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Books

Books I’ve read

46 Books

We Are All Weird - The Rise of Tribes and the End of Normal

Sometimes a long blog post, or two, may be better than a short book. This was one of them. It has one interesting insight repeated over and over, diced and sliced and mixed in with anecdotes plenty. I’m not even gonna write what is the insight. Read Seth’s Tribes or Chris’s Long tail for the actual insight.

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The Upstarts

A summary of early and growth years of Uber and Airbnb. Felt quite one-sided though—most attempts at addressing the criticisms felt muted. Wasn’t as in-depth as ‘The everything store’ either.

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A boy in winter

A simple tale of Nazi occupation and holocaust in a small town in Ukraine. The story was simple but I enjoyed the characters—understated but involved; very human. Arnold, the SS leader of the district, Pohl, the German engineer in-charge, and Yasia, the strong but hesitant Ukrainian girl were my favourites.

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The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

A page turner introduction to Amazon’s history. Brad has had long and deep view of Amazon’s evolution and has used it to good effect. The crazy early years at Amazon seemed as exhilarating as scary for the people there. Reinforced my impression of Amazon as a good place to shop (customer centricity) but not to work (no respect of people or their lives). As a sign of how fast Amazon moves, this book already seems a bit outdated on the newer bits.

The Sports Gene: Talent, Practice and the Truth About Success

A well written primer of our understanding of specific genes and their impact on sports performance—from natural physical traits (height, strength, achilles, calf size, etc) to training ability to pain thresholds and more. David tries to balance the nature (genes) vs nurture (environmental) factors. He also points out, repeatedly, that our understanding of impact of specific genes, specially in combinations, is still very incomplete.
Another takeaway, for me, is that much of what our understanding of these genes reveals is what separates the (say) Olympians from everyday people. The performance differences amongst the people at the top is too small to be explained by our current understanding of genes.
Finally, even at the very top, there are multiple paths to get there. The story of two high jumpers illustrated this well.

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The Old Man and the Sea

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Singin' & Swingin' & Gettin' Merry Like Christmas

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Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

Shoe Dog

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Running Up That Hill: The Highs and Lows of Going That Bit Further

A good introduction to ultrarunning. Full of his own experiences with a few big ultra races; interviews with many of the best known names in the ultrarunning world; and quips and quotes about why and what of ultrarunning. I quite enjoyed the book.

It’s quite a contrast to Mimi Anderson’s book. What Mimi has achieved is many times over anything that Vassos has run. For instance, his hardest challenge was the Spartathlon, Mimi completed double Spartathlon in record time. But what he lacks in ultrarunning achievements, he more than makes up with his writing skills. This book is vastly more entertaining, informing, and inspiring than Mimi’s.

(Note to self: this is why I should hire a ghost writer for my autobiography)

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On the road

Fast, breathless, always moving…
I never connected with the characters. I understood term. I may have even known some Sals and Deans. But I just couldn’t connect with them, as people.

Yet, I enjoyed the writing.
Enjoyed the vividness of the scenes.
Enjoyed discovering a subculture of 7 decades ago.
Even, at times, enjoyed the wild wanderings of minds constantly high of mj, insomnia and youth.

Not bad for a book I picked up by mistake.

The Art of Failing

Quite enjoyed this book. It’s a collection of ramblings of a mildly amusing, mildly delusional, marginally insightful author. He appears to be of about my age, and about my level of mental (in)comprehension. He’s better with words though.
Better written than both Mr. Iyer goes to war and Gizelle’s bucket list. Though Gizelle’s is rated higher because it’s about a dog :D

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Can't Swim, Can't Ride, Can't Run: From Common Man to Ironman

An unfit, injury-prone common man librarian’s journey from unfit to Ironman.
A story that suggests that there may still be hope for me :)

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Gizelle's Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog

I’ll write a review once the tears have stopped.

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Mr. Iyer goes to war

Interesting, fairly fast moving novel. Mixes present day Eastern UP with its religion, castes, corruption and politics with a hallucinating religious warrior ;)

The writing tends to go overboard a bit at times, but that may just be due to the nature of the story.

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The Billionaire Raj

A really good book covering the state of money power and politics in India over the last decade. The title is a misnomer as the book looks way beyond just the growth and dominance of Billionaires. It covers, apart from the Billionaires, politicians, bureaucrats, media, cricket and more.

Anyone who has followed developments in India closely may already be aware of most of the facts in the book. But even for them, the description of interplay between various sections of the power set will be useful. The analysis of how things work in India, how they got to this state, the challenges ahead, and the potential paths forward are all interesting.

The author pulls his punches, specially when criticising the politicians. This could be to maintain access for himself and the media organisations he works with. This may also just be the journalistic prudence at play—presenting facts not judgements.

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Getting Things Done for Teens: Take Control of Your Life in a Distracting World

An easy-to-grasp version of David Allen’s GTD process. It’s titled ‘for teens’ but I’d recommend it to everyone. A comprehensive yet simple introduction to getting a handle on things to be done, improving productivity and freeing mental space. The processes and tactics are invaluable together, but extremely useful even if adopted in parts. I would recommend everyone to read this book, at least twice.

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Gun Island

Picked the book up from the library last night. Read it at the cafe, read it in bed before sleeping, read it in bed after waking up, read it in the loo, read it in the morning instead of running, and then finished it before lunch. The only breaks were for visitors and sleep.
It’s an unputdownable book for those who like Amitava Ghosh’s mixing of cultures and timelines, fiction and facts. The ending was a bit sudden, but it may just be in preparation for the next episode.

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Range

I enjoyed the book. It is packed with an understanding of, and tools for generalists. The topic, the research, the details felt like they’d been written for me. Read it for an understanding of the other view, opposing the early and hyper specialisation that rules the current social and business structures.
Yet, it was a slow, sluggish read. Shorter by a third, and it’d have been a crisp 5* book.

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The art of running faster

Inspired: How to create products customers love

Food rules: An eater's manual

Messy: How to be creative and resilient in tidy-minded world

Among my favourite non-fiction books this year. Tim gives an interesting account of how messiness helps through variety, improvisation, flexibility, speed, and more. He covers a variety of areas and discusses the impact and understanding of messiness in them—from the current trend towards AI and automation to the humanity-old question of children and their play areas.

Combined with Range by David Epstein, this book has provided to me one set of perspectives and inputs. Another set is from Make Time by Jake and Jack, and Deep Work & Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Combining these—focus in the moment, and variety, improv and range in the themes—are a great direction for improvement.

The challenge though, as ever, is in the doing :)

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The Miracle Of Mindfulness: The Classic Guide to Meditation by the World's Most Revered Master

The deal of a lifetime

Short story, with some illustrations. Typical good-hearted emotional Backman, though with a small twist near the end.

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Beyond Impossible

Decent book by a great athlete. Better/stronger editor (or author) would’ve massively improved the book. 10* for her achievements, struggled to give 5 for the book.

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After Mandela

A really good assessment of South Africa during years of Mbeki’s presidency (starts with transition from Mandela, ends with rise of Zuma). Uses a wealth of interviews, anecdotes, and historical perspective to cover all key areas of the society - the party, the violence, failure to deliver, Afrikaners, AIDS, BEE, Zimbabwe and more.
It had its slow moments, specially in the beginning, and a tiny bit of (Western?) proselytising, but they are rare.

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The fifth risk

An assessment of a fundamental execution and institutional capability that’s under attack. By Trump and allies in the US, but also broadly across the world, and not just by the politicians. Good awakening book about the boring truths.

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Into thin air

I really enjoyed the book. I had seen the movie, so knew what was coming. Yet, the Jon has written beautifully to bring out the experience of an Everest expedition. If only he hadn’t spent sections of the book defending his actions and articles. Recommended.

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Digital Minimalism

A good book about managing the overwhelming digital impact on our lives. Full of tips and tricks. I like Cal’s writing style. I enjoyed this book despite already reading Deep Work and Make Time in the last 6 months.

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Sprint

Full of tools and …

North

Really enjoyed this book. The descriptions of the trails, the people, the personal relationships and the injuries were all great. My favourite bit tough was the mental battle in the last quarter. We all hit the wall. Some like me hit it at 20 miles. Some like Scott hit it at 1800 miles. Reading his and JLu’s thoughts around that was a huge learning and sobering experience. It’s been a huge inspiration reading the book after following Scott’s movements on social media during the actual event.

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The Barcelona Legacy: Guardiola, Mourinho and the Fight For Football's Soul

A State of Freedom

Ghachar Ghochar

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises

Do the work

Mostly Harmless (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #5)

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Amongst my favourite books of all time but, written by a researcher, it’s quite hard to read :)

Embroideries

How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed

Make Time

Jake and JZ mix personal experience, academic studies and humour to deliver an excellent list of tactics to help focus, and improve energy and productivity.
Personally, it was good to see the changes I’ve made in my life in the last two years listed in the book. More comforting was that their reasoning was similar to mine in deciding at those changes.
The best bit was the list of more changes I can now experiment with to further improve focus, productivity and calmness.

Loved this book. This should be required reading for.. everyone.

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Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World