Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

From Neil Gaiman's The Sandman to Min Jin Lee's Free Food to Millionaires, here are some of the favourite books of the Forbes India team in 2021

Published: Dec 22, 2021 11:15:35 AM IST
Updated: Dec 22, 2021 08:46:24 PM IST

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we readTop row: Love In Lockdown, Less,  Free Food for Millionaires
Bottom row: Butterfly, The Forty Rules of Love, The Psychology of Money

Journalists, writers, and editors devour books to understand the world, what others are writing, and oftentimes just for joy. Team Forbes India is no exception to this stereotype. As the pandemic kept us all indoors for another year, we dug deep and went to the written word to find context, distraction, and joy. Here are the books that made it to the favourites list of team Forbes India.


Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of The Mumbai Mafia, by Hussain Zaidi
The book opens up a grand underworld for the readers in intricate details. It follows the journeys of various gangsters of Bombay (now Mumbai), who ruled the city in their respective times. Zaidi has tried to highlight the various connections between these gangsters and gang leaders who, on more than one occasion, were responsible for changing the course of Mumbai’s history. A newly developed interest in reading about terrorism and the underworld led me to pick up this book, and it has surely increased my interest in the subject multifold.

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak  
This is my first book by Shafak, and I fell in love with her writing. The setting and the time that this book explores was enough to hook me. The beauty with which the author has shed light on every character, their relationship with the others stood out. I feel that I can go back to this book five more times in the coming years, and I bet that the experience will be different from the last, and yet more wholesome.

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

My favourite excerpt from the book:
The emperor did not hide his disappointment. “Are you the one Majnun has been crazy about? Why, you look so ordinary. What is so special about you?”

Layla broke into a smile. “Yes, I am Layla. But you are not Majnun,” she answered. “You have to see me with the eyes of Majnun. Otherwise you could never solve this mystery called love.”


The Sandman (Audiobook) by Neil Gaiman and Dirk Maggs
I always wanted to buy Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic book series. Seven-eight years ago, I had the chance to browse the limited edition omnibus version. Since then, I couldn't get the illustrations and the story out of my head. Time and money prevented me from getting my hands on this exquisite offering all these years. This year, I invested my monthly free credit on Audible to download ‘The Sandman Act I’. This engaging story has unlocked a new level of excitement as the characters talk.

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

Dirk Maggs brought his years of experience as a story producer for BBC Radio to deepen the impact of exquisite storytelling. Maggs has done the impossible by staying rigidly faithful to the comic books with the help of an all-star voice cast. James McAvoy as Morpheus aka Lord of Dream, and Michael Sheen as Lucifer keep the shine of the original dark horror with their restrained performance and elevate the inherent intelligence of their characters. Kat Dennings as Dream's sister Death nails the whimsy that sets this series apart. If you are looking to get lost in the fantasy world that effortlessly jumps in the techno era of the 80s while serving some existential questions to ponder, The Sandman audiobook should keep you company.


The Psychology of Money - Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed and Happiness, by Morgan Housel

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

The best book I read this year was Morgan Housel's 'The Psychology of Money - Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed and Happiness'. The lessons reinforced beliefs and concepts that my father inculcated in me as a child. Each of the twenty topics discussed is crisp and richly woven with impactful examples. In this age of plentiful options and incessant noise, it is easy to give in to the temptation of having more, so the goalpost keeps moving, and ambition increases faster than satisfaction. This book provides key insights on understanding and controlling one's underlying emotional impulses while appreciating that nothing is as good or as bad as it seems. Read this book, if you haven't, to find out how.     


Love in Lockdown by Chloe James
I wouldn’t say it’s the best book I’ve read in 2021, rather I tried to keep it light this year. As a person who has always picked up books about women–women fleeing ISIS, or early marriage in the Middle East, or lives of women as courtesans—or on history, I decided to read 'Love in Lockdown’ by Chloe James because the title tugged at my heartstrings. I found love in the lockdown too! I wanted to be a part of someone else’s love story since many of my close friends and relatives couldn’t be a part of mine.

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

The story revolves around Jack and Sophia, who are neighbours but have never met. His balcony is right above hers. Jack can’t leave home because he’s sick and Sophia teaches a small group of students. They come up with ideas to help people, share food and drinks through a cardboard box attached to a rope. Of course, they start developing feelings for each other. I’ll leave the love story for anyone interested in finding out how it happens, but the book manages to capture the spirit of the lockdown—we’re all in this together—about community bonding, forging new friendships, reflecting on old ones, keeping what’s necessary, throwing out what’s not. And the good part, it’s not unrealistic. It’s easy to read because the characters are so likeable. It’s hopeful and feel-good. What better than a sweet story to lift your spirits?


Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph, by Yusra Mardini
Yusra Mardini, a 23-year-old Olympian, now living in Germany, was a competitive swimmer in Damascus, her home city. But imagine walking to the sports arena for your daily practice with friends, and a drone strikes the building next door (Yusra barely escaped). Then imagine you’re in the pool, thinking you’ll get some more laps in after the others have left, and a missile drops into the water (it didn’t blow up, miraculously, or we would have likely never heard her story). Or imagine, you’re in the car on your way home with your parents and sisters (Sara, and the youngest Shahed), and your house is blown up in an airstrike—leaving you with nothing but the clothes on your backs; leaving you to be grateful you’re alive. This was what life had become for Yusra and her family and millions of Syrians as the country plunged into a debilitating civil war.

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

'Butterfly' details the story of the Mardini family’s life in Damascus with Yusra being the narrator—going to school when bombs were dropping on the streets outside, and being a ‘normal’ teenager who discovers partying but amid a civil war, and their journey to find a new refuge. It’s a journey millions are forced to take today—walking on foot or on board dinghies suitable for five packed with 20-30 people, often losing their lives on the way or locked up in camps once they reach the destination. Her book, in her own words, describes Sara and Yusra’s journey to Germany in 2015 to find a safe haven, how they nearly lost their lives in the Aegean Sea (and how swimming saved them and dozen others on their dinghy), and their long journey afterwards through several countries—some were welcoming, and others hostile to refugees. A real-life, first-hand account of a refugee’s life, and how Germany’s pro-refugee policies gave the two sisters (and millions like them) a new lease of life and an opportunity to realise their full potential. Yusra went on to be on the Olympic Refugee Team, while Sara works with Sea Watch, an NGO in Lesvos, Greece (where their dinghy landed), ensuring no refugee loses their life in the Aegean Sea.

Most impactful quotes:
“Death is random and ever present. It falls from the sky in the street, in midday traffic, without warning, then we dust ourselves off and carry on.”

Once in Germany: “We can stay. No more running.”


Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
Arthur Less is afraid of everything. As he puts it some 40 pages into the book, "Nothing is harder than anything else. Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage". This quote is what finally got me hooked to the story of a white, 50-year-old gay American man who is running away from heartbreak by travelling to multiple countries. The book is a bit of a slow read, but boy does it make you laugh! Arthur Less, even with all his insecurities, fears, and sense of inferiority is such a relatable character. He makes you pause, think, smile, and believe that despite everything, the world is a hopeful, happy place. Or as Greer writes somewhere along the way, "Just for the record: Happiness is not bullshit."

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

The Lying Life of Adults, by Elena Ferrante
I am fascinated by Ferrante, by how simply, yet powerfully, she writes about pleasure, curiosity, self-loathing, yearning, abandonment and confusion as experienced by a young woman navigating adolescence in 1990s Naples, Italy. The book follows Giovanna as she gets tangled in the threads of family, romance and friendship, and grows up to learn about the hypocrisy, hatred, obsession, social and economic dynamics in the lives of the adults around her.

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

She tries to understand their lies and also her own. "Lies, lies, adults forbid them, and yet they tell so many," Giovanna observes. Ferrante's writing is so beautiful, full of depth, and reading this book is an emotional experience.


Free Food For Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

My best friend sent me this book when I was down with Covid-19. After a point, binge-watching TV Shows and doing movie marathons became a bit too much. And, 'Free Food for Millionaires' was just what I needed. A beautiful story about protagonist Casey Han, the daughter of Korean immigrants. The author provides great insights about the issues of gender and highlights racism against Asians, and the misogyny of men towards women in general. The best part about this book was that Min Jin Lee not only tells Casey’s story, but also of her sheltered mother, scarred father, and friends—both Korean and Caucasian. I’m told the book is a lot lighter than Lee’s popular ‘Pachinko’. So if you’re looking for an engaging and light read, Free Food for Millionaires is a great way to begin your 2022.


The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Forbes India 2021 rewind: Best books we read

Since the beginning of life on Earth some 3.8 billion years ago, there have been five mass extinction events, the latest being the wiping out of dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Today, Kolbert writes, we are witnessing a similar mass extinction event happening. And this so-called sixth extinction isn’t caused by some unstoppable force of nature like a giant falling asteroid but by mankind’s actions (and inactions). Kolbert, a staff writer for the New Yorker, combines brilliant field reporting from far-flung areas like the Andes, the Amazon rain forest, and the Great Barrier Reef, with hard science and historical context to describe how a dozen species—including the Panamanian golden frog and the Sumatran rhino—are at the point of vanishing. Her prose is lucid and her case irrefutable: to make things right we need to accelerate our transition to a more sustainable world.

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