Books of 2020
Without adding much of my own views, here are some details and snippets about some of the critical books that I read this year, 2020. The global pandemic pushed me into cocoons where my default blame turned out to be books, and I did read quite a lot this year.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf is an essential feminist essay that argues for both a literal and figurative space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men.
A Guide to the Good Life offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using the psychological insights and the Stoics’ practical techniques, the book offers a roadmap for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us.
The book shows readers how to become thoughtful observers of their own life. If we watch ourselves as we go about our daily business and later reflect on what we saw, we can better identify the sources of distress and eventually avoid that pain in our life. By doing this, the Stoics thought, we can hope to attain a truly joyful life.
Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins is another of those books which is not for everyone. David shares his life story revealing that most of us only tap into 40% of our capabilities. Goggins calls this the 40% Rule, and his story illuminates a path that anyone can follow to push past pain, demolish fear, and reach their full potential. David overcame his nightmare of poverty, prejudice, and physical abuse through self-discipline, mental toughness, and hard work. He transformed from a depressed, overweight young man with no future into a U.S. Armed Forces icon and one of the world’s top endurance athletes.
Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore is a marketing book that focuses on the specifics of marketing high tech products during the early startup period. In 2006, Tom Byers, director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, described it as “still the bible for entrepreneurial marketing 15 years later”.
Early Indians by Indian journalist Tony Joseph, focuses on the ancestors of people living today in South Asia. He goes 65,000 years into the past – when anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens), first made their way from Africa into the Indian subcontinent. The book relies on research findings from six major disciplines - history, archaeology, linguistics, population genetics, philology, and epigraphy, and includes path-breaking ancient DNA research of recent years.
The book discusses four prehistoric migrations in India. The book posits that the Harappans were a mixture of Zagros agriculturists (from the modern-day Iran area) and First Indians, a wave of migrants who came from Africa into Arabia and then reached India around 65,000 years ago. The book traces the subsequent large migrations of anatomically modern humans into India - of agriculturalists from Iran between 7,000 and 3,000 BCE and Indo-European languages speaking pastoralists from the Central Asian Steppe (Aryans) between 2,000 and 1,000 BCE, among others.
My daughter liked the book, and so I decided to read it too. Earthquake Boy by Leela Gour Broome is a fiction with a lot of Bombay scenes, which will is much appreciated and likely to be more cherished by people who know the underbelly of Bombay.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo follows the lives of twelve characters in the United Kingdom over several decades as they navigate the world. The book is divided into four chapters, each containing episodes about three women connected directly to one another in some way. Although each character has their own chapter set across a particular time, their lives intertwine in numerous ways – from friends and relatives to chance acquaintances.
In this revolutionary book, renowned MIT economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo take on this challenge, building on cutting-edge research in economics explained with lucidity and grace. Good Economics for Hard Times makes a persuasive case for intelligent interventionism and a society built on compassion and respect and show how economics, when done right, can help us solve the thorniest social and political problems of the day. It is an extraordinary achievement, one that shines a light to help us appreciate and understand our precariously, balanced world.
Hackers & Painters examines the world of hackers and the motivations of the people who occupy it. In clear, thoughtful prose that draws on illuminating historical examples, Paul Graham takes readers on a fast-moving tour of what he calls “an intellectual Wild West.”
High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil has a collection of interviews with entrepreneurs who have built successful high-growth companies. The book contains key frameworks for building and scaling a high-growth company. The interviews are organized into sections so you can jump directly to the interviews with the topics of your choice.
By exploring the most complicated ways to do simple tasks, Randall Munroe doesn’t just make things difficult for himself and his readers. He invites us to explore the most absurd reaches of the possible. Full of creative infographics and amusing illustrations, How To is a delightfully mind-bending way to better understand the science and technology underlying the things we do every day.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is one of those old books that you can re-read again and again. I re-read it this year, and I love it. This book can be read as a course corrector for your life, every once in a while.
My daughter wanted to read I Am Malala and so, I did too. The book chronicles the story of Malala Yousafzai who stood up for education and was shot by the taliban. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school.
Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the United Nations’ halls in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
The book shows how Leonardo’s genius was based on skills we can improve in ourselves, such as passionate curiosity, careful observation, and an imagination so playful that it flirted with fantasy. He produced the two most famous paintings in history – The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. With a passion that sometimes became obsessive, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry. His ability to stand at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences, made iconic by his drawing of Vitruvian Man, made him history’s most creative genius.
Safi Bahcall shows why teams, companies, or any group with a mission will suddenly change from embracing wild new ideas to rigidly rejecting them. Loonshots identifies the small shifts in the structure that controls this transition, the same way that temperature controls the change from water to ice. The book is a distillation of the insights into lessons for creatives, entrepreneurs, and visionaries everywhere.
My Family and Other Animals is an autobiographical work by British naturalist Gerald Durrell. The book is divided into three sections, marking the three villas where the family lived on the island. Gerald is the youngest in a family consisting of their widowed mother, writer, and eldest son Larry, Leslie, and diet-obsessed sister Margo, together with Roger, the dog. They are fiercely protected by their taxi-driver friend Spiro and mentored by the polymath Dr. Theodore Stephanides who provides Gerald with his education in natural history. Other human characters include Gerald’s private tutors, the artistic and literary visitors Larry invites to stay, and the local people who befriend the family.
David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters, and scientists. He discovered that in most fields, especially those that are complex and unpredictable, the generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.
Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.
Saying No to Jugaad takes you on the Startup journey of BigBasket. TN Hari and MS Subramanian narrate the inspirational story of people and processes they followed over the years in the company, the challenges they faced to overcome the difficult situations and the reasons behind the success of BigBasket.
Tao Te Ching is a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism. It strongly influenced other schools, such as Legalism, Confucianism, and Chinese Buddhism. Its influence has also spread widely outside East Asia and is among the most translated works in world literature.
From idea generation to team building to knowing when it’s time to let go, That Will Never Work is not only the ultimate follow-your-dreams parable but also one of the most dramatic and insightful entrepreneurial stories of our time. Read the story of how Netflix went from concept to company by co-founder and first CEO Marc Randolph.
The Almanack of Naval Ravikant collects and curates Naval’s wisdom from Twitter, Podcasts, and Essays over the past decade. The wisdom of Naval Ravikant, created and edited by Eric Jorgenson. The book is free to read, as well as complete pdf and e-reader versions for free download.
The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself is a non-fiction book by theoretical physicist Sean Carroll. In this book, Carroll defends the argument that the Universe can be entirely interpreted by science, introducing “poetic naturalism” as a philosophy that explains the world. Naturalism defines the world entirely in terms of physical forces, fields, and entities, and these forces and fields are unforgiving: they do not permit telekinesis, psychic powers, miracles, life after death, or an immortal soul.
The Choice: Embrace the Possible is about the author, Edith Eger, one of the last remaining Holocaust survivors. Dr. Edith tells her unforgettable story in this moving testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of choice in our lives. In 1944, sixteen-year-old ballerina and gymnast Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. Separated from her parents, she endures unimaginable experiences, including being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele. When the camp is finally liberated, she is pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive. The horrors of the Holocaust didn’t break Edith. In fact, they helped her learn to live again with a life-affirming strength and genuinely remarkable resilience.
This is one of those unassuming books that I picked up at the Airport. The Climate Solution by Mridula Ramesh was a quick and fast read for me. It does contain a whole lot of new-found information and I learned a lot. This is an Indian specific problem-solution story and how we can play a part in our fight against climate change.
In her lifetime, Margaret Cavendish published 20 books. But amid her poetry and essays, she also published one of the earliest examples of science fiction, in 1666. She named it The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World. Unless, you have a genuine interest in the subject of the book, the fact that this is from the 17th century, it will be hard for most modern-day expectations of science fiction. Read it to have a sense of gratification that you read the “the first-ever” and the origin of science fiction stories, written by a woman.
The Future is Asian by Parag Khanna talks about the rise of Asia and Asian systems - technocracy, illiberalism, meritocracy, economic dynamism, and free trade. The book takes you through a sweep of history and modern politics and economic pragmatism. There is an air of pragmatic development and a breathless hope for the future in Asia. It also highlights the negatives in the Asian system – corruption, political repression, ethnic cleansing, and violence, etc.
Using his experience at Google, his success as an entrepreneur and consultant, and insights from his lectures at Stanford University and Google, Alberto Savoia’s The Right It: Why So Many Ideas Fail and How to Make Sure Yours Succeed offers an unparalleled approach to beating the beast that is market failure.
The Selfish Gene is a 1976 book on evolution by the biologist Richard Dawkins, in which the author builds upon the principal theory of George C. Williams’s Adaptation and Natural Selection. Dawkins uses the term “selfish gene” to express the gene-centered view of evolution, popularising ideas developed during the 1960s by W. D. Hamilton and others. From the gene-centered perspective, it follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense (at the level of the genes) it makes for them to behave selflessly with each other.
David Marquet, a Navy officer, narrates his experiences as the USS Santa Fe captain, a nuclear-powered submarine. In this high-stress environment, where there is no margin for error, it was crucial his men did their job and did it well.
Turn The Ship Around is the true story of how the Santa Fe skyrocketed from worst to first in the fleet by challenging the U.S. Navy’s traditional leader-follower approach. Struggling against his own instincts to take control, he instead achieved the vastly more powerful model of giving control. Before long, each member of Marquet’s crew became a leader and assumed responsibility for everything he did, from clerical tasks to crucial combat decisions. The team became fully engaged, contributing their full intellectual capacity every day, and Santa Fe started winning awards and promoting a highly disproportionate number of officers to submarine command.
“Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.”
As the parent of a pre-teen, I decided to read quite a few books about women and their general struggle with the world.
In the book, Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, Lisa Damour explains the incredible and underappreciated value of stress and anxiety: that stress can helpfully stretch us beyond our comfort zones, and anxiety can play a crucial role in keeping girls safe. When we emphasize the benefits of stress and anxiety, we can help our daughters take them in stride.
The author writes about many facets of girls’ lives where tension occurs – their interactions at home, pressures at school, social anxiety among other girls and boys, and their online lives. Readers can learn about the critical steps that adults can take to shield their daughters from the toxic pressures that our culture, including us, as parents—subjects girls.
Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley is a candid, colorful, and comprehensive oral history that reveals the secrets of Silicon Valley – from the origins of Apple and Atari to the present day clashes of Google and Facebook, and all the Startups and disruptions that happened along the way.
Rarely has one economy asserted itself as swiftly – and as aggressively – as the entity we now know as Silicon Valley. Built with a seemingly permanent culture of reinvention, Silicon Valley does not fight change; it embraces it and now powers the American economy and global innovation.
Drawing on over two hundred in-depth interviews, author Adam Fisher takes readers from the dawn of the personal computer and the internet, through the heyday of the web, up to the very moment when our current technological reality was invented. It interweaves accounts of invention and betrayal, overnight success and underground exploits, to tell Silicon Valley’s story as it has never been told before.
The venture capital deal process is a complex and competitive place, but with this book as your guide, you’ll discover what it takes to make your way through it.
Venture Deals dives deeply into how deals are constructed, why specific terms matter (and others don’t), and, more importantly, what motivates venture capitalists to propose particular outcomes. You’ll see the process of negotiating from the eyes of two seasoned venture capitalists, Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, who have over 40 years of investing experience as VCs, LPs, angels, and founders.
What If is a non-fiction book by Randall Munroe. The author answers hypothetical science questions sent to him by readers of his webcomic, XKCD. In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, studded with memorable cartoons and infographics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind or at least a really big explosion. Far more than a book for geeks, it explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel much the smarter for having read.
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker is one of the most mind-altering books that I read this year. Of course, there are lots of opinions around the research and the facts mentioned in the book. Read the book to access a broad collection of sleep research.
Zen and the Art of Happiness will teach you how to think and feel so that what you think and feel; creates happiness and vibrancy in your life rather than gloominess or depression.
Zen: The Art of Simple Living lays out clear, practical, and easy to follow lessons. Evert day for 100 days - renowned Buddhist monk Shunmyo Masuno draws on centuries of wisdom to show you how to apply Zen’s essence to modern life.
Simplify your life with the art of Zen, and learn how to feel more relaxed, fulfilled, and with a renewed sense of peace.