The Best Books I Read in 2018

Back when I was in elementary school, I used to read a lot. I mostly read fiction, but nevertheless I would read often. However, with the greater penetration of technology and social media into my life, my reading hobby died down to a point where it was merely a chore I did for school. Although I wasn’t reading, I still developed my passion for science and technology and improved my knowledge in these areas through sources like YouTube videos, blog posts and articles.

But during the summer of 2018, I realized something: compared to YouTube videos, blog posts and articles, the quality and quantity of the content in books are at a different level. A YouTuber at most will spend a few days working on scripting, shooting and editing a video. Similarly a short blog post or article won’t take more than a few days of work. But a book takes years of planning, writing, and editing to get published. Also, whilst anyone with an internet connection can upload a YouTube video or write a blog post, a book goes through a huge amount of quality control before it’s published. After understanding the relative value of books as a medium to grow my knowledge and understanding of technology, I decided to start reading regularly again and set myself the goal of reading a book each week or 25 books before the end of 2018.

By today, the 1st of January 2019, I’ve read 23/25 books, which I’m pretty happy with. Over the course of these 6 months and 23 books, I learnt a huge amount and I also feel that I have grown more as a person. Of course not all 23 books taught me a lot and had a great impact on me, but the following 15 books did. I have ordered them from least to most impactful and shared a bit of information about each book and the lessons I learnt from each of them.

15. Start with Why by Simon Sinek

I picked up this book purely because I was familiar with Sinek and his idea of Starting with Why and its effect on an audience. I first watched Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, Start with Why, around the beginning of middle school, and it has shaped the structure of my writing, speaking and thinking processes. “Start with Why” builds on the idea of the golden circle that’s brought up in the Ted Talk. However, in addition to focusing on the power of “Starting with Why” as a communication tool, Sinek illustrated a variety of examples to emphasize the importance of having a why and shaping one’s day to day activities around this why. He explains that be it an organization or an individual, progress requires a clear understanding of why they get out of bed every morning.

14. Soccermatics by David Sumpter

Although I’m not a big fan of soccer, I picked up this book because I am a fan of Mathematics and Data Science. In Soccermatics, David Sumpter uses a lot of match data coupled with mathematical reasoning and analysis techniques to explore the math behind various aspects of football: from formations to bicycle kicks. He also uses match data and a bit of Machine Learning to predict future match results, which he then put to the test by betting on them. Though Sumpter’s explanations were a bit boring at times, some results were quite interesting and I found it really interesting how Math can be applied to almost anything- even football.

13. Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

My interest in the field of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence has been steadily growing in the last year or so. Life 3.0, is about our future in the age of Artificial Intelligence. Tegmark explains that life on Earth has gone through three main stages – Life 1.0 represents the simple one-celled organisms like bacteria that can only survive and replicate itself, but cannot redesign its software (skills and knowledge) or hardware (physical composition); Life 2.0 represents animals like humans who can survive and replicate and also redesign and update its software (skills and knowledge) through practice and data analysis, but cannot update its hardware (physical composition); finally Life 3.0 represents the future of life, sentient computer systems or robots, that can replicate itself, redesign its software (skills and knowledge) and redesign its hardware (physical composition.) I think this a very novel way of looking at the idea of AI and it hit me quite hard. Throughout the book, Tegmark explores both the potential social, economic and political challenges and opportunities when life reaches its 3rd stage of Life 3.0. This is a great read if you’re at all interested in AI.

12. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs, Co-Founder and Former CEO of Apple Inc, has been one of the most influential personalities in the modern world. Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, tells the whole story of the mega icon including his ups, downs and quirks. Reading this book, gave me a better understanding of the history of the world’s first trillion dollar organization and its successes. The book also taught me a lot about leadership through the recounts of Jobs’ unconventional leadership and management strategies. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in technology, leadership or business.

11. Outnumbered by David Sumpter

Outnumbered is another book by David Sumpter that revolves around the subject of Mathematics. But this time, Sumpter focuses on more of the controversial applications of Mathematics including the algorithms that feed us information on a day to day basis. Sumpter uses data coupled with his knowledge of data science to explain and evaluate the effects of various algorithms on recent political events. He explores some of the issues we’ve seen as controversial in the last few years including fake news, and Cambridge Analytica’s impact on democratic processes. I found outnumbered much more interesting than Soccermatics, perhaps because the context was more interesting to me. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in politics, technology, data science or math.

10. The Everything Store by Brad Stone

At the time of writing, Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man with a net worth of over $150 Billion. The Everything Store tells the story of the Princeton Graduate who saw the potential of the internet in the 1990’s and leveraged it to become the richest man in the world. Today, amazon has literally become “The Everything Store” and is a common household name. Stone recounts how Amazon started off as an online bookstore rather than the everything store it is today. Some of the most interesting and surprising aspects of the Amazon story to me, was the shear force that Amazon operates with in the market to get its way and come out on top. This is a great book for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone interested in technology or business.

9. The Four by Scott Galloway

There are four organizations that play a major role in our lives : Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. These are the four most influential companies on the planet, and Scott Galloway explores the hidden DNA of these companies in this book. He explores the rise of the four and also the key characteristics that make these organizations so powerful and successful. In addition to the exploration of the four’s technology, Galloway also highlights the key operation/management techniques and HR practices exercised by the four. I’ve been following and studying these companies for quite a bit, but this book took my understanding of these organizations to a greater depth.

8. The Google Story by David A. Vise, and Mark Malseed

Google is a company that greatly inspired my journey as a technology enthusiast and programmer. In this book Vise and Malseed, recount the story of how two nerdy Stanford Grad students changed the way we organize the world’s information. The book explains what makes Google such a unique organization including the culture and management strategies employed at Google. Reading this book, further inspired my entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in technology or business.

7. Now I’m Talking by Vijendran Watson

Mobile Telecommunications and the power that connectivity brings to users has probably been one of the most important developments in the last few decades. Especially in the developing regions of South Asia, the mobile telecommunications industry has had a massive impact on every single individual. In his book Now I’m Talking, Vijendran Watson tells his story as a pioneer in the mobile telecommunications industry. His well composed story from a young boy to a network engineer to finally the leader of many leading telecom operators has numerous lessons for everyone.

6. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Despite his eccentricities, Elon Musk is one of the most successful and important entrepreneurs and technologists in the world. Like Google, Musk’s work, from Tesla, to the Boring Company, has intrigued me for quite a while. I’ve watched multiple interviews and speeches by Musk, to get a better understanding of his thinking processes and management style, but no interview went to as much depth as this book by Ashlee Vance. The book tells the story of a young boy, who transforms from a victim of bullying in South Africa to one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world. Vance highlights the challenges that Musk faced throughout his entrepreneurial journey from PayPal to Tesla to SpaceX, as well as the management strategies and work ethic that Musk demonstrates on a daily basis. This book gave me a new found respect for Elon Musk and also made me rethink my own work, people and time management skills.

5. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

In his book Rich Dad Poor Dad, Kiyosaki highlights the difference between his two dads: his poor yet educated actual dad, and his rich investor/mentor dad. I didn’t know much about personal financial planning before I read this book, yet Robert Kiyosaki does an excellent job at simplifying the daunting task of financial planning into a few key guidelines. These guidelines are presented clearly and concisely making it easy to understand. I will probably reread this book in a few years, when I begin making my own financial decisions. Meanwhile, I think everyone should read this because the lessons are valuable to everyone.

4. Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner, and Steven Levitt

Freakonomics is a book that investigates some novel ideas by looking through data through concepts studied in Economics. As an economics student, I found this book really interesting especially because Dubner and Levitt do a great job in their explanations and analyses. The questions that were explored in the book include, Why do Drug Dealers Live with their Moms? and What do School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common? Although I found the conclusions and answers to these questions enjoyable and interesting, the book made the biggest impact on my critical thinking processes. Using economics concepts to analyze unconventional situations, Freakonomics demonstrated and introduced me to an entirely new way of thinking and solving problems.

3. Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Do you think the world is getting worse? Most people seem to think that the world is getting worse in terms of economic, and social development. Often, we categorize the world into the “developed world” and the “developing world” and assume that things are naturally worse in the developing world and alright in the developed world. I was one of these people too until I read Hans Rosling. Rosline uses data to disprove the conventional wisdom and show that the world is improving in almost every measurable way. He then provides a variety of tools that will help you look at the world in a more insightful and progressive way rather than the “rich world” and the “poor world.” I think everyone should read this book because it’s important to accurately understand the status quo before we can make a change and move forward.

2. American Kingpin by Nick Bilton

American Kingpin was easily one of the most enjoyable books I read in 2018. The book outlines the story of the rise and fall of Ross Ulbtricht, the twenty-six year old programmer who built a billion-dollar online drug empire called the Silk Road from his bedroom. Bilton recounts the story excellently and captures the emotions of each and every moment of Ulbtricht’s life. Many of the books I read this year told the story of successful people and organizations. American Kingpin on the other hand is the story of a very talented person who went down the wrong path in his lifetime. Although reading about successes taught me a lot about how to be successful, I think reading about Ulbtricht had a greater impact on me because it highlighted the mistakes to avoid.

1. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Nike is such a big company that everyone all over the world knows the company and its products very well. However, few people know about the origins and growth of Nike as a business. I didn’t know much about Nike or even admired the company until I read Shoe Dog. Phil Knight is the founder and current chairman of Nike, and Shoe Dog is the retelling of the riveting story behind Nike from a reseller of imported Japanese shoes to a global mega icon. The book is excellently written and includes so many lessons about being an entrepreneur and the challenges and hardships that come with it. I read this book twice in a few days and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Reading a book each week has been a great learning experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. It is definitely not impossible, but if you’re struggling to find the time to keep up try starting slow by reading a book every two weeks or every month – you will still read more than you would have otherwise. I am going to keep reading and my goal for 2019 is to read 50 great books, so look forward to more posts like this.

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