Book Log

Here's a log of the books I am reading or read recently.

Reading now: Making of Asian America , Erika Lee

Very good 2021/04/28: A Promised Land, Barack Obama : It is a good account of the initial years of Obama's presidency. It highlights Obama's attention to detail and sincerity to the job. One does get a good view of the behind the scene activities involved in getting various bills passed. This book stops with the events of 2011. Looking forward to the next book.
Excellent 2021/03/31: The Undocumented Americans, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio: In contrast to the stereotype view of undocumented americans, this book presents the nuances and realities of being undocumented in america. It highlights the life of day worker in staten island, trauma of workers who helped at ground zero, trouble with healthcare, living a rural town without public transportation, and the cloud of deportation that often hangs around many people. A good read.
Very Good 2021/01/18: Becoming, Michelle Obama: A good read. I liked the description of life in the south side of Chicago, the value of "small pushes", and the power of education for upward mobility. Politics aside, the book provides a perspective that is not mainstream. The end of the book felt a bit rushed. Overall, a good read.
Excellent 2020/05/20: State of the Heart, Haider Warraich: Fascinating book. Provides great information on cardiac disease, role of blood pressure, statins, by-pass surgeries, stents, and ventricular assists. Amazing insights on the organ that beats till the person dies! I could not put the book down. I started reading this book after Terry Gross's interview on NPR.
Excellent 2020/04/13: Educated, Tara Westover : Great memoir. Highlights the plight of the author from being a home-schooled student in Idaho to graduating with a PhD from Cambridge. It is a fairy tale but the story is harrowing at times. One can see the urban-rural divide in America. The maniacal fantasies and beliefs about the government and the medical establishment was eye-opening. If you like Hillbilly Elegy, then it is likely that you will like Educated.
Excellent 2019/10/15: The Body, Bill Bryson : This was a fantastic read. Most of the material is likely available in an anatomy text book. However, this book is an accessible introduction to the complexities of the human body for everyone. The language is awesome. Bryson definitively knows how to capture the reader's attention. It was a fascinating read. I could not put the book down. The only downside is that the book lacks details in many places. However, it is expected in an overall summary of a complex system like the human body. "It was great as long as it lasted!"
Good 2019/08/31: Talking to Strangers, Malcom Gladwell : This book was an interesting and a good read. The book explores the following question: why is it difficult to understand strangers? Why do smart people get easily deceived by others? If you like Malcom Gladwell's previous books (e.g., Blink or Outliers), you will like this book. The author highlights three reasons for our difficulty in understanding strangers: people generally assume others are honest/truthful, they expect others to behave in a particular way, and ignore that the behavior of the person is specific to a context and environment. The author illustrates this with various anecdotes: Sandra Bland case, spies, Amanda Knox, Sylvia Plath, sexual assaults in fraternities, and various policies on policing. Viewpoint of the author on the anecdotes were interesting. At times, the viewpoints and experiments highlighted in the book appear tailored to the author's agenda. I think "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman provides the same observations (default to truth and transparency) in much more persuasive manner.
Excellent 2019/08/01: The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer, Charles Graeber: This book entered my reading list after Jim Allison won the Nobel Prize last year. It was a great read. It is a short book at 200 pages. The book describes briefly the history of cancer immunotherapy — numerous failed attempts and recent successes. Primary goal of cancer immunotherapy is to get the immune system to attack cancer cells and potentially cure the patient. Advances in the understanding of the mechanisms with which the immune system works is one of the reasons for the success of these therapies. The description and potential of new immunotherapies such as checkpoint inhibitors, CTLA-4 blockers, PD1/PD-L1 inhibitors, and CAR-T was fantastic. The technical content was interspersed with personal stories of cancer patients, researchers, and doctors. The book is accessible to laymen without much knowledge of medicine. Book could have benefitted from some editing to further streamline it. Overall, a fantastic read. I could not put the book down.
Excellent 2019/03/25: Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt: The explores the question of morality and conflict with ideas from psychology. A good read but a bit verbose. It can be thought provoking. The discussion of incest, loyalty to oppressive forces, and blind loyalty is pretty interesting. The author creates a framework of six foundations to investigate the behavior of various groups: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. He uses this framework to explain the choices by liberals and conservatives in the US.
Excellent 2018/06/24: Ghachar Ghochar, Vivek Shanbhag: A good Indian novel. Vivek weaves an excellent story. A careful and a poignant investigation of family dynamics with subtlety in the context of an Indian family.
Good 2017/11/28: Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O'Neil: The book highlights the issue of fairness especially with the pervasive use of predictive models. Historical data can include all prior human biases. Predictive models can amplify these biases. It highlights how opaque and non-transparent models can be pernicious especially for the vulnerable section of the society. The book highlights the negative effects on the poor with examples such as the use of predictive models for teacher evaluation, models used by lenders of payday loans, targetted advertising, and for-profit universities. In summary, the book is not a bad read but could have been better.
Very Good 2017/06/13: America's war for the Greater Middle East, Andrew J. Bacevich: A good read. Provides an interesting perspective on the situation in the middle east. Highlights the ramifications of various policy decisions by American presidents starting from Carter to Obama. Highlights the internecine conflicts inherent in the region, ramifications of using military power, and policy issues emerging from civilian-military constraints.
Excellent 2017/05/31: Sapiens: A Brief History of HumanKind, Yuval Noah Hariri: An excellent read. I enjoyed reading this book. The book highlights the stages of human evolution: cognitive revolution, agricultural revolution, unification of humans, and scientific revolutions. I liked the parts of the book that described the origin and evolution of money, empires, religions, conquest, and exploration. The book has an interesting blend of history, speculation, and alternative perspectives on various aspects that is generally taken for granted.
Excellent 2017/03/04: Animal Farm, George Orwell : An excellent satire. The book highlights manipulation through propaganda by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Wikipedia states the following motivation for the book: "how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries".
Very good 2017/01/08: Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin Ford: Is technology going to create unemployment? There is huge investment in capital but a decrease in labor participation. Productivity growth has increased but wage growth has plateaued. Most jobs that are either routine or predictable are going to be automated. A major reason for the decline in manufacturing jobs is automation! 20% of the US college educated graduates are overeducated for their jobs! There is no economic growth without consumers spending. How do you help people where there are no jobs? Universal basic income? Atleast now is not the time to reduce social safety nets! Interesting book to read although some parts of the book about singularity and nanotechnology are speculative.
Very good 2017/01/02: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J D Vance : An interesting account of poverty in the rust belt of the USA. Although a memoir, the book raises varous societal issues such as the increase in single-parent families, opioid addiction, income segregation, and domestic violence among families in the rust belt. The book has an interesting observation about home ownership and faltering economic prospects. When the economy of a town collapses, it is predominantly the lower income class that suffers more as they are locked into the place with home ownership and do not have much economic prospects.
Excellent 2016/12/29: Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates: Fantastic book. Poetic. A searing account highlighting the challenges of being black in America, narrated by the author to his son. The book raises multiple issues: effect of slavery, struggle for survival, high incarceration rates, growing up with street violence, seggregation, home evictions, ghettos, and usage of excessive force. See NYT book review.
Very good 2016/12/25: When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi: A memoir written by an accomplished neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The book is beautifully written and explores questions intersecting life, death, and meaning. The book has some very good quotes. One such quote: "You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving". See NYT book review.
Very good 2016/12/21: The Vegetarian, Han Kang: Short novel but its both terrific and terrifying. The book explores one's relationship with identity in a clever way. The ramifications of a simple decision (i.e., of not eating meat) on the protagonist and the closely related people is well explored.
great 2016/11/01: Innu Ondu (Kannada), Vivek Shanbhag: Good Read. This kannada fiction novel subtly explores numerous aspects of one's life -- freedom, identity, routine, and relationships -- with an unique perspective.
great 2015/12/30: The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, John Gertner: Fantastic Read. Bell labs has a unique place in computing. Bell labs is the house of many seminal computing discoveries/inventions (transistors, wireless communication, solar cells, the Unix operating system, and others). The book not only provides a history of Bell labs but also describes some of the events preceeding such monumental discoveries. How and why did an industrial research lab attempt to solve some foundational problems in science?
great 2014/12/30: The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley: A Great Read. Highlights some of the reasons why US high school kids are not good at math and science. I have been thinking about similar questions as I teach a large undergraduate class at Rutgers, which has students with a large standard deviation in their learning abilities. The book emphasizes that rigor is important and priority in school should be on learning rather than other activities. An interesting question to think about: why is there so much emphasis on football in US high schools and universities?
great 2013/6/29: Perfect Rigor: A Genius and Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century, Masha Gessen: A Good read. A third person account of Grisha Perelman who was awarded the Fields medal and Clay institute's millenium prize for solving the Poincare conjecture. The book primarily talks about the sociological aspects of competitive mathematics in the USSR and how it shaped and influenced Grisha's life.
great 2012/05/26: Launching the Innovation Renaissance, Alexander Tabarrok:
good 2012/05/07: India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking, Anand Giridharadas: Initially thought I would not like this book. As I started reading it, I started to like it more than I expected. Although the book surmises many things about India, I did observe few of those things during my visits to India.
great 2012/04/25: Chess Story, Stefan Zweig: Must Read. Enjoyed the book. At 84 pages a great quick page turner. What a book! The book has an amazing contrast between nothingness and mental overstimulation.
good 2012/04/15: Rework, Jason Fried: Okay read. This book questions the traditional style of management in startups. Although a good quick read, I did not get much out of it.
great 2012/04/10: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes: Nice read. The book has an unreliable narrator. The book questions the fact that whether memory is reliable or not. Raises the question whether we remember what actually transpired.
great 2012/01/14: The Academic Job Search HandBook, Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick: Milo suggested me to read this book to help my job search. This is a great book for people interested in an academic job in the US.
good 2012/01/13: Noon, Aatish Taseer: Parts of the book were very good. Nice story portraying the changes in the mindset in India and Pakistan. Aatish has a nice style of writing but few things in this book seemed disconnected.
good 2012/01/12: Everyman, Philip Roth: A quick read. This is a book about getting old. The loneliness, dread and despondency about the stage of the life in the character was well portrayed.
average 2012/01/06: The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen: Average read. First part of the book was okay. Highlighted connecting the dots, questioning, observing, networking and experimenting as attributes of the innovators. I found the back-end to be too repetitive.
great 2011/12/31: Steve Jobs, Walter Issacson: With MacBook, iPod and iPhone changing the way I interact with the world everyday, I had to read it. It was a great read. Describes the quirky character of Jobs and his quest for simplicity in the products in great detail.
good 2011/12/27: The New Professor's Handbook, Cliff I. Davidson and Susan A. Ambrose: Good read for people interested in academia. First part of the book emphasizing teaching in research and mentoring was useful to me.
great 2011/12/14: The Big Short, Michael Lewis: Interesting read. Got to know more about the subprime mortagage crisis. This book makes you loathe investment bankers.
great 2011/3/06: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee: Captivating read. A mesmerizing journey of several hundreds/thousands of years studying cancer, battles fought to control it, understand it and provide a cure for it. I love reading about the history of science in general and it tingled the right chords for me. Description of progress of different kinds of treatment plans involving surgery, radiation, chemo and directed therapies fascinated me. Brought out the fact that great insightful discoveries coupled with some activism is required for progresss of a scientific field (think Mary Lasker and Sidney Farber efforts).
great 2011/2/08: Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days, Jessica Livingston: Amazing read. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Amazing pep talk with the founders of various startups.
great 2011/1/28: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson: Interesting read. Explores how some environments are productive for innovation while others are not. I could relate the "adjacent possible" argument with Thomas Kuhn's argument in Structure of Scientific Revolutions book.
great 2010/12/7: The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, Elyn R. Saks: Awesome book. Saks does a great job of describing her experiences during psychotic episodes, her struggle to lead a normal life and the role of her family and friends in her life.
great 2010/11/12: India after Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha: Awesome. Never thought history can be so engrossing. Made me remember Sukumar Sen (First CEC), Vappala Pangunni Menon (Man behind unification of princely states).
good 2010/10/10: A Ph.D. Is Not Enough!, Peter J. Feibelman: A short book. Quick read.
great 2010/09/08: Man's search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl: Apart from explaining the conditions in the concentration camp, explores why humans survive even worst of worst situations. Book concludes that a meaning for survival is necessary. When a person loses meaning for his existence, survival is seldom possible. Was an interesting read. Enjoyed the first part of the book. Skimmed through the logotherapy part. A short book, worth it.
good 2010/08/01: The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga: Quick page turner.