You wake up on January 1 and before you know it you are in December. As soon as you start wondering where all the time went, you remember that it was the plenty time you had that made it possible for you to read the little books you were able to read.
You look at the to-read list of 2019 you compiled in 2018 and while you were disappointed you could not read some of the books on that list, you realize it’s partly because you had replaced some of them with other spur-of-the-moment recommendations.
In all, it’s being an enjoyable 2019 for me. The challenges of the year notwithstanding, I have no regrets on a personal level.
I read a total of 41 books this year, and my, I wanted to read more but Social Media will not let me be great. Scores of wonderful links are thrown at you. Hundreds of articles are sent your way. Again, I can’t complain. Most of these books were recommended from Social Media and I was encouraged to finish some of the books because I always had people who picked up the books as soon as I announce my next book.
One of the reasons I share this is to encourage you reading this post to read more books. If you find the courage to do so in the coming year, this post is worth it. I hope it does.
My Best Books of the Year
I seem not to be able to choose my favourite book of the year between these three books. I enjoyed them for different reasons.
Stephen’s How Music Got Free was an incredible journey into how a commodity which used to be closely guarded and sold became so ubiquitous. As I type I’m listening to a rap song on YouTube for free. If it was in 1970, I would not been able to do this. A few young people killed Music. See this quote,
“Most listeners didn’t care about quality, and the obsession with perfect sound forever was an early indicator that the music industry didn’t understand its customers.”
As soon as I finished Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Things About Hard Things I went on his Twitter page and spent the rest of my day on his feed. It had that much impact on me. Since I read it, anyone who asked me that he intends to start a business and seeks a book, I immediately recommend this book. He took his time on this book, and I assure you it’s one of the best books you’ve never read.
“What is the difference between a hero and a coward? What is the difference between being yellow and being brave? No difference. Only what you do. They both feel the same. They both fear dying and getting hurt. The man who is yellow refuses to face up to what he’s got to face. The hero is more disciplined and he fights those feelings off and he does what he has to do. But they both feel the same, the hero and the coward. People who watch you judge you on what you do, not how you feel.”
Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, you have to read. I’m not joking. Lack of sleep has been glamorized for too long. This book will jolt you. Your life may indeed depend on understanding what the book preaches. If you choose not to read, I feel sorry. Bill Gates said he changed his entire routine after he read this book. I believe him.
“Adults forty-five years or older who sleep fewer than six hours a night are 200 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke during their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven to eight hours a night.”
One thing I love about Robert Guest The Shackled Continent is how he speaks from experience. As the Economist correspondent for Africa, he sees and understands the problem. Some find his recommendations tilted but it’s difficult to properly rebut them. Equality, the Third World and Economic Delusion is the kind of book I will give to Nigeria’s minister of finance. Part of what he argues well in the 1980 book is that state-controlled foreign aid is a destructive waste of money. When you give governments aid, they become dependent on it and then use it to consolidate power instead of using it for the common good.
Arkebe Oqubay book title is misleading. It has nothing to do about Made in Africa. It’s a book about Ethiopia and how as special Advisor to the Ethiopian Prime Minister he’s found out how Ethiopia has been able to succeed in the cement and horticulture industries and not so well in leather. I however think some of his ideas will be useful in other countries in Africa. Dr. Ayittey is against those who think the problem of Africa is white colonialism and argues that black neo-colonialism is even worse in his book, Africa Betrayed. Written in 1993, he was convinced a revolution in Africa is on the way. I’m not sure things have turned out as he hoped but arms-crossed.
Money, Real Quick is a book of hope for the continent. How Kenya through M-Pesa became an innovative tale the world looks up to in mobile banking. It’s an exciting book. The Next Factory of the World is also about such hopes, and in China Irene Yuan Sun believes Africa has a worthy ally. It’s an exciting book.
If you will read one religion book in the coming year, I will recommend Professor Ryrie’s Protestant. It’s a breathtaking history of Martin Luther’s protestant movement from the jaws of the Roman Catholic Church. Football fans, don’t watch the next Premier League game without reading Michael Cox’s The Mixer. The league has come a long way and it’s virtually unrecognizable from its humble beginning. Highly recommended.
Anyone who manages to finish Donald Horowitz classic Ethnic Groups in Conflict is bound to never see group identity the same way again. The well referenced book offers proven solutions to group conflicts. Africa needs all the helps it can get in this respect. The middle ages is a period many people want to forget. William Manchester provides stories of horrors but also awe about this (great) period in A World Lit Only By Fire. Very few books can best this kind of narration about the Medieval period and Renaissance. Sarah Bartlett’s The Money Machine is a history of how two cousins gamed Wall Street. Another example why people lose respect for the global financial system. Start-up Nation is an incredible book. No wonder what you think about the nation of Israel, it is hard to refuse to acknowledge that it has made phenomenal progress because of thoughtful leadership. Dan Senor wrote an incredible book.
Americana blew me away. That an immigrant Bhu Srinivasan could pen such an incisive book about America is praiseworthy. No matter what you think you know about America, you will still learn a lot about this country that is a reference point in history. In Tobacco and Slaves, Alan Kulikoff takes us on a journey on the importance of this crop and how the synthesis between it and slaves developed the culture in Virginia and Maryland. But I must warn you, the paragraphs can be quite boring. Vision of the Disinherited by Robery Anderson is about a reactionary holiness group from the lowest economic classes who gain strength during the 20th century’s “economic dislocation”. You know them today as pentecostals. The world has America to thank (or loathe) for a lot of things.
How did a group of people who loved to live sensibly within their means and worked hard to stay out of debt develop the habit of instant gratification. Lendol Calder does a brilliant job of explaining this in Financing the American Dream. It’s interesting.
America is going through a tough time right now and if you want to know another angle not covered in mainstream media, read Colin Flaherty’s White Girl Bleed A Lot. I won’t even reveal anything in this book, but please read it if you are an American or remotely interested in the direction of America as a country.
I read my fair share of fiction this year. It may be just 12% of the total books I read, but I was fortunate in picking really good ones. Three, Every Day is for the Thief, Everything Good Will Come and Things Fall Apart are about Nigeria while Indecent Exposure is non-Nigerian but African, while The Caine Mutiny which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1951 is about World War II.
Any of these two books, AliBaba and Shoe Dog could easily have been my book of the year in another year. Phil Knight’s story is amazing…while reading, sometimes you are excited for him, others you feel like crying over his challenges. I loved reading it.
“And those who urge entrepreneurs to never give up? Charlatans. Sometimes you have to give up. Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop. Luck plays a big role. Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky. Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome. Some people might not call it luck. They might call it Tao, or Logos, or Jñāna, or Dharma. Or Spirit. Or God.”
And then there is the Jack Ma story. After reading this book, I gave out five copies of it. What draws me is how humane he seems to be in building his business. Resilient, charismatic, Jack Ma shows anyone can succeed under the right environment, which interestingly China would not have been provided under Chairman Mao.
“Today is brutal, tomorrow is more brutal, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful. However, the majority of people will die tomorrow night .”
Lesser Beasts by Mark Essig is such an enjoyable book. Pigs have really been unfairly treated by our world. How cultures and religions dealt the meat a blow was so interestingly written. Triangles of Profit by Ronald Nzimora explained online marketing in easy steps. Anyone can start and make money on the internet and this is a good guide. Anything That Moves is also about meat. Delicacies you have never thought about are now coming to the fore. Dana Goodyear implores us not to fight it but to simply enjoy it. Cutting into the Meatpacking Line by Deborah Fink is a scathing rebuke of capitalism in the meat packing industry. She has some point. Dominion by Matthew Scully is also along similar lines of human’s inhumane treatment of animals. My conclusion reading these books is that anyone who doesn’t want to eat meat is free to do so jare especially in the midst of plenty. I can’t come and go and kill myself.
I got a hold of Joseph Menn’s All the Rave Joseph Menn via How Music Got Free. It’s about the surprising rise of Napster and an even more surprising fall. Then I picked up an academic book, also inspired by How Music Got Free, called Audio Engineering 101 by Tim Dittmar. Lastly in the Music category, I read Fred Goodman’s Fortune’s Fool. A somewhat depressing reading of how technology could rubbish the vision of an entire industry not looking to innovative.
I have to read at least one of Thomas Sowell’s books every year. I love him that much. Wealth, Poverty and Politics did not disappoint. The well-researched book deals with the subject of factors responsible for the progress of some groups and why others lag. As usual, Sowell’s main accomplishment in the book is ruthlessly reasoning to a conclusion, peeling back extraneous layers and illogical reasoning to bring out a clear, defensible, and essentially irrefutable conclusion. In Small States in World Markets, Peter Katzenstein asks what countries like Denmark and Norway whose per capita GDP was lower than United States in the 1980s now surpasses it. What is America doing wrong?
Any serious student of history who is not paying attention to China is misguided. Actually, China itself does not give much room for that; it’s always in your face with its strides. While Dilemmas of Reform by Joseph Fewsmith is more difficult to read, I particularly like Unlikely Partners by Julian Gewirtz in which he explains that the success of China is a result of partnership between different people, organizations and nations. One of the most remarkable moments in the book for me was when Deng, leader of about a billion people at the time, met with the World Bank in 1980 and uttered the words,
“We are very poor. We are very poor. We have lost touch with the world. We need the World Bank to catch up.”
And help the World Bank did. During the period of 1981–1989, the World Bank approved sixty-nine projects totaling over US$7.25 billion, and provided over US$3 billion in loans. During this period, the World Bank became China’s largest single source of foreign capital, and China became the Bank’s largest borrower. Efforts by the World Bank would eventually help in the facilitation of the popular Bashan Conference, a framework still in use by the Chinese top officials.
And this leads me to the last two books. I am presently reading Atomic Habits by James Clear and it’s already deciding how I am going to live 2020. I make sure I’m reading it with my wife. Outliers, I read again this year. It’s such a profound book. It’s my wife’s favourite book and it just seems that the more I read it, the more insight I get from it. I always encourage reading this book.
So there you have it. My books of 2019.
In the next few days, I hope to provide a list of the books I have penned down to read in 2020.
Let’s read together, people!