Best Books of 2019: Part 1

Best Books of 2019: Part 1

Happy mid-year! It’s time for the first round-up of the best books of 2019. If you’re curious about all the books I’ve read in 2019, check out this page.

 

1. Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist

 

This is a fantastic book of an incredible story written by the Pulitzer Prize writer Eli Saslow. Derek Black grew up in the middle of white nationalism. His family was, and still is, at the head of the movement. Yet when Derek went to college, things began to change until he finally left the movement and is now actively fighting against it. This book tells the dramatic story of his evolution through interactions he had with college friends, a few of whom invited him to Shabbat dinners, and continued to do so even after they knew who he was. The story is presented with empathy toward everyone involved and contains so many lessons for us today. 

This book is a memoir by Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. As he retells the story of how they arrested and condemned him, and as you go through the years of him hoping and fighting for his innocence, you get this suffocating feeling because you know that he ultimately had to spend 30 years before he was finally released. Hinton shares the incredible darkness that he and his prison mates lived through, and also the humanity that could not be taken away from people, even on death row. It’s dark story of injustice, but also an incredible story of resilience, hope, and faith.

Hinton’s life is intertwined with Bryan Stevenson’s, author of Just Mercy, one of my all-time favorite books. Stevenson eventually became Hinton’s lawyer, who after years of work finally got him freed from death row. 

 

In Almost Everything, Anne Lamott shares profound wisdom for a life of hope in her usual witty and humorous writing. The timing of when I picked this book up coincided with the 10th anniversary of my dad’s passing, which made this book such a welcome salve to what I was thinking and feeling at the time. It simply is a delightful book on the most essential things in life, and most of the credit goes to the writing.

Written by the same Eli Saslow who wrote the first book in this list, this collection of articles trace the lives of individuals across the country who are impacted or depended by America’s food stamp program. The challenge of having enough or anything to eat is very real for many American families, children, and senior citizens. I think these articles should be required reading, and for more sources that enlighten the complex problem of poverty, see this Understanding Poverty Reading List.

This book makes the list because it is such an infuriating story. John Carreyrou traces the story of Theranos, the one-time multibillion-dollar biotech startup, with the enigmatic Elizabeth Holmes at its helm. Yet Theranos’ unicorn status was based on a fraud, a technology that didn’t work. Selling the promise to revolutionize the medical industry with a machine that would be able to do a variety of blood tests with a single tiny prick of blood, Holmes was able to fool many high-ranking investors and became at one point the star young female tech CEO that the world was craving for. 

 

The infuriating part was the cost that many people bore from getting false blood test results, and Holmes seemingly walking away mostly unscathed from this whole ordeal. Presently, she faces criminal charges for fraud. Her trial date is just set for July 2020. As for her life, she got engaged to a hotel heir and reportedly living in luxury. 

 

Now how about a story about women who are true heroes. This book tells the under-told story of thousands of women who were codebreakers during World War II, their marvelous accomplishments, the challenges and stigmas they faced in the workplace and the changing role of women in society. Brilliantly researched by the writer.

 

 

What are your favorite recent reads? Comment below for reading recommendations!

 

Other best books lists

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

 

*Amazon Product links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!

 

Best Books of 2018: Part 2

Best Books of 2018: Part 2

It’s the end of 2018, which means it’s time for the second installment of the best books I’ve read this year! Click here to see the first part of the list.

If you’re curious about all the books I’ve read in 2018, check out this page.

 

1. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

 

This book tells the chilling story of the insidious conspiracy to murder members of the Osage Nation in order to gain their wealth. The historical backdrop of the story is the apportioning of land to Native Americans across this country. In the early 1900s, it so happened that oil was discovered in the land owned by the Osage Nation, sending its members to unprecedented wealth and opulence. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed, many through poisoning. There were concerted efforts to rob the Osage of their power and money through legal, financial, or even familial measures. 

The book’s narrative is anchored in the story of Mollie Burkhart, whose family members began to die one by one. It’s a tragic series of events that is part of this country’s history, one that also birthed the FBI.

I love this book because of the Asian voice and point of view, which is refreshing in the canon of American contemporary literature. The narrator of the book is a communist double agent, a man in between two worlds, one in which he’s immersed in the more Western, pro-American side of the Vietnam war, and the other in which he’s a dedicated communist. The duality of his personhood and identity is wonderfully explored in the book. And I have to say, it resonates a lot with the duality of identity that many immigrants face in America.

Bird by Bird is lauded by many podcasters I listen to. I’m glad I finally read it. Anne Lamott bestows upon us her deep wisdom in going through life, and especially in writing. Reading this book is like going to therapy. Personally, it helps me break through certain barriers and “internal filters” that I have allowed to constrain myself in writing and telling stories. It’s like Anne gives me the permission to do this. I’m still early on this journey, but I look forward to taking the next steps.

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt is a recent publication that talks about significant cultural shifts in some American universities with regards to free speech. Yes, it deals with issues that are taking place on college campuses during the past few years (e.g,. disinviting controversial speakers, rioting to protest people with fringe ideas). But I think it illuminates a generational shift that is very much happening in the overall society. If you care, even remotely, about culture and sociology, this is a must read. It’s a chance to revisit what the role of education is all about, and what it means to have a marketplace of ideas.

5. Becoming

 


 

 

 

Becoming is the best-selling book of the year, deservedly so, because Michelle Obama writes a beautiful and profound memoir. What I appreciate the most about this book is that the author isn’t “cashing out” of her status as the most popular former first lady. Instead, she goes deep. The book is deeply personal, deeply reflective, a testament to someone who has been self-aware of the development of her personhood for a long time. It is a book about identity, life-work, meaning, and passion. It is about a continual journey to become ourselves. I even get some professional counsels out of it, some I’ve never heard before in any other business/women empowerment space before. It’s such a worthy read!

 

Well, let me end this year with something light, but inspiring. If you follow Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tweets, they are just bursts of positivity. But also poetic. This book is a collection of his morning and evening tweets, with fun illustrations. It’s just simply delightful, perfect to say “Gnight” to 2018, and “Gmorning” to 2019.

 

Happy New Year! And see you in 2019!

 

Other best books lists

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

 

*Amazon Product links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!

 

Best Books of 2018: Part 1

Best Books of 2018: Part 1

This is the first installment of the best books I’ve read in 2018. Educated and Evicted were particularly fantastic!

 
If you follow this blog, recently, I posted my reading list on Understanding Poverty, which has been the subject I’m trying to delve into this year. Some of the books on that list also make an appearance here.
 
To see all of the books I’ve read in 2018, check out this page:

1. Educated: A Memoir

Educated is hands-down my favorite read in 2018 so far. It makes everybody’s best-of lists because it is just that fantastic. Westover tells her story of growing up in a fanatical, survivalist family who doesn’t believe in going to school, going to the doctor, or being registered in any government system. She finds a way to get out of her home and be in school for the first time at seventeen, and as she discovers education, she grows into her own self and her own thoughts. The most marvelous aspect of this memoir is her deep reflections on what is happening at every significant moment in her personal evolution. The tension between family loyalty and being able to think for her own is lucidly portrayed. It does two things for me. One, it makes me more appreciative of my own journey of education and the privilege to think. Two, it gives me a bit more understanding on the people and environment Westover grew up around. Simply said, it’s a marvelous and riveting memoir, deeply insightful and beautifully written.

 

2. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It deals with the deep struggle for housing for the poorest of the poor in America. One of the biggest points of the book is that eviction is not only caused by poverty, but it also causes poverty. Matthew Desmond wrote out his research brilliantly in a very engaging narrative nonfiction form. He followed the lives of several families and individuals for an extended amount of time and recorded their challenges every step of the way.

 

3. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

This book was what sparked my quest into the topic of poverty. I got it through a Kindle sale a few years ago because the title was very intriguing. Imagine, I got it for $1.99, the same amount some people live on for a day. $2.00 a Day also follows the lives of a few people, but also covers some policy background that has historically impacted–for better or for worse–the lives of the poorest in America. Several common themes emerge from this book and Evicted, especially on how people cope at this level of poverty.

 

4. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy has been credited as one of the explainers of the protectionist movement that arises from those who feel left behind by globalization, modern economy, and society. I don’t think J.D. Vance set out to play this role–he was really just telling the story of his upbringing–but he certainly opened the eyes of many to a specific culture and community that doesn’t really get represented much in most media. I can’t really do it justice in this summary, other than to say, it’s an important read.

 

5. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

Greg Boyle’s work with Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program in Los Angeles that provides gang members with jobs and support, is simply incredible. But this book, and Boyle’s message, stands out to me in that he doesn’t focus much on how to help the poor. His main message is to be with the poor. He calls it kinship. I reflect on his key message in this essay:

Kinship: A Better Model for Altruism

 

6. Janesville: An American Story

I used to pass by Janesville a lot on the way to visit my siblings in Madison, WI, but I had no idea what that town went through. This book tells the stories of several families as they experience the downward slip from the middle class to poverty after GM closed its biggest manufacturing plant in Janesville. The narrative is poignant because it tells what real people go through as a result of macro economic shifts in the world and corporate business decisions. I also think these kinds of ethnographic works should be the textbooks of anyone interested in policies–especially the policy makers–as they depict what happens on the ground. They can show where federal or state-level supports are needed, which programs work and which don’t, and what are the unintended consequences of certain initiatives.

 

7. Making Sense of God: Finding God in the Modern World

Of all contemporary Christian writers, Tim Keller is the one I respect the most. He is even-toned, nuanced, balanced, and incredibly well-read. What I love most of all is his cultural sensibilities: he understands the different narratives and values of different cultures, and is able to assess them vis-a-vis biblical values. To be more precise, he is not a preacher of Western culture, which I find quite common in American Christianity. Instead, he has the sensibilities to even examine his own culture and see the parts that are not entirely biblical.

These strengths are reflected in this book, where he proposes points to consider to the secular audience as they consider Christianity. If you happen to have been burned by Christian books before, this is a good one to try again, because even if you are skeptical, you will be intellectually nourished.

 

8. Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America

Amidst a plethora of angry and loud voices in today’s politics, John Lewis’ voice in Across That Bridge is refreshingly calm, full of wisdom, and enlightening. Lewis is someone who has fought for civil rights for decades, has been beaten, jailed, and threatened multiple times, and has continued to serve the public to this day. So the import of his words and counsel is deeply felt in this book. I picked this book up after listening to his interview with Krista Tippett on the spiritual aspect of the Civil Rights Movement. And boy, I did not realize how deep it was. The philosophy of nonviolence and their commitment to it is more than just a means to make social change. They were going for changes in the spiritual nature of society at the time.

For young people who want to make an impact in the world, for those who feel called by activism, this book is like sitting at the feet of your favorite grandfather, receiving wisdom-filled advice on how to move forward from the one person who has gone through it all.

 

Other best books lists

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

 

*Amazon Product links on this blog are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!