Here's a log of the books I am reading or read recently.
Reading now: The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure
Cancer, Charles Graeber: This book
entered my reading list after Jim Allison won the Nobel
Prize last year. It was a great read. It is a short book
at 200 pages. The book describes briefly the history of
cancer immunotherapy — numerous failed attempts and recent
successes. Primary goal of cancer immunotherapy is to get
the immune system to attack cancer cells and potentially
cure the patient. Advances in the understanding of the
mechanisms with which the immune system works is one of
the reasons for the success of these therapies. The
description and potential of new immunotherapies such as
checkpoint inhibitors, CTLA-4 blockers, PD1/PD-L1
inhibitors, and CAR-T was fantastic. The technical
content was interspersed with personal stories of cancer
patients, researchers, and doctors. The book is
accessible to laymen without much knowledge of medicine.
Book could have benefitted from some editing to further streamline it.
Overall, a fantastic read. I could not put the book down.
Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and
Religion, Jonathan Haidt: The
explores the question of morality and conflict with ideas
from psychology. A good read but a bit verbose. It can be
thought provoking. The discussion of incest, loyalty to
oppressive forces, and blind loyalty is pretty
interesting. The author creates a framework of six
foundations to investigate the behavior of various groups:
care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and
sanctity. He uses this framework to explain the choices by
liberals and conservatives in the US.
Ghochar, Vivek Shanbhag: A good
Indian novel. Vivek weaves an excellent story. A careful
and a poignant investigation of family dynamics with
subtlety in the context of an Indian family.
Weapons of Math
Cathy O'Neil: The book highlights the issue of fairness especially
with the pervasive use of predictive models. Historical data can
include all prior human biases. Predictive models can amplify these
biases. It highlights how opaque and non-transparent models can be
pernicious especially for the vulnerable section of the society. The
book highlights the negative effects on the poor with examples such as
the use of predictive models for teacher evaluation, models used by
lenders of payday loans, targetted advertising, and for-profit
universities. In summary, the book is not a bad read but could have
America's war for the Greater Middle East, Andrew
J. Bacevich: A good read. Provides an interesting perspective on
the situation in the middle east. Highlights the ramifications of
various policy decisions by American presidents starting from Carter
to Obama. Highlights the internecine conflicts inherent in the region,
ramifications of using military power, and policy issues emerging from
Sapiens: A Brief History of HumanKind, Yuval Noah
Hariri: An excellent read. I enjoyed reading this book. The book
highlights the stages of human evolution: cognitive
revolution, agricultural revolution, unification of humans, and
scientific revolutions. I liked the parts of the book that described
the origin and evolution of money, empires, religions, conquest, and
exploration. The book has an interesting blend of history,
speculation, and alternative perspectives on various aspects that is
generally taken for granted.
||2017/03/04: Animal Farm, George Orwell
: An excellent satire. The book highlights manipulation through
propaganda by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Wikipedia
states the following motivation for the book: "how easily totalitarian
propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic
||2017/01/08: Rise of the Robots:
Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Martin
Ford: Is technology going to create unemployment? There is huge
investment in capital but a decrease in labor
participation. Productivity growth has increased but wage growth has
plateaued. Most jobs that are either routine or predictable are going
to be automated. A major reason for the decline in manufacturing jobs
is automation! 20% of the US college educated graduates are
overeducated for their jobs! There is no economic growth without
consumers spending. How do you help people where there are no jobs?
Universal basic income? Atleast now is not the time to reduce social
safety nets! Interesting book to read although some parts of the book
about singularity and nanotechnology are speculative.
||2017/01/02: Hillbilly Elegy:
A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J D
Vance : An interesting account of poverty in the rust belt of the
USA. Although a memoir, the book raises varous societal issues such as
the increase in single-parent families, opioid addiction, income
segregation, and domestic violence among families in the rust
belt. The book has an interesting observation about home ownership and
faltering economic prospects. When the economy of a town collapses, it
is predominantly the lower income class that suffers more as they are
locked into the place with home ownership and do not have much
|Excellent ||2016/12/29: Between
the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi
Coates: Fantastic book. Poetic. A searing account highlighting the
challenges of being black in America, narrated by the author to his
son. The book raises multiple issues: effect of slavery, struggle for
survival, high incarceration rates, growing up with street
violence, seggregation, home evictions, ghettos, and usage of
excessive force. See NYT book review.
||2016/12/25: When Breath
Becomes Air, Paul
Kalanithi: A memoir written by an
accomplished neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed
with lung cancer. The book is beautifully
written and explores questions intersecting life,
death, and meaning. The book has some very good
quotes. One such quote: "You can't ever reach
perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote
toward which you are ceaselessly striving". See
NYT book review.
||2016/12/21: The Vegetarian, Han Kang:
Short novel but its both terrific and
terrifying. The book explores
one's relationship with identity in a clever way.
The ramifications of a simple
decision (i.e., of not eating meat) on the
protagonist and the closely related people is
Innu Ondu (Kannada), Vivek Shanbhag:
Good Read. This kannada fiction novel subtly explores
numerous aspects of one's life -- freedom,
identity, routine, and relationships -- with an unique perspective.
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, John Gertner:
Fantastic Read. Bell labs has a unique place in
computing. Bell labs is the house of many seminal
computing discoveries/inventions (transistors,
wireless communication, solar cells, the Unix
operating system, and others). The book not only
provides a history of Bell labs but also
describes some of the events preceeding such
monumental discoveries. How and why did an
industrial research lab attempt to solve some
foundational problems in science?
||2014/12/30: The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That
Way, Amanda Ripley:
A Great Read. Highlights some of the reasons why
US high school kids are not good at
math and science. I have been thinking about
similar questions as I teach a large undergraduate
class at Rutgers, which has students with a large standard deviation in
their learning abilities. The book emphasizes that rigor
is important and priority in school should be on
learning rather than other activities. An
interesting question to think about: why is there
so much emphasis on football in US high schools
||2013/6/29: Perfect Rigor: A Genius and Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century, Masha Gessen:
A Good read. A third person account of Grisha Perelman
who was awarded the Fields medal and Clay institute's
millenium prize for solving the Poincare conjecture. The book
primarily talks about the sociological aspects of competitive
mathematics in the USSR and how it shaped and influenced
||2012/05/26: Launching the Innovation Renaissance, Alexander Tabarrok:
||2012/04/25: Chess Story, Stefan Zweig:
Must Read. Enjoyed the book. At 84 pages a great quick page turner. What a book! The book has an amazing contrast between nothingness and mental overstimulation.
||2012/04/15: Rework, Jason Fried:
Okay read. This book questions the traditional style of management in startups. Although a good quick read, I did not get much out of it.
||2012/04/10: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes:
Nice read. The book has an unreliable narrator. The book
questions the fact that whether memory is reliable
or not. Raises the question whether we remember what actually
||2012/01/14: The Academic Job Search HandBook, Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick:
Milo suggested me to read this book to help my job search. This is a great book for people interested in an academic job in the US.
||2012/01/13: Noon, Aatish Taseer:
Parts of the book were very good. Nice story portraying the changes in the mindset in India and Pakistan. Aatish has a nice style of writing but few things in this book seemed disconnected.
||2012/01/12: Everyman, Philip Roth:
A quick read. This is a book about getting old. The
loneliness, dread and despondency about the stage of the life
in the character was well portrayed.
||2012/01/06: The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen:
Average read. First part of the book was okay. Highlighted connecting the dots, questioning, observing, networking and experimenting as attributes of the innovators. I found the back-end to be too repetitive.
||2011/12/31: Steve Jobs, Walter Issacson:
With MacBook, iPod and iPhone changing the way I interact with the world everyday, I had to read it. It was a great read. Describes the quirky character of Jobs and his quest for simplicity in the products in great detail.
||2011/12/27: The New Professor's Handbook, Cliff I. Davidson and Susan A. Ambrose:
Good read for people interested in academia. First part of the book emphasizing teaching in research and mentoring was useful to me.
||2011/12/14: The Big Short, Michael Lewis:
Interesting read. Got to know more about the subprime
mortagage crisis. This book makes you loathe investment
||2011/3/06: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee:
Captivating read. A mesmerizing journey of several
hundreds/thousands of years studying cancer, battles fought to
control it, understand it and provide a cure for it. I love
reading about the history of science in general and it tingled
the right chords for me. Description of progress of different
kinds of treatment plans involving surgery, radiation, chemo
and directed therapies fascinated me. Brought out the fact
that great insightful discoveries coupled with some activism
is required for progresss of a scientific field (think Mary
Lasker and Sidney Farber efforts).
||2011/1/28: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson:
Interesting read. Explores how some environments are productive for innovation while others are not. I could relate the "adjacent possible" argument with Thomas Kuhn's argument in Structure of Scientific Revolutions book.
||2010/12/7: The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, Elyn R. Saks:
Awesome book. Saks does a great job of describing her
experiences during psychotic episodes, her struggle to lead a
normal life and the role of her family and friends in her
||2010/11/12: India after Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha:
Awesome. Never thought history can be so engrossing. Made me remember Sukumar Sen (First CEC), Vappala Pangunni Menon (Man behind unification of princely states).
||2010/10/10: A Ph.D. Is Not Enough!, Peter J. Feibelman:
A short book. Quick read.
||2010/09/08: Man's search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl:
Apart from explaining the conditions in the
concentration camp, explores why humans survive even worst of
worst situations. Book concludes that a meaning for survival
is necessary. When a person loses meaning for his existence,
survival is seldom possible. Was an interesting
read. Enjoyed the first part of the book. Skimmed through the
logotherapy part. A short book, worth it.