Best Books of 2016: Part 2

Best Books of 2016: Part 2

Back in July 2016, I highlighted the best books of 2016 that I had read during the first half of the year. You can find that list here. This post continues the list with my favorites from the second half of the year.

As always, if you’re curious about what I’m reading right now, visit my Goodreads profile.

1. The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville, are still two of the greatest inventors in human history. Considering how commonplace air travel is today, compared to just a century ago, one can’t help but marvel at humanity’s ingenuity, for good and for bad. The Wright Brothers’ first successful flights were only in the first decade of the 1900s, yet a few decades later, planes were key weapons of war in WWII. Yet a few decades later, mankind reached the moon.

This book, of course, covers the story of the Wright Brothers themselves. One thing I love about it is the emphasis on their noble characters that were just as invaluable as their ingenuity.

2. Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur

One of my favorite books of all time! Derek is one contemporary, contrarian thinker whom I admire. This short book distills his thoughts and rationales in creating a business that is truly his. His values and life lessons, like his views on money and creating things that are simple but great, are so good they are worth reading over and over again.

3. Night

A classic account of the nobility, resilience, and evilness of humanity.

4. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

Lots of non-typical insights on how the world is changed by individuals.

5. Hamilton: The Revolution

This is the creation account of the hit musical Hamilton. I love this book because it tells an honest story about how a creative endeavor is birthed, one little step at a time, and also how history–the re-telling of what happened in the past–and our view of history can evolve, which may deviate from the actual facts.

I wrote on this book in this post: Hamilton: How Genius Work Happens

6. A Whole New Engineer

I was cheering for this book while reading it because I loved it so much. Goldberg is arguing for an engineering education that is not only analytical and theoretical, but practical, project-based, and holistic. The wholeness of the education includes emotion and passion–embracing them to motivate generations of engineers to create even greater things in the future, and feeling fulfilled doing so.

7. Alexander Hamilton

This is the book that inspired Hamilton the musical, and it is a fine, 700-plus paged biography. I haven’t managed to finish it, but the book is a captivating read, in a non-academic kind of way. The remarkable short life of Alexander Hamilton is a life to marvel at. The man was so prolific; he produced so many original thoughts and documents that became the foundation of the country known as America.

8. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Probably the best management book I have ever read. This is the story of Pixar, from its inception until now, a studio that keeps on producing top-notch animation movies. Pixar’s movies have never bombed, and this is all credited to a culture of creativity that is meticulously created and maintained by the management team. A culture of creativity is fragile, but the team so far has seemed to master a way of fostering this culture, even replicating it in Disney Animation. You will never look at an animated film the same way again after reading this book. My favorite movie from this year is Zootopia, a direct product of the things Ed Catmull talks about in this book. I have a whole new appreciation for it and its creation.

 

Other best books lists

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1

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 2016: Part 2

Best Books of 2016: Part 1

2016 is half over! Which makes today a good time to do a mid-year review of the great books from this year. As a result of my decision to read books for understanding and wisdom back in January, my reading selection and habits have changed, and when I look back at the reading list, I actually like almost all of them. Here are the best books of 2016 so far. Part 2 of this list will cover the favorites from the second half of the year. Wait for it in early 2017!

If you’re curious about what I’m reading right now, visit my Goodreads profile.

 

1. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer Adler

This book marked a turning point in my reading experience. I decided to read better and no other book could teach reading better than this book. Adler outlines the 4 levels of reading, namely elementary, inspectional (with a brilliant section on how to skim a book effectively), analytical (understanding what the ideas are and how they are connected), and syntopical (synthesizing ideas across multiple books). The goal is to extract as much wisdom as possible from the book you are reading, to understand what the author is trying to communicate. This book should be a must-read for all high school and college students, as well as everyone else who takes reading seriously. The ideas in How to Read a Book inspired these essays in this blog:

Mortimer Adler: The Art of Reading

Before Learning: The Role of Awe in Life and Learning

After Learning: The Role of Reflection in Gaining Wisdom

How to Be an Excellent Student

 

2. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel

Thiel is a Silicon Valley giant who co-founded PayPal and invested early in Facebook. This book was compiled from the notes of a student from his entrepreneurship class. He describes two kinds of growth. Zero to one refers to a step growth, a radical invention that changes the world, as opposed to a “one to n” growth, where a great idea is being replicated many times over. We see this phenomenon a lot. Something revolutionary comes out, then a hundred imitators build something similar to it. This book is about the first kind of growth, the radical changes, which according to Thiel is how we make progress in society.

 

3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Everyone who has read this book loves it. It is a profound and moving piece by a dying man. Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon resident when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. In between the diagnosis and his death, he produced a remarkable reflection on medicine, excellence, and the true meaning of life. To get a flavor of what he wrote about, check out these posts:

Consciousness of Time: Wisdom in the Sabbath

Excellence: Why It Matters

 

4. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

Some of my favorite writers are medical practitioners. Perhaps their close connections to human lives inspire a special depth of understanding in humanity and our existence. Sacks was a neurologist and a prolific writer. This small book is a collection of 4 essays that he wrote towards the end of his life. There’s something special about reading an octogenarian reflects about his own life. The Consciousness of Time essay above was also inspired by this book.

 

5. The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why by Richard Nisbett

This was probably the most fun book I picked up this year. I obliterated it with notes, dog ears, and highlights. I didn’t necessarily buy into every conclusion of Nisbett’s experiments, since a deeper reading of the actual journal papers was warranted for this, but the general trends of how Asian thoughts differed from Western thoughts were observable in real life, especially in mine, being Indonesian in the US. This book fit perfectly into the essay series on worldview that I had been working on since last year. If you just wanted to know the key conclusions of this book without reading it, I’ve summarized them in these posts:

Asian and Western Minds, Part 1: Why They Differ

Asian and Western Minds, Part 2: How They Differ

I also wrote a narrative of my own cultural experiences in these posts:

A Child of East and West, Part 1

A Child of East and West, Part 2

 

6. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I absolutely love this memoir! Jahren is a geobiologist, which is a fancy way of saying she studies plants. This memoir is about her journey as a woman in science, academia, her love of trees, and her friendship with Bill, her longtime lab partner. Their adventures are the stuffs of storybooks. What is most magnificent about Lab Girl is Jahren’s language. She has a knack of putting words together poetically, whether it be on the life of a tree or on the joy of discovery. Highly recommended for women (and men) who love science.

As a side note, it is also thrilling to see that science writing has been having a good run in 2016!

 

7. Believer: My Forty Years in Politics by David Axelrod

Axelrod was one of the key minds behind President Obama’s revolutionary campaign in 2008. He was the strategist for both of Obama’s campaigns and an advisor in the White House in Obama’s first term. Politics is usually associated with bad sentiments: skepticism, corruption, hypocrisy, etc. Which is why it’s refreshing to read about someone who has been in the thick of it for 40 years and still believe in the power of politics in bringing good to society. Axelrod believes that politics is and should be a calling, and this book is a frank review of his choices in working with candidates who did and did not emulate this value.

I love political memoirs because they give me a different picture of reality compared to what the media depicts. Part of being informed is examining the sources of our information. The media is one source and they have their take on reality. But this is far from the only one. Books like Believer and other political memoirs lift up the curtain a bit and let you see what goes on behind the scene. One thing I’ve learned is this: I may or may not agree with the writer’s politics, but the work ethics of many public servants in the White House is laudable.

8. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

This is the scariest book I have ever read. It tells stories of patients with neural degeneracies. Because something goes wrong in the brain, a person can not recognize his own hand or leg, hear a constant song in her head, not able to recognize faces or objects, or think only in prime numbers. These are not stories of despair, though. Quite the contrary, Sacks brings out the humanity in these cases, helping us see them as fellow human beings rather than just patients. For one thing, it teaches me that it is a gift and privilege to have a brain that works properly.

 

9. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nicholas Nassim Taleb

Taleb is one of the best contrarian thinkers of today. He couldn’t care less about intellectualism; it’s all about practical wisdom. This book proposes a contrarian philosophy in investing and probability by focusing on blind spots, the events that you deem highly unlikely to happen, but if they do, will radically impact your life or your organization. The proverbial black swan refers to this: if you believe all swans are white, it only takes one black swan to obliterate your belief system.

This is not a book that one can read lightly or quickly. It’s instructive because it teaches you to think differently. Taleb also recently gave a graduation speech, something he doesn’t do often. You can read the script here.

 

10. Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande

Another doctor on the list. Gawande is a general surgeon, recipient of the 2006 MacArthur “Genius” Grant, and a writer for The New Yorker. This book is about what it takes to be successful in medicine. Gawande is an effective writer and the book is almost like an anatomy lesson in excellence.

[Update] Based on this book, here comes the densest article on this blog so far. It’s not for the faint-hearted. But if you’re driven enough to read 3500 words on how to excel, click the link below.

 

 

Anatomy of Excellence

Great books let you meet and spend time with inspiring people. I’ve noticed that there’s one thing that these people have in common that inspires me again and again. Read about this unique trait in this post:

The One Trait Inspiring People Have in Common

 

 

Other best books lists

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1

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 Reads of 2015: Part 2

Best Reads of 2015: Part 2

This post is a continuation of the Best Reads of 2015 list. See Part 1 here.

 

6. Lelaki Harimau (Man Tiger) by Eka Kurniawan

Eka Kurniawan is an Indonesian author whose two works, Man Tiger and Beauty is a Wound, have been recently translated and published in English (and other languages too). All the reviews worldwide have been raving about Eka’s work, which make me so extremely proud.

 

I read this book in Indonesian, my native language, and was not surprised by all the raves. It’s such a stunning novel. From the folksy language he uses, the plot, and the arrangement of the narrative, I can honestly say I have never encountered any literature like this before. From the first words of the book, right to the very end, readers are kept in suspense to what actually happens in the central event of the novel. Breathtaking.

 

7. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book made the Best of 2015 lists everywhere. It won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, rightly so. Here, Coates reflects on life in a black body, poetically. For me, I felt the impact of this book even more afterwards, when certain phrases and sentences from the book would come to mind unexpectedly during a newscast, for example, that was replete with racial issues last year.

 

 

 

8. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Chilling. Powerful. Mysterious. Beautiful. Like a painting. Beloved is a work of art. And like many pieces of art, there are aspects of it that I don’t understand. I’m not too left-brained, however, to miss the beauty of Morrison’s words and phrases. I would consider this book a must-read if you want to understand humanity, particularly the impact of slavery to the psyche of generations of men, women, and children.

 

 

 

9. Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays by Abraham J. Heschel

This book is a collection of essays and speeches that Heschel made during his life, compiled by his daughter, particularly on the meaning of being a Jew. Heschel was already one of my favorite authors, but this book gave me so much food for thought that sparked many personal reflections in 2015. This book was the source of inspiration to my Why I Love Being an Adventist post, as well as the worldview series I noted in my 2015 in Review post.

 

 

 

10. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss

Tim Ferriss came as a guest speaker when I took an Entrepreneurship class in Princeton. He’s probably one of the people with most unconventional lives in the 21st century. I love how this book (and his philosophy in general) teaches me to view the world and its “constraints” as pliable. We don’t have to succumb to society’s expectations of work and success; we can carve our own lives. The book is filled with very practical advice, and is an important reference for anyone who wants to master the art of living free.

 

Other best books lists

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1

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!