When I say best reads of 2018 I actually mean the books I have read and enjoyed in 2018 so far. Does not necessarily mean these books have been published in 2018 although if I were a fact checker I could maybe identify 1 book which have both been among my favourite reads in 2018 so far AND have been published in 2018. Crazy, I know.
A somewhat related tangent to the topic, In the past couple of years I aimed to read on average, 1 book per week. This adds up. I say this not only to brag but also through these years my assumption was “even when I don’t remember half the stuff I read – or more – these things get planted in my subconscious and gradually turn me into an awesome person”. This might be wishful thinking. This is why I started to write my thoughts and takeaways from some of these books. I am sharing these incase some random person (or ideally people really) find the recommendations useful and benefit from these books as I somehow did.
With that I give you my top 3 books of 2018 so far:
#1 Skin in the Game by N. N. Taleeb
I first got in to Naseem Nicolas Taleeb’s writing with Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder. That book blew my mind. It was a robust thinking, backed by science but very very pragmatic. It wasn’t academic thinking. The principles the book shared really shaped my thinking and my approach to life in the last 5 years. It helped me cure my unhealthy addiction to sophistication and complexity. It added the idea of the “barbell strategy” of playing safe in some areas of your life but balancing it by taking aggressive risks in smaller areas and making sure you prioritize survival in the process.
Since that book I have been following his work, his tweets (which are hilarious and obnoxious) and his books so when Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life came out I was very excited. I didn’t immediately buy the book, I saved it at a time where I can give it myself as a treat. Long story short, I finished it a couple of days ago. It didn’t disappoint.
It focuses on the core idea of building systems that reward and punish based on ownership of the risk. It fiercely, and in my opinion rightly, criticizes people, professions and institutions that benefit by introducing outsized risks to other people’s lives without a) fully understanding the implications of what they are doing b) more importantly, not assuming any downside risk themselves. As you read through the book, you open your eyes to what feels like a giant scam that has been going on in extremely large and global scale.
My only problem with his writing is me not coming across this earlier in life as I know realize many people of some ambition and smarts of my generation, have aspired and got into paths that turned us into what Taleeb calls, IYI (intellectual yet idiot). Over educated, over sterilized and polished, working in fancy places, with sophisticated titles. Also, completely out of touch with reality, outsized expectations on life, evolved to survive only in that artificial setting that produced us. I can only accept this reality and strive to break it. I thank Mr. Taleeb for that symbolic slap in the face.
“You can tell a discipline is BS if the degree depends severely on the prestige of the school granting it. I remember when I applied to MBA programs being told that anything outside the top ten or twenty would be a waste of time.”
#2 Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
Can’t remember how I come across this book but I am glad I did. So get this, it’s about the first human, who grew up in Mars which has its own advanced civilization. He comes back to earth as the only legitimate heir of human interest in Mars, which means he is very very rich. He also has super powers since he was educated by the Martian’s who, of course, have super powers. His understanding of human nature, behavior, culture, in short, of human life, is null. It’s kind of like the Superman story that feels more real despite the super powers etc.
While packed with a lots of fun twists and turns which makes this an easy read, it is an exercise in trying to answer the question “If a being of ultra high intelligence, power and infinite financial resource was to design a fundamentally new life, new way of being, behaving what would that look like and how would the humanity react to this?”.
Couple this with the great post from WaitButWhy on Artificial Intelligence which brilliantly outlines the current thinking on the subject and it’s future, this book becomes even more relevant to the modern discourse (which I have been told means boring disco).
Good science fiction tends to have a way of turning into non-fiction in not-so-far future. This book is good science fiction.
Favorite Quote: “A desire not to butt into other people’s business is at least eighty percent of all human wisdom.”
#3 High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
Yes, really. I am a sucker for books and movies about music. It’s my sometimes guilty, sometimes not so guilty pleasure. High Fidelity is both a movie and a book about music (and some other stuff). I remember watching and enjoying the movie ages ago, I wasn’t sure if I read the book and most certainly didn’t remember any of the details so I grabbed it as a palate cleanse after some heavy intellectual lifting on the reading front.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love that it’s sat in London, I love that it talks about the obsession of music, the list making (oh yes, the list making), the weirdo characters working in the record shop, all this intermingled by the ups and downs of life. I don’t know if this book/movie was the one that introduced the concept of “soundtrack to your life” stuff but it does the concept huge justice.
If for nothing else, I owe discovering “Let’s get it on!” to this book (or movie whichever came first) and on that alone, it deserves its rightful place on my best reads of 2018 so far.
Favorite Quote: “What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?”
Rob’s desert island top five
- ‘Sin City’, Flying Burrito Brothers;
- ‘New Rose’, The Damned;
- ‘Hit It and Quit It’, Funkadelic;
- ‘Shipbuilding’, Elvis Costello;
- ‘Mystery Train’, Elvis Presley;
- ‘Spaced Cowboy’, Sly and the Family Stone.
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