Monday, December 10, 2007

The Best Books of 2006

Yes I know, I'm a year late for this. Here' s my top 10 list of best books for the year 2006 (last year).

Stay tuned for my 2007 book list which I will post very soon. You can also check out my 2005 and 2004 book lists.

10. Salt: A World History - Mark Kurlansky

This book brought me back to my high school days, when I used to enjoy reading about history. The author describes how salt is cultivated and traded, and how it played a huge role in the development of civilization. In the past, salt was a scarce and heavily valued resource, much like oil is today. Salt is now easily manufactured and readily available everywhere. Kind of makes you think what would happen if oil were to follow the same fate, how would it affect the balance of power in the world?

9. Programming Interviews Exposed - John Mongan

I added this to my list as it helped me in preparing for a couple of job interviews when I was applying to different teams early in the year. This book helped me get into good programming shape and provided me the tools necessary to exercise my skills and develop my confidence which helped me get the much needed job transfer.

8. Effective C# - Bill Wagner

I needed this book to prepare me for the C# Programming Trivia part of the job interviews. It was essential in getting to know the ins and outs of writing code in the C# language. Though I wasn’t able to use much of the material in the actual job interviews, I found that it actually helped me a lot in my work, as it had some new coding idioms and tricks I wasn’t aware of in the past.

7. The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life - Ray Kurzweil

I bought this book after my father suffered a stroke late in the year. So I was determined to learn more about good health habits and how to prevent heart attacks. It also helped that it was written by Ray Kurzweil, who I respect a lot based on his past work and ideas. Kurzweil approaches health topics like any science or computer problem. He researches the topic exhaustively and puts forth a solution for himself that other people can follow. The gist of his program is to reduce fat and salt in the diet as much as possible. It is quite difficult to follow his recommended solution, and looking back at it now, I must say that I don’t fully agree with his findings. But still, this is a very educational book and highly recommended if you want to learn more about good health.

6. To Be or Not to Be Intimidated - Robert Ringer

This is the rewritten and revised version of Robert Ringer’s original classic ‘Winning Through Intimidation’. The original editions of Ringer’s books tend to have misleading titles, which is one of the reasons why he changed the title for this one. This is a nice book that, through a series of personal anecdotes and stories, teaches you how to accept and acknowledge reality for what it is, and how to deal with different kinds of people. Ringer describes the different people who will try to take advantage of you in business, and gives very practical advice on how to handle them. This is a great business and life book and has helped me a lot.

5. Hyperspace - Michio Kaku

The author, Michio Kaku has a knack for describing complicated physics topics in a highly entertaining and educational manner. He starts with the basics, then progresses to more current theories – Newton’s Law, Einstein, Quantum Theory, and String Theory. He also mixes the technical stuff with plenty of musings and digressions on the nature of the universe, reality, and time. This was a very enjoyable book to read and greatly expanded my imagination.

4. Your Money or Your Life - Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin

This is one of those subversive books that is so radically different from everything else I have been led to believe in the past. To me it is the personal finance counterpart to ‘The Joy of Laziness’ (another book I loved, which also drastically changed the way I think). If you have been struggling with your finances or find that you're not enjoying your work and your life, this book might be the most important one you’ll ever read.

It’s not so much a money book, but more of a ‘life’ book. It shows you how to value your time and how to put your life energy to things that are most meaningful to you. It also emphasizes how frugality can lead to a much more enjoyable life, by using every item to the fullest extent. The later chapters eventually get to the ultimate destination, what the authors call the ‘crossover point’ wherein your investment income equals your expenses. At this point you are free to pursue what fulfills you the most in life, which can give you greatest happiness and satisfaction.

3. Build Your Own Computer - Kyle MacRae

This is your standard ‘how to’ book which shows you step by step, with lots of diagrams and illustrations, how to build your own computer from parts you choose and buy separately. Now you’re probably wondering how a simple book like this can be #3 in my list. It’s because I’ve always wanted to assemble a PC myself, and have asked a lot of people how to do it. I’d always get a smug, unhelpful reply such as “it’s easy, don’t you know how to do it?” or something like that, which doesn't me much good. But this book showed me how to do it step by step, and also addressed a lot of the gotchas such as hardware compatibility issues and all those pesky details. It just works, which is why I love this book.

2. Looking Out for #1 - Robert Ringer

I have benefited so much from reading Robert Ringer's ‘Million Dollar Habits’ (my top book for 2005), and have gained a lot from this book that he wrote earlier. He describes his overarching philosophy on life – looking at the big picture, seeing things in perspective, always seeing things for what it is in reality. He gives a lot of advice based on his personal experience, which he narrates in a humorous, self-deprecating manner, through his plodding Tortoise character, which I instantly related to.

I saw this book many times in the past, usually in National Bookstore or book sales. I would always pick it up, read a few pages, debate whether to buy it or not, eventually put it back on the shelf. I regret not buying and reading this a decade ago when I first saw it, as it would probably have had a profound affect on my life much earlier, and I would have avoided a lot of my earlier mistakes.

The book is extremely rich in content, covering all sorts of topics on human behavior, personal neuroses that hold us back, reality-based thinking, among other stuff. What I really need to do is reread the book again and post an outline of all the major points. But if you want to get a good insight on life and personal development, I highly encourage you take your time in reading this book, and digest all the ideas slowly.

1. Naked Economics - Charles Wheelan

Simply put, this is the best economics book out there. Lately, there has been an increase in popularity of popular econ books such as Freakonomics, The Undercover Economist, Armchair Economist, and many others. While they are all a source of good ideas and fascinating reading, they are usually geared towards the more entertaining and sensationalist facets of economics. ‘Naked Economics’ is less geared towards pop economics, and is structured more to cover the basic concepts of how the free market economy works, yet is written in a way such that it is also very educational and entertaining to the casual reader.

This was the book I should have read in high school, when I used to fall asleep in economics social studies class. It covers how free markets work, why the government is useful, how the flow and availability of information affects you more than you think, the power of incentives in everyday life, productivity, and how the Federal Reserve works to our benefit. It’s 236 pages of condensed information. The author, Charles Wheelan, describes each topic with plenty of historical events, side stories, and metaphors to illustrate a new lesson, all in a succinct way.

After I finished the book, I felt a deep glow inside of me - that feeling when I knew that I gained a deep understanding of how the modern world works. It also challenged a lot of my assumptions as to how I thought things were and how different it was in reality. I knew that I would never see things in the same way I used to think of them in the past. Which is why Naked Economics tops my list for 2006.