My Favorite Books of 2019

Dec 29, 2019 · 12 min read · reading

Last year I was challenged to read a hundred books in 2019 in order to broaden the types of books I read.

At the time one hundred books didn’t feel that much higher than the sixty books I read in 2018. I ended up at a final count of 102 books and while I did broaden the types of books I read, I won’t be setting a specific target for next year.

My favorite books

I mostly focused on a few genres, namely Science Fiction, Finance, Biographies, and Technology History. Here were some of my favorites from each genre.

Science Fiction (Short Stories)

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

An anthology of many short stories. This is probably my favorite collection of short stories that I’ve read. There are a lot of stories bundled here are and if you enjoy speculative science fiction, you’ll enjoy this book.


The movie Arrival is based off of one of Ted Chiang’s short stories. Exhalation is a new anthology from Chiang and contains commentary from Chiang after each story.


The Greatest Trade Ever

A story of how a hedge fund manager (John Paulson) saw the 2008 financial crisis coming and managed to bag a $15 billion profit for his firm.


  • You can be right but it doesn’t matter if your timing is off.

  • Past performance (as an individual and as an asset class) is not a good predictor of future performance. Instead you should measure process/fundamentals.

The Man Who Solved The Market

A lot of interesting tidbits about the founding of Renaissance Technologies, the managers of one of the best performing funds ever. It doesn’t add much new information about how they trade, but it does go into the personalities of key team members.


  • Company culture is inherited, not created
  • The best way to shift industry norms is to force others to copy you

On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System

This is a detailed recounting of the 2008 Financial Crisis told through Henry Paulson’s eyes, who at that point was the Treasury Secretary. A tendency of autobiographies is that they tend to paint a fairly rosy picture of the author, and that’s certainly true here but it was still interesting.


  • Under the hood, crises are more complex than they appear
  • At the end of the day, things often still boil down to personal relationships


The Power Broker

This is a dense 1200+ page biography of a New York City park commissioner (Robert Moses) by one of the greatest biographers of all time, Robert Caro (who won a Pulitzer Prize for this book). If you’ve lived in NYC, you’ll probably appreciate the impact (for better or worse) of Moses, who managed to wield power to sculpt New York despite not holding elected office. Though it is probably one of the best books I’ve ever read, it is long; I started reading this with a friend in early June and finished in mid July. My friend still has not finished.

The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Books 1-4)

After reading The Power Broker, I proceeded to read everything else Robert Caro had written. His other famed biography series was focused on Lyndon Johnson, planned as a five part volume (of which only four have been published as of now). The four books span around 3,400 pages and detail Lyndon Johnson’s path from a school teacher in Texas to President of the United States. The quality of Caro’s writing and the depth of his research comes across and makes it an interesting read. Again, it’s hard to summarize the book but one thing that came across in both of these books is how Caro’s subjects chased power and how they changed through the process of obtaining it.

Just Mercy

A powerful memoir about Bryan Stevenson, a public defender fighting for the voiceless who have been wrongfully trapped by the criminal justice system.


  • How a noble cause can transform those who carry the torch
  • My favorite quote from the book “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice”

Technology History

I’m fascinated by the history of Silicon Valley and technology so I love reading books about the early days of technology innovation. The following books all went into detail about the people, technological milieu of the time, and the race to push the frontier of technology forward. A common theme from each book was how much the authors focused on the people, rather than the technology, because ultimately the technology was just a product of their creator’s mind and support from their investors or managers.

The Dream Machine

A dive into one of the pioneers of the personal computing revolution, J.C.R. Licklider and many of those he closely worked with. This is an expansive book and worth a read if you’re interested in the history of Silicon Valley and the individuals involved.


  • The value of good management/support.

  • How important ambition is for innovations. Many may not have happened were it not for the single minded pursuit from their creators

Dealers of Lightning

Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center was where many computing innovations were brought into reality. How those innovations happened and why Xerox failed to capitalize on that are detailed in this book. This book also focuses on the egos and ideas behind the innovations.

  • How deeply environment/culture/management impacts creative work.
  • The tradeoff between independence and integration in large companies

Reading two books a week

I “read” most of these as audiobooks. I mostly listened using combination of Scribd and Audible. Your local public library can also be a good source of eBooks and audiobooks, though you might have to wait for a while to get a copy. If this reading pace sounds like something you want to try, you should certainly check out Scribd, which is basically Netflix for books ($9/month for “unlimited” audiobooks). Audible would cost you between $10-$15/book so Scribd has a lot of value if you read more than one book a month. Here’s my Scribd referral link which you can use to get two free months when you signup.

I usually speed up the narration by between 2x and 3x depending on the pace of the narrator and how dense the content is.

But do you retain anything at 2-3x?

While there’s some scientific doubt around the value of speed reading, I think you can train yourself to comprehend faster speech. That being said, I don’t usually read books to extract specific details or for some kind of test, instead I’m looking for big ideas. If there are interesting sections, it’s easy to bookmark it and replay it.

I believe most non-fiction books are too long anyway, so speeding those ones up to find the core points strikes me as a valid reading strategy.

Some learnings from this challenge

1) Publicly sharing what you’re reading can spark interesting conversations

A lot of interesting conversations have been sparked from sharing what I’m reading. Now I publish what I’m reading on the homepage of my website and have made my Goodreads profile public.

2) Setting metrics leads to optimizing that metric at the expense of others. Just read as much (or as little) as you want

I started reading shorter books that I had set aside and used a faster pace in December to hit my goal. I got a fortune cookie this year that said, “No One Cares How Many Books You’ve Read” and I think it’s true.

3) To broaden my reading I should focus on the author’s background, not the genre of the book

I tried a lot of categories of books, but next year instead of changing up the genres of books I read, I’m going to seek out more diverse authors (for example: authors I haven’t read before or have a different perspective).

Full List of Books

The full list is on Goodreads, but if you enjoy looking a book covers here’s a collection of them.

In sequential order:

Title Author
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood Noah, Trevor
Tao of Charlie Munger: A Compilation of Quotes from Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice Chairman on Life, Business, and the Pursuit of Wealth With Commentary by David Clark Clark, David
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco Burrough, Bryan
Fear Less: Real Truth About Risk, Safety, and Security in a Time of Terrorism Becker, Gavin de
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World Newport, Cal
Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation Cowen, Tyler
The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1; Rincewind, #1) Pratchett, Terry
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less McKeown, Greg
Who Is Michael Ovitz? Ovitz, Michael
Educated Westover, Tara
Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries Bahcall, Safi
Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell Schmidt, Eric
The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts Parrish, Shane
Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing Caro, Robert A.
The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder Zeihan, Peter
How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays Catron, Mandy Len
How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty: And Say Yes to More Time, More Joy, and What Matters Most to You Breitman, Patti
The Dream Machine Waldrop, M. Mitchell
The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium Gurri, Martin
Ghachar Ghochar Shanbhag, Vivek
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Desmond, Matthew
The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You Zhuo, Julie
Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits Roose, Kevin
Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life Lewis, Michael
I Am Legend Matheson, Richard
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself Singer, Michael A.
Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law Bharara, Preet
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable Lencioni, Patrick
Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals Cowen, Tyler
The Art of War Sun Tzu
Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1) Herbert, Frank
Evil Eye Shekar, Madhuri
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World Epstein, David
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones Clear, James
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Cialdini, Robert B.
House Of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time Kihn, Martin
Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up Colonna, Jerry
Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It Kupor, Scott
Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity Scott, Kim Malone
Leadership: In Turbulent Times Goodwin, Doris Kearns
Law School for Everyone Cheng, Edward K.
Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future Morris, Ian
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York Caro, Robert A.
The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance Gallwey, W. Timothy
Exhalation: Stories Chiang, Ted
How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories Rosenberg, Alex
The Man Who Knew The Way to the Moon Zwillich, Todd
Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters Rumelt, Richard P.
King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone Carey, David
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters Parker, Priya
The Path to Power Caro, Robert A.
100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings: How to Get By Without Even Trying Cooper, Sarah
On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System Paulson, Henry M. Jr.
An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management Larson, Will
Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #2) Caro, Robert A.
Emotional Intelligence 2.0 Bradberry, Travis
The Education of a Coach Halberstam, David
The Latte Factor: Why You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Live Rich Bach, David
Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power Dallek, Robert
Master of the Senate Caro, Robert A.
World Order Kissinger, Henry
Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age Hiltzik, Michael A.
Reincarnation Blues Poore, Michael
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Stevenson, Bryan
The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #4) Caro, Robert A.
A Gentleman in Moscow Towles, Amor
The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win Kim, Gene
The Right Stuff Wolfe, Tom
That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea Randolph, Marc
Regulatory Hacking: A Playbook for Startups Burfield, Evan
Becoming Obama, Michelle
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber Isaac, Mike
Next: The Future Just Happened Lewis, Michael
The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears Katz, Donald R.
What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture Horowitz, Ben
The Players Ball: A Genius, a Con Man, and the Secret History of the Internet’s Rise Kushner, David
The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story Lewis, Michael
The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution Zuckerman, Gregory
The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully Weinberg, Gerald M.
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets Taleb, Nassim Nicholas
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed Gottlieb, Lori
Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations Ariely, Dan
Irrational Exuberance Shiller, Robert J.
Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds Goggins, David
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Dweck, Carol S.
How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships Lowndes, Leil
The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History Zuckerman, Gregory
Markets Never Forget (But People Do): How Your Memory Is Costing You Money–And Why This Time Isn’t Different Fisher, Kenneth L.
What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence Schwarzman, Stephen A.
Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators Lencioni, Patrick
One Up On Wall Street: How to Use What You Already Know to Make Money in the Market Lynch, Peter
The Money Culture Lewis, Michael
Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great Collins, Jim
The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 Krugman, Paul
Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career Scott H. Young
Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love Cagan, Marty
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories Liu, Ken
The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile Lukeman, Noah
Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1) Gibson, William
The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency Whipple, Chris

Special thanks to everyone who recommended a book to me this year!

If you have any book recommendations for me, let me know on Twitter (@sumukhsridhara) or follow me on Goodreads.