Best Books of 2011: A personal List

NS Ramnath
Updated: Sep 8, 2021 11:40:51 AM UTC

World 3.0: Global Prosperity and How to Achieve It , by Pankaj Ghemawat, Harvard Business Press Books, 400 pages, Rs 695 When I first saw the book, I was slightly put off by the title. It seemed presumptuous, as if the world was like MS Word, and you can sit at your desk and make better versions of it. But then, I was familiar with the works of Pankaj Ghemawat. He had written about globalisation and corporate strategy with great insight, and was the youngest ever professor at Harvard Business School. The book turned out to be fascinating. His basic argument: If you think the world has become flat — influenced perhaps by the impassioned arguments of Thomas Friedman — it’s not. A number of indicators suggest we are far from the kind of integrated world that makes everyone better off. It's important to start with a realistic world view, and then take the right steps towards cross-border integration. I found the visual tools particularly fascinating.

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Random House India, 320 pages, Rs 499
Sometime in 2006, a friend and I went to IFMR, Chennai to listen to a Harvard University professor, Sendhil Mullainathan. We tagged on to him after the event, and listened to him for the next two hours — over the sound of Chennai traffic, over the din of the noisy restaurant we went for lunch. All this while he was talking about Randomised Trials, a refreshingly new approach to economics, that took up a small problem, applied different solutions to a fairly large population and studied the impact of the interventions pretty much like in medicine. Our final question to him was: when are you writing a book on this? He didn't seem to be too keen; he would rather spend more time on the field. Luckily for us, two of his collaborators, Banerjee and Duflo, did sit down to write a book. Poor Economics takes us through an amazing journey among the poor across several countries: what they do, how they think, what choices they make, and also what works and what doesn't. Please do check out the companion site as well.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, Little Brown, 627 pages, Rs 799
It’s not clear if this biography would have turned out be such a big bestseller if Jobs hadn’t died. But I am sure I would have read it anyway. I have been following the amazing career and life of Steve Jobs ever since I read Odyssey: From Pepsi to Apple, by John Scully, while I was still at school. Magazine articles, particularly from Fortune, filled in bits and pieces of information. The coverage on Jobs of course increased dramatically as he launched one successful product after another. But what I wanted was one complete narrative. Isaacson does that beautifully. I couldn't help but compare it with another long biography I read last year, David Remnick's The Bridge. Isaacson's book is not as beautifully written, the background information is not as deep and wide. But Job's colourful and complex personality makes up for all that.

Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer, Allen Lane, 320 pages , Rs 550
I knew absolutely nothing about the book or the author before I picked it up. I simply liked the title, I guess. The book is about Foer's short journey from being a regular journalist to US memory champion. Along the way he treats us to amazing insights into the nature of memory itself. I was particularly impressed by the section on the relationship between memory and time.

Boomerang, by Michael Lewis, Norton, 212 pages, Rs 1461
Michael Lewis is an all-time favourite. After reading Big Short last year, I couldn't wait to read Boomerang. It's a small book, and I finished it in two sittings. The book's subtitle, Travels in the New Third World, hints at why it is so appealing. It has elements of a well written travel book and the observations Lewis makes — like the booming noise he hears at a hotel in Iceland — give delightful economic insights.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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