Book Recommendations

Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What data can and cannot tell us about modern India, by Rukmini S. 

Rukmini is one of India’s finest data journalists. If you wanted to ‘know’ India – how Indian courts work, how Indians earn, how Indians fall in love – this book gives you reliable data to form your opinions on. If you are an Indian liberal (for all the flak that receives), this book is a great way to embellish your arguments and you can refer to it when you make a point you believe in but forgot where you got data for your arguments from. If you are not, this book is perhaps the gateway to you changing your opinions.

The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu).

I never read science fiction. However, with a lot of goading from my college roommate and my flatmate (2 diff people), I am now checking out science fiction that really makes me think. In this book, Liu explores what it means to live on earth, how immersive worlds could be, and the role of religion, especially for atheist scientists. Fun book, first book in a trilogy and a good gateway drug to science fiction. This book made me pick up two more sci-fi books, the second part of this series and a wonderful collection by Ted Chiang.

From Silk to Silicon: The story of Globalisation in 10 extraordinary lives, by Jeffrey E Garten

Badly written history is boring. But globalisation has changed us like nothing else. This book looks at 10 of the most important people who have changed the world, ranging from Deng Xiaoping to Margaret Thatcher to John D Rockefeller. 

Is this anything? by Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld was one of the greatest comedians of the 20th century in America. This books is a collection of his jokes and embodies the essence of Jerry’s work. Easy read, hilarious, and refreshing.

David & Goliath: underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants by Malcolm Gladwell

In this book, Gladwell challenges the assumption that to be poorer, weaker, or less skilled is necessarily a disadvantage. He examines what it means to be disadvantaged, why being smaller makes you nimbler, and whether some disadvantages are desirable. 

I have enjoyed Gladwell’s books over the years and this Ted Talk is a good preview to the kinds of problems he analyses and his fun approach. 

What if: Serious Scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions, by Randall Munroe

Randall is the creator of the brilliant comic series XKCD. In this book he answers random af questions like, can I stir a cup of tea fast enough to heat it, when will Facebook contain profiles of more dead people than alive people, if all Britishers went to the coast of Britain and started paddling, could they move the island. Even if you dont check out this book, just check out xkcd comics.

Pandeymonium: Piyush Pandey on Advertising, by Piyush Pandey 

Piyush Pandey is an absolute legend in Indian Advertising. He was the Executive Chairman and Creative Director for Ogilvy & Mather India and South Asia. He was behind almost all of India’s iconic ads, ranging from ‘Chal Meri Luna’ to the Fevicol ads to the Vodafone Zoozoos. This book is so engrossing that it led me to think about quitting the law and trying advertising for a couple of years.

Big Billion Startup: the Flipkart Story by Mihir Dalal

Growing up, Flipkart was one of the biggest success stories in the country and was influential in leading many youngsters to set up their own businesses. This book captures the stories of the major players – the Bansals, he IIT Delhi boys who were part of the early team Lee Fixel – the VC legend from Tiger Global who backed them, the transition to newer management, the sale to Walmart, etc… It gives us valuable lessons – like how they hired smart people and let them weave their magic, how they built relationships with distribution firms, and how builders step down to let their companies grow.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Obsessed with ‘learning’, I had stopped reading fiction for quite some time. But, there is nothing as engaging as a well written whodunnit. Horowitz in this celebrated book from 2016 gives you a meta-murder story – 2 for the price of 1. Set in an idyllic English village, slow paced yet strewn with twists, this is a great book to ease yourself into a reading habit.

The Panama Papers: The story of how the rich and powerful hide their money by Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier

Over the last decade, we have gone from ‘Occupy Wall Street’ to ‘Eat the Rich’. While we think Capitalism has its problems, we seldom put in the work to actually analyse these problems. This book covers some of the biggest names in the world and is undoubtedly one of the finest works of investigative journalism of the 21st century. This book answers questions like how do little islands with no governance and minimal resources become tax havens and bases to some of the biggest companies in the world. How do janitors in these islands become directors at companies?

The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky are two of the greatest behavioural economists (and minds) of our generation. This book, by Michael Lewis, one of my favourite authors looks at the friendship and the co-operation between these two giants and their genius that changed the way we look at rationality in humans. Of course, when one discusses such giants, it is inevitable that we learn about how they look at things, how they examine the validity of statements and hypothesis, and what it takes to get to create a new field of study and become absolute legends in that space. If you like this book, I strongly recommend that you read the works of KahnemannRichard Thaler, and Cass Sunstein.

Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Malcolm is the man to read when you want to read something that will radically change how you perceive the world. This book examines split second decisions and opinions, why we think the way we do, and how we can train ourselves to make these decisions better.

Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic: How micro lending lost its way and betrayed the Poor, by Hugh Sinclair

Microfinance, popularised by Muhamad Yunus and his Grameen Bank in Bangladesh has been hailed as the solution to global poverty and financial inequality. Yunus went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for GB. However, we know little about the destructive tendencies of microfinance and how it often destroys more lives than it saves. This book is an insider’s account of the ill-effects and problems of microfinance.

Richer, Wiser, Happier: How the World’s Greatest Investors Win in Markets and Life, by William Green

This book looks at the investment and life strategy of some of the greatest investors of our time – Buffet and Munger, Monish Pabrai, John Templeton, and Joel Greenblatt. Not only does it give you first principles to build on, it also gives a lot of actionable advice you can implement outside of your investments. 

The Fourth K, by Mario Puzo

The Kennedys are the closest it comes to American royalty. In this book, a nephew of John and Bobby becomes president and faces personal and professional turmoil when a terrorist plot destroys his family and a principled protest for nuclear disarmament wrecks havoc in the Big Apple. Puzo, in his characteristic style delivers back stabbings, vile acts in the name of honour, and cold blooded acts of violence.

As the Crow Flies, by Jeffrey Archer

My worship of Archer aside, this book traces the fictional journey of Charlie Trumper, a vegetable seller (costermonger for you TOEFL kids), who rises from nothing to owning the largest shopping mall in the world, his life, his love, and is crafted in Archer’s usual fashion. Easy read, pick it up now, finish the day with the satisfaction of having a read a book in a day.

More Money than God, by Sebastian Mallaby

This book is an almost exhaustive summary of the hedge fund industry in the US. Starting from AW Jones in the 1960s, it takes us through the junk bond era, the 1987 crash, the Asian crisis, the tech bubble and most importantly, the 2008 crash. While it supports the hedge fund industry, it engages with some of the strongest criticisms against it and is the best way to get introduced to the industry. I recommend this book for everyone interested in finance, the 2008 crash, how leverage works as steroids, and for an engagement with the heart of capitalist philosophy in action.

Yes Man: The Untold Story of Rana Kapoor, by Pavan C Lall

Starting from a young Rana heading to the Shri Ram College of Commerce, the book traces the rise and fall of Rana and his Yes Bank. The book informs us of problems with the Banking Sector, the uselessness of Independent Directors and how difficult it is to remake fallen giants.

The Greatest Trade Ever: How One man bet against the market and made 20 Billion Dollars, by Gregory Zuckerman

While the world and everyone on it slid into an economic depression and lost tons of money, John Paulsson was one of the handful of traders who survived, thrived, and succeeded by a huge margin, netting 20 Billion USD. This book is a captivating narrative and is a must read for finance buffs.

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis 

While most of us have seen the movie on Netflix, this book takes a much deeper look at the characters and the trades that made shorting mortgages so successful. The book is engaging, does not require prior knowledge, and will make you read at least a couple more books on related areas.

The Sicilian, by Mario Puzo

Set during Michael Corleone’s time in Sicily, this book does not revolve around Michael. It looks instead at Salvatore Guiliano and his life as a rebel, his relation with his family, and Sicilian values. Well paced story, drawn out character development, and a poignant painting of pain, this book is a good weekend read.

The Man who solved the market: How Jim Simmons launched the Quant Revolution, by Gregory Zuckerman

While the world is swimming with tech folks promoting cryptocurrencies, HODL, and to the moon, this book looks at an early induction of computer folks and science nerds into Wall Street. But this book is much more than a history of money and the US but teaches you how institutions are built (Renaissance Technologies), how smart people can crumble easily (LTCM), and how some super smart people did super cool things. 

The Moonshot Game: Adventures of an Indian Venture Capitalist, by Rahul Chandra

Rahul Chandra was the founder at Helion Ventures and is now building Arkam Capital. As someone who has lived through the waxing and waning of the multiple Indian start-up cycle as a VC, he chronicles his journey in the book. He talks about how he choose companies, how some fascinating people built institutions, and were resilient to pick themselves up from failures.

Let’s Build a Company: A Start-up Story minus the Bullshit, by Harpreet S Grover and Vibhore Goyal

Harpreet and Vibhore built CoCubes from scratch and later sold it to Aon. Straight out of IIT Bombay, they got in headfirst into the traditionally unsexy HR and hiring space and built something they should be proud of. While most start-up books spew gyan (lies at best) on wanting a revolution or changing the world or being motivated to serve the world, this book tells you their story, where they went wrong, what worked for them, what they have learnt in over a decade they spent building their companies.

Liar’s Poker, by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis, better known for The Big Short (and the eponymous movie), chronicles his move from a student at Princeton to working at Salomon Brothers and captures the spirit of Wall Street of the heyday of the 1980s. Michael is one of my favourite authors and his books are a treasure to read.

A Quiver full of arrows, by Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer is the master of the short story. While his stories do get repetitive (if you are an Archer nut and read literally every book he has written), he is such a good story-teller. I would strongly recommend this book (and any other Archer short story collection) if you are looking to get out of a reading glut or if you are slowly easing into reading.

Scorpions: The battles and triumphs of FDR’s great Supreme Court Justices, by Noah Feldman

Noah Feldman is a law prof at Harvard. Such trivialities aside, Noah looks at the stories of 4 of the most influential SCOTUS justices – how they shaped the world and how the world shaped them. Back when I read it in college, this book really got me into studying the law, with far more enthusiasm than I had earlier. While judges are either deified or demonised (not throwing shade on a law tweleb), this book looks at them as people and makes thinking about some of the biggest decisions of SCOTUS easier.

Tata vs Mistry: The Inside Story by Deepali Gupta

The Tata story is at the heart of most Indian businessman looking to cement their legacy. While money buys a lot of things, it never buys peace between two battling stalwarts, especially when one treads on the other’s feet, even if they are relatives. This book traces the battle between Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry for control of Tata Sons. Deepali keeps it interesting, fast-paced, and comprehensive. 

Give and Take, by Adam Grant

We grow up thinking that life is a zero sum game and that for us to win, some one must lose. Counter-arguments are based on fairness and being nice and do not seem to convince us to give more than we take, in life, in relationships, in public. However, Adam makes the case for giving from a results standpoint, explains how giving helps us, and how to give and yet not be steamrolled.

This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan war, by Samanth Subramanian

The horrors of the Sri Lankan genocide is something our generation has heard of only in the news. While we are aware of the final solution, the Rwandan genocide, it is unfortunate that our knowledge of something so close to home is negligible. Read this book as an introduction to the massacre, for some fascinating characters in the book, Samanth’s brilliant prose and storytelling. 

Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Conner and Ruth Bader Ginsburg went to the Supreme Court and changed the world, by Linda Hirshman

Unquestionably iconic, SDoC and RBG were trailblazers and this book will give you a good understanding of what geniuses had to undergo and what they had to overcome, personally and professionally to become the legends they were.

The Firm: The inside story of McKinsey, by Duff McDonald

McKinsey is an iconic consultancy firm whose role in governance and policy making has been seriously questioned in the last few years. This book looks at their origin, their growth to the top of the world and the ways in which they have shaped the world in more ways than we understand.

The Greatest Trade ever: How one man bet against the market and made $20 Billion, by Gregory Zuckerman

If you have a reasonable idea of the 2008 crash on Wall Street (if you don’t – I strongly recommend The Big Short, by Michael Lewis), this book explains in vivid detail about how John Paulsson took a huge bet against the US housing market and came out with the biggest win ever in the markets. If you are starting to read finance, this book will suck you into the vortex and is a gateway book for sure (this book lead to me reading 3-4 books on finance, its that good). 

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the art of belling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell

If you want to read a book and go “huh, I never thought of it that way” multiple times, Malcolm is a good bet. Over the years, his books not only kept me entertained but also consistently gave me food for thought. While his method of citations and reliance on academic literature are questionable, reading his book as pure ideas is something I recommend to my friends. If you enjoyed the Freakanomics series, you would enjoy Malcolm’s books. In this book, he looks at why and how being the underdog is a huge plus as it frees you up, makes you break rules, operate radically outside the system and come out on top. 

Bottle of Lies: Ranbaxy and the dark side of Indian Pharma, by Katherine Eban

The scams and faults of the Indian pharmaceutical industry is a dry topic. But Katherine vividly painting the disgusting underside of the industry’s underbelly, to the point where I was scared to buy Indian generic drugs for my family. It is also a lovely story of Dinesh Thakur, a Pharma executive who gives up on material comforts in his crusade to get people to do the right things (medicine should save people and not kill is an abysmally low bar, but he is still fighting for it. 

The Complete Yes Minister, by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay

Yes Minister is a brilliant satirical show on the interaction between the bureaucracy and the relevant British member of parliament. Wry humour, absurdity, well thought-out puns, this book has it all.

The Psychology of Money, by Morgan Housel

If you are just starting your career, making real money for the first time, or are getting into personal finance, this book is an essential read. However, this book is about the idea of investment and savings and is quite big picture. If you are looking for specific strategies or stocks to invest in, then this is not the book for you.

Working with Contracts, by Charles M Fox

If you are interacting with SHAs and Diligencing for the first time, this book tells you what your job is and what to look for in most documents. 

Venture Deals – be smarter than your lawyer and venture capitalist, by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson

A good primer on term sheets, negotiation, and most things in VC, this book helped me understand some economic terms and concepts a lawyer must know.

The Godfather, by Mario Puzo

If you have not watched the movies, the Godfather is a brilliant read. Its got mystery, character development, and a brilliant plot line. If you have watched the movies but want a book which such vivid descriptions that it rekindles your ability to dream and imagine, then this is a great start.

Karunanidhi, A life – by AS Paneerselvam

While Paneerselvem’s work reads almost like a hagiography, Karunanidhi’s fascinating history makes it a riveting read. This book gives neither a fair nor a complete history of Tamil politics, but is a great primer and must be read just as the thrilling story of a man’s life.

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

Miller’s retelling of the Iliad, from Patroclus’ perspective is a beautiful gay romance between Patroclus and Achilles. Definitely interesting for mythology buffs and a cute love story. It is easy to read and Miller is a wonderful writer, keeping her style simple yet seductive.

The Spider Network by David Enrich

For anyone interested in finance and money, this book reveals the manipulation of Libor and a world of crime by focussing on the story of Tom Hayes, a math wizard. If you are interested in money, scams, and financial thrillers, pick it up tonight, you will finish it tomorrow. 

Raya: Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara by Srinivas Reddy

The story of Raya is crucial to understand the Deccan and to understand how circumstances and practical constraints shape our history more than politics or principles do. If you like Manu Pillai, I think you will like Srinivas Reddy too.

Betaball: How Silicon Valley and science built one of the greatest basketball teams in history, by Erik Malinowski

If you are unsure of the importance of data and thinking in building sports teams (or any organisation), this book is a great foray into the unknown. However, if you want to know how data can be used to make a team better, I would not recommend this book. 

The Etymologicon: a circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language, by Mark Forsyth

This book does not teach you life lessons. It is a cool book on interesting origins of words, such as how science and shit have a common root, how campus and campaigns are related, etc… If you are caught in a reading rut or want a book with short two minute chapters, this is ideal.

Legal Eagles, by Indu Bhan

Perhaps one of the few books I re-read every year, this book chronicles the stories of 7 of India’s top litigators. The chapters on Arvind Datar and Rohinton Nariman are particularly engaging. I strongly recommend this for students in law schools and for inspiration for those considering a career in litigation.

Billionaire Raj, by James Crabtree

Perhaps too simple a read for Indians, this book is a nice introduction to some important Indian players. Love them or hate them, we should know about Mukesh Ambani, Arnab Goswami, and the likes. 

The Courtesan, the Mahatma and the Italian Brahmin, by Manu Pillai

Manu Pillai is an incredible historian, no doubt. But this collection of eclectic pieces from India’s history is gripping and unputdownable. Ranging from Tuluka Nachiar, a muslim princess in Hindu mythology (and history) to the true story of Nangeli, known for the ‘Breast Tax’, Manu takes us through some of the most interesting stories of Indian history and mythology. He adds value through his social commentary and is the kind of book which you can comfortably finish over the weekend.

The Prodigal Daughter, by Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer is my favourite author. While he is the king of short stories, his Kane and Abel series (each of which can and should be read as a standalone book) are novels that will keep you occupied and draw you into Archer’s world. If you like long drawn character development, multiple character perspectives, and brilliant twists every few pages, Archer is your man. 

Black Edge: Insider information and the quest to bring down the most wanted man on Wall Street, by Sheelah Kolhatkar

Tracking the ‘fall’ of SAC Capital, this book offers a brilliant peek into the life and trading style at SAC. If you liked Bobby Axelrod in Billions, you are bound to enjoy this book. If you have not watched Billions on Hotstar/Showtime yet, I would strongly recommend the show. The show is the quest for power and battle of egos between Bobby Axelrod who runs a hedge fund and Chuck Rhoades, a lawyer. If for nothing else, the show gives you at least 1 new idea every episode to google, ranging from pop culture, game theory, psychology to everything under the sun.

When the Wolves Bite: Two Billionaires, One Company, and an Epic Wall Street Battle, by Scott Wapner 

This tale condenses the clash of egos between Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman and their long battle over Herbalife. The 2 of them took opposing positions on Herbalife, a nutrition and lifestyle company. The book introduces activist investing (to the uninitiated, this is the opposite of what you would presume), how the rich really play and have fun with their trades, and what conviction does to two bitter men.

Range: How Generalists triumph in a specialised world, by David Epstein

In an increasingly specialised world, it is critical to take a step back and wonder if we are erring by narrowing our expertise too much, too soon. Spanning a range of cultural icons, this book makes a solid case for going broad over going deep. While there are multiple anecdotes driving the same point, it is an insightful read nonetheless. 

Straight to Hell: True tales of deviance, debauchery, and Billion-Dollar deals, by John LeFevre

This book does not give you gyan, but you learn a lot from it. It is a troll-ish way to satirise and normalise working culture in the Banking industry. A Fun read and you will end up picking some knowledge about how the economic system works. Read this book if you want to read trash but pick up some knowledge too. It is an easy way to get back to fast reading, so that’s a huge plus. 

%d bloggers like this: