Here are 5 books I read this year that might change how you see the world –
1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. “Born a Crime” was, without question, my book of the year. Trevor Noah has an incredible story growing up in poverty in South Africa. There are few on the planet who’ve known what it is to live in a ghetto and then follow it up with a glitzy career. There are fewer still who manage to keep a ton of perspective in the process. Great stand up comedians are excellent observers and chroniclers of life. His book does just that. It takes a rich experience-filled life and shares the story with many powerful insights, humor and class. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book.
2. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. The one history book to rule them all. It is unusual for a book to have multiple seminal insights. But, Sapiens manages it. Harari is a phenomenal chronicler of history because he manages to weave together multiple powerful threads and create a compelling narrative. His insights on what makes sapiens so powerful (our ability to cooperate with each other), why (our ability to tell each other myths/stories by creating insititutions like corporations, religions and nation states) and how (through unifiers like money and knowledge) are, in danger of over-using the word, seminal. There’s plenty more in the book. I find myself talking about it all the time. If you haven’t read it yet, this is a must read.
3. Mindset by Carol Dweck. I’d heard of this book a few years back but stayed away from reading it as I’m not a fan of books that just state one idea over and over again. This is especially the case when I write a daily blog post on that one idea – building a growth mindset by focusing on learning. However, “Mindset” is as important a work as it gets simply because it reinforces how critical mindset is in our lives. It is the lens with which we see the world. I’ve been a long time fan of the choice map by Marilee Adams which brings the same idea to light using slightly different labels (learner vs. judger instead of growth vs. fixed). Professor Dweck’s work, however, is much more rigorous and more all encompassing. Very powerful book.
4. Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang. I’ve been on a “I’d like to understand how we got to now” trip over the past year – since events such as Brexit and the US election. Part of the motivation was to understand what is going on and part of it was to question my own beliefs. A year ago, I never questioned the rationale behind free trade. Thanks to Bad Samaritans, I understand why it is important to. Ha-Joon Chang makes a powerful case against the “unholy trinity” of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. He shares economic data that clearly points to a simple idea – these organizations, the bad samaritans, act on developed country interests and push developing countries to adopt policies currently adopted in the developed world against their own interests. This is because there’s clear evidence that these policies were not what made the same developed countries rich. He also argues that it is foolish to link culture to economic development as it is economic development that drives the culture it needs (spoiler: the Japenese were once described as lazy). Again, powerful stuff.
5. The Master Switch by Tim Wu. This was another in my “how we got to now” trip. The Master Switch chronicles the history of information industries – telephone, movies, radio, television and the internet. I learnt a ton from this book and it is one which should be on the “must read” list of anyone who has a passing interest in technology. It drives home the point that nature of speech (free or not) in a nation follows the structure of its information infrastructure. It also helps frame debates like net neutrality and also points to why crypto currencies are likely to be the future. That aside, however, the book often gave me goosebumps as it chronicles the rise of powerful corporations we take for granted today. Somebody should make a movie about this stuff – it is that good.
More book resources:
- The Amazon List for these 5 books
- Past editions of “5 books that might change your mind” – 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011
- Categorized book recommendations of all books I’ve read in the past decade – RohanRajiv.com
- My book notes (taken as I read) – ALearningaDay.Tumblr.com