My 2018 50-Book Challenge (January)

I know I should read more; but life has a way of getting the way.

I read a lot as a kid, read more in grad school, but have mostly read work-related books/journals ever since.

This year, I set a personal challenge to read 50 books that are mostly not related to my work. That translates to about 4 books a month book-ended by 5 books in January and December.

Well, I am sharing this goal publicly to keep me on track while sharing my thoughts on the books I read during the previous month.

In January, I read:

1. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE – Phil Knight

2. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood – Trevor Noah

3. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis – J.D. Vance

4. Introducing Artificial Intelligence (Graphic Guides) – Henry Brighton, Howard Selina, Richard Appignanesi

5. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari

I particularly liked “Shoe Dog” and “Born a Crime” because they were both truly authentic. Phil Knight crafted a truly gripping and remarkably unvarnished story about the early days of NIKE in “Shoe Dog” while Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” was one of the most humorous, depressing (for Africans like me), and intensely compelling human stories I have read in a while. It reminded me of Norman Vincent Pearle’s assertion that “anyone can start from anywhere and become anything they want to be”.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is a uniquely American story that reads a bit like a pre-election manifesto. J. D. Vance walks us through his dysfunctional family as a prototypical hillbilly unit. We see the poverty, crime, and indolence of everyone else as a counterpoint to his illustrious and awesome pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrap self. I really wanted to like the book but totally disagree with his underlying thesis that the core driver of extreme poverty is personal choice rather than institutional forces. I will be shocked if Mr. Vance doesn’t run as a social-safety-net-bashing Republican in a few years.

“Introducing Artificial Intelligence (Graphic Guides)” was a disappointment. The book simply had no depth. I plan to read a better AI book in February (suggestions please).

“Sapiens” was absolutely fantastic, but a little bit academic. Yuval Noah Harari is a tenured professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and he brought his “A” game to the book. “Sapiens” explores the human experience from about 2.5 million years ago when the genus Homo first appeared on earth to about 70,000 years ago when Homo Sapiens (deliberately?) destroyed the other Homo species till today when we (Homo Sapiens) have completely domesticated the planet. I particularly liked his explication of the cognitive revolution. I can’t recommend the book enough for other geeks and nerds who are interested in reading an accessible primer on human history.

I am currently compiling another set of books to read in February, please feel free to comment with suggestions.

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