I published the best books I read in 2015 and thought I’d continue the trend.

This year, I read 23 books and did not complete my goal of reading 35 books. I exclusively read non-fiction. If you compare my reading list from the past years, the shift from tech/startup to philosophy and econ will be clear.

Below are short reviews of some of my favorite books I read in 2016. I hope you find something you like. Please share your lists or opinions - I’m @KaranGoel.

How the Economic Machine Works by Ray Dalio

This book should be renamed to “How the economic machines of the past worked”. Because that’s what 80% of the pages are dedicated to - the Great Depression, the German recession, other developing nations’ economic stand etc. The actual explanation of how an economy works (mostly in the context of the US) is the first few (~50) pages.

My favorite quote from the book was this: “In booms, everyone’s a capitalist. In busts, everyone’s a socialist”. So true.

The book is mainly structured as follows:

  1. How an economy works - Explaining debt cycles, deflation, deleveraging, currency trends etc.
  2. Understanding recessions - probably the bulkiest part of the book is a very detailed analysis of the US Great Depression and German recession. I don’t exaggerate when I say it’s very detailed. Ray does a quarter-by-quarter data-backed analysis, and looks at policies that were passed and what the effect was.
  3. Modelling futures of emerging economies - Ray proposes a template/formula for computing how much growth various economies will have. It takes worker productivity and country culture into account. (Spoiler alert - India and China are on top).

The book is full of data, tables and graphs - which I love. But the concepts are so macro, that it’s not really relevant for me and most of the people who might like the title of the book. I think this book is more useful to those seeking a career in global finance, or economic policy-making.

Regardless, it’s a great book that is very easy to consume. The “chapters” are long blog posts, essentially, and you can skip what you don’t like. I loved the general explanation of debt cycles, and macro trends in the first few pages (~60 pages or so).

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts

It was one of the hardest books to read for me. Not because of the language or the style of writing but because of the content itself. Most of the points brought by Watts will just mess with your mind. You will at the end of each chapter, or even during, question your beliefs and your thoughts and your identity. Almost half of my highlights in the book are annotated with “wtf”. this is not your regular self help book. I don’t really know how to classify this. Maybe it’s a psychology book. Maybe even philosophy. I really don’t know. Maybe you should read it for yourself. Highly, highly recommend this short but exciting read to everyone.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

I started reading this book after numerous recommendations from successful people like Tim Ferriss. I loved the content of the book itself. It is a goldmine for learning about irrational persuasion.

After reading the first couple of chapters, I put what I had learned to test. I managed to get free WiFi and more from my hotel. It’s a small example but just validates the research.

I’m taking off 1 star because the book has a lot of filter content. It would’ve been a much nicer and tighter read at about half the page count.

No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh

No Mud, No Lotus is a fascinating read on the topics of meditation and mindfulness. I’m surprised at the parallels between this book and Allen Watts’ Wisdom of Insecurity.

The overarching theme of the book is that to be happy, we have to be suffering. Running from the latter will not bring the former. To really enjoy food, you have to suffer through hunger.

What I love about Thich’s writing is that it’s very direct. The book itself is 100ish pages. It’s split in smaller chapters.

The book ends with a few “tutorials” and tips on various mantras and meditation practices. I think that’s quite valuable for someone who needs easy step-by-step guide for developing their routine.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

This is one of the best business / startup book I’ve ever read. I have followed and his partner Marc for some time now and read their blog every few days. It’s a book written by a CEO for CEOs.

Ben tells the story of his startup career and extracts powerful lessons from those. I strongly believe that every founder should read this book. It’s not a self help guide or a sales manual, but rather a mentor. Ben is honest and transparent.

I do think the content is more valuable when your company guys a dozen people or so, but I recommend it to anyone interested in founding one.

The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz

Most people you see and interact with are average (even though they should be called medians). With just a little bit different attitude, and small changes to your persona, you can beat the “averages”. And guess what, these differences don’t take a long time to nurture.

That’s what this book is about. How to be different. How to be powerful. How to be confident. How to FEEL different. There’s some easy tips that you can practice every day - walking a little faster for example. These don’t require any new skill, money or trainers.

Schwartz gives detailed accounts of others who made some changes, and the results they got. But just like most self-help books, most of these details are unnecessary. They are fillers. The book could be half as many pages with the same content value.

Good real in my opinion. Obviously all of the content is not applicable after 50 years (on Snapchat or Facebook), there’s still a lot you can learn from it. It will broaden your perspective on life, and help you succeed.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

One of the all-time classics. Most chapters in the book are short - a few pages - and so easily consumable. BUT, the book did not need to be as long as it is. Most of the take-aways are easy to understand and did not need 2 billion examples each.

To some, the lessons in the book might seem manipulative. I disagree - I think the book just tells you how to be good to others. Since no one teaches us that in the school, some of us are left “socially unstable”. I think, this book can help with that.

Most of all - just reading the book is not enough. You actually have to internalize the material and practice it. For example, start giving people genuine and true compliments. Take it one step at a time - soon you’ll be a much better person.

Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos Nyiszli

Auschwitz is the first book I’ve read on WW2. I only barely knew what the camp was and what it did people. This is a very heavy read that describes, often in detail, the inhuman extermination of human life. It describes what life was like in Auschwitz, and what meant to be a prisoner there.

I think this book gave me enough context to get started on more book around the camp and WW II.

Cover: Flickr