The second part of this post is here.
In mid-2018, I decided that reading online articles that got pushed to the top of my social media feeds and online media portals I frequented was not for me anymore. It was time to focus my reading on new topics with different (more robust) perspectives. I focused on reading and listening to paid contents in various formats: e-newsletters, printed newsletters, literary reviews, podcasts, opinion pieces and audiobooks.
With the help of audiobooks and a dedicated weekly time block to read, 2018 became an incredible year of book-reading and discovery for me. Listening to audiobooks is different from reading books, some people argued, but I disagree. You can read Daniel Willingham’s opinion about this issue here. It was challenging to enjoy fiction books using audiobooks though, so I got them in physical copies.
The 100 books that I ended up consuming could be categorised into a few distinct topics of personal interest for 2018. One notable thing from this experience was that I discovered a new appreciation of history books and historians. Also, I found a systematic way of discovering new books I like, and how I should budget my time and my book acquisition for the following year.
Another lesson I learned is to be sceptical about all new bestsellers and books that Bill Gates recommends :D. Bill Gates and I have a very different preference for books that are joyful to read.
Economics, Inequality, Debts and Crashes
Finishing Piketty’s book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ was really what spurred me into reading more and more books throughout 2018. From then on I kept digging into different books that could help understand the past and recent economic-related issues, especially those in the United States.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Capital in the Twenty-First Century has 17,922 ratings and 1,583 reviews. Jeremy said: Given the amount of hype and…www.goodreads.comhttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18736925-capital-in-the-twenty-first-century
Edwards’ book ‘American Default’ is an eye-opener. Before reading the book, I didn’t know that the United States technically defaulted on its debt during FDR’s administration in the 1930s. The debt default of the United States under F.D. Roosevelt was also one of the five crashes in Scott Nations’ book ‘The History of the United States in Five Crashes’.
Adam Tooze’s book provides an excellent closing to my year reading about popular topics on economics in 2018. His historian take of the recent economic crashes in the last decade produced a holistic timeline of events from all around the world that contributed to the last great crash in 2008 and what happened the subsequent years after. Yanis Varoufakis’ memoir ‘Adults in the Room’ complemented Tooze’s book by providing a deep glimpse into what happened during Varoufakis’ short stint as Greece’s finance minister during the turbulent period of Greece’s negotiation with the European troika.
Tooze also provides the readers with a reminder that not everything that was wrong which caused the big crash in the past had been fixed — many of the global systemic weaknesses are still in place until now. Perhaps the next big crash will leave an even more significant impact than the last painful one.
Political Tribalism and The Age of Trumpism
In 2018, I realised that I had missed out big time from not discovering Francis Fukuyama’s books any earlier. After enjoying Acemoglu’s book ‘Why Nations Fail’, I had to find out about Fukuyama’s books which he mentions many times as a reference. ‘The Origins of Political Order’ and ‘Political Order and Political Decay’ were incredible books. No doubt I will revisit these books many times in the future.
Francis Fukuyama also happened to release a new book in 2018, titled ‘Identity’. In the book, he described identity politics in the wake of recent events like Brexit and Trump. In his book, Fukuyama briefly touches on the historical contexts of identity politics, and why recently identity politics has become a thing again.
I read too many books about Donald Trump and his presidency. I got sick of reading about Trump at the end of the year. The notable books are ‘Identity Crisis’ and Bob Woodward’s ‘Fear’. From what I have read, the main conclusion of many people is that Donald Trump is a loss-case egomaniac with the emotional intelligence of a five-year-old. I hope his term as a president won’t go into a second term because it will be quite depressing having someone with that kind of mental capacity as the leader of the free world, whatever that means. Apart from the fact that Trump is president, the world is still one piece two years later since he became the president, so perhaps all things will turn out well shortly.
Madeleine Albright’s latest book ‘Fascism’ is an excellent primer about the topic. Using her academic knowledge as a political science professor and the former secretary of state under Clinton, Albright provides a handy framework drawn from the lessons of history to spot how a new fascist leader might rise, and why the societies should prevent any such event from happening.
Jon Meacham’s book ‘The Soul of America’ provides a soothing narrative that the United States of America had seen and survived many worst events in the past, and the country will come out bruised but probably unscathed despite what our recency bias is telling us that things are terrible in the United States.
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” — Abraham Lincoln
Tweaking The Daily Grind
My new daily habits for 2019 are inspired by these five books I read in 2018. I recommend reading them in the following orders if you are interested.
James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habit’ is practical, and the book is inspiring. My reading goal for 2018 was successful partly because of the atomic habits I had built around my reading. Clear provided with a smarter framework to improve my atomic habits. I have been using the strategy to consistently spend a few minutes learning a new foreign language every day besides reading and writing.
Cal Newport’s ‘Deep Work’ is about how to be ‘in the zone’ while doing your work or while practising your daily atomic habits. Newport’s anecdotes and his research (he is a computer science academic) into the topic of deep work are quite fascinating to read.
Angela Duckworth’s ‘Grit’ is all about the mental attitude one needs to be an accomplished learner.
To improve your ‘insanity’ (thank you Luke JD for pointing out the mistake, I am going to keep the word :D) at the workplace and to sustain a well-balanced personal and professional life, I highly recommend these two books. The first one ‘It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work’ is by James Fried and DHH, the two superhuman founders of Basecamp with a very high emotional intelligence. ‘Give and Take’ by Adam Grant is about the personal philosophy of giving more to get the most out of life.
The Leaders, The Contrarians
I also spent a great deal of 2018 reading memoirs and biographies of different notable personalities; some are still alive while other some others have passed away. I conclude that all leaders are contrarians and the effective ones have a great deal of compassion for other people. A jackass with power but no empathy will never amount to a good leader, no matter how rich or how good his oratorial rhetorics are. I think Ray Dalio is an exception, but maybe that is because his personal qualities are deliberately not captured in his bestseller book ‘Principles’.
The life story of Chip Gaines (whose memoir I discovered by chance) was one of the most exciting books I read in 2018. I have come to a new sense of admiration towards Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, John McCain, James Comey and Satya Nadella — American leaders from different generations of the past and the present. Non-American leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, Jack Ma and Muhammad Yunus have different qualities to them, but the contrarian traits are also evident.
As I am editing this post, I realise that all the books below were the stories of men. I shall make a more conscious effort to read books of this genre by female authors in 2019.
Greed and Capitalism
Two new books in 2018, ‘Bad Blood’ and ‘Billion Dollar Whale’, tell us two incredible tales of ego-driven greed, and how far some people are willing to go to for their vanity. Look forward to these two books being made into Hollywood movies in a few years.
Mariana Mazzucato suggests some remedies for the current capitalist insanity. In her book ‘The Value of Everything’, Mazzucato makes a compelling case to her readers to consider a different way of appreciating and questioning who really creates values in the economy. Is it the glorified entrepreneurs who copy their ways of doing everything from the Silicon Valley? Or is it the bright and highly influential bankers of the world? Do the big, bad and lazy governments of the world need to go away and let the market runs effectively?The Value of Everything
The Value of Everything has 166 ratings and 22 reviews. Dan said: Mazzucato’s observations and conclusions won’t…www.goodreads.com