2020 Book Recommendations

October 2, 2020

As I surveyed my 2019 recommendations, it struck me that the authors on the list were predominantly white, Western men. While I generally do my best to read from a broad range of fields, I've been making an attempt to increase the diversity of authors (acknowledging that "identity" diversity and "perspective" diversity aren't the same). Hope you find something here that whets your interest.

 

Business, Finance and Economics

 

Modern Monopolies (Alex Moazed and Nicholas Johnson). I first heard about this book 3 years ago after an excellent podcast interview. I've been trying to understand more about platform businesses, and found this a terrific look at what makes platforms work. 5.0 stars.

 

The Lean Startup (Eric Ries). I've been hearing about this book for years, and have always enjoyed hearing the author speak. Having finally taken the plunge, I understand the buzz. This is an incredibly thoughtful approach to building a startup, with applications beyond the business world. I suspect this will be one whose many layers are revealed upon multiple readings. 4.8 stars. 

 

Disciplined Entrepreneurship (Bill Aulet). This is a terrific blueprint for building a business in a systematic fashion. I learned a lot from Aulet's thinking, honed by years of teaching at MIT and building his own businesses. 4.8 stars.

 

The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg (Eleanor Randolph)I must confess I've been a huge fan of Bloomberg's for a while - first for his incredible business acumen, then for a relatively successful stint as mayor of New York City and finally as a philanthropist on many causes close to my heart, particularly climate change. While Bloomberg did not particularly distinguish himself as a presidential candidate, I remain impressed by his many and varied achievements. 4.6 stars. 

 

Goodbye to Deerland (Matti Rautkivi)Trying to combine business and energy economics with fiction is no mean feat. Rautkivi, who works for Finnish engineering firm Wartsila, has produced an eminently readable story which helps explain why coal's use for power generation in the US has been decimated by natural gas and renewables. 4.6 stars. 

 

The Founder's Dilemmas (Noam Wasserman)Wasserman has written an excellent book for understanding the issues that plague young businesses. I don't think you have to be a founder to glean some valuable insights on team building and designing incentives. 4.5 stars. 

 

Grow the Pie (Alex Edmans)Edmans is a professor at London Business School, who writes prolifically on sustainable business and responsible investing. There's a lot to like here, with Edmans bringing some much needed academic rigour to a young field. 4.3 stars.

 

A Primer on Corporate Governance (Cornelis A. de Kluyver). An extremely relevant read for anyone involved in ESG investing or who simply wants to understand best practices in corporate governance. 4.3 stars.

 

History, Politics and Current Affairs

 

The Fifth Risk (Michael Lewis). Michael Lewis is just such an extraordinary writer. 'The Fifth Risk' is a terrific book on the many unsung heroes within the US government - particularly the DOE, USDA, NOAA and Coast Guard - and how the Trump administration has shown a complete lack of interest in managing its workforce better. I can't think of a better book to understand the botched response to the Covid pandemic, but its implications of course go far beyond the current crisis. 5.0 stars.

 

The Healing of America (T.R. Reid). The combination of a global pandemic and a US presidential election sparked some interesting conversations with friends about the state of health care in the US, revealing my relative ignorance. This is a well-written introduction to the subject, comparing the US system to global peers. An eye-opener that offers many pointers on how the US has gone astray. 4.7 stars.

 

Society

 

The Moment of Lift (Melinda Gates). Gates is a well-known philanthropist, and this is an excellent book describing the undeniable case for women's empowerment around the globe. The many ways in which we fail to give women and girls opportunities is both economically harmful and downright unfair. Gates also brings a personal touch to the book, relating some of her own history with these issues. 4.9 stars.


The Diversity Bonus (Scott E. Page). I've enjoyed Page's work for many years. In this book, he tackles the case for diversity, and offers some suggestions for developing teams to succeed in the knowledge economy. This is an even-handed treatment of the subject, pointing out the many benefits of diversity while making clear that it brings challenges. 4.5 stars.

 

Free Speech (Nigel Warburton)A series of conversations on Singapore's relatively restrictive speech laws prompted me to try and learn more about the history of this topic. Warburton has written a short, highly readable introduction that touches on some of the gray areas in this fascinating field. 4.5 stars. 

 

The Birth of Korean Cool (Euny Hong). After enjoying the exceptional Crash Landing On You (come at me, haters!), I became fascinated with the rising popularity of Korean pop culture. While this isn't a classic, it did provide some interesting insight into the government-supported boom in Korean pop culture as well as the country's remarkable economic rise over the past 40 years. 3.9 stars.

 

Personal Growth

 

Range (David Epstein)Epstein has written a wonderful book on why generalists are important in an increasingly specialized world. As a bit of dilettante, I thoroughly identified with a lot of this book, though of course the trick is to realize when one should specialize and when it's optimal to be a generalist. A superb addition for anyone interested in creativity and progress. 5.0 stars. 

 

How Will You Measure Your Life? (Clayton Christensen). The renowned business thinker died earlier this year, and it struck me I had never read any of his books. This slim volume takes some of his business theories and applies them to living a good life. I enjoyed the premise and some of the chapters quite a lot but I can't say the book as a whole made a huge impression on me. 4.1 stars. 

 

Becoming Who You Are (James Martin). For some reason, I had the desire to re-read this book. It contains some beautiful thoughts by a notable Jesuit priest on becoming one's "true self", inspired by the work of Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, but I was left wondering how one might actually achieve that laudable goal. 4.1 stars.

 

Singapore & Southeast Asia

 

State of Emergency (Jeremy Tiang). A wonderful book of historical fiction by Singaporean writer Jeremy Tiang. The overlapping stories revolve around political upheaval in Singapore and Malaysia in the post-war period to the present and capture some of our region's forgotten history. 4.7 stars. 

 

The First Wave (Loke Hoe Yeong). An outstanding look at opposition politics in modern Singapore, focused on two MPs, JB Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong. Superbly written, keeping the pace of events moving along nicely, while offering deep research into the twists and turns besetting Singapore's opposition parties. 4.7 stars.

 

This Is What Inequality Looks Like (Teo You Yenn)I'm not aware of many Singapore sociologists who have gained as much popular acclaim as Teo You Yenn, but I hope she will be the first of many. While Singapore is a remarkably prosperous society, there is also a shocking amount of hidden inequality. Teo does an excellent job of shining a light on what life looks like for Singaporeans at the other end of the wealth/income spectrum. 4.7 stars.

 

Blood and Silk (Michael Vatikiotis). I've been looking for a modern history of Southeast Asia, and while this is far from comprehensive, it does cover a lot of material about Southeast Asia's current political landscape. Some of it makes for fairly depressing reading as one considers the lost potential of the region. I learned a lot, even if some of the political theorizing seemed speculative. 4.5 stars. 

 

The Singapore Citizens' Agenda (New Naratif)I was looking for a quick read on important issues in modern Singapore before our General Election, and this edition did not disappoint. While written with a distinctly anti-government slant, it brings to light many issues which remain unresolved in Singapore. Many of these will continue to be hotly debated after a fractious election season. 4.2 stars. 

 

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