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My 2018

This post gives a short summary of the books I read and the podcasts I listened to in 2018. That will be followed by some thoughts about fiction vs non fiction, goal based reading and what I plan to do in 2019.

Reading

2018 is the first year I took reading and learning about the world as seriously as my other routines - i.e work, chores, family and friends. I read ~2 books a month. Here is a very short summary/description about the books I read.

** : I recommend this book.

  • ** Sapiens : Journey of humans from Hunter gatherers to the creatures that control the world
  • ** The Vegetarian : A provocative novella that stresses the importance of close ones when we face our primal self.
  • ** Circe : A retelling of Greek Mythology from the perspective of Circe, a lesser known greek Goddess. Circe’s story involves love, deceit, lust, motherhood, concern for people, lots of introspection.
  • ** The righteous mind : Morality might have genetic roots. Conservatives and Liberals have different set of morals - care vs justice.
  • ** బుడుగు : A fun Telugu novel showing the world as perceived by a 10 year old.
  • ** Coinman : This novel is about life of the ‘coinman’ who is the object of seemingly innocent office banter. This book almost killed comedy for me [comedy1].
  • God of small things : A very dark fiction novel that touches various societal aspects of India about 30-40 years ago
  • I’ve got your number : A Hilarious rom com. Very relatable characters.
  • Brand flip : A pitch for customers first approach to build brands. A brand is more than just the products/services the company offers, it tells a story, it creates a tribe!
  • Quiet : Makes an argument that being introverted is okay and how can introverts cope in a world obsessed with extroverted things
  • In the name of God : 😐
  • Dictator’s handbook : Primary goal of a politician is to stay in power. The book touches various topics about politics with this underlying assumption.
  • The punch escrow : A dystopian sci fi novel, exploring a world where teleportation is a thing. Interesting read, however the climax was sloppy
  • Thank you, Jeeves : A fiction novel with very sane humor. [comedy2]
  • Day to day economics : A great primer into economics. It briefly touches many concepts in macroeconomics. However I feel i forgot most of what I read 😐
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck[f*ck]: Summary - “Problems can be solved ‘easily’ when you are focussed. Understand your appetite and focus on the things which absolutely matter.”
  • Freakonomics : Freakonomics is a collection of miscellaneous stuff questioning conventional wisdom or stuff that we otherwise take for granted.
  • Last train to istanbul : Historical fiction set in the times of WW2. Some of the most important characters in the book are turks living in France during WW2. This book gives a good perspective of how WW2 was like for both the turks and the french.
  • Prisoners of Geography : A nice primer into geopolitics. The book explores the geography of/around major world powers and major conflict areas and explains how this shapes their foreign policies.
  • The chronicles of sapta sindhu : A reasonable effort to depict how life, politics and power struggle could have been in proto-historical India and Iran. [tcs]
  • The alchemist : The fiction novel tries to tell you that “Follow your passion, All else will follow”. I don’t completely endorse this world view. But the book was a very pleasant read.
  • Ubik : This dystopian sci fi is a real mind bender. The plot is set in a world where people can choose to live a half-life after their physical self expires.
  • The Storyteller’s secret : Jaya, an New York journalist of Indian origin, visits her ancestral home in India under some unfortunate circumstances where she learns some very fascinating things about her grandmother. [storyteller]

These are books I started and did not finish (looking forward to 2019!)

  • Bhagavad gita
  • Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
  • Capital in the Twenty-First Century
  • A River in Darkness: One Man’s escape from North korea.

Podcasts

2018 is also the year I discovered podcasts (like many other people!). I listen to these while driving. Here are my favourite ones.

  • Giants of History : Explores the life stories of history’s most fascinating figures. People featured on the podcast : Cleopatra, Napoleon, Rockefeller, Gandhi..
  • History of India Podcast : A great podcast covering the history of India, from the 6th century B.C. onwards.
  • Planet money, Seen and unseen : Both these podcasts explore a very wide range of topics as long as it has some connection with economics or policy. Seen and unseen’s episodes are focussed on India entirely.
  • Newslaundry Podcast : They do weekly episodes and do deep dive of interesting topics focussing on India.
  • Business Wars : A podcast which talks about some really fascinating business rivalries. E.g - coke vs pepsi, DC vs marvel, ebay vs Paypal

Looking back

Fiction vs nonfiction

Nonfiction tries to teach you things. While this is great, going for breadth over depth can result in uninformed opinions. If one is going for breadth while reading nonfiction, it is very important to stay grounded and not forget that there is a lot to be learnt before forming rigid opinions about things.

Fiction on the other hand tells stories and lets you put yourself in the shoes of people who you otherwise cannot relate to. Fiction almost never gives solid ideas. It does not tell you “X is right”, “Y is wrong”. I believe that fiction helps a great deal in trying to empathize with people.

X books per year

Having a goal of x books per year is a good start to getting into the habit of reading. At some point while chasing this goal we might end up reading books just for the sake of finishing the goal and not because we enjoy reading. I had a 24 book goal for 2018 and very often I had to choose between work/friends/weekend activities and reading. These decisions were not always very pleasant.

Making binary choices

One of the outcomes of reading is that I know more about what I don’t know. Now I’m more confused on my political/religious affiliations[pol_rel]; more skeptical about many journalists and news bodies; more skeptical about silicon valley[tech]. Everything is a gray area and making binary decisions[bin] is harder now.

Direction for 2019

Public policy interests me and I don’t understand macroeconomics and policy making well enough. I want the ability to objectively evaluate if a given policy is good or not; retrospective evaluation is a good start[retro_eval]. I’m hoping this will also help me take a more informed stance while picking sides during elections.

I want to go for an in-depth study about policy and macroeconomics. I plan to do this using a combination of online courses, text books, expert opinions(podcasts, oped articles). The details are TBD and I will see how it goes🤞

Footnotes

  • [comedy1] : Comedy almost always has an entity which is ridiculed. It can your self, a popular object of ridicule - e.g. justin bieber, a bad advertisement etc.
  • [comedy2] : The humor in Thank you jeeves is pleasant. Bertie’s admiration of Jeeves is very funny. Here the indirect object of ridicule is Bertie. But it comes out as a very sane form of humor, probably because it is self-deprecating.
  • [tcs] : The kindle book is badly formatted. It has typos and grammatical mistakes.
  • [storyteller] : Very predictable story for a cultural exploration of the times from modern Indian history.
  • [bin] : Who to support in 2019. INC/BJP ?
  • [pol_rel] : Politics - Anti BJP -> not sure. Religion - belief is ignorance -> not sure.
  • [tech] : Silicon valley is just a bunch of co’s making money whose incentives might not always align with what is good (side note : what is good? Who decides what is good?)
  • [retro_eval] : Why exactly is GST good? What screw ups did BJP do while implementing GST?
  • [f*ck] https://youtu.be/HYJmmFHI8mE?t=15
#non-tech