Dec 29, 2011

What Books Did You Read in 2011?

Here is a list of books I read in 2011. It spans across various topics from fiction, startups, war history, biographies and inspiration. Would love to hear what others have read. Please share your reads in the comments section below.

Long Walk to Freedom: This is Nelson Mandela's autobiography that he wrote while he was in prison for 27 years. It's an inspiring and informative read about the life of one of the best known freedom fighters of recent times. Mandela's grit, determination and perseverance are inspiring. It's also a good book to learn about apartheid and some South African history. I didn't know that South Africa achieved freedom only in 1994!

The Last Lecture: This is a book by Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor who died of pancreatic cancer. The book is about his life and mostly about how he faced the last days with a positive attitude. It's an easy read and a good reminder of our mortality and how to make the most of our time on earth.

Where Good Ideas Come From: Steven Johnson talks about 7 factors that lead to great ideas. What is unique is the observation that both nature and humans are influenced by the same 7 factors. These factors are "The Adjacent Possible", "The Slow Hunch", "Liquid Networks", "Serendipity", "Error", "Exaptation" and "Platforms". While evidence is weak some times, it still does a great job of explaining the source of good ideas.

Forever War: Dexter Filkins is a NY Times correspondent who followed the Iraq war firsthand and chronicles the day-to-day life of being in a war. It's an unbiased view of this war. It particular elucidates the challenges of dealing with an "enemy" that has no face. The sectarian violence made it so difficult to make any progress towards peace. But what touched me most was the story of a soldier who lost his life in the process of saving the author. This book firms up my belief that this war will come back to bite in a big way.

Do More Faster: David Cohen and Brad Feld are the founders of TechStars and they bring together the stories of various TechStars startups. I liked the style of the book as it brings real experiences of these teams and has a practical feel to it. A must read before your first startup.

SEAL Team Six: Howard E Wasdin was a Navy Seal part of the highly coveted Team Six. This team's selection process is more stringent than regular Navy SEALs. The team is deployed for the most critical and dangerous operations conducted by the US Navy. Wasdin shares his stories about the rigorous training and his sniper mission in Somalia. A great peek into the brilliant training system of the US Navy.

Grumby: Andy Kesller writes a humorous and exciting fiction about a valley startup that makes a personal assistant called Grumby. It's a fun read that depicts the highs and lows of a startup in the valley. Fun!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Stieg Larsson writes a brilliant mystery plot about a missing girl who was lost several years ago. It is a gripping read and I couldn't keep the book down until I finished.

Disrupting Class: Clay Christensen writes this book to highlight the various challenges and issues with the education system world over but particularly in the USA. He writes about the importance of self-paced, customized learning systems. He goes on to suggest how, in the next few years, technology will disrupt an archaic industrial-age education system. It adapts various concepts from his innovation books (Innovator's Dilemma, Innovator's Solution).

The Art of War: This is supposed to be a classic by Sun Tzu on war and business strategy. But I have never been able to appreciate the book as it seems too abstract. Also it seems that the various adaptations out there are not fun and simple enough. Couldn't complete it.

Crush It: Gary Vaynerchuk writes an easy read on how to do what you love. And he also writes about creating your personal online brand using social media tools. A good reference for someone getting started.

The Lean Startup: Eric Ries has nailed it! In this book he applies the logic and approach of experimentation with prime objective of optimizing resources at a startup. It is the best way to approach your startup or a new product when creating innovative products where the target users and markets are often unclear. The Build-Measure-Learn cycle is a simple and effective framework to structure your hypothesis and then experiment to prove and measure your learnings. A must read for any startup team.

Steve Jobs: 'Tis the season and so I had to read it :) Walter Isaacson does an excellent job of capturing the colorful life of Steve. It was also fun to learn some history of computing and Job's contributions in the 80s and 90s. It also has a lot of juicy anecdotes about the genius. Awesome!

The Color of Water: James McBride writes his experiences as a son of a Jewish mother and a black father. It's an amazing American story setup in New York. It's a tribute to his mom about the tough times she went through in 1930s as a mother of 10 children. An inspiring and touching personal story.

I Was Blind But Now I See: James Altucher writes about the path to discovering true happiness by first discovering oneself. I am still reading it so let's see where it goes.

Overall, I am quite happy with the books I read this year. Like always, I wish I could read more but this is what I could get through. I have a great line up of books for the coming year but would love recommendations too. Have a great 2012!

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