I really adore books, though I could write one myself on reasons why. I much prefer the emotive experience of reading a hard copy of a book, but this isn’t always a pragmatic option (I frequently annotate what I read, so audiobooks can be challenging, and prefer the portability of e-books to hard copies). So, I made a deal with myself: I would only purchase hard copies of books that I had reread, and enjoyed, multiple times. These are my favorite books of all time:

  • Deep Work by Cal Newport. I’ve recommended this book to numerous friends and colleagues, and firmly believe that everyone will get something out of reading it. It has profoundly shaped the way I approach work and life. I’ve read this several times, and learn something new each time.
  • Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. For many years, I followed recipes and found my way around the kitchen through trial and error, without understanding how to best wield available tools. This book is not a cookbook (though it contains recipes): it’s a collection of principles that are applicable in every culinary creation, and the illustrations in the hard copy are delightful.
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. This is another book that has been influential in shaping my attitude towards valuing material possessions. As this is a translation from the original Japanese, I think there’s more value in understanding her underlying philosophy than applying each piece of tactical advice literally.
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Reading this book felt like reading someone’s diary, in its poignancy, gravitas, and openness.
  • Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery. This French classic is one of my favorite reminders that, while age is inevitable, experiencing life with a childlike wonder is a choice that I will always select for myself.

The following is an inexhaustive and unordered list of books I’ve enjoyed reading, or have learned something from:

  • On China by Henry Kissinger. This book is a great primer (without getting too deep in the weeds) for anyone interested in Chinese politics, and, in particular, the history behind China’s rise to prominence, and its relationship with the US.
  • Dear Girls by Ali Wong. If you enjoy Ali Wong’s comedy, then this is a must-read. It’s written in the same blunt, unapologetically hilarious style Ali is so well-known for, but there’s a rare dimension of her vulnerability as she talks about some of her challenges with raising a family and growing her career.
  • Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement by Daniel L. Byman. If one has ever been curious about the origin and development of jihadism and doesn’t know where to start, this is an an easily understood read. There’s a particular focus on the complicated US / Saudi Arabia relationship.
  • Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher. If one wants to understand the downstream effects of lack of D&I, this book presents case after case of how lack of diversity in Silicon Valley has contributed to an insidious bias baked into the algorithms that we interact with day-to-day.
  • Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright. An explanation of the Western interpretation of core Buddhist concepts, such as awareness, kindness, and meditation, supported with more research and data than most other books I’ve read about Buddhism.
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. Dan Ariely’s wry sense of humor and unconventional experiments on the psychology of human irrationality make for a fascinating read. This book is a great precursor to the denser Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann.
  • The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. 70% fiction, and 30% psychoanalysis, this book is about the evolution of a modern-day couple’s love and marriage. Though de Botton’s writing style tends towards the verbose, and I didn’t agree with all of his analyses, his storytelling capabilities shine in the relatability and rawness of this book.
  • The Third Plate by Dan Barber. After watching one of Chef’s Table’s early episodes that featured Dan Barber and his restaurant, and taking some time to visit Stone Barns in Upstate NY, I read his book. He assesses the current state of the American agricultural system and why chefs and food-lovers should care–not only is our current system unsustainable and environmentally irresponsible, but food that tastes good is a result of more than just the brief time spent in the kitchen preparing it. Good food begins with a healthy ecosystem of interconnected relationships, of which plants, animals, and the elements are crucial parts of.
  • How to Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton. Not a book on sexual intercourse, but a refreshing and novel perspective about the theme of sexuality and eroticism in our broader lives, written in an approachable and elegant style.
  • The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato. I read this book after hearing it recommended by several policy architects on various podcast episodes, and it changed many misperceptions I held about the government’s role in innovation. This book reads more like an extended thesis publication; those from a background of academia will appreciate the analytical rigor.
  • The Effective Engineer by Edmond Lau. I read a lot of Edmond’s blog posts before picking this up. While many of the same ideas are reinforced, the book does a nice job of tying the disparate points together in a cohesive strategy. It’s definitely shaped the way I reason about my impact as an engineer.
  • The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells. This book is a huge awakening that presents the latest research on how climate change will impact us in the next decade. It’s not a pleasant read, by any means, but its urgency is compelling. In all honesty, the book is lengthy, and though accessible, I can see most people tiring of study after study contributing to the same thematic arguments, so the 2017 New York magazine article Wallace-Wells authored may be a more suitable introduction.
  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. This book is an illustrious summary of everything that has made humankind what it is today. Harari’s ability to condense the narrative of our species into one book is pretty incredible.
  • Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. Harari’s second book was no less provacative than the first, and imagines what humans will set out to conquer next. I enjoyed the forward-looking, open-ended questions more prominently up for discussion in Homo Deus.
  • Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich. If Sapiens was the historical and anthropological perspective of the story of mankind, Reich’s book is the scientific counterpart. Drawing on decades of his research in the field of genomics, this book shows what advances in genome sequencing have allowed us to reveal about the history of humankind, filling in the gaps from the anthropological point of view.
  • The Art of Living by William Hart. This is the book that summarizes the teachings of S.N. Goenka, whose lectures are the foundation for vipassana retreats around the world. I do not believe this is a substitute for engaging in a full vipassana retreat (in fact, I think the book is more profound if read after a retreat), but it can be useful to those exploring abstract concepts that underlie vipassana
  • Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Any book that can make me cry is one I would probably recommend. Lisa Brennan-Jobs is an incredible writer, and her style in this memoir is painfully, beautifully evocative.

Books I’m interested in reading: