In 2016 I took up the 52 book challenge as a Marathon for my mind. My idea was to read a book a week and write about my progress on this blog. 2016 has been one busy year and I may not have been able to live up to my original expectations but I’ve been lucky enough to have taken time out during my commutes and weekends to sit and enjoy the company of a book every now and then.
I’ve written a review on seven of the books that I’ve read and really like this year but obviously I’ve been reading more. Here is a comprehensive list of all books I’ve finished cover to cover this year (The First Seven are in older posts, which is why this list starts from 8):
- The Practicing Mind: An averagely good book that talks about the power and benefits of focused practice. What I liked about the book was it’s basic message but the book lacks story telling and also lacks sufficient science leaving it in the murky territory of a typical self help book. Not that there is anything wrong with typical self help books, but not something I enjoy reading. I’d give it a 3 / 5.
- You are your own gym: Bodyweight training was how I started my fitness journey. As a nerd, any book that is focused on body weight training attracts me even today. There is something liberating about not having to depend on gyms, weights and machines to remain healthy. Being able to workout in a hotel room when you are travelling and not using travel as a reason to skip your workout is very empowering too. Written by an author who has trained special forces to be healthier and functional on field, the book has not just workouts but ideas and concepts every person who is into healthy life-style should read and understand. More than just a book, it’s a program that also has an accompanying app that you can download free and then buy if you like. I’d give this program (book + app) a 4 / 5 but don’t expect it to give you any magical gains, unless you have the consistency to stick to the program.
- The Tao of Pooh: I’ve always wanted to read philosophy outside the Indian and western philosophies and if there is one book that does an amazing job of introducing you to Taoism it is this book. It’s funny, it’s witty and it’s deep. One of the few books that prove that your writing doesn’t have to be complex to be deeply philosophical. And of course, who can not love Pooh? :) – A 4/5!
- Go for No – This is one of the few books this year that did not impress me. The central premise is fine – As a sales person, if you aim for yes’es in your sales call you are at an disadvantage. Every no you hear puts you down and demotivates you. But if you ‘Go for No’ and start your day by aiming for X number of NO’s every day, then you are motivated to keep calling even when you hear a no, because you are moving ahead towards your goal of X no’s. Every yes is a pleasant surprise and pushes you even harder. There are pages and pages of weird time travel based fiction where the protagonist falls on a golf course, hurts himself in the head, time travels and meets his own future self who teaches him the lesson of going for no’s. The book is a little too strange for my taste and what put me off about the book is that the only teacher the protagonist finds even in his own fictional world, is his very own hypothetical future self. The central premise is good but what could have been conveyed in one paragraph or a small readable blog post was stretched to an agonizingly long book with meaningless fluff and crazy fiction which was completely not required (and maybe even detrimental) for spreading the actual message. A 2/5.
- Naked Statistics: I haven’t read a book on Math since I finished my college and when I stumbled into this one, I saw it as a good opportunity to brush up on a subject that I never fully grasped in school. The book just blew me away in the way it describes some of the concepts of statistics that I studied in school but never really understood. From the difference between mean, median and mode, to topics like co-relation, the book covers each topic from a real life practical standpoint. It then touches the math side of each topic where the author takes very real simple examples to explain the complexities. The goal is to develop an intuitive understanding of some of the most used mathematical and statistical concepts and the book does indeed do an amazing job at it. A 4/5.
- Deep Work: Cal Newport as an author gained my attention with his book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ where he argued that passion is overrated. In this book he talks about the power and the importance of focused deep work in any creative person’s life. The book cites real examples of folks who go really far to cut themselves off distractions. The book is inspirational and the writing style is pretty good but there are not a lot of real unique ideas in this book that stick with you for life. A fascinating read though to understand how fragmented and distracted our lives today have really become. I’d give it a 4 / 5.
- Nudge: Written in the same tone of Switch(which I reviewed earlier) the book covers the topic of choice architecture in much more theory with many more examples. Though a lot of material in this book is very similar to Switch, it covers a vast variety of topics going from designing toilets that encourage cleanliness to Libertarian paternalism in the world of nutrition. The tone of the book is very research oriented and factual with very little or virtually no self help advice which is what I love about the book. I would give this a 4 / 5.
- Focus: The Hidden Driver for Excellence – From how a house detective scans a huge store full of people, focuses on small tell-tell signs and picks shoplifters; to the science of willpower and the understanding of the famous 10000 hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, the book covers a lot of ground but provides very little real life tools or frameworks to increase your attention. A good read especially if you enjoy books on Psychology but again, if you’ve read a few books on neuroscience and psychology you will not find a lot of new ideas in this book. I rate this a 3 / 5.
- Eat and Run: After reading born to run when I came across Scott Jurek’s (who was one of the primary real life characters of Born to Run) personal biography, I needed no special nudes to pick it up. Scott is indeed as good a writer / storyteller as he is a runner. A intricately woven collection of experiences resulting out of the races he has run, experiences he has been through and the life he has lived make the book a fascinating read. Scott’s own character, his vegan diet and his outlook on life is an icing on the cake. Again, a must read for anyone who wants to experience real-life story telling that is much more fascinating than fiction. A 5/5.
- One Up on Wall Street: Maybe it’s my experience with banking software or the fact that I come from a family that has done business for five generations, I’ve always invested a part of my salary in long term stable investments and have been fairly lucky with these investments. When I saw this book by Peter Lynch, a respected fund manager, I seized the opportunity of learning from a master investor. What’s amazing about this book is that it covers the basic technicalities of investing (things like the PE ratio, value investing etc.) and then jumps into the art of investing. Do you invest in companies which have rich amazing offices or do you buy stocks of companies where a bunch of hard working folks are working in a cramped office in a non-expensive corner of the city? Do you keep your eyes open when you see a real life consumer product in your local supermarket and place your bets by investing on the company before the financial experts of the world start giving positive reviews to the stocks of that company? In a predatory world of bulls, bears, computerized flash trading and deception Peter provides hope to the individual investor and shows them how they can use their local insights to get a one up on wall-street. A 4/5.
- Sleep Smarter: As a nerd who lives an extremely irregular life as far as sleeping habits are concerned, when I bumped into Sleep Smarter I knew this was my chance to bring about some serious change into my life. The book was a collection articles which describe how big an issue sleep deprivation is and then moves into some real pragmatic tips that you can use today to improve your sleep. For example, avoid screen time at-least a few hours before sleep and if you must, install a special app that dims out light on your phone. How temperature effects your sleep, how the clothes you wear have an impact on your sleep and above all, how to make real lasting changes to your sleeping habits. This is not a book that everyone might appreciate but given my love hate relationship with sleep and the fact that I am a night owl who is also fascinated by the idea of waking up before the sun rises, the book was an extremely good read for me. I would give this 4/5.
- Total Money Makeover: Dave Ramsey is one of the few guys in the world of personal finance whose advice I’ve incorporated in my own life and have benefitted HUGELY when it comes to my finances. I read this book early this year (in fact it was one of the first few books I read this year) and the book had one of the deepest influences on my financial life than any other book. I’ve adapted some of Dave’s ideas described in this book and have increased my savings 3X and am really close to becoming completely debt free. The book is an awesome read for everyone who has any debt, doesn’t keep a written monthly budget and doesn’t record every single transaction of his / her life. From busting popular myths about home loans, student loans, credit cards and car loans, Dave takes a slightly confrontational tone in this book but the tone serves it’s purpose of shaking you out of your dream world and brings you face to face with the dark reality of any debt and how that cripples your financial life. I’d give this book a 5 / 5 and the respect it deserves. If you have respect for money you should read this book. If you are a nerd who struggles with managing money, you have to read this book.
- Originals: This book by far is one of the most ‘original’ books I’ve read on creativity. The book just demolishes every single conventional wisdom on creativity. Entrepreneurs are bold; WRONG. Entrepreneurs take chances and risks; WRONG. Most entrepreneurs are sure of their ideas and their vision: WRONG. Most startups are formed by people who are in their early thirties: WRONG. You need to quit your job if you want to form a startup and have conviction and belief in your idea: WRONG. Every single idea or non-scientific random self-help wisdom on creativity and entrepreneurship that you hear about so much these days will be shredded into tiny threads and blown off after you read this book. The book personally gives me validation that I’ve been seeking for a very long time but haven’t found anywhere else in the world. After reading this book all I can do is hope that more and more authors do responsible research like Adam Grant did for this book rather than parroting stupid self help catch words like – ‘passion’, ‘take the plunge’ and the ridiculous – ‘you can do it!’. No wonder this book has an almost 5 star rating on Amazon and is a breath of fresh air in all the books of business and creativity I’ve read thus far. I would rate it a big fat 5 / 5 and if you were going to read one book on creativity or if you were thinking of doing anything creative with your life, I would advice you to grab a copy of this book and read it cover to cover.
- Mini Habits: Having difficulties working out? Why not start with just 1 push up a day? Sounds ridiculous? Try it and before you know it, you’ll be doing 100 a day in a couple of months. And if you don’t, well you can still do one and maintain your habit. The idea is ridiculous. In fact it’s so ridiculous it actually works! The premise behind this book? Our brain often makes an unpleasant activity which is good for us (like working out, eating vegetables) seem so difficult that we don’t even start. But what if we tricked our brain by saying, I’m just going to do one push-up or eat a tiny 1/2 inch slice of broccoli every day? There is very little resistance from your brain because the habit is so tiny. Once you start your brain sees it wasn’t that bad and naturally does more. If it doesn’t; don’t push it – just do a pushup and you’re done. Which gives your brain no reason to resist. If you do more, you feel happy and encouraged. If you don’t you are not traumatized by the guilt of not living up to self-commitments and can still feel proud about finishing your commitment. It’s a small book, very to the point and a very interesting and practical way of hacking your own brain – which by the way, is a topic very near and dear to my heart. Definitely a 4 / 5.
I’ve obviously not been reading as much as I wanted to and probably will not make it to book 53 by the end of the year, but the challenge has indeed opened me up to new books, new ideas and introduced me to topics I always wanted to read about. Net-Net it’s been fun so far and I hope I can read a few more interesting books before the end of the year.