucidly described properties and manipulations of Time, Lightman’s prose touches upon the nature of life, love, loss, and reality.

Interspersed with Einstein’s discussions with his friend, Michele Besso, Einstein’s Dreams is an ode to mankind’s myriad of desires to play with Time and how divergent thinking is the source of reality shattering breakthroughs.

“Demian” by Hermann Hesse

Demian is an experience.

Reading Demian is almost like being taken down through the annals of your own psyche by an experienced Shaman. It’s a single player game designed in 1919.

Utilising symbology and Jungian archetypes, Demian is the tale of Emil Sinclair’s journey from boyhood to adolescence.

While Emil is the protagonist, Demian, the titular character, is his friend, guide and philosopher. Demian helps Emil identify what it means to be his own man, face trials and tribulations, overcome them, and discover what it means to be a free man in an unfree world.

Spectacular reading. If you have a loved one turning 13 or 14, I highly recommend gifting them this book.

“Loonshots” by Safi Bahcall

This was one of the most fun and insightful books I read in 2019. Safi Bachall’s Loonshots can be described as Moonshot Thinking on Steroids with a DIY kit.

Safi provides his readers with frameworks for how to think about transformative innovation and discovery. His frameworks are drawn from the great entrepreneurs and innovations of history and his own deep experience in the biotechnology business, where invention and competitiveness are the names of the game.

Loonshots is a phenomenal combination of history, physics, economics, and entrepreneurship.

Bahcall is a skilled writer in the sense that while this can be classified as a ‘Business Book’, his ability to tie in perspectives from multiple fields into a enjoyable, coherent, and clear narrative made me a reader feel as though this was a book on Entrepreneurial Philosophy.

“Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell

George Orwell is more than Animal Farm and 1984.

Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, is an underrated Orwell masterpiece. It portrays destitution, hunger, addiction, and the shallowness of friendship(s) in the life of a tramp.

Of particular enjoyment was Orwell describing the process to receive lodging at Police Stations on winter nights in London as well as the fickleness of the restaurant trade in Paris.

A few personal takeaways from Orwell’s exaggerated memoir (of sorts) are that when you’re down on your luck the flakiness of your friends can be pretty hilarious, bad luck can pretty much take over life- generating a scarcity mindset- where every scrap of bread and every drop of margarine are the only things in life that matter, and how sleep is what gives you the energy to move through life when location does not matter.

“The Moon and Sixpence” by William Somerset Maugham

I’ve always loved William Somerset Maugham ever since my schooldays. His short stories were hilarious, poignant, sarcastic, and deeply insightful on the human condition.

My love grew to greater depths when I finished reading his novel, The Moon and Sixpence. It was unbelievable because it illuminated the extent to which men of respect and stature would give up everything they have worked for to pursue their dreams at the cost of family and society being thrown into the throes of chaos and public opinion of the distasteful kind.

Maugham’s ability to cast himself as a character in his work is a lesson all young writers need to study. The beautiful description of his conversation with Robert Strickland (the protagonist) trying to figure out why Robert made the decisions he made is a true testament to an individual’s commitment to himself (or herself, I will proceed with ‘him’ for simplicity’s sake), his art, and live a life working on things that only matter to him, ignoring the scowls of society at large.

“You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier’s You are Not a Gadget is a weird book. It’s fascinating, but at the same time it’s pretty weird.

Lanier makes a pretty compelling case regarding how the fundamental structures that drive the Internet are designed to rob consumers of their lives, turning it into a data quest for corporations. He calls for a radical restructuring of the frameworks and protocols that connects the whole world so that people may feel wholesome, not as somebody who just uses a gadget. As somebody who is super into products, technology, data, and strategy, that was an interesting argument, albeit a moot point.

The most amazing part of the book was Lanier’s critique of technology and culture. Lanier points that as technology and computational capacity increases, lifespan will increase in correlation. The problem with his, he says, is that as lifespan increases, the evolution of culture slows down, because as those in power extend their lives, they might wield enough power to disallow a new culture, live by young people, to ever come to the forefront.

Pretty poignant and radical, idealistic and aspirational- that’s what makes this book such a great read.

“The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis

The Undoing Project reminds me of the Michael Lewis who made me fall in love with him through Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, and Moneyball.

Based on the relationship between two celebrated Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, The Undoing Project amalgamates intellectual genius of Kahneman and Tversky as well the complexities the outside world posed on their collaboration.

Lewis gives us a wonderful behind-the-scenes glimpses of what it means Kahneman-Tversky- the intellectual powerhouse, Kahneman- the doom and gloom individual, and Tversky- arguably the smartest man who ever lived.

I loved this book and it is one of my favourites. In fact, I often recommend it to my friends as a reference text whenever they tell me they are going to begin reading or are currently reading Daniel Kahneman’s classic, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Also, I’ve tagging this awesome conversation between Michael Lewis and Malcom Gladwell at 92Y about The Undoing Project. It was so much fun listening to it. You need to check it out.

“The End of Average” by Todd Rose

Todd Rose is the director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he leads the Laboratory for the Science of Individuality.

While this may sound fancy, Prof. Rose’s rise to the top was everything short of it. He is an absolute inspiration to me.

The End of Average focuses on three things:

  • Limitations in thinking where Averages are the norm.
  • Individual Fit is underrated, Group Fit is overrated.
  • The Science of the Individual > The Science of Groups.

Prof. Rose takes you on a wonderful journey across time, geography, and scientific vistas (and his personal life) to provide you a wholesome experience of where his thinking about the underrated study of an individual’s value comes from.

Super recommend it.

“The Complete Maus” by Art Spiegelman

I loved Graphic Novels as a kid, but never did I image a Graphic Novel to be like Maus!

Maus is based on the troubled relationship between Art Spiegelman and his father, who was a Polish-Jew, a prisoner in the Nazi Concentration Camps before and during World War II .

Spiegelman’s depiction of the Jews as Mice, the Nazis as Cats and the Poles as Pigs- makes for an intriguing yet insane representation of how crazy things were in Poland during the World War II era.

Maus is hard to classify- its got history, its autobiographical, its a graphic novel, etc. But one thing is for sure, it is absolutely fascinating! Maus is personal, political, confessional, crazy, honest, humane, and realistic.

It made me realise the value of relationships and identity- why they matter and how to make them work.

“Logicomix: An Epic Search for the Truth” by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos, and Annie Di Donna

Logicomix: An Epic Search for the Truth is a graphic novel on Foundational Crisis and the Foundations of Mathematics.

Let’s be frank, not a lot of us wonder about the foundations of mathematics. Hell, almost all of us assume that the roots of mathematics are based on something– but we are beaten out of our ability to be fascinated with mathematics in school through graded tests and AP credits, etc.

Logicomix takes up a huge task of weaving a narrative to a layman about the various actors and epistemologies that underpin the Philosophy of Mathematics.

On one hand, Logicomix highlights the limits of rationality (and a historical descent into madness), and on the other hand, it takes us on a journey into the intellectual birth of the computer.

These were the 10 best books I read in 2019.

I hope 2020 is going to be an even more awesome year for me, in terms of reading.

Thanks a lot for reading and wishing you a cool 2020.

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