Corona Lockdown Anniversary: My Top Books (Non-Fiction and Technology)

Since the pandemic started in India in March 2020, we are all stuck at home with nowhere to go. Now it’s almost over a year, India is going through the second covid wave. We have adjusted ourselves to this new reality, work from home. I thought of accelerating my reading (or listening) habit during this time. After spending significant time reading hard copies of books, a couple of years back I shifted to Kindle to avoid overstuffing bookshelves. Now in this WFH phase, as I was doing various daily chore activities, I thought Amazon Audible could be a good addition to this list. Though I must agree, I used to think of Audible as a poor medium for reading books. But it turned out to be an amazing medium, loved the narration, various inbuilt features in the app, and integration with the Alexa voice app.

I personally like to read mainly from the following genres: Technology, Non-fiction (Biographies, Self-help, Philosophy), Finance, Astrophysics, and Health. I tried various famous books on Kindle and Audible. There is a long list of books in which I could finish one chapter, two chapters, and lost interest. Following are the books I could able to finish (Read or Listen) cover to cover, hence thought of writing this article about what I liked in these books…..

Atomic Habits By James Clear

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Back in 2014, I read The Power of Habit Book by Charles Duhigg, I was impressed how habits play a significant role in our life. I tried implementing it to see changes in my own lifestyle, but you know, old habits die hard :)

This is where this book fits in, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book as I could correlate to various analogies given in this book. In simple terms, why do we fail to form new good habits or break existing bad habits? It’s because we make the task too complex (or boring) and we lose interest. Then this book goes on further and simplifies habit-changing procedure by taking tiny steps. Each of these small steps would be too little to change anything in your daily life (hence you will not be bored or lose interest) but over the course of time they would do the magic, hence the book name Atomic Habits.

I loved the idea of Cue -> Craving -> Response -> Reward explained in this book (very intuitive and well explained). By any chance, if you are in the data science field, you would definitely be going to relate this with Reinforcement Learning and wonder similarities between the way machines and humans learn.

PS: I personally like this analogy (Human habits-driven subconscious mind learning vs Machines gaining intelligence by Reinforcement algorithm) more realistic than the analogy between human brain neurons and neural networks.

Marketing 4.0 by Philip Kotler

Image from Amazon. in

This was a quick read, able to finish in one go. As the book is a little old, many of the digital marketing concepts are quite common. However, I liked following two explanations in the book.

First, the explanation of customer journey transition from AIDA to 5A (Aware, Appeal, Ask, Act, Advocate). It explains why advocacy becomes very important now in brand building, as customers are more social than individuals due to the exponential expansion of social networks.

Second, how these 5A customer journey patterns develop across different industries, known as industry archetypes. Then it explains the ideal archetype would be the bow-tie type pattern, where Customer Aware = Customer Advocate, which is definitely a north star for any industry. This gives a unique birds-eye view of the challenges of the marketing teams across industries.

Now being a data scientist, I was easily able to map how various marketing analytics innovations are coming and fitting into this given narration.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Photo by Aleksander Vlad on Unsplash

This is the most fun audible narration, amazingly narrated by Derek Perkins. It is quite long, I have heard this on 1.25X speed. Already completed this twice on audible, still a lot of information to digest. Very well written by Yuval Noah Harari.

So Big Bang happens, we got the universe we see today, earth formed about ~4 billion years ago, then life originated, then “something happened”, and now I am sitting here and writing this article. Now, this book is about “something happened”, how we became from simple life forms to complex intelligent life forms, how our ancestors lived, how money came, how religions came, and so on. So much information in this book, and the fun part is that it never gets boring, very well explained, and backed by available scientific research.

Lots of thought-provoking points, the list is very long, i.e. romantic consumerism (why we think visiting multiple foreign destinations makes us feel that we lived our life), how human imaginations started binding people together. It explained beautifully how Money, Empire, and Religion played a very important role in our current society formation.

This book would definitely leave you with some interesting pointers to think i.e. your definition of happiness, your perceptions about existing world concepts, and so on.

Graph Algorithms by Mark Needham

Image from Amazon. in

There are some inherent benefits of graph databases over traditional relational or non-relational databases. For example, if you have a nested structure of your data tables and you need to run various complex queries on the same, a graph database could be a good fit here.

If you are new to the graph databases and their advantages, I would request to read this link. This book is actually published by Neo4J (a Graph Database), it very nicely summarizes various in-built algorithms which come with graph databases. If you are a machine learning practitioner, you could draw various parallels to it with corresponding ML algorithms. Overall it was a good read, as it also contains various hands-on exercises using Python and Pyspark libraries.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Image from Amazon. in

I had this book on my shelf for more than 6 years, it was recommended to me by various friends back then. Never got a chance to start this book, finally finished this over a couple of weekends in 2020.

If you are interested in reading about what it takes to build a great startup and how unicorns stand up apart from their peers, this could be a good book for you, written by none other than Peter Thiel, who shared numerous of his early PayPal days experiences. It was a light read and you could easily finish this over a weekend also.

I personally liked the question list provided in this book, what it takes to build great companies (Engineering Question, Timing Question, Monopoly Question, People Question, Distribution Question, Durability Question, Secret Question). With this list, you could easily start correlating various existing successful products, unicorns and see how they stand apart on each of these categories.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Image from Audible

Another great Audible read. I have seen various movies, documentaries, and TV series about World War II. In this book, Frankel explains from his real-life experiences, the day-to-day life in the concentration camp. By narrating various real-life camp incidents, he explained why some people were able to sustain and live through all the tortures given to them in the concentration camps. This is where he built a concept around Logotherapy, and how this can be used to help find the meaning in everyone’s life.

By reaching one-third of the book, I started appreciating my life at another level. A little deep thought-provoking book, level of torture details provided in the initial chapters about concentration camps are gruesome.

The Great Mental Models by Shane Parrish

Image from Goodreads

The author has written this book post inspiration from Charlie Munger's speech The Psychology of Human Misjudgment. It talks about a total of 9 mental models and how we can leverage those in our day-to-day life for improving our thinking. I have written an article around leveraging one of the mental models, first principles thinking, in machine learning feature engineering. This was my first audible book and thoroughly enjoyed this.

Unknowingly though, many of these mental models are common and we would be applying them in our day-to-day life anyway (i.e. Thought Experiment, Probabilistic Thinking). This book puts a structure to it and narrates it with various examples.

Conclusion :

I thought of sharing my great reads with all of you, feel free to share your favorites too.

Lifelong learner. Love Maths, Data Science, Technology, Astrophysics, and Music. Opinions expressed are solely my own & don’t express the views of my employer.

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