2021 Holiday book list (what I read over the holidays/spilled over to 2022)
- Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir : Sci-fi with a lot of problem-solving/engineering situations, fun-read; raises questions of what survival means for human species and how far will we go to ensure that
- Musical Brain by Cesar Aira: Collection of short stories, massively creative; he calls it a ‘flight forward’ style where you are not bound to linear narratives; brilliant execution which makes it a great read; makes you think about how we sometimes weigh our own lives down in a ‘past projection’ mindset. Imagine the possibilities if we took a more ‘flight forward’ mindset
- Power Play by Tim Higgins: The story of Tesla and Elon Musk; a great combination of corporate masala, engineering innovation and Elon Musk hacking Tesla into a massive success
- Liftoff by Eric Berger: The story of SpaceX and Elon Musk; again the hacker mindset/solving really hard problems
- [Currently reading] American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins: a tough book on immigration through the lens of a Mexican mother/son; stirred some controversy when it came out
- [Currently reading] Bhakti Yoga by Edward Bryant: as a huge fan of Indian classical music, have often felt music taking you to a different state. Which is what led me to this book – trying to understand how/where music (or formally, ‘kirtana’) fits into the overall bhakti framework. Interesting read
A Promised Land: Barack Obama
Just finished reading this (much awaited, much hyped) book. First up, very impressed by Obama’s writing abilities – the style is very fluid and he has put together the story of his Presidency really well. And as expected, this book is less about finger-pointing and/or juicy details of the inner workings of the Presidential team, but more of an introspection his term in office with the benefit of hindsight. Which also makes it a bit self-righteous at times – every move, every act comes across as morally sound and ethically above board. Difficult to believe that anyone could rise so rapidly and have a dream political run for over 15 years, of which 8 years were the President of the United States without cutting down people who were in the way, bending a few rules along the way. Nevertheless, a good absorbing read.
Upstream: How to solve problems before they happen: Dan Heath
The premise is obvious once you start thinking about – there is greater value in solving problems upstream (earlier the better). The challenge is also obvious: finding problems early on is hard, difficult to measure and there is never a good feedback loop to figure out whether the solution is working. How then do you figure out how to solve problems upstream? Lots of vignettes in the book, but he stops short of presenting a solution framework. Having said that, good for a general read.
Enemy of all Mankind: Steven Johnson
Chanced upon this book and is turning out to be a fun read: the topic itself is odd – the story of the ‘first’ pirate in history; but the canvas with Steven Johnson is very broad: he connects the story of a rogue pirate with the decline of the Mughal empire and in some ways, the birth of modern capitalist ideas. If nothing else, it is a fun story, very well-written
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
Resuming my deep-dive into American history through biographies (great stories and learn about history). Here is an amazing, almost-difficult to believe story of a man who grew out of slavery into one of the best orators and activists in 19th century America. The struggle and the journey is amazing – reminds me of another leader who came out of nowhere : Alexander Hamilton
Range: Why generalists triumph in a specialized world
Fascinating book – basic premise is that the 10,000 hour rule (deep, sustained practice in one domain) works very well in ‘kind’ problem spaces where the domain is narrow; there is a method to mastery and feedback is structured and immediate. Golf and chess are two examples he takes. And then argues – step out into the real world of ‘wicked’ problems: domain is not well defined, problems are shifting and feedback is neither clear nor immediate. Navigating that world requires ‘breadth of training that predicts of transfer’. Looking from the lens of problem solving in the workplace today – you have to agree with this… great read.
Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaption :
I have always been fascinated by graphic novels. A very interesting adaptation of one of the most storied memoirs from WW-II. The artwork is stunning
AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order – Kai Fu-Lee
Fascinating book on the AI war is being fought right now between the US and China. This is one phase that many of us in this area will look back years from now.
Leadership in Turbulent Times – Doris Goodwin
The advantage of being a great historian is that you end up knowing so many stories that you can keep writing interesting views. This one is in that category – 4 Presidents and how they navigated through their careers. Leadership in action
21 Lessons for the 21st Century: Yuval Noah Harari
The chief prognosticator of our times – not much new in this set of essays, but still a good read.
One more Thing: Stories and Other Stories – BJ Novak
Easily one of the most enjoyable book I read in the last few years – perfect holiday reading. This guy is very clever and can he write! And I thought of him as just one of the actors on ‘Office’.
The Ibis Trilogy – Amitav Ghosh
Enjoying some fiction for a change. Finally got down to the 3rd installment of Amitav Ghosh’s brilliant ‘The Ibis Trilogy’. This one is called the ‘Flood of Fire’. All 3 put together will be close to 2,000. Not for the faint hearted – but the storyline, the character development is top-notch. What is really fascinating to me is the larger economic canvas on which the trilogy is set – this is the 18th/19th century; the theater is Indo-China: the world is changing dramatically, as international trade and imperialist ambitions (British Empire) are well and truly, accelerating change. Also, remember that this is the time when the fulcrum of global wealth and power was shifting from the East to the West. Fantastic writing. I have a feeling Amitav Ghosh will win the Nobel Prize in the next decade, if not sooner.
Measure what Matters: John Doerr
The idea is to learn about the famed OKR methods that was born in Intel and Google really made popular. Too many organization initiatives fail because of a lack of good measurement systems – even more in the knowledge economy, where unlike a physical factory, there is no immediate measurable output from say, a factory line. And more importantly, difficult to measure attributes like individual creativity, teamwork, a blending of art and science are becoming critical to success. In such a world, how do you create a framework for measurable Results that link to Objectives?
Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence
Finally, the economists have gotten into the mix! As AI continues to grow as a powerful factor in the modern enterprise, we need an economic framework to think about this. Do we need to question the fundamentals of the labor-capital relationship that have powered the economic thinking thus far?