The Selfish Gene

Richard Dawkins

Any altruistic system is inherently unstable, because it is open to abuse by selfish individuals, ready to exploit it.

Evolution explained from the point of view of gene is what describes this book the best in my opinion. One of the best minds of our times, Dawkins’ uncanny ability to thread a fascinating story from hardcore science shines outright in this book. From the start of life to why your parents care more about you than the neighbours kid is explained making a gene as the central character of the narrative. For me it was a very new and fascinating way to look at Darwinian evolution. Dawkins debunks the herd mentality when it comes to evolution and turns to our basic building blocks. This book reads like a thrilling novel where the lead of the story, the gene, the immortal gene, uses survival machines ( you, me and all organisms ) in the most ingenious of ways to assure its place in the next generation. If ever you wanted to learn about evolution I would recommend this book over any textbook.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Walter Isaacson

Knowledge, he realised, “was obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.

Walter Isaacson is one of my favourite biographers. The author of some of the books that have influenced me a lot( for eg. biographies of Steve jobs, Albert Einstein) he does a remarkable job as usual in sketching the life of Benjamin Franklin and it is inspiring to say the least. Benjamin Franklin may not be the most “gifted” ( in a traditional convoluted sense) person there was but he was certainly one of the most pragmatic person I have read about. Which explains how he invented an array of things which gave birth to many business if not entirely new industries. It was fascinating to find out how is consistent efforts to better himself gave rise to pretty much entirety of self help books that we see abound today. An inventor, a celebrated author, a deft politician, a nimble businessman Benjamin Franklin excelled at most things he undertook. Despite all his successes he had his shortcoming and Walter Isaacson does an excellent job of bring them to the fore which in turn humanises this larger than life figure and makes the book an endearing read.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Marie Kondō

The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.

In the recent past whenever I had a plan to travel I would open my wardrobe and find clothes that I had not seen for a few months. Clearly I had too much stuff. I do have bouts where I maniacally clean up and organise but things always manage to pile up again somehow. So when I heard that Marie Kondō had developed a system to organise your stuff and in extension your life I was all for it. The book is a very easy read and whatever the state of your possessions you will surely, without fail, be led to the conclusion that you have more stuff than you actually need. And the stuff you own may have started owning you. Having always believed in simplicity and less is more ( as I write this on my Macbook Pro ) I implemented the system as soon as I finished reading the book. I got rid of A LOT of papers, two garbage bag full of clothes and a lot of knick knacks that I found buried and lost in numerous corners. I probably could do with a lot less and may give it another go after a few months. This book surely led me to a resolution to not by any clothes this year because throwing them out is a bitch.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Robert B. Cialdini

First, we seem to assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something we don’t.

A highly recommended book by Charles Munger. I came across this book when listening to a talk by him where he basically summarises the book and more. If you do not want to read/like reading you can listen to the talk here. The book injects in you a healthy dose of skepticism. It tells you about how fallible the human psyche is and how easily it can be/is manipulated. The advertisements you see, the existence of cults, why people are so obsessive about their home sport teams this book explains it all. Reading this there where many “Oh shit I can’t believe I fell for that” moments. It was like reading a manual about human psyche hacks and it was amazing to see how easily actionable most of the stuff was. I have always believed that being skeptic is a much better than stance than blind faith and it this book reaffirms that. I would suggest giving this book a go and putting into practice the superpowers you thus acquire.

Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down

J.E. Gordon

When you climb the tower of a cathedral it becomes shorter, as a result of your added weight, by a very, very tiny amount, but it really does become shorter.

I gravitated towards this book because it was recommended by Elon Musk numerous times and due to the fact that it was something very outside my circle of comfort. And it turned out to be a great read. Apart from a few mathematical proofs which are easy to understand if you struggle with them for a bit the author does manage to dumb down the science of structures for the laymen. It was fascinating to see the comparison between man made and natural structures. How stresses and strains can be similar and different when acting across our blood vessels or the sails of a boat. How adding more does not equal increasing the strength. How bridges don’t collapse under the load of traffic and how a gust of wind ( in some cases ) can make them collapse. It was fascinating to learn why the walls of the house don’t collapse under the weight of the roof and how our blood vessels are in perpetual tension to maintain constant blood pressure. The author does a marvellous job of explaining seemingly complex concepts and was responsible for a few fun discussions with my dad who is a civil engineer. All in all a book worth reading.