A (disappointingly) short list of the books that I read in 2016.
India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha
This is a long book and very worth reading. Most histories of India focus mostly on the very ancient or the period of British colonization. This book focuses on everything that happened from right before Independence to (almost) present day. Most importantly, it gave me a lot of context to frame news and issues from current day India (i.e. India’s relationship with Kashmir, Hindu nationalism and the BJP). There’s a lot to learn from the book - and a lot to forget - but it did get me interested in Hinduism and politics, mainly on how Hinduism treats the lower castes, other religions (particularly Islam), and women. To follow-up to this, I’m planning on reading The Hindus by Wendy Donniger in 2017.
What Is The What by Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng
I started volunteering with a non-profit this year that helps refugees transition to life in the United States and this was a recommendation in their orientation booklet. Prior to reading this, I was under the very foolish assumption that for many refugees, life in the USA (pre-Trump) would be easy and simple compared to life of persecution that many of them lead where they were from. I was wrong. Cultural and economic adjustments are hard.
Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
It’s been written about a lot already. Read it. Then go read everything else the man has written. In particular, The Case for Reparations, My President Was Black, and listen to his conversation with Vox’s Ezra Klein here.
No Good Men Among The Living by Anand Gopal
Coverage of the Afghan war through the eyes of an enemy, an ally, and a civilian. Usually the coverage you get about these viewpoints are in the extreme abstract. x number of fighters killed, y civilians as collateral damage - that’s the kind of news I read in the papers, not bothering to dig any deeper. The war itself, for me, existed only in the abstract. Gopal brings a hard dose of reality - the way the American government won and lost the support of the Afghan people, atrocities in Guantanamo, shifting tribal and political loyalties in Afghanistan - and weaves the story of the war through these three narratives.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The beauty of Lolita is how Nabokov writes about something so disturbing so tenderly. It was a difficult read.
Gaming The Vote by William Poundstone
The plurality system of voting (in America and wherever else it’s used) sucks. It’s prone to being manipulated and - in general - is a terrible way of enacting the will of the people. Poundstone covers the gamut of popular, alternative voting systems from the Borda count to Range voting and goes over the strengths and weaknesses of each one using (primarily) examples from American elections. This is a great read, especially in light of the coverage and effect of third-party votes and voters in the 2016 election. (summary: plurality voting really sucks)
I started a lot of books this year and finished only these six. Here’s to hoping my twitter-and-election-induced attention deficiency resolves itself (unlikely) so I can read more in 2017 and thus be my true pseudo-intellectual self. And I need to read more fiction.