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2020 — My year in Books

Updated: Jan 10

2020 brought mixed (mostly bad) feelings for most of us. However, in terms of my reading target, it was a good year for me. I had set a target of 25 books to read in 2020. I could manage to read 30 books. I have read on diverse topics based on my interests and curiosity. This blog is my attempt to provide a brief take on each of these books.

I have devised a few strategies/tips/tricks to increase my reading output. I will share these in another blog post.

This is one of my first attempts at writing, so I will keep it simple. I have written a few photoblogs for TrekNomads in the past. You can view these blogs at

Let’s see what I read last year (In the chronological order of reading).

1) Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success by Sean Ellis, Morgan Brown (4/5).

This book provides tips and tricks on how to build your tech products and various ways to market them. Few of the tips are practical and useful. A good book for a startup founder or product head or marketing head to read.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

2) Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari (5/5)

This is the sequel to the first book called Homo sapiens, which I read in 2019. This book talks about what would be the future of the human species. It talks about a few interesting things like cyborgs, the role of AI, age of irrelevance — to name a few. Yuval’s books are more philosophical & factual and I really enjoy reading them. This book is in my re-read section and I will read it again in a few years to get more knowledge from it and see how relevant it is in the future.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

3) The Sub tle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a

Good Life by Mark Manson (2/5)

Honestly, I did not like this book much. It talked mostly about how you should stop worrying about unnecessary stuff in your life and focus on key things. Nothing original and most of the points given in the book are from other great books. You can skip this, don’t go by the ratings on popular websites.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

4) The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named by John Keay (4/5)

This book is a hidden gem for people who are interested in history. It talks about how Britishers used advanced mathematics (of that time), hard work, perseverance, and definitely cheap labor to meticulously map entire India through the triangulation method. The survey started from Marina Beach in Chennai and one of the by-products (an important one) was surveying of the Himalayas and measurement of Everest. Since I am interested in trekking and mountains, I loved the book. Also, when I visited George Everest’s erstwhile home in India (at Hathi Pao in Mussoorie), I could relate to what was written in the book. A must-read.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

5) When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt & Stephan J. Dubner (4/5)

This was one of my first audiobooks which I started to read while stuck in Bangalore traffic. Surprisingly, it is a little-known book from the famous Freakonomics writers and I read (listened) this before the main book. This book got me interested in behavioral economics and then I started reading similar books. This book is mostly a collection of the best blogs and writings of the authors' post they published their first book.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

6) The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz (4/5)

Ben Horowitz provides valuable insights on how to build startups. He talks about hiring, mentoring, leadership, decision making, politics, and such important aspects of running a business. He tells the story with his own company in the backdrop, which from near bankruptcy went on to become a public listed company. The book is a good read for startup founders, CEOs of medium companies, and also for future leaders.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

7) Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt & Stephan J. Dubner (5/5)

This book was extremely famous when I was in the initial years of my career after my MBA. The book provides interesting insights that are data-backed on various events that are happening around us — like guns vs swimming pools, how drug cartels work, how sumo wrestling is rigged due to the design of the competition, etc. A must-read for its analysis, interpretations, and wit. A must-read for students and behavioural economic enthusiasts.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

8) SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt & Stephan J. Dubner (4/5)

This is a sequel to the first book which addresses similar questions as the first book. It talks about TV and crime rates, the importance of washing hands for the doctors, car seats, catching terrorists through analyzing banking data, etc. Very interesting book with a lot of analysis, facts, and humour.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

9) The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal by David E. Hoffman (5/5)

This book is based on a true story of a Russian government official who provided vital information on top-secret military technology on which Russia was working during the cold war. The information played a huge role in changing the course of the cold war. The book is very gripping and with a strong narrative. Very good book if you are interested in spy and war books.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

10) 7 Secrets of Shiva by Devdutt Pattanaik (4/5)

If you are interested in mythology, Devdutt Pattanaik brings to you a very simple yet informative book on the legend called Shiva. According to historians (and Devdutt), Shiva is a relatively young concept in Indian Mythology. The earlier Aryans did not believe in an all-encompassing God. They believed in elemental Gods like Indra, Varuna, Surya, etc. Shiva is the God of the Gods — according to this book. This book takes the readers through various stories and sub-stories associated with Shiva and is an interesting read.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

11) Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephan J. Dubner (4/5)

This is another book from the authors of Freakonomics. After reading their first book, I decided to read all their books. This book is slightly more prescriptive or preachy. However, it also tells us few interesting stories like how a Japanese became a champion in a hotdog eating competition, how one Australian doctor drank bacteria to invent a vaccine, how Nigerians identify prospective victims for their mailing scams, etc. An interesting read/listen to while you are stuck in traffic.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

12) Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, & Kenneth H. Blanchard (4/5)

This book is a small classic that I had read when I was preparing for my MBA. The book is a simple narrative that tells why complacency is bad and why change is inevitable. The simple, yet very powerful message in this book is retold multiple times in various self-help books and by great leaders. It is a must-read for everyone and should be taught in schools.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

13) Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely (4/5)

After reading books in the Freakonomics genre, I got introduced to Dan Ariely and Behavioral Economics. So, I started reading more books on this subject. Someday I may do a Ph.D. in this emerging area. This book is backed by years of research done by Dr. Dan Ariely. The book's fundamental premise is that we act in irrational ways while making smaller decisions in life e.g. buying coffee, losing weight, finding a partner on a dating website, and more such decisions. This is an interesting book for people interested in this subject. It is also recommended for product heads, startup CEOs on how to identify various behavioral biases of consumers and utilize these for their products and services.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

14) 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (5/5)

This is 3rd book by Yuval Noah Harari. The book mainly is an amalgamation of thoughts from the previous 2 books. The book focuses on key issues we are facing currently in the world e.g. will religion be relevant in the future, how we are becoming cyborgs, how do we deal with the fake news epidemic, and such thoughts. It's a thought-provoking book, which leaves us with more questions than answers. However, I will re-read this book in a few years to see the relevance of the questions asked.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

15) The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple (5/5)

This is an amazing book which talks about how the East India Company started from humble beginnings in the UK. The company became one of the largest privately held companies in the world which colonized India and many other countries. The book also talks about how the company exploited India and its kings. They were funded by local Marwaris to wage war against Indian kings. They single-handedly decimated Tipu Sultan, Mughals, and a lot of princely states in India. The writer brilliantly details out their each and every move, their policies, and strategies. A must-read for anyone who is interested in history. The writing style is simple and engaging.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

16) The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre (5/5)

This is another awesome book on Cold War Espionage. This is a great story of a double agent Oleg Gordievsky who risked his and his family's lives and defected to the UK against Russia. The story is very gripping and full of action. This is a true story. Gordievsky has his own reasons for defection. One country’s defector is another country's spy. It's very hard to say whether he was a hero or not (depends on the perceptive at that time). This is a must-read book.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

17) India’s Most Fearless: True Stories of Modern Military Heroes by Shiv Aroor, Rahul Singh (3/5)

This is a very good book of small stories from heroes of the Indian Armed Forces. All the armed forces personnel are real-life heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their lives. Inspiring and yet emotional stories. I have given a low rating only due to the writing style. I believe the stories should have been more detailed. It is a good book for students and anyone who wants to know what it takes to be a real hero in life. I will read their sequel this year.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

18) Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2/5)

The author narrates this story as a true story (nearly) of his time spent in India. He was a prison escapee from Australia who comes to Mumbai. The story talks about his life in Mumbai Slums, his rise to power in the Mumbai underworld. The protagonist travels to Pakistan and then Afghanistan to participate in a War. As per the news, this novel may get converted into a movie in a couple of years. My take: the story is looooong, a little difficult to digest (not all parts, but a few). The story meanders without any main aim. It has plots and subplots and I could not quite understand what it wanted to say. Hence the low rating.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

19) The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely (4/5)

This is 2nd book which I read by the same author. The book talks about how irrationality affects our day to day decision making and a few benefits of this. The book, through research experiments, establishes the relationship between performance and rewards. It also talks about what would actually make us happy. It's a little academic book with behavioral economic biases as the key themes. A good read if you are interested in this domain.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

20) Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight (4/5)

Phil Knight is the founder of Nike - one of the greatest and most progressive shoe companies in the world. I was surprised to learn that the company started as a distributor of Onitsuka shoes (Japanese) in the USA. Phil narrates his highs, lows, near bankruptcies, loyal employees, and most importantly how the company got its name "Nike" and its meaning. This is a great book on building businesses, how the team is extremely important, and most importantly, the role of passion in life. Phil was a sportsperson and loved shoes from childhood. While building Nike, he lived his passion and dream. A really inspiring book.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

21) The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns by John C. Bogle (5/5)

This, according to me is a life-changing book. I hope I should have read this book at least a decade earlier. I would have been less poor than I am currently :-). The book argues why Index Fund Investing is the best option for a regular passive investor. The author of the book created the world's first Index Fund (Vanguard Fund) in the US. Through data, the author proves why Index Funds can give the best returns in the long run. Post-reading this book, I revamped my portfolio completely and started investing in direct Index Funds. The results are pretty encouraging so far.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

22) The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande (5/5)

How do we handle complex operational processes like surgery, flying a plane, or constructing a mega building? The answer is simple, by preparing and executing checklists. This book provides step by step reasoning on how checklists have helped reduce fatal mistakes during complex surgeries, flying planes, or in any other such situation. When processes are complex and one has to heavily rely on human memory, one can use simple checklists to improve processes. I was using checklists in my life before reading this book. However, after reading, my checklists have become even more structured and meaningful. We successfully used checklists in some form in my previous organization with very good results. A must-read book for everyone.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

23) Good to Go: How to Eat, Sleep and Rest Like a Champion by Christie Aschwanden (3/5)

I have been running, trekking, and exercising for the last 5/6 years now (not regularly). So, I got interested in this book. The book talks about various myths and truths about exercising and mainly on recovery. The author takes us through various gadgets/gizmos/methods to improve recovery. The 2 things I learned from the book are 1) Don't get carried away by a new fad in the market and 2) Sleep and hydration (water) are the best for recovery. It's a good book if you want to know various recovery methods people use to recover in sports.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

24) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer (5/5)

This is by far the longest and the most detailed book I have ever read. (Mahabharata by Ramesh Menon was longest before this). This book is one of the masterpieces when it comes to the history of the 2nd World War and Nazi Germany. The author was in Berlin during the crucial years when Hitler came to power in Germany. He had first-hand experience of how the socio-economic and political landscape changed - not just in Germany but the rest of Europe. I started reading this book on Kindle, after 15%, realized that I should switch to the audiobook, as I can never complete this in 3/4 months. This book helps us understand how dark and cruel humans can be. We should identify early signs of demagogues and nip them in the bud.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

25) Blockchain Bubble or Revolution: The Present and Future of Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies by Neel Mehta, Aditya Agashe, Parth Detroja (4/5)

This book is for non-techies who want to understand what blockchain is and how it is used for cryptocurrencies. It also explains what cryptos are and their types. The book is simple, small, and presents its content in a simple, easy to understand manner. The book talks about other use cases, limitations, and the future of Blockchain. A good book if you do not want to learn too much of gory tech details of this emerging technology.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

26) Annihilation of Caste by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (5/5)

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was a great scholar, thinker, and leader of India and probably the world. I have gotten into discussions and arguments with my friends and colleagues on topics like casteism, reservation, and marginalization of certain sections in society. I wanted to understand the genesis of all these issues. So, I started reading Dr. Ambedkar's books. This book is actually an open letter to Jat-Pat-Bagao Mandal and was written in 1936. The book systematically writes what is wrong in the Indian ancient varna system and how it is detrimental for Hinduism and India. I recommend this book to everyone, who wants to understand the system in detail.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

27) The Buddha and the Badass: The Secret Spiritual Art of Succeeding at Work by Vishen Lakhiani (4/5)

The title of this book is a little misleading. The title hints that this book would be about meditation and mindfulness. However, this book turned out to be a very good book on how to manage teams. The book emphasizes the importance of the team in the success of an organization. The book also talks about personal development and growth mindset. The book advises the readers on the power of fitness, meditation, reading, and good habits. It is a very good book for everyone who wants to learn and grow in their professional as well as personal lives.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

28) Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn (4/5)

This book is about mindfulness meditation techniques. This simple yet powerful book talks about how meditation can elevate pain, bring focus, peace, and happiness in life. Book provides simple tips, tricks, benefits of the technique. The technique sounds simple, however, it is extremely difficult to practice. I have started using this technique for 2/3 mins during the day while walking or sitting, whenever I get time. With a lot of practice, I may someday be able to do 10 mins of meditation at one go.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book)

29) Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear (5/5)

This is another small but powerful book on habit formation. The book breaks down the mechanics of a habit in terms of "Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward". To form a good habit, one must target the identity they want to be rather than just a target. Also, for good habits, one must make it obvious, attractive, easy, and rewarding. Similarly, to kick out a bad habit, one must do the exact opposite. The book is also filled with appropriate stories and anecdotes which adds to the theory laid down in the book. It is a very good book for anyone who wants to change their lives by changing their habits.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Audio Book, Kindle)

30) Who were the Shudras? by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (5/5)

This is another book that I read on the varna system in India. The book is a brilliant research-based analysis of how the caste system originated. Dr. Ambedkar provides references and analysis based on various ancient religious texts from Hindu Mythology like Rig Veda, Manu Smriti, Purusha Sukta, Mahabharata. He presents his analysis and logic on why Shudras were Kshatriyas earlier and how Shudras become the 4th varna much later. He also provides an analysis of why certain sects of Kshatriyas were degraded to Shudras. This is a wonderful book to understand one of the oldest and illogical systems of dividing Hindu society.

Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle)

It is said that, if you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first. This is my first attempt at writing. I have written this blog at one go after reading all these books in 2020. So few of the important aspects of the books may have been missed. However, I have tried to provide a simple understanding and review of the books I have read. I am targeting 52 books in 2021. Hopefully, I would be a better reader and writer in 2021.

Happy New Year! and Happy reading!

Mahendra Rathod

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