Over the COVID Lockdown era in 2022, I found myself in an unfamiliar situation. With copious time now now available, I found myself gravitating into the world of books.

In each I found keen paracosms, universes of delight and bewonder, words of flourish and aplomb, wisdom and ignorance, humor and rage.

While many a work of literary excellence ensconce on my shelf…a few have provided me with a true shiver, a flash and dizziness.

These books have enraptured, agitated, enlightened and confused me all the same. I have read many more books since, but during the pandemic, these books provided me with knowledge, perspective, compassion and courage.

I hope earnestly, that these books provide some of you with the same.


“Behind every word written, an entire world is created that must be imagined”

Heinrich Böll, The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 74, Issue 87, Spring 1983

Honorable mentions

Flow

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi

Until The End Of Time

Brian Greene

Utopia for Realists

Rutger Bregman

Emotional Design

Don Norman

The Cantos

Ezra Pound

Plato & A Platypus Walk Into A Bar

Thomas Cathart & Daniel Klein

Foundation

Isaac Asimov

Half Earth

Edward O Wilson

Fanged Noumena

Nick Land

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

10

Humankind

Rutger Bregman

If you are able to look past the masterful storytelling and exceptional clarity of the Dutch wunderkind, you will see that this book comes down to a very simple message.

“The views we have of ourselves and human nature end up becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.”

If we believe, to our core, that human beings are fundamentally sinners, brutish, selfish etc. we will build our institutions around that... and ultimately make those very sinful, brutish, selfish people.

Hence this book attempts to answer 2 questions.

  • 1) What is a more realistic and scientific view of human nature? (based on the most credible information we have so far)
  • 2) How can we rebuild schools, prisons, companies, democracies and other institutions based on this ‘new realism’ of human nature?

In many ways… we have confused cynicism for realism. This book seeks to correct that.  From that standpoint, I believe that this book is a must-read.

09

Kafka On The Shore

Haruki Murakami

If you happen to be a lover of cryptic tales full of magic realism, odd structures , riddles and metaphors, this is the book for you.

It follows a series of characters across different places and times, all somehow connected to each other in rather mysterious ways.

The primary character, only known to use by the name ‘’Kafka’,  is stuck in a rather Kafkaesque conundrum.

The book is escapism defined… with beautiful imageries and tales of the terrors and realizations of adventure.

Murakami covers a plethora of motifs, from determinism vs free will, the necessity of art and the perception of metaphors as reality.

While this book may swallow you into a world so  Incredibly immersive… in the end it will leave you with more questions than answers.

For me, that is it’s greatest charm.

08

Three Novels

Samuel Beckett

The works of Beckett are utterly raw and sublime. The honesty in his words, which I find to rival other greats such as Albert Camus, have won him the distinct distinguishment of the Nobel Prize in Literature

His three essays, Malloy, Malone Dies & The Unnamable, are among the most revered by his contemporaries. Nabokov, a giant in his own right, considers this one of his favorites.

While a rather difficult and meandering read (including an 80-page paragraph) his words strike one’s being like a hammer that delicately, yet brutally melds metal from the hearth.

If one resonates with ennui, loneliness or angst… Beckett’s prowess captures these emotions with a deft and artful quality.

Very few other writers could so gracefully and candidly depict the vicissitudes, vacillations and vagaries of the human condition.

07

Poor Economics

Esther Duflo & Abhjeet Bannerjee

For decades, we have debated poverty. The most significant is that of Jeffery Sachs vs. William Easterly:

Does government and foreign aid help those in poverty? Or do these aids make people lazy and overly reliant, keeping them in a ‘poverty trap’ ?

Duflo & Bannerjee, husband and wife, won the Nobel Prize in Economics for shattering this ‘Demand Side vs Supply Side’ argument.

A significant driver of the ‘randomista‘ movement, Duflo and Bannerjee are less concerned with theoretical arguments, and more concerned with what can actually be proven.

Their book contains a whole swath of findings from randomized control trials conducted across the globe. Taking these findings they discuss implications from the individual to institutional level, of administering certain policies and reform.

If one wants to understand how to combat poverty in the most ‘realistic’ way, this book is your primer.

06

Peoplewatching

Desmond Morris

For anyone who is interested in understanding the fascinating world of body language... this is your bible. Desmond Morris is perhaps the most recognized and referenced name in all of non-verbal behavior analysis.

A genius in his own write, Morris was  a zoologist (primarily primatology), ethologist (who'd study animals in nature) and a surrealist painter. As such, he saw the world with a keen gaze and singular perspective.

He'd see the actions of humans, much like the animals in nature.... every single iota of a movement had a sense of purpose, crafted and chiseled by evolutionary mechanisms, social conditioning and individual experiences.

Never has there been a book so illuminating in helping me understand, how a person chatters with their fingertips and toes.

05

The Righteous Mind

Jonathan Haidt

Why are good people divided by religion and politics?

This is a complicated question. But maybe, the foremost expert on moral psychology may provide you with some insight.

Haidt has dedicated his life to understanding people from different cultures and values... and sees how diverse morality can actually be.

According to him, most of the people reading this book come from a WEIRD world (Acronym for Westernized, Educated, Industrialized, Rich & Democratic). As such, we have a very specific moral matrix to judge people and their actions. However... WEIRD people are a minority in the world, and a rather recent phenomenon in comparison to human history.

If one is interested in the philosophy, evolutionary biology and practical psychology experiments about right and wrong, look no further than this book.

04

Chaos

James Gleick

Classically,it was thought that simple systems give rise to simple behaviors, and complex systems give rise to complex behaviors.

Turns out this isn't true at all. Chaos exists all around us.... But chaos is not about about randomness. It is about infinite complexity. It is about aperiodic, non-linear, deterministically unpredictable behavior.

In other words.... there are paterns in chaos... Patterns that would surprise you. These patterns exist in nature as the veins of leaves and the shapes of clouds, in  your body  as the muscular structure of the brain and the rhythms of the heart. These patterns exist in the way populations grow and markets rise and fall.

Scientists and academics have been studying chaos at a large scale over the last 5 decades, and have come up with astonishing findings.

Gleick, a science historian and one of the greatest science writers of our century (along with Kuhn and Popper) , provides you with a book you'll want to re-read everytime you reach the last page.

It is such magnetic literary excellence that has hoisted this book to a Pulitzer nomination in 1986.

03

The Story of Philosophy

Will Durant

Written by Will & Ariel Durant in the 1920's, this book was one the most beloved books during it's time.  It is  a piece of profound clarity, from the authors who wrote 'The Story of Civilization.

If you'd want to dig deep in to the world of Western Philosophy, all the way from the pre-socratic greeks to the early 20th century philosophers such as Bertrand Russell... this book does those great minds justice.

While this book is, in many ways, a masterpiece... it personally holds a room in my heart. I first read this book in my late grandfather's house when he was still alive.

He was an intelligent man, and an avid reader with a vast collection of books on his shelf... Of all the books, this one caught my eye. When I opened it, I saw pen strokes and highlights. Turns out, my father borrowed this book from my grandfather during his post-college days and read through it.

In many ways, this serendipity felt like an inheritance of will.

Even if one were to ignore my personal connection to the work, I consider this book to be truly timeless.

02

Gödel, Escher, Bach

Douglas Hofstadter

One of the strangest books I've read. It is really hard to summarize what this book is about. It has everything from plays, puzzles dialogues, hidden messages and all kinds of self -references.

At it's core this book is about how things come into being through 'strange loops'. How 'non-living' atoms could make a 'living' being. How 'non-meaning' signs and sounds can make 'meaningful language and numerical systems'. How thought can emerge from distinct 'non-thinking' parts.

Behind this process of ' strange loops' lie five distinct mechanisms: isomorphisms, recursions, infinities, paradoxes and formal systems.

No amount of summarizing can do this book justice.... neither can the Pulitzer (which this book won in 1979).

All I can say.... this isn't a book to be read, neither one to be studied. This book provides an experience like none other

01

Behave

Robert Sapolsky

I don't think people realize how complicated we human beings can be. Some of us used to bring orchestras in our efforts to pillage and burn down villages to 'make our massacres more beautiful'....

Just think about that. Can you name one other creature in the animal kingdom that is concerned with finding ‘beauty’ in violence?

Human beings are complicated….But how complicated are we really? We are capable of acts of horrendous violence as well as acts of unprecedented compassion, and a whole lot of confused middling  behavior.

Sapolsky, one of the greatest science writers and behavioural biologists of the 21st century takes us on a journey. All the way from what happens within 5 milliseconds in the human brain to millions of years of evolution. How does everything interconnect with one another to make an individual  do 'that'?

'That' being any action or behavior.... from embracing a loved one to cleansing an entire ethnicity.

If you want to know people.... this is the most thorough, interesting and captivating primer for one to read.

The first part of the book covers the biological aspects of  behavior. The second takes all the information previously dicussed and puts into the context of how humans form a conception of 'us' and them', where hierarchy, morality, obedience, empathy, symbols, justice, war and peace come from.

Easily my favorite book so far... words cannot describe what a tour de force this book really is.

Final Notes

If you're interested in some of the books I've read, you can check out my reading list!