Best books of 2016

2016 was a great year on all fronts. I became a dad; found great strength by raising money in a tough environment; Tapzo grew 14X in transactions. Also, I got back to reading a lot.

My reading picked up since I bought a Kindle PaperWhite – somehow the impulsive purchase of a book (not waiting for 3-4 days for it to arrive by which time you’re distracted by other things), having multiple books to read and crappy Internet UI on Kindle made my reading time a lot more productive.

I sometimes wonder why there’s no word in any language (like the word “schadenfreude”) which describes that feeling of “looking forward to going home to read a book that you are really enjoying and wouldn’t want to get over, but still wanting to keep reading as fast as possible”. When there are words for so many other such things, why not this? Any suggestions? How about “buchfreude”?

Anyway, here’s the list of books I really enjoyed reading in 2016 (they could have been published earlier):

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1. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (5 stars)

The book that created the most amount of “buchfreude” in me. What a story and how well told (makes you want to keep regular notes of your own life)! Favourite book of the year. Reinforced the belief that it pays to stay in the game and never give in. And reminded me of Ben Horowitz’s statement (paraphrasing): entrepreneurship is like playing 3D chess, there’s always a move!

2. Half Lion by Vinay Sitapati (5 stars)

Vinay is a senior of mine for NLS, so I had to pick up the book. It’s a really solid book – well researched, very well written (tight sentences, no frills etc.) And the book does a brilliant job in judging Rao’s actions by the amount of information he had available while taking a decision. As a CEO, you face this all the time: information is limited and hindsight is 20:20.

The book also cites another quote by Rao, which I loved:

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The book made it to the list of top books of the year by The Economist, no less.

3. Alibaba: The House Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark (4 stars)

I hadn’t read this because I thought that I would have heard more about the book if there was good stuff in it. But the book did have a lot of good stuff – the early days of Alibaba, the fight with e-Bay, relationship with Yahoo and Softbank and the controversies along the way. But the book doesn’t reveal much about Jack Ma’s personal working style.

4. Elon Musk: How the Billionaire… by Ashlee Vance (4 stars)

Great book though the last 1/4th of the book wasn’t very strong when it began sounding like PR for SpaceX. The chapter on “Pain, Suffering and Survival” about the worst time for Musk in 2008 is golden. Similar to Shoe Dog, the struggle to build a business is crazy. Lesson to self: you ain’t seen nothing yet.

5. The Unusual Billionaires by Saurabh Mukherjea (4 stars)

Good book but maybe more so because I don’t read about the things they talk about: the story of Asian Paints, Berger Paints, Astral Poly etc. The best discovery was the IBAS framework by John Kay which I blogged about – Thinking about moats. Still haven’t gotten round to reading the original book by John Kay called Foundations of Corporate Success.

6. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout (5 stars)

The book was recommended in Tools of Titans. Couldn’t have read it at a more opportune time as we prepared for our TV campaign. Though written in 1993, its laws are truly immutable. The most important one is the Law of the Category. I must have highlighted almost half the book. Great read. Focusses on the basics. The case study of Avis versus Hertz rivalry itself cited in the book is worth reading. See this Slate article.

7. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (5 stars)

I liked his history of cancer (Emperor of all Maladies) better maybe because that was the first time I had read the history of a biological “thing” and it just blew me away. I remember reading it over a couple of months and feeling down reading about the experiments on children with leukaemia in the 1950s. The Gene doesn’t pack such a punch but it’s great nevertheless. The “intimate” part in the title is more of a story-telling device rather than something that’s essential to the book. The story of Gregor Mendel’s experiments with peas and how he wasn’t recognised till much later makes for great reading.

8. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss (4 stars)

I think Naval Ravikant recommended the book somewhere and I picked it up. It’s a summary of 100s of podcasts that Tim Ferriss has done over the years. That makes it read more like a reference manual and a recommendation engine: some of the most successful people in the world suggest their favourite books, documentaries, beliefs, practices etc. Too much compressed gyan. I read it page by page in one go, and that’s not a great way to read a reference manual. Loved the “fear visualisation” practice discussed in the book.

Books which I started but haven’t completed yet:
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
The Fifth Disciple: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation by Peter M Senge
Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez

Which books did you like in 2016? Any recommendations for me?

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3 thoughts on “Best books of 2016

  1. Hey, great read! You should try Paul Graham’s Hackers and Painters.
    Should be interesting for you since your background isn’t tech but how you have built a tech platform serving millions.

    • Ankur says:

      Getting a deja vu of having read this comment but yeah I read it back in 2009 and I remember I was conscious that I was reading something life changing. That chapter on how wealth is created blew my mind.

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