As I completed one year in lockdown, I realized I’ve read the most number of books in the last one year than in any year since I graduated college. I took some time to reflect upon my learnings from what I read in the last year and listed the top 5 books that left the most impact on me, in no particular order:
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Critical thinking is fundamental to our existence in today’s world. In order to get better at it, understanding how we think and being aware of when our brain might fool us is imperative. By exposing both the capabilities and the shortcomings of human brain, this book not only helped me hone my critical thinking skills but also made me think deeply about how I think and about how I could think better. It ended up being a dense read but an essential one because, “Maintaining one’s vigilance against biases is a chore — but the chance to avoid a costly mistake is sometimes worth the effort”. I’ve always felt that critical thinking should be a part of school curriculum and reading through this book further strengthened my conviction that it should be.
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
When I came across this book, I remembered a wise advice that I heard recently about how enthusiasm is worth 25 IQ points. Intrigued by the title and motivated by the potential acquisition of additional IQ points, I picked the book up without hesitance. The lessons in it about the importance of positive attitude, optimism and happiness were nothing new but what really worked for me was the backing scientific explanation and practical suggestions for each of those, which helped me reinforce and take an effort to incorporate some of the ideas in my real life. The overarching principle conveyed in the book is very simple but profound: Happiness is not just a reward for success but also a prerequisite for success. This seemed to imply (a) if success is your only source of happiness, you are practically in a deadlock (b) if you are already doing great with just passion, hard work and intelligence, here’s your chance to do even better.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Being cognizant of all the variables involved in attaining desired outcomes in a complicated system such as human society is very important because many a times, something that appears simple and obvious is nowhere close to being simple. By exploring what makes the high-achieving outliers of the society who they are, this book helped me become aware of a few more of those variables, to open my eyes and see what I might not usually see and to broaden my perspective. To put it short in the author’s own words, “The tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured”. Outliers indeed do not spring naturally from the earth and I think it is important to notice what does not meet the eye, now more than ever.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
This book came as a recommendation from a like-minded friend. I think it has already set me on the right path to develop some good habits. I’m not a fan of new year resolutions and what the author says about focusing on developing right habits rather than on setting goals resonated pretty well with me. As the author says, “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress”. I was able to make use of the methods listed in the book to adopt some habits that helped me make progress on multiple fronts. For example, I started reading more often by simply placing the Kindle on the table where I could see it to get a visual cue to pick it up instead of inside the drawer. The book lists some simple techniques that one can implement right away and the best part is, they all work like magic!
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
I had been meaning to read this for a long time and finally got around to it. For the most part, it felt like someone had just read my mind and put down my thoughts into eloquent words. I felt synchronous with the book at many places so much so that, all the vigorous nodding along I did while reading it gave me a neck spasm. This book reiterated to me that I cannot change the cards that I have already been dealt but I can use them boldly and wisely. And in the end it left me with more questions than answers, essential ones that I felt we all need to be asking.