The year 2020 in Books — Part I

Photo by Glen Noble on Unsplash

The post started off with an oft repeated theme in my conversations with some friends and colleagues. 2020 for all its trappings, took away the travel commute for all of us. It was a big change. This freed up scores of hours in the month. For some of us, some of that time was taken by the increased intensity for the first 6 months of the pandemic as we navigated through a period of high market volatility or uncertainty in our industries. For others, meetings that would have been tap-on-the-shoulders became google meets. Moreover, there was a merging of work & life in a confusing cocktail.

For me, reduced running this year and freeing up of commute time gave me more time to read. I felt that I had hit a purple patch on books. I stumbled into a series of delightful reads — where I felt I was learning something new or life changing or possibly both.

Ended up reading (or re-reading) 27 books. While it is not a patch when compared to 150+ books that someone like Bill Gates reads it was still more than what I normally read (Last year was 22 — so a solid 20% growth!)

Am sharing the books that I read through the year. In my 1x1s, we spent some time on books and I kept getting suggestions that I should share this with a wider audience. Am sure many of you might have read some of them, so skip those titles and move on to the ones that catch your fancy. Am categorising these into the ones relevant to how we work, how we live, History and pure pleasures.

So here goes:

Relevant to work/ Investing/ Wealth-tech:

1. The psychology of Money — Morgan Housel

This is a must read book for everyone in Wealth space, especially if you are managing money for others or for yourself. If you are in your 20s or early 30s, this can change your life. Getting rich and staying rich are different activities. It is important to have a conscious attitude towards money. And in our business at Scripbox, it is important to understand the attitude of others towards money and life in general. Must read for everyone here! Great context to improve your relationship with money and get to a desirable financial future.

2. The Big Short — Michael Lewis

Odds are that some of you have already seen the movie. However, like most books, the book is much much better than the movie. It also lets you explore the world of arcane financial instruments at your own pace. You can marvel at the complexity, hubris, greed and plain stupidity (in retrospect). It is also a good insight on why the world has become more cynical about financial institutions and their incentives over the last decade.

3. Irrational Exuberance — Robert J Shiller

This was my second reading of the book. It is a timely book to read whenever you think you are in a bubble. Afterall, Shiller won his Nobel prize because of his work on financial bubbles!

Bubbles are inevitable. Both negative and positive bubbles will form. Rational decisions often suffer with lack of perspective, data insufficiency and more often both!

Great read. It gives you a historical perspective of bubbles through the centuries and makes you think about how you should be approaching asset allocation/ diversification for customers and yourself.

4. The Art of Choosing — Sheena Iyengar

This is a fascinating read at various levels. You are blown away with the insights that Sheena Iyengar is able to articulate and the original nature of her work. Her personal story of a kid who lost her complete vision at the age of 9 and who continues to be visually impaired itself is very inspiring. For a tech product company, it is also a study in how we should articulate the choice problem when we think of our consumers. Too much is too much and too little is too little. We have to find our own indifference curves to straddle.

5. Reminiscences of a stock operator — Edwin Lefèvre

Second read again. Lefèvre does a great job of telling the story of Jesse Livermore. The book is as colorful as its protagonist. That the main character, Larry Livingston is a decoy for Jesse Livermore, was the worst kept secret even when the book was published. Livermore was (mis)credited with causing many crashes — most famous of them being the crash of 1929. He is rumoured to have made close to $100Mn during the 3 mad days of Black Thursday, Black Monday and Black Tuesday. He is also an illustration of why getting rich and staying rich are completely different activities!

Professional Life

1. No Rules Rules — Reed Hastings & Erin Meyer

Reed Hastings is the founder of the most effective time sink i.e. Netflix. This book is structured like a road map/ instruction manual of how he went about building Netflix. Many of you might have seen the Netflix culture deck but that is the end state. It looks so alien to many organizations that leaders will not attempt some of the items that might make sense for them/ their industries. This book is an excellent step-by-step introduction into how Netflix evolved into the kind of organization that it ended up becoming. It is also a manual to make it happen. It is important to note that not everything will work for every company/ industry.

2. Ride of a lifetime — Robert Bob Iger

Bob Iger is a well celebrated corporate leader. Often, for start-up folks, corporate leaders are not the people they look upto. However, the story of Bob Iger is an inspiring story of what can be achieved by perseverance, positivity, desire to learn and collaborate. It is also a story of the power of empathy and the desire to improve on an ongoing basis. Must read!

3. Never split the difference — Chris voss and tahl raz

People often do not like negotiating but negotiations are everywhere. At home, with your kids, with collaborators, partners, bosses, friends and adversaries. This is a good primer for people who enjoy negotiations and for those who do not. Add structure to your negotiations and become a better negotiator (possibly?)

4. The great mental models — Vol. I — Shane Parrish

For followers of Farnam Street, this will have some recurring themes. These are robust mental models that you can use to become a better person, professional and possibly a better version of yourself.

5. Big billion startup — Mihir Dalal

The flipkart story with all of its warts and high points. Good ringside account of what transpired at different times in the journey of the startup that set-up the continued interest in Indian startup scene. It is of passable quality if you compare it with similar books on global companies. But a good breezy read in case you were at flipkart or if were not.

6. How will you measure your life — Clayton M Christensen

This is one book I have judged by the title for a long time. The cynic in you knows the futility of most pursuits and by induction, the futility of measurement. However, Christensen is a great thinker and when multiple well wishers pointed me to this book, I was forced to pick it up.

I must say that it was a most rewarding experience. He draws upon research, expands the book through personal, familial, ethical and professional spaces. It is definitely worth multiple reads. Much recommended.

7. Indistractable — Nir Eyal

Everyone is trying to distract you. Here’s a toolbook to not get distracted. Coming from the author of Hooked, this has a decent toolkit. More importantly, it has a framework to ask the right questions. Starting from, what are you being distracted from? A timely read!

How we live/ think:

1. Why we sleep — Mathew Walker

You are sleeping far lesser than you should. Everyone needs sleep better to live better, healthier and emotionally meaningful lives. This book draws upon a lot of research on the functionality of sleep and its impact on physiology and psychology. We are in the middle of a sleep deficit epidemic of colossal magnitude and this book highlights the science of sleep and a toolkit to sleep better.

It is a heavy read. But a must read since no summary will ever impress upon you the need to sleep better.

2. 21 lessons for the 21st Century — Yuval Noah Harari

Great read. Surprised me. I was expecting it to be an underwhelming read since the reviewers were very measured in the accolades they were willing to award this book. Good summary of the current dominant sociological models and their decline/ resilience. It also has some helpful frameworks that you can use to think about the future.

The next four books in this section are repeats because I think they have the ability to influence the way we live, spend time and engage with people who we care for.

3. Never split the difference — Chris voss and tahl raz

4. The great mental models — Shane parish

5. How will you measure your life — Clayton M Christensen

6. Indistractable — Nir Eyal

The next two sections are here just for completeness. There are some absolute gems there. They will appeal to you if you have an interest in History/ Cold War / Fantasy. The part II of this post will cover these books. This post is already longer than what our adjusted attention spans can afford at one go!

Just two mentions here. Given the SSR news-storm this year, Sabrina is timely read (Was the first graphical novel to feature on the booker prize shortlist). The other graphic novel that introduced me to Spain in a fundamentally different way was The Art of Flying.

History/ Zeitgeist:

1. Footnotes in Gaza — Joe Sacco

2. Stranger to history — Aatish Taseer

3. The Art of Flying — Antonio Altarriba / Kim

4. Sabrina — Nick Drasno

5. Sapiens — Yuval Noah Harari

6. Don’t Panic — Neil Gaiman

7. Born a crime — Trevor Noah

8. All quiet on western front — Erich Maria Remarque

Pure pleasure:

1. A murder of quality — John Le Carre

2. Hogfather — Terry pratchett

3. Call for the dead — John Le Carre

4. A man without breath — Philip Kerr

Simplifying Personal Finance | Co-founder & CEO, Upwardly.in | Runner | Father | Learner