My Reading List

Late in 2016, I realized I wasn’t reading enough books, despite being well aware of the benefits the habit carries. I started making a conscious effort starting then and there, and I’ve been holding onto the habit despite lapses during crunch months.

Let’s be honest, even though most of us know that we should read more, we don’t always have the luxury of spare time and energy in our hectic lives. Thus, it becomes important that we pick up the right books or consume the actionable gist from the Internet. Otherwise, we might end up buying books we have to abandon midway because we’ve read the same things so many times (looking at you, self-help world), or the style of writing is just not for us.

This reading list is my attempt at adding some value to the Internet, as well as a public commitment to keep reading. This article will ideally be updated every time I read a book, and you can check back regularly for notes, summaries, and a short (subjective) review.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! — by Richard Feynman

Must Read | Autobiography

Richard Feynman’s autobiography was a pure joy to read. It was perhaps the most light-hearted book I’ve ever read that packed so much wisdom. It includes short-stories from different stages of Feynman’s life.

From Wikipedia:

Regardless of whether you’re a man of science, I think everyone has something to learn about life from this Noble Laureate’s interesting take.

What Do You Care What Other People Think? — by Richard Feynman

Good Read | Autobiography | Sequel

This book was the sequel to The first half of the book contains a few hilarious encounters from various stages of his life, while the second part tells us about his experience being on the investigating committee of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. If you enjoyed the first book, I won’t have to ask you to pick up this one!

A Mind for Numbers — by Barbara Oakley

Must Read | Self-Help

A masterpiece by Dr. Barbara Oakley, a professor who flunked her way through school maths and science, shares findings from her research about learning how to learn. This book is a perfect companion of the widely acclaimed MOOC, Learning How to Learn on Coursera.

This book had the most profound effect on my day-to-day life as a student and made me a far more efficient student than I ever was. Highly recommend you pick this up.

59 Seconds — by Richard Wiseman

Good Read | Self-Help

Frustrated with the ineffectiveness of the self-help movement, psychologist Richard Wiseman writes a book packed to the brim by tips and tricks backed by the scientific community. This spans a wide range of aspects of your life: Happiness, Persuasion, Motivation, Creativity, Attraction, Stress, Relationships, Decision Making, Parenting, Personality.

The best thing about the book, each of the 10 chapters have all the actionable tips summarized in a page or two. If you want to dive deeper and see the scientific reasoning behind them, you’d have to read the chapters.
If you want a preview of what’s in the book, you can look at my notes here.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck — by Mark Manson

Good Read | Self-Help

Manson is straightforward about what he says, as you might have guessed from the title, and he is not afraid to make you feel uncomfortable while you read it. The central theme of the book is finding your values to know what you care about. To that end, Manson has a string of captivating and sometimes-unsettling chapters that aim to redefine the way you think about life itself. A big ask, but Manson does well. You can read my notes here. ( Warning: Contains The F-Word 😮 )

7 Habits of Highly Effective People — by Stephen Covey

Okay Read | Self-Help and Business | a bit Dry

This book is renowned and considered a classic, especially in the world of business. It’s full of insights of a respected, experienced business consultant and provides a rather systematic approach to anyone wanting an overhaul in life. I believe you can get a lot of this book by reading the Wiki and/or my notes.

Born a Crime — by Trevor Noah

Must Read | Autobiography | Comedy

Subtitled “Stories from a South African Childhood”, the book describes the struggles of growing up colored in South Africa during and after the apartheid.

I was hooked from page 1, and Trevor’s straightforward writing had me on a rollercoaster ranging from laughter to sadness, a surprise to horror. The renowned South African comedian brings his perspective and unique experiences into heavy topics such as police states, poverty, crime, racism and domestic abuse — emphasizing that it’s not as straightforward as history may make it out to be. The book had me thinking and smiling at the same time, and Trevor found himself a huge fan. What a comic genius!

How to Win at College — by Cal Newport

Must Read | College Advice

One of Cal Newport’s less recent work has been one of my most powerful assets in university. You absolutely should pick this up if you’re a student.

You can read the book review and summary in another Medium post I wrote here.

The Last Lecture — by Randy Pausch

Good Read | Autobiography

This book was written to flesh out the details of a 2007 talk titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” given by Randy Pausch, the late Computer Science Professor from Carnegie Mellon University, for an aptly named series “The Last Lecture”. According to Wikipedia: As fate would have it, Randy Pausch had received the prognosis of his terminal pancreatic cancer a few days before the lecture itself.

The surprisingly upbeat, humorous lecture comprised stories from his childhood and lessons derived from them throughout his life. I highly recommend watching the lecture to anyone and everyone, as the touching lecture imparts a lot of wisdom. I’m sure I won’t have to convince you to pick up the book afterward. Watch it here:

The Total Money Makeover — by Dave Ramsey

Read The Summary Instead| Personal Finance

If you know something about personal finance, skip it. The book is for complete novices. If you take the advice at face value, you can read the book review and summary in just 5 minutes here.

Factfulness — by Hans Rosling

Must Read | Non-Fiction

The book is subtitled “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think”, and that is exactly what’s delivered. The late Hans Rosling was a Swedish academic, a statistician and an excellent public speaker, as anyone who watched his captivating TED talks would attest.

The book opens with a short quiz you can take to test yourself about how much you know about the rest of the world today, and boy is it eye-opening. The book later goes onto explain 10 biases that we humans have when assessing the state of the world and they explain why declinism (thinking things are getting worse despite living in the most peaceful time in recorded history) is on the rise. The book also tells us how to avoid those biases, so we can make sure we’re working towards truly what matters, driven by numbers and not by emotions.

1984 — by George Orwell

Very Good Read | Political/Dystopian Science Fiction

Whether or not you’ve read this, I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about the “Orwellian” vision of the future whenever we discuss modern-era privacy/freedom of thought issues. Orwell was a fantastic visionary, writing about problems he foresaw around 60 years ago (written in 1949), that have slowly crept into the society we live today. The novel talks about an imagined future

Pick up this classic piece if you haven’t yet!

From College To Career — by Lindsey Pollak

Good Read | Self-Help

The audience for the book is written in the title, but I don’t see why you can’t pick up the book is you want to give your career a makeover. Pollak gives a list of 90 things you have to do before you can become ready for the professional world. The actionable tips in the book make it a gem for soon-to-be graduates, and even though you’ve heard/read about most of them on the internet if you’re anyone like me, it’s nice to have them all arranged together in a series. You can read my fairly comprehensive personal notes here to assess whether you want to pick this book up.

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different — by Karen Blumenthal

Good Read | Biography

I can’t say if this is Steve Jobs biography to read, but it’s a good one. The biography runs like any other biography you could imagine, somewhat chronologically, but it is closely tied to the 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech by the man himself. I enjoyed reading about the life of a visionary, who has shifted the trajectory of the tech industry and by extension the story of society itself twice Yet, his tumultuous personal life, which is far from exemplary, is proof that he is human much like the rest of us too.

What Every Body is Saying — by Joe Navarro

Good Read | Body Language | Non-Fiction

This rundown of the robust body-language reading tricks ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro refined throughout his career is highly applicable for day to day use. Even though I wasn’t consciously putting in the time to observe people and read their body language over a set amount of time, as was advised by the author, I found myself easily noticing the little cues described and reading the moods of those around me better. You can read a summary of the book by Nate Liason here.

Life is What You Make It — by Peter Buffet

Good Read | Philosophical

Musician and Philanthropist Peter Buffet grapples with the philosophical question that faces most self-aware adults born with rich/successful parents: Am I self-made, or did I achieve all these because of the leg-up I had from my parents?

Not that the book isn’t “warm, wise and inspirational” (Google Books). Son of illustrious investor Warren Buffet talks you through his view of how to “find your own path to fulfillment” no matter who you are. The most surprising part of the book is where Peter reveals that even though he grew up privileged, the only thing he inherited from his billionaire parents is the philosophy: Forge your own path in life — and it has enabled him to explore passions and become successful in his own way.

Shoe Dog

Must Read | Memoir

“Buck” is a storyteller. This is one of the most fascinating reads I’ve ever had. Period. Gates and Buffet aren’t lying on the newer covers.

The book follows the thrilling, unpredictable early life of one of the most successful startups ever — Blue Ribbon (later renamed NIKE) — from 1962 to their 1980 IPO.

This book will either scare you away from the startup life, or draw you in with inspiration. If nothing else, it’ll give you a profound respect for the innovation and work that went into the making of the early NIKE shoes.

How Machines Think — by Toby Walsh

Good Read | Non-Fiction | Predictions| Non-Technical

A man who’s spent his life researching Artificial Intelligence gives us an insight into what he thinks will be the state of AI by 2050, and how it will change the society we live in today.

Only time will tell whether he is right, but it surely seems to be heading in that direction. If you’re someone fascinated by the advent of AI/DL/ML in today’s world, you’ll surely enjoy the musings of the scientist.

Algorithms to Live By — by Tom Griffiths and Brian Christian

Very Good Read | Self-Help

This fascinating book takes well-known algorithms in the domain of Computer Science and tries to employ them to very human questions. The results may surprise you. Subtitled “The Computer Science of Human Decisions”, the book tackles the dating problem, explore/exploit dilemma; it also uses sorting, caching, scheduling, randomness, Bayes’ rule among other theories to solve some seemingly tough problems we face over our lives.

You do not need a technical background to understand the book, though having one will make you appreciate it all the more. You can scope out the book with my notes here.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future — by Ashlee Vance

Very Good Read | Biography

Ashlee Vance provides an amazing look into the life of one of the most important entrepreneurs of our day, Elon Musk. He somehow managed regular interviews with Elon, and those around him, to catalog his journey from the early Zip2 and Paypal days to the more recent Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity era. For journalistic integrity, Ashlee somehow managed to stop Elon from interfering with the contents of the biography. Though it was published way back in 2015, and a lot has happened with Elon and his companies in the 4 years in between, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit — by Seth Godin

Okay Read | Short Read

This 76-page work by Seth Godin illustrates the concept of a “dip” — a temporary setback that you can work your way through with grit. The book aims to answer one question: Which dips are worth pushing through?
You can read my notes here.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World — by Adam Grant

Good Read | Non-Fiction

Interesting, very readable, and full of anecdotes. These try to give you a sense of how non-conformists operate, and he tries to convince you that anyone can be an “Original”. It has fairly intuitive findings such as “Originals always question the default”, but shocking ones as well such as “Originals like to play it safe” and “Originals are procrastinators”. You can either check out his TED talk or you can check out a video summary of the content here.

Deep Work — by Cal Newport

Must Read | Productivity

A must-read for any Knowledge-Worker, author and professor Cal Newport coins the term “Deep Work” to describe focusing on a cognitively demanding task without distractions.

I’ve implemented (or at least tried to implement) most of the tips written in the book, but do note that some of the tips may be on the extreme end if you’re someone starting your professional career. For example, Newport advocates being difficult to reach. As someone working on my personal branding and being easily accessible during a job search, I don’t think I can comply. You can read this excellent Medium article summarizing the content before you pick up the book.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X — as told to Alex Haley

Must Read |Biography

The book opened my eyes to America’s deep-rooted race problem. Malcolm X, still a controversial figure in the States after his assassination 65 years ago, was a wonderful orator and fearless leader of the radical civil rights movement in mid-twentieth-century America. His life is one of constant change — from a black orphan, to the top of his class when in a shelter home, to drop-out shoe shiner in Boston, to a popular dancer in the suburbs, to a drug-dealing-pimp-and-burglar in New York’s notorious Harlem, to being nicknamed Satan in prison, to being very well-read, to single-handedly making the Nation of Islam big, to being the guest of Kings and Presidents during his Hajj and transformation to El-Hajj El Malik El-Shabazz, to being brutally murdered in public in front of his wife and little daughters — his story is as crazy as it sounds. It has everything — the FBI, NYPD, crooks, so-called-Muslims of the Nation of Islam, actual Muslims, terrorists, and the KKK.

Since a lot of the book was written before he had his “transformation” in Mecca, it was sometimes tough to read his hateful and racially charged rhetoric. Yet, by the time you end the book — by the time you truly understand the weight of the 100-page preface written by Alex Haley — you will find it hard to not find admiration for this popular international figure. It leaves you wondering what could have been had he not been assassinated. I, ill-informed as I am, think he could solve the race problem.

The book is great for readers who want to know Malcolm’s side of the story after they’ve watched the recently released Netflix original, “Who Killed Malcolm X?”

Barking Up The Wrong Tree — by Eric Barker

Good Read | Psychology | Behavioural Economics

Barker’s piece explores “The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong”. He busts long-held myths like “nice guys finish last” and “winners never quit” and replaces them with easy-to-follow advice backed by scientific findings. It’s not that the book has lots of new, novel approaches not found elsewhere. But Barker uses memorable stories to get his points across, making the book very readable and fun. Read my notes here.

Everything is F*cked: A book about Hope — by Mark Manson

Don’t Read | Philosophy

Manson comes off stronger in this book than his first (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck), trying to analyze why there is such a lack of hope (prevalence of depression) in today’s world even though things have never been this good. He makes some good observations, but his strong language sometimes goes too far to oversimplify some phenomena by dismissing the nuances completely. I understand that the book is going to inevitably rub some people the wrong way, but at times it was very difficult to keep reading.

Interesting? Slightly. Did I get much out of the book? No.

The Power of Habit — by Charles Duhigg

Must Read | Productivity

does exactly what it’s supposed to: Analyze why and how we form habits. We, humans, are creatures of habit; Habits take us into autopilot mode and helps us reach our goals without thinking too much using our conscious brains. That’s good from an evolutionary perspective, but creates a real barrier for getting rid of/changing habits.

Duhigg, through explaining the inner workings of habit, hopes to give pointers that exploit certain choke points within the process. This article gives you the barebones of the book, but I suggest you take the longer read (~400 pages).

Long Walk To Freedom — by Nelson Mandela

Good Read | Autobiography

I can’t, like most of you, say that I’m terribly fond of politicians. But the life of this globally beloved man is a page-turner. Madiba details his growing up apartheid-era South Africa. He gives us an insight into his rural childhood, his fleeing to the big city, his rise in the ranks of the ANC as he tried to run the first black law firm in Johannesburg simultaneously, persecution of his allies and his family, his armed revolution by establishing Umkhonto we Sizwe, his 27 years in prison, and finally his freedom and presidency.

A powerful orator, and a frank persona, it’s tough not to find this charming Noble Peace Prize winner’s story inspiring. I’ve invested so many hours in documentaries and articles about his life and South Africa, especially about the events since his 1994 inauguration. It’s sad to see South Africa going through a tough time now, but I really hope the country that struggled so hard to come out of rampant racism finds its way once more.

Smarter, Faster, Better — by Charles Duhigg

Okay Read | Productivity | Business

The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” is about a lot of concepts: Motivation, Teams, Goals, Focus, Management, Innovation. As most books covering a wide range of topics, it’s a bit all over the place. Duhigg’s excellent storytelling abilities make this very readable, but the key takeaways are not as profound as the Power of Habit. If I had to choose one theme for the book, I’d have to say it was a book about being a productive leader. You’re better off reading a summary/my notes here before you commit to picking this book up.

Lucky or Smart — by Bo Peabody

Okay Read | Entrepreneurship | Short Read

This 58-page quick read from successful, serial entrepreneur Bo Peabody tells us how to smartly place ourselves into a position where you increase your chances of luck. The book is perfect for a short plane ride, and you’d very much like it if you’ve ever had entrepreneurial aspirations. The book is full of ideas, and you can read them here.

How to Not Be Wrong — by Jordan Ellenberg

Nice Read | Human Biases

The book is subtitled “The Power of Mathematical Thinking”, and the book got me interested in Behavioral Psychology. I was reading this book while I was taking the edX course titled “The Science of Everyday Thinking”. Ellenberg “connects various economic and societal philosophies with basic mathematics and statistical principles.” (Wikipedia). The book exposes a lot of biases we have and replaces them with (simple) mathematical models we can use instead. You can read my notes here, but I implore you to pick the book up for the fascinating read.

How to Win Friends and Influence People — by Dale Carnegie

Interesting Read | Self-Help

This popular piece from 1936 is still popular today and is considered one of the most influential books (Time Magazine, 2011). I won’t lie to you, the book made me feel sleazy and consciously following the “tricks” seem too fake for my comfort. Good thing is, I am a lot more aware of why people (especially in business) act the way they do. If you’re so inclined, Wikipedia has a nice rundown of the contents of the book here.

How to Read a Book — by Mortimer and Doren

Don’t Read | Non-Fiction

Being the super logical person I was, this is the first book I picked up when I vowed to start reading. And it almost made me stop halfway through my first book. The book was so dry, and so long, that I have no idea how I managed to sludge through it. Remember people, if you don’t enjoy a book, it is okay to stop reading it halfway.

I don’t know if Mortimer and Doren managed to change my reading habits fundamentally (not that I know of, comparing my school readings and recent readings), but I surely do not read a book 3 times and make notes while I read, etc. If anything, I am aware of the fact of how a book is structured from the viewpoint of an author, and make sure I mark something I find interesting in the moment.

Blink — by Malcolm Gladwell

Okay Read | Psychology

Subtitled “The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, the book is advocating for unleashing the power of the “subconscious mind” instead of always relying on the logical thinking of the neocortex. The book seems to be based on the research behind Dan Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” (I haven’t read it yet) and is very interesting for anyone who thinks being super-logical like Sherlock Holmes is the only way to success (guilty as charged).

So Good They Can’t Ignore You — by Cal Newport

Must Read | Career Development

Cal Newport is slowly becoming my favorite author. He’s managed to once again provide deep insights and cause a fundamental shift in how I see my professional life lying ahead. In this book, he talks about how following your passion is a horrible idea, why and how to build career capital (rare and valuable skills), what to look for (and common pitfalls) in work moving ahead, and the importance of a mission.

Newport walks us through his thinking process, and as such, the book consists of wonderful anecdotes he uses to prove a point sandwiched between reiteration of the ideas covered thus far. Very easy to follow, and a must-read for anyone trying to get serious in work. You can read the notes from this Medium post.

The Innovators — by Walter Isaacson

Good Read | History of Tech

If you’re a tech-head like me, you’ll really enjoy this book. It covers the development of computers from the early days of Vacuum Tubes to the modern days of the iPhone. It shows us “How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution”.

The key takeaway from me is how history repeats itself. Isaacson’s piece had the recurring theme where the technologies of the day were ripe for a breakthrough, there was wide-spread cross-pollination of ideas across academia, industry, and military thanks to circumstances favorable to serendipitous meetups. In all cases, some people worked independently along roughly the same lines while having slightly different visions of the future. In the end, one of them prevailed, even if they had lost momentarily, and it always ends in long-drawn court cases regarding Intellectual Property rights.

Becoming—by Michelle Obama

Good Read | Autobiography

Michelle Obama, easily one of the most popular global figures during my formative years, offers us a nice window into leading up to and through the years of the Obama Presidency. It’s a refreshing read. It talks about US politics, race issues, campaign trails, the wows and woes of life inside the White House, raising a family under arguably the biggest spotlight in the world, and the shenanigans of the Secret Service.

Leave your thoughts about my short take on the books, and feel free to leave book recommendations down below!



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