Books

This is just a list of books I've read (2020-onward), and my thoughts on them. Nothing too exciting. Oh, and this is a spoiler-free zone.

A Wild Sheep Chase

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Alfred Birnbaum

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 1982 time read: September 2020

Working my way through the Murakami catalogue, I'm still in awe how innovative (and sometimes, just weird) each of his surrealist stories is. A Wild Sheep Chase is no exception: I was once again immediately transported to his slightly magical rendition of Japan, seamlessly exploring the world through the narrator's eyes. Compared to some of his other works, I think this book is a bit more open-ended and tangled - in a charming, page-turning way.

Death at an Early Age

by Jonathan Kozol

genre: Education published: 1967 time read: September 2020

Wow. Just wow. This book makes me angry. It is, truly, the classic indictment of inner-city education - beyond that, a cold hard look at the American public education system at large. Even though the events of this book precede the Voting Rights Act, the institutions that Kozol criticizes still continue to marginalize students 55 years later. Each chapter is a cycle of sobering insight, heartbreak, and rage against the system. An essential read for anybody looking to get into education.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

by Paulo Freire | translated by Myra Bergman Ramos

genre: Pedagogy published: 1970 time read: September 2020

To be fully honest, swathes of this book have went straight over my head: I'm a complete amateur when it comes to critical theory, let alone critical pedagogy. Yet still, I can clearly see the elements that make this a foundational, revolutionary text: Freire wastes no time nor space as he defines a new educational world order, one with inclusivity, cooperation, and empowerement at its core. Definitely a book that I'll revisit in the future.

Poor Economics

by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

genre: Development Economics published: 2011 time read: September 2020

This book is ultimately a manifesto for the work that Banerjee and Duflo (and to an extent, Michael Kremer) undertook that ultimately won them their Nobel prize: a granular, experimental approach to alleviating global poverty (especially with RCTs). I really enjoyed their systematic analysis of what causes poverty, and likely more importantly, their ability to admit that there is no silver bullet to fixing inequality. Definitely one of the first books I'd recommend to anybody looking to get into economics.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

by Ursula K. Le Guin

genre: Short Story published: 1973 time read: September 6th 2020

I've discussed the premise of this short story for years on end, but I never actually got around reading the original piece that inspired it all. I've got to say, it's a bit strange - but still, it packs a powerful moral punch, and the idea of a utility pump (or the survival lottery, on steroids) is one well worth considering.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Philip Gabriel

genre: Realist Fiction published: 2013 time read: September 2nd 2020

Murakami does it again, trapping me within the confines of his narrative world: I finished the entire book in just one night! Yet in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, Murakami isn't exploring a surrealist or fantastical world: we follow a normal person - someone almost too mediocre - as they go through a muted mid-life crisis. There is a strong sense of intimacy as Murakami delves deep into pain, protection, and human psychology. I'm left feeling both introspectively pleased and depressed, in a light-and-dark sort of way - but certainly with colour.

1984

by George Orwell

genre: Dystopian Fiction published: 1949 time read: August 2020

George Orwell's magnum opus is just as much of a page-turner on the fifth read as it is on the first. Throughout the years, I've always held this book in a special place in my heart: what Orwell has to say has profound impacts on how we view our past, how we live our present, and how we decide our future. So many things cement this book as a literary classic: its countless neologisms that have pervaded pop culture and political science, its genre-defining exploration of totalitarianism, imperialism, and power, and its commentary on the relationship between language, thought, and freedom. Excited to take it up again soon.

What Money Can't Buy

by Michael J. Sandel

genre: Philosophical Economics published: 2012 time read: August 2020

This short and sweet book is a great exploration into the moral limits of markets. Sandel showcases the skill that made Justice so famous (and probably makes him a great professor, though I can't comment firsthand on that): he clearly distills moral conundrums into separate and distinct philosophical issues, and tackles each of them in methodical but easily-understood steps. As he explored a set of personable (and sometimes, absolutely absurd) markets, I feel like I've come away with a better understanding of why some things shouldn't be commodified. My only complaint is that this book isn't longer.

Why Nations Fail

by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

genre: Political Economics published: 2012 time read: July/August 2020

One of the most influential economics books in the past decade. The most cited economist of the past 10 years. Possibly the most important question at the crossroads of political science and economics. Why Nations Fail pulls no punches as Acemoglu and Robinson explain their simple but crucial theory: that nations thrive from inclusive economic and political institutions, and fail by their extractive counterparts. They analyze nations throughout human history, starting with the Roman Empire and ending with the status quo and American neoimperialism; and in each case, they prove their mettle as award-winners in their field and reinforce the importance of inclusive institutions. At the end of the day, this has been one of the most comprehensive magnum opus-style books that I've read, and one that I'd wholeheartedly recommend to anybody.

Narrative Economics

by Robert J. Shiller

genre: Economics published: 2019 time read: June/July 2020

Robert Shiller conjures up a lens to examine the economic world through the idea of economics narratives: popular stories that have undue power over people, companies, and governments. I'm not sure if I'm fully ready to buy into narrative economics just yet, but he makes a solid case; Shiller comes equipped with the modern tools of data science and textual analysis to examine the most important economic stories of the West.

The Elephant Vanishes

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin

genre: Short Stories published: 1993 time read: May 2020

The Elephant Vanishes is an intriguing set of short stories, combining seemingly banal life stories and environments with a deep dive into surrealism, loneliness, and trauma. As with most short story compilations, some stories hit harder than others, but every story was memorable in a very unique, Murakami way. Favourite stories are probably Sleep, Barn Burning, and The Silence.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Jay Rubin

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 1997 time read: May 2020

To many, this is Murakami's magnum opus, and I wouldn't disagree. From an extremely mundane and typical man and environment, Murakami conjures yet another fantastical story: one that touches on Japanese suburbia, war crimes in World War II, and a set of relationships set around existentialism and death. As magical as this book is, it's definitely in the "odd reads" category; but still, it has my complete recommendation.

Norwegian Wood

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Jay Rubin

genre: Coming of Age published: 1987 time read: April/May 2020

The novel that really shot Murakami into national and international fame is beautiful, nuanced, and emotional. Granted, I haven't read many coming-of-age books, but Norwegian Wood is amazing regardless of genre: our protagonist's journey is as much of a whirlwind as it is a slow burn, as the book explores the process of trauma and its long-lasting impacts on life.

Flowers for Algernon

by Daniel Keyes

genre: Science Fiction published: 1959 time read: April 2020

For a book published in 1959 (and penned as a short story in 1958), Flowers for Algernon ages surprisingly well. We watch the transformation of a man who has been failed by society time and time again; it's telling that this story could've been very well set in 2020, with little impact on its narrative. By far one of the tamest controversial banned books that I've ever read, and if anything, a great introspective short read for young adults.

Good Economics for Hard Times

by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

genre: Economics published: 2019 time read: March/April 2020

Economics has the reputation of being the dismal science, with arcane (and often wrong) predictions and little statistical backing. The recent Nobel laureates do a great job of disproving that, showcasing what "Good Economics" really looks like: examining the world through an analytical lens, blending together innovations from statistics, mathematical modeling, and medicine to get a solid grasp on world phenomenon. Easily one of my favourite (~pop) economics books I've read.

The Stranger

by Albert Camus | translated by Matthew Ward

genre: Philosophical Fiction published: 1942 time read: March 2020

Camus's brief tour into absurdist existentialism is as intriguing as it is concise. I won't claim to fully understand all of the philosophical implications of this novel (I'd need a much better philosophy training for that), but I can clearly recognize why it's immortalised as one of the best books ever written, period. My only regret is that I couldn't read it in (my admittedly terrible) French.

Cloud Atlas

by David Mitchell

genre: Science Fiction published: 2004 time read: February/March 2020

Cloud Atlas, no doubt, is a very unique book. David Mitchell seamlessly switches between narrative and historical styles to build dramatic, engaging worlds. I will say, I was less wowed by the fantastical journey through time than most - I think Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi still takes the cake for me in this genre - but nevertheless, it's an amazing and special journey.

1Q84

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 2009 time read: February 2020

Fresh off of Kafka on the Shore, I was motivated to binge some Murakami, and 1Q84 received a strong recommendation from a friend. Murakami dips you head-first into a truly entrancing literary universe, with amazingly elegant world-building and one of my favourite set of leads. Yet, I can't also help but feel that the plot is a bit unfocused compared to his other, more concise books, and that the book gets... a little disturbing. Still, for fans of Murakami or surrealist fiction, I'd definitely recommend 1Q84.

how to

by Randall Munroe

genre: Pop Science published: 2019 time read: January 2020

I love xkcd, and I loved reading Randall Munroe's previous book-length absurd scientific escapades in the form of "what if?" and "Thing Explainer". "how to" is just another great book in this amazing series, and it's a book that I think almost anybody would enjoy.

Open Borders

by Bryan Caplan

genre: Economics published: 2019 time read: January 2020

At ICYD 2016 (a debate competition in London), I watched some of the world's best youth debaters argue over the concept of open borders. At the time (especially given the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in Europe), it seemed like a tough principle to advocate for, but Bryan Caplan does a pretty solid attempt at doing just that in Open Borders. I do think that the comic book medium is narratively interesting (and I love SMBC), but I think it might've hindered Caplan's message just a bit - especially as he has less leeway to delve deep into rigorous economic experiments. And at the end of the day, many open borders arguments are in a "what if" limbo, but Caplan really does them justice.

Kafka on the Shore

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Philip Gabriel

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 2002 time read: January 2020

Kafka on the Shore was my first Murakami venture, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The world that Murakami weaves is immaculate; I feel at home in a place that I've never been in. Kafka's ensemble of characters bring just enough to the table to make every chapter a page-turner, but leave plenty to the imagination - and something that makes this coming-of-age story easily and eerily relatable.