Raghu Srinivasan


The Best 10 Books I read in 2018

Happy New Year!

One of my 2018 resolutions was that perennial favorite: 'Read More'. This time around though, I actually managed to keep it by getting in a lot of good reading and audiobook listening and wanted to share my Top 10 Recommendations. Some of these books have been popular before but I just got around to reading them in 2018.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Isaacson is a gifted biographer and he does a wonderful job here of making Leonardo real, human and vulnerable. I learnt that Da Vinci and Michelangelo were not only contemporaries but that they were bitter rivals in the Florence of their day. And that Machiavelli and Da Vinci were partners! It's a long book but definitely worth your time.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

This one is much shorter but it starts with a bang - Noah is thrown out of a speeding car by his own mother! And it does not let up from there on. It's quite thought provoking and I realized Noah is much more than just a funny guy with a late night talk show. The book is quite funny too!

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Dr. Walker is a PhD who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. He somehow managed to take a topic that could well be very boring and make it extremely interesting and teaches us a lot along the way. Lack of sleep could cause cancer, diabetes, and even Alzheimer's? It has convinced me to take my sleep more seriously than I have ever done!

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Dr. Gawande is a great writer. I enjoyed his The Checklist Manifesto earlier. This book takes on the difficult topic about the end of life decisions we all have to make - both for our loved ones and, eventually, for ourselves. Gawande weaves in his professional expertise as well as his personal story to help us all think about a sensitive topic that most of us would rather put off.

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

How could you go wrong? A book by Michael Lewis about the amazing Nobel prize-winning Daniel Kahneman (who wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow) and his partnership with Amos Tversky. It covers the back story of how the two met and collaborated over the years to pioneer the field of behavioral economics. It's very educational but also a poignant read.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Speaking of poignant reads, this one is simultaneously heart-breaking and uplifting. Kalanithi is young neurosurgeon at the beginning of a spectacularly successful career when he is diagnosed with lung cancer. He then sets out to write this autobiography. It's a short read but an incredibly moving memoir.

Hillbilly Elegy by J D Vance

Like Born a Crime, this is also another autobiography but this one deals with growing up white and dirt poor in the Appalachian mountains. This is an especially good read if you, like me, live in the SF Bay Area bubble and opens up a whole new world of what it is like to simultaneously live in the world's richest country with many apparent privileges but simultaneously no easy prospects for upward mobility. At least on the surface. Vance tells his story with a wonderful cast of characters - esp Mamaw and Papaw. I wonder if Vance will one day be a candidate for POTUS. Interestingly, I can't guess from which party!
May 2022 edit: J D Vance surprised me by running not just as a Republican but as a committed Trump supporter. With Trump's endorsement, he has just won the Republican primary for the US Senate seat from Ohio.
Nov 2022 edit: J D Vance is now the junior United States senator from Ohio.

Einstein by Walter Isaacson

After reading his biographies of Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci, I picked this one up both because I knew little about Einstein the man and also because Isaacson is so good at biographies. This book is over 10 years old but did not disappoint. It's not heavily into relativity and physics and more about his personal story - his love affairs, his insecurities, his stupendous genius and his time in Germany before emigrating to the US, much of it new to me.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

I felt like I was the last person to actually get down to reading this best seller. And boy - Harari can write! This books breezes through the evolution of our species - from the time we became bipeds all the way to modern day times. There's a lot he packs in here and this reads like a well-written autobiography of the entire Homo Sapiens species. Read it!

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

I admit I picked this one up this entirely because of the author. It was not, as I thought it might be, a full-throated critique of the Trump administration. Rather, Lewis takes us behind the scenes to the bureaucracies of the various departments of the federal government. He surprises with details on what exactly all these departments actually do and through several anecdotes and interviews with people who occupy/occupied key bureaucratic spots, tells us about all the good that the federal departments do everyday and how a lot of this is being completely lost on us in these days of hating everything government-related. It is inspiring to see just how many wonderfully smart people populate the federal government and how they, with no expectation or hope of fame, do the right thing every day to help the country. I did feel like this book was rushed a bit and felt a bit disjointed overall. Perhaps Lewis should have waited to complete it? Still it's worth a read.

I would love to hear any book recommendations you may have. Thanks in advance!

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