I started college in 2016. That year, I also made a pact with myself to read 36 books per year.
For no good reason other than that 24 seemed too little and 48 too much to my eighteen year old self (who, it seems, was also convinced that whatever number she picked had to neatly divide by 12).
Over the last four years, I met my goals in 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2020, and fell far short in 2017. I will use this page to catalog my readings (mostly for myself, and for whoever happens to chance upon this).
Reading a “target” number of books is definitely a somewhat flawed approach. Early on during this journey, I sometimes “cheated” by reading a bunch of short books to quickly increase my count. But in the process of chasing the target I discovered so many books and built up a healthy habit. In the last two years I have had no trouble in hitting 36 books and the # has begun to matter less and less — a result of a mindset shift and a couple of tactical improvements (ebook reader, more free time, audiobooks, disposable income).
I am not going to review all the books but will make note of the ones that were especially good or bad.
In 2020 I decided to write a short review for each book I read. My 2020 reading list is here.
- Books are listed in chronological order of reading
- Books I strongly recommend are in bold.
- * — college readings, # — graphic novels
Reading list here.
- Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen: foundational read for anyone thinking of working in / studying economic development and growth. This 1995 pushes back on many reductive ideas of development. It single-handedly expanded my worldview and taught me to ask better questions of interventions by governments, IFIs and corporations.
- The Accidental Prime Minister, Sanjaya Baru: I read this in the middle of the controversy surrounding the (then) upcoming movie based on the book. It’s well-written, but a lot of anecdotes seem a little petty and there is significant name-dropping going (I guess that has to be the case in a memoir about a Prime Ministership?). I still have to make up my mind about the book but it was an interesting read nonetheless.
- Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber: (review from my other post). Graeber’s seminal piece questions the value of jobs we have created under late-capitalism. This essay (which was later expanded into a book, below) questions why we didn’t realize Keynes’ predictions for the 15-hour work week and profoundly helped me think about how we construct prestige and value in our society. (It is slotted in the part of my brain that thinks about Universal Basic Income, but that is an essay for another time). It also has fantastic paragraphs that will stay with you for a long time, like this one: “For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.”
- Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India, Akshaya Mukul
- Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher & William Ury
- Poonachi, Perumal Murugan
- Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan: much richer and more interesting than the movie. Characters are actually well-developed and the plots + sub-plots complex. Turns out the movie actually diverges from the book fairly significantly at points. Strongly recommend.
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid: fourth reading, still learning
- The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness, Andy Puddicombe
- Forest of Enchantments, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: I tried noting down my thoughts on this book but I have many and they are probably unpopular (given the great reviews this book has got). I will leave you with this Goodreads review I found instead.
- Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi #: This book set off my fascination with graphic novels, which I had (wrongly) mentally categorized as children’s books up till this point. The author narrates her personal history of the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath. I found it richer than most “normal” books I’ve read.
- Hindutva, Jyotirmaya Sharma *: This book was assigned reading for a class on hindu nationalism. It provides a comprehensive overview of the movement’s intellectual history, organized as profiles of Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda and V.D. Savarkar. The book extensively use these figures’ writings to demonstrate hindu nationalism’s evolution over time. The echoes of these in present-day rhetoric is unmissable. This is a fantastic foundational read for deeper explorations of hindu nationalism’s history.
- Buddha, Osamu Tezuka (Vols. 1–8) #
- Fun Home, Alison Bechdel #
- Immigrant, Montana, Amitava Kumar
- Ikigai, Héctor García, Francesc Miralles
- Godman to Tycoon, Priyanka Pathak Narain: This book is banned in India because of a lawsuit against the author for ‘defaming’ Baba Ramdev and implicating him in murder plots. I am not sure of the veracity of this but the book itself deftly traces the history of Ramdev’s rise and Patanjali’s establishment. There is a lot going on here: hindu nationalism, crony capitalism, and reimaginings of “Indian science.” Great read if you can get your hand on a copy (the internet is your friend ;) )
- Why I am not a Hindu, Kancha Ilaiah: An extremely important read for anyone trying to understand caste in India (and I am incredibly sorry that I didn’t read it earlier).
- China Rich Girlfriend, Kevin Kwan: yes yes yes
- The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
- Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata
- Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan: I absolutely loved the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (much more so than the movie). It is fantastically entertaining and easy to read (especially recommended for long flights).
- Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari: fairly pointless, mass-market non fiction
- Bad Blood, John Carreyrou: interesting read mostly because of the second half, which describes the tactics Theranos used to prevent Carreyrou’s story from coming out. Complements the HBO documentary well.
- Dreamers, Snigdha Poonam *: one chapter was assigned in a class I took on Hindu Nationalism. I ended up reading the rest over break and I am glad I did. Fascinating book. Alongside Nikhila Henry’s The Ferment, it forms an interesting view into the world of India’s youth.
- Factfulness, Hans Rosling: an interesting read though if you are into development economics, some of the facts will not come as a surprise. As a stats+econ major, I had encountered in the classroom a lot of what Rosling writes about but I was still incredibly impressed by how accessible the book is for a wide audience. For students on development, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the book for the facts and ideas laid out in it, but more so for the manner in which they have been presented.
- Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Adichie
- Coming out as Dalit, Yashica Dutt: an incredibly powerful read that is particularly pertinent for any self-proclaimed woke Indian liberal. Living room upper caste conversations in urban India rarely acknowledge the continued oppression of the caste system in so-called progressive institutions in the country and Dutt’s memoir does a fantastic job of shining light on these hypocrisies. For me the book was at once relatable (the spaces that Dutt describes will be familiar to most South Delhi kids) and profound as it shined light on my own complicity. Strongly strongly recommend.
- Catch-22, Joseph Heller: I will be honest. I only got around to finally reading this book after watching the 2019 Hulu miniseries (which is fantastic by the way). I had taken several stabs at reading the book during high school but had splendidly failed each time. However, I am glad I finally got to it and cannot recommend it enough. Yossarian lives.
- The Sellout, Paul Beatty: painfully fantastic
- Freedom in Exile, Dalai Lama
- The Ferment: Youth Unrest in India, Nikhila Henry: similar to Snigdha Poonam’s Dreamers but the two books are extremely complementary, even while covering some of the same material. Worthwhile reading.
- Turtles all the Way Down, John Green
- Chronicles of a Liquid Society, Umberto Eco
- Open City, Teju Cole
- Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, Kenzaburo Oe
the year I shockingly hit my goal in july itself — miracles do happen
- All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr:
- The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
- Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison
- The Idiot, Elif Batuman: The book is about a Turkish girl attending Harvard. I found it comical, poignant and relatable, all at once.
- The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen
- Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer: One of my most influential reads of the year. Foer poignantly writes about factory farming and animal suffering. I was especially touched by the parts where he frames this age in terms of the stories we’d tell our kids. This book did a lot in helping me along my own journey towards a plant-based diet.
- The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018
- How Much Should a Person Consume?, Ramchandra Guha *
- The Meadowlands, Robert Sullivan *
- Encounters with the Archdruid, John McPhee *
- Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India’s Central Himalayas, Radhika Govindrajan *
- The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh *
- Forest of Tigers: People, Politics and Environment in the Sundarbans, Annu Jalais *
- Hydraulic City, Nikhil Anand *
- On Earth We Were Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
- The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer (free audiobook)
- Family Matters, Rohinton Mistry
- Thirst, Scott Harrison
- Gujarat Files, Rana Ayyub
- The Issue at Hand, Gil Fronsdal
- Hypercapitalism, Larry Gonick and Tim Kasser #
- Moor’s Account, Laila Lalami: one of the best pieces of historical fiction I have ever read. Lalami tells the story of the first black explorer of the Americas, Estevanico. Beautifully written, it touches upon themes of colonialism and slavery from a POCs perspective.
- Born a Crime, Trevor Noah: amazing read. I went in thinking this would be a classic comedian’s memoir but was pleasantly surprised by 1. everything Trevor Noah has gone through to get where he is and 2. the remarkable empathy in his writing
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s,Truman Capote
- India after Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha *
- Power and Contestation, Nigam and Menon *
- Case of Exploding Mangoes, Mohammed Hanif * (reread for class, first reading 2016)
- Indira, Sagarika Ghose
- Indira, Katherine Frank: there are two Indira biographies on this list, read Frank’s if you want a more rigorous historical treatment. Ghose’s version is also enjoyable but seems to focus more Indira’s personal life and does not provide as much historical context
- Ready Player One, Ernest Cline: a TA in my urban design class had recommended this book to me as an example of what a virtual reality urban dystopia may look like. Fun read that is deeper than it appears at first.
- Triumph of the City, Edward Glaesser
- Curfewed Night, Basharat Peer
- The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, William H. Whyte
- This is Water, David Foster Wallace
- We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, Peter Gourevitch: one of the best journalistic accounts I have ever read. I am often sceptical of foreign journalists but Gourevitch (seems to) exhibits great depth and sensitivity.
- Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
- We Should All be Feminists, Chimamanda Adichie
- On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder
- Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon
- Why I Killed the Mahatma, Koenraad Elst: I read this mostly because I was curious about the intellectual foundations of modern right-wing rhetoric against Gandhi. I obviously disagreed with most of it but interesting read nonetheless (albeit a little painful at times)
- White Man’s Burden, William Easterly: a neoliberal treatment of modern development aid and agencies. Some of his critiques are valid and he has an interesting perspective, but I was a little apprehensive about the all the market-oriented solutions he proposes
- Sense and Solidarity, Jean Dreze: I adore Jean Dreze as one of the few truly grounded, realistic and thoughtful development economists out there. This is more a collection of essays and articles than a “book” but it offers valuable insights and critiques on the Indian welfare state nonetheless.
- 80,000 Hours, Benjamin Todd: interesting practical introduction to the world of effective altruism and how it may apply to your life. Short, worthwhile read for people in their 20s trying to figure out their lives — it will probably not (and should not) convince you to change your life path entirely (and there are several arguments to be made against the advice doled out in the book), but I still found the book worth my time.
- Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari
- A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain: read shortly after Bourdain’s death. If you liked Kitchen Confidential you will also love this. Bourdain was one of the most , scratch that, THE most self-aware travel/food writer I have come across. His writing is sensitive, empathetic, extremely entertaining, and does not fall into the usual “white man travelling in the developing world” traps.
- India in transition, Jagdish Bhagwati
- Basic Income: a Transformative Policy for India, Guy Standing
- Basic Income: a Pelican Introduction, Guy Standing
- Corporate Strategy, Michael Porter
- Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson: idk I am not a big fan of Bryson’s sense of humor…I read this while in Cambridge, UK and saw many of the places he writes about. That is usually enough for me to connect with a travel book but I just could not get myself to like this.
- A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara: will tear you into pieces and make you experience the absolute depth of your sadness. This book may have single-handedly made me more sensitive/empathetic to people around me as I was reading it. Strongly recommend.
- Winners Take All, Anand Giridharadas: Giridharadas explores common narratives about billionaire philanthropy and “social impact” work by elite institutions. In particular, he makes the case that consulting firms use their (negligible amounts of) social impact work to lure in recent grads, only to have them working on big pharma, energy etc., often on projects that directly undermine other social impact work. a little strong but nevertheless fascinating read for anyone considering going into consulting, international philanthropy or even generally existing in the modern economy.
- Palestine, Joe Sacco #
- Association of Small Bombs, Karan Mahajan
- When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
- Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
- Educated, Tara Westover: fascinating read, strongly recommend
- This Divided Island, Samanth Subramanian
- Where India Goes, Diane Coffey & Dean Spears: a very interesting read (though the first part is a little repetitive). Loved the authors’ emphasis on the role of individual agency in discourse surrounding development (open defecation in particular).
- Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance
- Songs of Blood and Sword, Fatima Bhutto
- Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan
- My Promised land, Ari Shavit
- On Palestine, Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe
- Doomed to Succeed, Dennis Ross
- The Vegetarian, Han Kang
- My Gita, Devdutt Pattanaik
- Salvation of a Saint, Keiko Higashino
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Short and Tragic life of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbes: life-changing book if you went to Yale. It traces the story of a brilliant Yale graduate who was murdered in a “drug-related” crime at the age of 30. Touches upon institutional racism and drug violence. Was particularly eye-opening for 18 year-old me who was very starry eyed about Yale and everything it meant.
- 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher
- Discontent and its Civilizations, Mohsin Hamid: strongly strongly recommend this collection of essays. Hamid is one of the few authors who I relate to personally (brought up in South Asia, moved to Princeton for college, sold out for a few years before becoming a writer) and this compilation touches upon a lot of pertinent themes. (I planned on reading Freud’s OG Civilization and its Discontents after this but never really got to it)
- Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
- Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
- The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff
- The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
- The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
- No is Not Enough, Naomi Klein: very angry, kind of pointless read
- Richistan, Robert Frank *
- Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
- Bitter Fruit: The Very Best of Saadat Hasan Manto
- India after Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha
- Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
- We have always lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
- Long walk to freedom, Nelson Mandela
- Moth Smoke, Mohsin Hamid
- Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
- English, August, Upamanyu Chatterjee
- Levels of Life, Julian Barnes
- Maximum City, Suketu Mehta
- The Prince, Machiavelli
- Identity and Violence, Amartya Sen
- The Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami
- No one Writes to the Colonel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
- So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
- The Rozabal Line, Ashwini Sanghi
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams
- Life, the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams
- Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid — cannot recommend this book enough. Profoundly important and life changing
- Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
- Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
- Palace of Illusions, Chitra Banerjee Divakurni
- Sita, Devdutt Pattanaik
- Sense of an ending, Julian Barnes
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, JK Rowling
- Tughlaq, Girish Karnad
- The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald *
- The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman
- The Unraveling, Emma Sky *
- Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
- Case of Exploding Mangoes, Mohammed Hanif
Other Strongly Recommended Books
Some of these might be from my angsty teenage years, I am sure I will have different views if I reread the books now
- The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
- Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
- Harry Potter series
- Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
- One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee