The 10 books of 2023 you cannot miss

Same as Ever–Timeless Lessons on Risk, Opportunity, and Living a Good Life

Morgan Housel

Morgan Housel became famous with his first book The Psychology of Money. The book did so well that it was translated into many Indian languages. His second book does deal with various aspects of how to manage your money well, but is more a book about how to think better and thus, hopefully make better decisions in life. Housel’s strength is that he makes even the most basic points through some excellent stories. Do watch out for the story about Warren Buffett. These stories ensure that the book—even though it is prescriptive—never really gets boring, which is the trouble with many similar books. Also, the book can be read one chapter at a time and need not be read in sequence. It’s just the right book for busy corporate executives looking for some intellectual stimulation without the need to get too involved while reading, as ironic as this might sound.

What I Learned About Investing From Darwin

Pulak Prasad

Let’s be honest, many fund managers communicate in a very boring way, caught as they are in trying to hawk the fund they manage, and the fact that the regulator limits what they can say. But the same cannot be said of Pulak Prasad who has written this very interesting book linking investing with evolutionary biology—the study of the causes and nature of the evolution of organisms since the beginning of life on Earth. In fact, through most of the book Prasad only reiterates some well-known investing principles, but he does so through examples from evolutionary biology and his experience of having managed a lot of money in the Indian stock market. An excellent example in the book is on something as basic as the power of compounding, which Prasad explains through the example of how only 24 rabbits imported into Australia in 1859 grew to 10 billion rabbits just 65 five years later. A clear parallel can be drawn with how when investors allow money to compound, as time goes by, it grows much bigger in absolute terms. Even if you have no interest in investing in stocks, the book can be read for the parallels it draws between investing and the biological world.

How Economics Can Save the World–Simple Ideas to Solve Our Big Problems

Erik Angner

While the title of this book seems extremely heavy duty, this is not a book written by an economist for other economists, as often turns out to be the case. Angner, in his trademark style, which does not talk down to the audience, writes about everything from the macro of how to eliminate poverty and how to fix climate change to the micro of how to be happy and how to raise happy children and remain sane. In fact, the chapter on how to be happy is probably the best chapter of the book. Angner talks about his fascination for buying books and explains how his happiness works in that context. He writes: “Books are the worst…I can’t resist the urge to buy new books as soon as I come across them… But by the time they arrive… I have often forgotten that I ordered them…I put the book on top of a pile of other unread books and forget about it. As long as I can reach the top of the pile next to my bed, I’ll continue ordering books.” The point being that any repetition eventually leads to boredom.

Material World–A Substantial Story of Our Past and Future

Ed Conway

This is by far one of the most educational books that one can possibly read. Conway goes around the world to tell us how copper, salt, sand, iron, lithium and oil lie at the bedrock of the modern human economy. While many books have been written on oil and how it has impacted history, geography and economics, the same cannot be said about the other materials. Conway fills in that huge gap by telling us that just in 2019, we, humans, mined, dug and blasted more materials from the earth’s surface than the sum total of everything we extracted from the dawn of humanity up until 1950. Now, if you think that 2019 was a one-off, pretty much the same thing has happened about every year since 2012. In fact, how much the world depends on sand for its existence is a real eye-opener. And just that in itself is worth the price of this book.

Breaking the Mould–Reimagining India’s Economic Future

Raghuram G. Rajan and Rohit Lamba

There is a formula for rapid economic growth which has helped countries go up the income ladder fast in a matter of a few decades. This includes countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and most recently China. Basically, these countries started with low-cost manufacturing for the rich-Western world, exploiting the labour cost advantage, and gradually moved up the value chain and the income chain. Economists Rajan and Lamba say this formula may not work as well for India as it has for other countries in the past. First, when it comes to labour cost advantage, China has still not exhausted its pool of cheap workers. Second, the structure of global supply chains has changed. Third, products in this day and age are so much more a composite of services and manufacturing than just manufacturing. This book is an eye opener—from how the world now operates to what India can do to grow at a very fast pace.

Easy Money—Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism, and the Golden Age of Fraud

Ben McKenzie with Jacob Silverman

Bitcoin and other cryptos were a rage up until a couple of years back. Like every new snake oil salesperson in the past, the backers of crypto also promised to change the world. But all they were doing was trying to enrich themselves quickly—basically, take the money from investors and scoot. They used social media extensively to get the youngsters to buy into their product. The youngsters ultimately became evangelists selling crypto. All this went well, until prices kept going up. Once the prices crashed, the stories of deceit, fraud and over promises and under delivery, started to come out. McKenzie, a TV actor, and Silverman, a journalist, get into the heart of the entire economy that had evolved around crypto, how it operated and took people for a ride, and finally crashed. The bonus is that the book reads like a thriller. In fact, Zeke Faux’s Number Go Up is another great book to understand the crypto shenanigans.

Right Kind of Wrong–Why Learning to Fail Can Teach Us to Thrive

Amy Edmondson

Over the years, hundreds of management gurus have written books on what it takes for companies and organizations to succeed. Further, self-help gurus have written thousands of books on what it takes for individuals to succeed. The irony being that most companies and many individuals fail in life. So, it is heartening to see Edmondson, a professor of leadership and management at the Harvard Business School, writing a book on failure. Edmondson breaks down the topic of failure in great detail. She talks about different kinds of failure, the range of causes behind it, the emotional response to failure and why organizations and individuals don’t like to talk about it and learn from it. One of the most important points she makes in the book is how when people don’t speak up about small failures simply because their organizations don’t encourage them to do so,these can spiral into larger failures over a period of time. Unlike many other management gurus, Edmondson writes interestingly, peppering her writing with stories and a lot of research, and also ensuring that her writing is simple enough but not simplistic. Not surprisingly, the book won the Financial Times and Schroders Business Book of the Year Award.

Foolproof—Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity

Sander van der Linden

We live in the era of information and misinformation, with both being available on the click of a button. Van der Linden explains in great detail why the latter has become so common in this day and age. He also explains why humans as they are exposed to more fake news are likely to share it more because it starts to feel true. Of course, there is also a constant search for the truth and what we want to believe in, given that truth can be messy and complicated whereas fake news and misinformation is usually very easily digestible. So, in this scenario, it is hardly surprising that fake news and misinformation seem to be winning. In the third part of the book, van der Linden explains how this menace can be tackled through the new science of prebunking. A must read for everyone who is struggling with their immediate family sending them unbelievable WhatsApp forwards, which basically means all of us.

The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

Martin Wolf

“The health of our societies depends on sustaining a delicate balance between the economic and the political, the individual and the collective, the national and the global. But the balance is broken. Our economy has destabilized our politics and vice versa. We are no longer able to combine the operations of the market economy with stable liberal democracy. A big part of the reason is that the economy is not delivering the security and widely shared prosperity expected by large parts of our societies,” writes Wolf. These lines, more or less, summarize the core message of the book. Alternatively, at a very simplistic level, Wolf could have just said, why America voted Trump in 2016 and is threatening to do the same in 2024. This book is not an easy breezy read but is a very important book which tries to explain why a large part of the world is heading where it is. The book also becomes very important given that the next US presidential elections are scheduled in less than a year’s time.

How To Expect the Unexpected–The Science of Making Predictions and the Art of Knowing When Not To

Kit Yates

While no one knows the future for sure, probable predictions can be made. Everyone who has a public facing job is busy making predictions, from politicians to economists to fund managers to even weather forecasters and bank relationship managers, simply because people are looking for certainty in their lives. Given that they are catering to a market looking for certainty, most people in the business of predicting, get their predictions wrong. This book teaches us how those in the business of predicting get it wrong, how to spot phony forecasts and how to hopefully go about making rational inferences. Again, even if you are not in the business of forecasting, this is an excellent book to read, given the way it has been written and the stories that it comes up with to elaborate the important points that it makes.

Finally, only so many books can make it to a list. Here are a few more interesting ones: Michael Kemp’s The Ulysses Contract—How to Never Worry About the Share Market Again; Yanis Varoufakis’ Technofeudalism—What Killed Capitalism; David Sumpter’s Four Ways of Thinking—Statistical, Interactive, Chaotic and Complex; Richard Fisher’s The Long View—Why We Need to Transform How the World Sees Time; Nikhil Gupta’s The Eight Per Cent Solution—A Strategy for India’s Growth; and Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson’s Power and Progress—Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity.

Happy reading.

Vivek Kaul is the author of Bad Money.

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