2018 turned out to be a great year for knowledge building by reading a wide variety of books. I took a conscientious decision in 2017 to quit some social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and whittling away overusage of Twitter. I still see a lot of value in Twitter, so I find it hard to quit completely — especially since I get to connect with some brilliant people and have/follow interesting ideas and conversations in an easily digestable format.
In addition to quitting social media, I made a decision to reduce my consumption of news. Most of today’s news – be it financial media, political media etc is nothing but drivel that generates excessive noise in my mind, and I wanted to get rid of that from my head. These little changes opened up so much time; allowing me to do more of what I wanted to do for the past few years: read more books.
Sure enough, I have made tremendous progress so far in 2018 and decided to provide a half year update on what I’ve been reading. Here’s a list of books I read in 2018 and my short take on each of these.
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – Probably the best book I read so far this year. There are so many snippets that stand out from this book that apply to various aspects of life. This book has definitely left a lasting impression on me and I still go back to read some passages over as the author presents a unique perspective on commonly narrated human stories – such as money, religion, politics etc. The book does a fantastic job of walking through various phases of our evolution, broadly classified into Cognitive Revolution, Agricultural Revolution, and the Scientific Revolution. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t read it yet. Verdict: ★★★★★
- Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb – Taleb does a remarkable job putting himself on the pedestal and convincing himself that he is god’s gift to humanity. I knew of this before I read the book, and the book shows this behavior — I didn’t enjoy the read as the author simply diverges into meaningless rants. A few interesting points about randomness and decision making that were good though. Verdict: ★★
- The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes – This is the first Gary Taubes book I read. His books have known to be a bit of a journey down a rabbit hole and sure enough, there were sections of the book that seemed to delve deeper than I expected. Nonetheless I thought it was a decent read and well researched. The book walks you through the history of sugar cultivation during the late middle ages and through overusage through the centuries. Majority of the book spends time on the 20th century American medicine and how the culture of sugar found its deep roots in all our present day diets. A pretty decent read if you are interested in diets, health and longevity. Verdict: ★★★
- Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Joseph Aoun – Not the best book I read this year. Most of the book talks about the usual disappearing job due to automation over the coming years. I wasn’t too impressed with the simplistic and slightly repetitive writing. Verdict: ★
- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle – This was a great book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The author walks through the process of how skills and talents are developed; about how Myelin plays a central role in our nervous system to develop talent. While the biology can be a bit complex, the author did an amazing job to make it easily understandable and presentable to a layman like me. Highly recommended. Verdict: ★★★★
- Surely You Are Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman – This was an interesting book. Normally I don’t read biographies/memoirs, but this one came highly recommended from multiple sources, so I decided to give it a try. The book is a collection of short stories and personal experiences of Dr. Feynman. While the first 1/3 of the book was not as interesting, the book caught my attention when Dr Feynman recalled stories from the days of the Manhattan project. There was a lot about him that I didn’t know and it was a good fun read. Verdict: ★★★½
- How Google Works by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg – This was a business book about the company culture at Google, a company that I am always fascinated by. The engineers who work and form the company are legendary in the industry, but it was good to read from the vantage point of management and the leadership team. Lot of the culture has now percolated to the rest of the tech industry, but how the company was initially run contributed massively to drive Google to the top of the world in becoming one of the most successful companies, in a very short time. Verdict: ★★★★
- Factfulness by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, and Ola Rosling – Definitely one of the top books of the year. It is an important book to read, albeit a bit dry, but that is the point of the book — to simply look at the facts without getting emotionally swayed by say, the media overplaying a particular angle to a story. This is the book that Bill Gates recently bought the rights to distribute a free copy to every American university graduate this year. In a nutshell, this book implores everyone to learn how to look and evaluate statistics/facts and not let either pre-conceived or outdated information influence their world view. The authors start the book with a few simple questions on the status of the world and then present the data to show that most polls show high ranking professionals, businessmen, policy & decision makers did worse than randomized results generated by banana picking chimpanzees! In addition, there are some good resources to explore online such as Dollar Street at Gapminder. Be sure to check it out. Verdict: ★★★★★
- The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung – This is an easy & quick read. Dr Fung does a fantastic job of getting to the bottom of the obesity crisis and how conventional medicine over the past 3-4 decades has got it completely wrong on inconclusive and unproven data. This book delves into how the body processes the food we eat, how insulin plays a central role, not just in causing obesity, but also the fact that insulin resistance is the root cause for major chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes. It was an eye opener on understanding various aspects of some major diseases in an easily presentable way. Verdict: ★★★★
Those are the 9 books I have read so far in the first half of 2018. I am pretty happy with the progress and doing far better than I had imagined. I didn’t really have a goal in mind as I am not aiming for a high quantity of books that I want to read for the year. I am just enjoying reading these books that I find interesting and will hopefully expand my knowledge horizon over the coming years.
Have you read any interesting books lately? What should I read next? Leave comments below with your recommendations.