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The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018

Books

Here’s the best of what I read in 2018.

As in previous round-ups, some of these titles came out this year, while others were published in years past.

Nonfiction

  • Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World,” by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. The first of two astoundingly good books by WSJ colleagues this year. Even if, like me, you’ve followed the 1MDB scandal, you’ll find here a ton of surprising, colorful, mind-boggling details, not to mention memorable characters. I think this will go down as a narrative nonfiction business classic.
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” by John Carreyrou. The second book by a WSJ colleage. The crazy story of Theranos, founder Elizabeth Holmes, and a cautionary tale about how investors can be duped by powerful personalities.
  • The Other One Percent: Indians in America,” by Sanjoy Chakravorty, Devesh Kapur and Nirvikar Singh. A rigorous work, full of data, that explains the factors that have contributed to the remarkable success of Indians (and Indian-Americans) in the U.S. My Book Notes entry is here.
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” by Yuval Noah Harari. A compelling, accessible, intriguing look at our species. Worth all the attention it has gotten since its 2015 publication. My Book Notes entry is here.
  • Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl. I’d heard about this book for a long time. The first half is a harrowing Holocaust survival memoir. The second is a guide to Frankl’s theory of logotherapy. I understand now why so many people say this is the single book that has affected them more than any other. “The meaning of life is to give life meaning,” as Frankl writes.
  • India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy,” by Ramachandra Guha. An exhaustive (it’s more than 900 pages long), impressively researched work: everything you need to know (and then some) about India since independence. I will keep a copy on my desk for reference. On the one hand, the level of detail can make for slow going; on the other hand, India’s history is so complicated that there can be no short cuts in a book like this.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” by Katherine Boo. A moving introduction to the plight of India’s poor.
  • The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” by Tim Wu. A timely read, given the rise of powers like Facebook and Google. Book Notes entry is here.
  • Fiction

    Last year I noted that I’d read just two memorable novels that year. My consumption of fiction this year, sadly, has again been low.

    I am always tempted to read nonfiction books related to work – India, tech, business – and I sometimes forget that in tackling both the universal and the particular, novels have a unique power. They build empathy and communicate truths in ways that sometimes nonfiction cannot. For example, take my favorite novel of the year, by Mohsin Hamid…

  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel,” by Mohsin Hamid. I just recently finished this novel. It was stunning. It’s a parody of a self help book, told in a unique fashion.
  • It succeeds as a page turner, as a thrilling rags to riches tale, as a romance, and also as a realistic look at society, money, power and corruption in South Asia.

    (It is set in an unnamed country that appears to be Hamid’s home country, Pakistan, but there are many echoes of India.)

    This is the first book my Hamid that I’ve read, and apparently some feel it’s not even his best. You can bet I will be reading his other works. Highly recommended. (Thanks, Michael, for the gift!)

  • Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville. It had been years since I’d encountered this book back in school, and I decided to pick it up again. I must have read it at some point, but I can’t remember when.
  • I’d forgotten how vivid the prose is. I highlighted this sentence, about Captain Peleg, which I really loved:

    “Though refusing, from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tons upon tons of leviathan gore.”

    Tons of leviathan gore!

    Previously:

  • The 10 Best Books I Read in 2017.
  • The Best Books I Read in 2016.
  • Categories
    Newley's Notes

    In This Week’s Newley’s Notes: Our India ‘Demonetization’ Video; Best Books and Albums of 2016; Chapecoense’s Final Flight

    Newleys notes

    Edition 74 of my email newsletter went out to subscribers yesterday. It’s pasted in below.

    To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox before I post them here, sign up at this link. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief — and few people unsubscribe.


    Hi friends, thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my stories and links to items that catch my eye.

    WHAT I WROTE IN THE WSJ

    Morgan Stanley Fund Cuts Valuation of Its Holding in India’s Flipkart. The story begins:

    A Morgan Stanley investment fund has reduced the valuation of its holding in Flipkart Internet Pvt. by 38%, as India’s leading e-commerce firm faces increased competition from U.S. rival Amazon.com Inc. and others.

    In a U.S. regulatory filing this week, the Morgan Stanley Select Dimensions Investment Series fund said for the quarter ended Sept. 30, it held 1,969 Flipkart shares, which it valued at $102,644, or $52.13 a share.

    Meanwhile, on a separate topic, a colleague and I recorded a Facebook Live video on India’s “demonetization,” the government’s move to eliminate its biggest-denomination bills. Watch it on the WSJ Facebook page here; the video has been viewed more than 65,000 times.

    WHAT I WROTE AT NEWLEY.COM

    Top Lesser-Known (but Good) Sci-Fi Movies of 2016

    On the Importance of Reading Books to Understand the World

    Why We Gain Weight Over the Holidays

    FIVE ITEMS THAT ARE WORTH YOUR TIME THIS WEEK:

    1) Can a lowly reporter become an Instagram star? Bloomberg’s Max Chafkin embarked on a humorous quest to become an “influencer,” commanding cash for his posts:

    The plan, which I worked out with my editor and a slightly confused Bloomberg Businessweek lawyer, was this: With Saynt’s company advising me, I would go undercover for a month, attempting to turn my schlubby @mchafkin profile into that of a full-fledged influencer. I would do everything possible within legal bounds to amass as many followers as I could. My niche would be men’s fashion, a fast-growing category in which I clearly had no experience. The ultimate goal: to persuade someone, somewhere, to pay me cash money for my influence.

    2) People are really into boring video games in which they drive tractors and trucks. A look at why people play games with titles like “Farming Simulator 17” and “American Truck Simulator.”

    3) Meta-list: Best Books of 2016. Jason Kottke has a round-up of the year’s top releases.

    4) The 100 best albums of 2016. A list compiled by music writer Ted Gioia.

    5) The story behind Chapecoense’s tragic final flight. This heartbreaking WSJ story explains how the Brazilian championship contenders came to be flying on the charter plane headed to Colombia, and why it went down.

    Thanks for reading.

    Love,
    Newley

    P.S. If someone forwarded you this email, you can subscribe here.

    Categories
    Books Life Movies Sports

    2015 Media Picks: My Favorite Book, Album, Movie, TV Show — and Goal and Save

    2016-01-04harrisjpgBook: “Waking Up”

    I read a lot of really great books this year, most of which were published prior to 2015.

    The one that comes closest to qualifying for this list, however, since it was published in late 2014, is Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

    Harris, a neuroscientist, illustrates that our perception of the world quite literally dictates the quality of our lives. He discusses eastern and western religions, consciousness, the illusion of the self, meditation, gurus, and psychedelic  drugs.

    “Our minds are all we have,” he writes early on in the book. “They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.”

    Highly recommended.

    Album: “Meamodern Sounds in Country Music”

    2016-01-04_sturgillAgain, I’m kind of cheating here. Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” came out in mid-2014. But it’s too good to ignore. I blogged about it back in February.

    Unfortunately, it’s not available on Spotify — my current pick for music streaming given Rdio’s demise and my brief but ultimaely ill-fated dalliance with Apple Music — but you can listen to it on Amazon or YouTube.

    Movie: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

    2016-01-04SWSerious “Star Wars” nerds may have their quibbles. But as a casual fan — as in, I like the movies, I really do, but I don’t live or die by them — I found “The Force Awakens” to be thrilling and fun.

    It’s great to have the crew back again.

    TV show: “Fargo”

    2016-01-04fargoHoly shit, “Fargo.”

    Season one was fantastic. And so was season two, which just concluded.

    It seems crazy, the idea of replicating, for TV, the setting (mostly) for one of the finest films ever made. But it works. And there’s more to come!

    Goal: Messi vs. Athetic Bilbao

    Okay, so a goal represents the greatest achievement in the world’s greatest game (except for saving a penalty), and isn’t a piece of media, exactly. But it kind of is, when it’s reproduced. Like it is here. I don’t care.

    THAT MESSI GOAL against Atheltic Bilbao, which I mentioned back in June, was outrageous:

    Save: David De Gea vs. Everton

    Again, we have to go back to late 2014, but it’s worth it.

    As I blogged at the time, De Gea was exceptional against Everton. The save he pulls off at the one minute mark here is just…I’m speechless.

    What a year.

    Categories
    Misc.

    The 20 Best ‘Best of 2014’ Lists

    1. Best Books of 2014WSJ
    2. The books Quartz read in 2014 — Quartz
    3. The best books of 2014 — The Economist
    4. 10 best nonfiction books of 2014 — Stephen Carter at Bloomberg View
    5. The 10 Best Books of 2014NYT
    6. The Best Books of 2014 — Amazon
    7. The Best Book Covers of 2014NYT
    8. Longreads’ Best of 2014 — Longreads
    9. The Best Movies of 2014 — Richard Brody at The New Yorker
    10. Best movies of 2014 with behavioral economics themes — Cass Sunstein at Bloomberg View
    11. The 20 best movies of 2014 — A.V. Club
    12. The Best Movie Posters of 2014 — MUBI Notebook
    13. The 10 Best TV Shows of 2014 — Vulture
    14. Best TV Of 2014 — NPR
    15. Best albums of 2014 — Rateyourmusic.com
    16. The 100 Best Tracks of 2014 — Pitchfork
    17. Best iPhone photos of 2014 — iPhone Photography Awards
    18. Top physics breakthroughs of 2014 — Physics World
    19. The Best Tech Quotes of 2014 — Vauhini Vara at The New Yorker
    20. Embedded above and on YouTube here: Top 30 Goals World Cup 2014, by HeilRJ.
    Categories
    Misc.

    Some favorite albums, books, TV shows, movies, and in-depth stories from 2013

    Here’s a look back at some of my favorites from last year.

    Albums

    My pick: “Modern Vampires of the City,” by Vampire Weekend.

    Here’s “Obvious Bicycle“:

    And “Diane Young“:

    Runner-up album:

    Beta Love,” by Ra Ra Riot. Here’s the title track.

    Honorable mentions: Sky Ferreira’s “Night Time, My Time,” Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” and Lorde’s “Pure Heroine.”

    Books

    Of the books I read last year, two stand out, not least because they were written by pals.

    First: Matt Gross’s “The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World.”

    2014 01 08 turk who loved apples

    This may not come as a surprise, since I’ve written about Matt’s work before.

    The New York Times called the book “a joyful meditation on the spontaneity and unpredictability of the traveling life,” and said:

    Gross ruminates on the loneliness of the road, the evanescent friendships that occasionally blossom into something deeper, the pleasures of wandering through cities without a map. Now settled in Brooklyn with his wife and daughters, he leaves little doubt that all his years of near-constant travel have only whetted his appetite for more. “The world,” he writes, has become “a massively expanding network of tiny points where anything at all could happen, and within each point another infinite web of possibilities.”

    Worth checking out.

    And second: “The Accidental Playground: Brooklyn Waterfront Narratives of the Undesigned and Unplanned,” by Dan Campo.

    2014 01 08 accidental playground

    The Times included the book in a piece called “Suggested Reading for de Blasio,” and wrote:

    Daniel Campo, a former New York City planner, considers the serendipitous development of Williamsburg and concludes: “In contrast to urban space produced through conventional planning and design, the accidental playground that evolved on the North Brooklyn waterfront generated vitality through immediate and largely unmeditated action. The waterfront was there for the claiming, and people went out and did just that without asking for permission, holding meetings or making plans.”

    Indeed, it’s worth a read.

    TV shows

    2014 01 09 breaking bad

    There can be only one.

    Movies

    I haven’t yet seen many of the year’s most talked-about films, but I liked “Gravity” and “This is the End.” 2013 films I still intend to watch: “12 Years a Slave,” “The Act of Killing,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and “Computer Chess.”

    Stories

    And finally, here are some in-depth stories, blog posts, reviews, and other pieces of writing I liked this year: