Books I read in the last 3 months
Here is a list of books that I read over the last 3 months with my brief thoughts on them
The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow
Most of the history that you read states that we went from hunter-gatherers to small tribes to cities. As cities grew the need for organisation created polity and therefore inequality. David Graeber argues that this is nothing but trying to science the bible with a man falling from the innocence of the garden of Eden.
This book essentially asks where did inequity arise. David takes us through many of the American tribes and their customs and shows that organising around a king was always a choice. Many cultures actively shunned the choice because they knew its downsides.
An incredible book that questions everything that we know about history as written by the Europeans.
Outbreak!: 50 Tales of Epidemics that Terrorized the World by Beth Skwarecki
What were the top 50 pandemics that the world has seen? The author starts with Malaria in Egypt in 10000 B.C. and charts the path to Ebola in 2014. The book is written much before the COVID pandemic unleashed itself.
It is fascinating to see how the same diseases have been ravaging the human population across the planet over and over. There is much to learn from this book which is written like an encyclopaedia rather than a narrative.
Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber
David Graeber’s books are more questions than answers. Bullshit jobs asks us the question why do private organisations that are apparently pinnacles of efficiency create so many jobs that serve no purpose? Why do we live in a society where people whose jobs matter to us and whose absence would hurt us; such as nurses - blue-collar workers, end up being paid the worst. While people whose absence would make absolutely no material difference to mankind such as wall street traders - white-collar workers - end up getting paid so much more? He takes aim at the capitalistic system and the need to offer either purpose or money. If you are too lazy to read, read this article.
Always a 5-star for David. So sad that he died so early.
The order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
What is Time? The book delved into the question from the Newtonian description of time as a finite entity to that of Einstein where it is a dimension that is intertwined with space, to the quantum interpretation of time. Is time in the past, the present or the future the same, if not what is the difference? Is that difference all in our minds? This book is a discourse that is part science and part philosophy.
Opium Inc by Thomas Manuel
The East India company was under tremendous pressure because they needed to import huge amounts of Tea from China. The trouble was that they did not have much to offer. Thus began the world’s first Narco enterprise which turned India into a narco-state. Opium produced in India was sold in China and all of this was framed as free trade.
Opium is the story of how criminal the British have been over the years. I loved how well researched the book was and coming from an Indian author possessed a lot of connection with the India of today. I would beseech every Indian to read it.
How life imitates Chess by Gary Kasparov
There are many aspects of chess that can be brought to bear on life and the decisions that we make in life. He talks about MQT - Material, Quality and Time and their role in Chess and how the same factors affect decisions we make in life.
The material is the chess pieces themselves; quality is the quality of their position on the board and time is the amount the time that you have to think through moves.
Worth a read.
Whole Numbers and Half-Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India by Rukmini S
How Indians are wrong and how we hide that fact in numbers is what this book is about.
Indians are ultra-conservative, even those who hide under the garb of liberalism, poll data and marriage data show.
A lot of rural rape cases are a result of parents being unhappy with the man their daughters have chosen to marry. They file a rape case against the man their daughters chose to marry. Court verdicts show.
A super interesting book, every Indian should read and then question their own choices.
Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town by Barbara Demick
When the Chinese soldiers first arrived in Tibet to occupy the land in 1936, they did not realise how poor the place was. They also had not anticipated how underprepared they would be. Hunger and starvation set in soon. In desperation one of the soldiers licked the Buddha statue and found it to be sweet. It was made of dough. The soldiers proceeded to eat all of the Buddha statues. That inspires the title of the book.
Much like the article described in the book Fallout. The book is a journey through the eyes of a handful of people who lived in Tibet from 1930 to 2020. It is a painful tale of the appropriation of a country.
Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention--and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari
There are books that you start reading and think I should have read this book earlier. This is one of those books. Johann Hari does an incredible job of telling his story while he weaves all of the various factors that are contributing to our inability to pay attention and how it is robbing our lives of so much value.
I truly enjoyed reading this book and would highly recommend it.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
Starting in the early 20th century with Ernest Rutherford, a series of noble prize-winning discoveries and mind-blowing achievements in experimental physics led to the creation of the atomic bomb. This book is where history meets science.
The book takes us through the journey of a group of scientists from across the world whose lives were disrupted by war and their own personal failings added bricks to the wall of the Atomic Bomb. An incredibly fascinating book that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Fair warning - it is a thousand one hundred pages long.
The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip by Keith Devlin
This is a brilliant book by a mathematician that delves into the psychology of performing mathematics. He clearly differentiates arithmetic from mathematics and then goes on to offer an explanation of what makes mathematical though difficult and how it evolved in humans. His underlying message is that language is the pre-cursor to mathematics. Mathematics is also a language but deals with a higher level of abstraction.
A superb book which I highly recommend. Though it is a tedious read.
Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World by Jason Hickel
Capitalism is a system that more than anything else demands growth. At a 3% compounded growth rate, we get a world that is doubling its output every 23 years. How long should we continue to grow? The naked pursuit of growth at all costs is creating an ecological catastrophe that is likely to kill those who are living in the poorest nations in the world. Therefore, the countries that are responsible for the catastrophe - the G7 nations - are least interested in solving the problem.
Genome by Matt Ridley
The genome has 23 chromosomes. This brilliant brilliant book takes us on a journey through those 23 chromosomes exploring the role of each and the nature of controls that the DNA within exacts on our body. A story that is so lucidly put forward as to be easy to understand for anyone. Although the book is a little dated, everything in it is very much true despite all the developments that have taken place over the years.
Totally enjoyed the book.
Innovation in Real Places by Dan Breznitz
Innovation is really not what we think it is and the beneficiaries of innovation are rarely those closest to it.
Research in Motion (RIM) was a Canadian company that grew with government money and debt. Shopify was another Canadian company that took the VC route. When RIM was listed on wall street, the Wall Street money went to Canada. When Shopify listed, since all their VC investors were from America, all the Wall Street money went to California.
If facts like these interest you, read the book.
Lords of the Deccan: Southern India from Chalukyas to Cholas: Southern India from the Chalukyas to the Cholas by Anirudh Kanisetti
India before the Mughals was a very different place. It was a land dominated by the kings of the south. This book chronicles the rise and fall of the Chalukyas, Cholas and the Rashtrakutas under whom at some point or the other almost the entire peninsular India was held. The region and people do not get the same treatment that some of the other empires have received and it was refreshing to read it.
The Next Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy by Tim Harford
Some non-fiction writers should realise that if you wrote a book on a theme, you cannot keep on doing more of the same. It is not Harry Potter. I read Fifty things that shaped the modern economy earlier this year. This seems like a tortured attempt at finding 50 more things to complete the book. Thoroughly disappointed.
1491: The Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann
The story of the Americas is often told from the time that Columbus set on their soil. The narrative of poor and underdeveloped natives being shown the way to civilisation is the oft-told story. The truth is far more complex and made even more difficult to piece together because of the lack of written text. 1491 is about the Americas before the Europeans. A land that had a population greater than that of the fertile crescent.
Another fascinating book by Charles Mann.
A History of the United States in Five Crashes: Stock Market Meltdowns That Defined a Nation by Scott Nations
While the book does not cover all of the crashes in the United States, it does a pretty good job of giving the reader an under-the-hood look at how the five crashes changed the law and how market participants had to change their engagement with the market.
This is a great book to read in concert with Trillions by Robbin Wigglesworth
Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Definitive History of Secret CIA Assassins, Armies and Operators by Annie Jacobsen
This is the third book that I am reading by the author. I had previously read Area 51 and Operation Paperclip. The latter is incredible.
The president has three tools at his disposal when it comes to dealing with foreign countries. When war is not a viable option and diplomacy fails; the hidden hand comes into play. The CIA is the hidden hand that conducts operations that provides the president plausible deniability. The book chronicles the creation of the CIA and the various crimes they have committed while protecting “democracy”.
Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.