I’m trying to put together my reading list for 2016 and looking for suggestions. What were the best books you read in 2015 that I should read this year?
Here’s what I read in 2015 if it helps spark any ideas for your 2016 reading list. If you want to start a discussion about any of them, hit me up @ethanaustin
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
MUST READ: If there is one book I would recommend reading in 2016 it is this one. I think we are at a pivotal moment in history right now in the fight for racial justice and equality. This is the most illuminating book I’ve read on the subject. In methodical detail, Michelle Alexander ties together the various components that have created our system of state sponsored oppression leading to the incarceration of millions of African Americans and people of color. This book was a game changer for me. If you are curious about racial equality and why the Black Lives Matter movement is gaining so much momentum, I highly recommend you to read this book. It will be impossible to stay silent on this issue once you do.
Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant
Good Read. A quasi-business-slash-self-help-book, it’s an easy read filled with lots of fun stories and science to back up the message. The central theme is that people who consistently give to others without the expectation of return tend to wind up the most successful people in life.
The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story by Michael Lewis
Good Read. I love Michael Lewis books and had never heard of this one until recently. The book was written in 1999 about Silicon Valley so it’s interesting to see what’s held up and what hasn’t. The protagonist is a guy named Jim Clark, who is most famous for bringing Marc Andreessen out to the Valley to build Netscape. The book is not as heady as some of his other books like Flash Boys or the Big Short. It’s not as good as those either but it’s still fun to read as Michael Lewis is an awesome writer and Clark was a fascinating guy – kind of like the Elon Musk of the late 1990s.
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, and Strategies by Nick Bostrom
Horrible Read!!! Ever since I randomly stumbled into a Ray Kurzweil speech in 2010 I have been super-fascinated by the subject of AI. Unfortunately, I thought this book was a clunker. Though it was highly touted by guys like Elon Musk and Bill Gates, I found it to be nearly impossible to read and inaccessible to people of average intelligence like myself. If you are interested in the subject of AI you can get the gist of the book in one twentieth of the time by reading the ABSOLUTELY AMAZING Wait But Why two part series, The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Good Read. Not much to say here that hasn’t been said. It’s a classic.
The Circle by Dave Eggers
Good Read. This is an eerily spooky farce on Silicon Valley and where things might be heading in the future. Think: a modern take on 1984.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Meh. This book has received a lot of praise but I was a little disappointed. Ta-Nehisi Coates is probably my favorite writer so my expectations were really high and it just didn’t do it for me.
Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett by Jennifer Gonnerman
Good Read. If you’re interested in racial justice issues, I’d recommend reading this book after you read the New Jim Crow. It’s a narrative told through the story of Elaine Bartlett who goes to prison for nearly 20 years for her first drug offense. Whereas the New Jim Crow is very academic, this book is gritty and real and illustrates in human terms the horrible effects of our country’s racist drug policies and criminal justice system.
Asylum Denied: A Refugee’s struggle for Safety in America by David Ngaruri Kenney.
Great Read. The book was written in 2008 and chronicles the story of a Kenyan seeking asylum in the US after he had been tortured by his government for leading a farmers’ protest for higher wages. Co-authored by Philip Schrag a Georgetown immigration law professor, Kenney’s narrative shines light on the heart-breakingly inequitable laws we have in the US surrounding the asylum process. Many of these restrictive laws were put in place by congress after the 9/11 attacks based on irrational fears that terrorists could use the asylum process to sneak into the country. Incredibly powerful and timely for anyone concerned with the Syrian refugee crisis, I read this book in Dec 2015 amidst all the fear-mongering taking place after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. I think what was most powerful about this book was that the introduction written by Schrag in 2008 seems so prescient today. In it he wrote:
[Overly restrictive] statues and proposals such as these are based on the ludicrous idea that asylum is easy to obtain and that terrorists can therefore evade immigration restrictions by masquerading as refugees. Actually, asylum applicants must go through an exacting examination based on documentary evidence to prove their identity and the truth and validity of their claims…a terrorist would be poorly advised to apply for asylum, because an applicant comes to the attention of officials who question every aspect of the individual’s life.
A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
Horrible Read. This book was a bag of poop. Not Dave Eggers best work.
The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer
Okay Read. I don’t think I learned anything particularly novel from it but it was entertaining and fun to read. It was written by rock star and TED speaker, Amanda Palmer. She tells her own story about vulnerability that is very real and honest.
Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez
Okay-to-Good Read. I thought this book was interesting. It tells the immigration story of Latinos in America and how different each group’s story is. It highlights, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guatemala, Panama and a handful of other countries I can’t remember. The biggest eye-opener for me in this book was how much Puerto Rican citizens suffer due to PR’s limbo status of being an American Commonwealth.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Good Vacation Read: Easy, funny vacation read. Good for when you need a break from the real world.