Friday, January 03, 2014

Best books I read in 2013

As requested by Robert….
A problem from hell by Samantha Power. Prepare to be immensely depressed and infuriated.  Power systematically dissects genocide after genocide, exposing the intense unwillingness of world powers to see it and act. But also many stories of courageous individuals who made the difference by dogged and often dangerous efforts to force leaders out of denial.
How we do harm: a doctor breaks rank about being sick in America by Otis Webb Brawley and Paul Goldberg. Extremely readable narratives on what’s wrong with the health care system.  Reads a bit like Atul Gawande, but with a different personality and set of experiences.
Made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die by Chip and Dan Heath.This is the best book on communication I’ve ever read.  Highly recommend it to anyone who ever writes or speaks……yeah, that good.  By the same authors as Switch, which I also read, but did not like near as much.
Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain. There’s a TED talk that gives a decent overview, if you’re not into reading.  For me this book was inadvertently an exploration of self and as a manager.
Big data: a revolution that will transform how we live, work and think by Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger. Even if you’re not a quant nerd, this book will get you excited (great, free excerpt on NYC city government’s use of data). In contrast to all the debates about privacy, data being used for all sorts of nefarious purposes by governments and advertisers, this book points how the many ways in which societies and individuals can and do benefit from the ridiculous amount of data out there in the world.
Emergency Sex and other desperate measures: a true story from hell on Earth by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thompson. Not as exciting as the title led me to believe, but a pretty unique look into the humanitarian crisis machines like the United Nations.  Refreshingly candid, though that’s not to stay that you make walk away with a few concerns about the whole aid system, who ends up on the ground, and what they do.  This is NOT the book that will inspire you to drop everything and move to Africa.

Bill Gates, in his annual list of reading recommendations, wrote that he reads“mostly nonfiction because I always want to learn more about how the world works.” I would argue that some of the most illuminating books, the ones that shape how we think, what we believe, and how we act, are fiction.  I ignored fiction for a long time, but in the last few years have begun to crave good stories and new worlds as a way to inspire new ideas of my own. 
Looking at these four books, one common theme is that all of the books are largely tied to places and the experience of being there.  And the experiences of being somewhere else when a particular place has become part of you.  It’s a great book that makes you understand why one would love a place—whether it’s New York City, Lagos, or District 12.  I hope to one day be able to write about a place as intimately and lovingly as these authors do.
The black coat by Neamat Imam. The best book I’ve read about Dhaka in the early 1970s.  Fascinating story that also gives the reader a good historical glimpse at urbanization and the early days of a nation.
Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie. Perhaps my favorite book from her yet.  I suggest you read this great interview beforehand, which includes gems like “why can’t a romance be deep and philosophical?”
And the mountains echoed by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini’s past books were too bleak for me.  This one is no Pollyanna, but it’s beautiful albeit a bit haunting.
Don’t judge me:
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The plot get a bit laughable at times, but the undercurrents of political commentary and the ongoing attention to the psychological trauma that the Victors face both make it a great read.  Both topics that have very real and urgent needs, but are perhaps easier for some to first consider in the abstract.
Suggestions welcome!! Also, if anyone has a copy of any Humayun Ahmed books in English, I would love to borrow it!

No comments: