It’s the second round-up of the best books of 2019. Below are my favorites from the second half of the year. To see the list from the first half of the year, go to this post. And if you’re curious about all the books I’ve read in 2019, check out this page.


1. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World

Winners Take All is a thought-provoking book that makes you think about what kind of society we live in and what kind we want to live in. Anand Giridharadas is one of the main voices in the growing conversation on the role of the billionaire class in philanthropy and in “changing the world.” Some of the poignant questions the author asks: Should we trust billionaires to solve societal problems, when it is in their interest to preserve the status quo rather than promote changes that would eat into their profit? Instead of doing more good, how about doing less harm? Where does the idea that changing the world has to always be a win-win proposition (i.e., do well by doing good) come from? This book takes a critical look at “changing the world” when it is understood in a narrow, market-based paradigm that seeks to profit from it instead of giving something that true changes often require, true sacrifice. 

For more resources on the topic, check out these conversations:

When the Market is Our Only Language from On Being with Krista Tippett

Interview with Ezra Klein

Future Perfect podcast Season 2: Philanthropy vs. Democracy

I’m not a big science fiction reader, but I will read everything that Ted Chiang writes. Exhalation is his second collection of short stories after his first, which was one of my favorites in 2017. His stories have this breathtaking quality about them. Each story is a world unto its own, and Chiang is so good at making each world’s laws and rules consistent. But at the core of these stories are deep human questions that emerge whether the characters interact with time travels, parallel multiverse, or artificial intelligence. At the end of the book, Chiang includes some notes on how each story originated, which provide a glimpse of how his fascinating mind works.

For more, listen to his interview on the New York Times Book Review podcast:

Fiction About Unprecedented Situations 

Arlie Hochschild is a sociologist who spent years immersing herself in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a community that strongly supports the Tea Party. As an academic from Berkeley, she seeks to understand a community, and individuals in that community, that are as different as can be to her political leaning. Her exploration, which she calls climbing an “empathy wall,” is generous and deeply human. What she uncovers is their “deep story,” reality as it is felt by each person she comes to know in this book. 

As a foreigner in America, one of my perpetual learning goals is to understand the society I’m a part of, its histories, narratives and “deep stories.” This is one of those valuable books in this respect, as it covers stories of lives that are not commonly covered in mainstream channels. 

Check out this conversation from the On Being podcast:

The Deep Stories of Our Time 

A great biography on the life of Ulysses Grant.

Read a nice review of the book here.

A lovely memoir on family, identity, and belonging. As a baby, Nicole Chung was adopted and raised by a white family. She grew up well loved, but also with a sense of not completely belonging or understood. She searched, and found, her birth (Korean) family as an adult, and in the process, explored the complexities of being a transracial adoptee and the different shades that “family” can mean.


A great follow up to the Ulysses Grant biography, this book tells the story of Andrew Garfield’s quick rise to the presidency and his murder quite early on in his presidency. He did not immediately die; what transpired after he was shot was an interweaving dynamic between politics, medical care (and their respective power struggles), and mental illness (on the side of his assassin).


A gripping story of a slave’s escape from bondage, traversing several states, each with their own promises and horrors. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for a very good reason.

This book is a wonderful discovery; I had never heard about The Moth before this book. The Moth is a storytelling phenomenon in which each person tells a personal story on stage. There’s something powerful in the first-person telling of one’s life. This book is a collection of these stories, lightly edited for print. 

Check out The Moth’s YouTube channel here.

Favorite Books Lists

2023: Best Books of 2023 Part 1

2022: Best Books of 2022 Part 1, Best Books of 2022 Part 2.

2021: Best Books of 2021 Part 1, Best Books of 2021 Part 2.

2020: Best Books of 2020 Part 1, Best Books of 2020 Part 2.

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1, Best Books of 2019 Part 2.

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.


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