22 books that changed my life (and how)
It is very hard to pick your favorite books because your choices are fluid and can change over time. However, the easiest way is to just go with your memory — pick the ones that touched a deep chord, were very personal, and have had a lasting impression. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t mean as much if I read them today because the context would have changed. So here is my list of top 22 books, some of which I’ve re-read and some not, but all of which played a role in making me who I am today. Why 22? Well, when I started listing them off the top of my head that’s the number I stopped at!
1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl: If you asked me to pick just one book, it would be this. I have re-read it so often that I quote from the book on every possible occasion. One of my favorite videos is a 5-minute YouTube video of Victor Frankl teaching students and explaining the idea of “the meaning and purpose of life”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgVA6nXCj1U
2. The Class by Erich Segal: The book was gifted to me by my then girlfriend (and now wife) in college. I had an idea for a book about my college friends, and since I foresaw remarkable careers for many of them but not for me, I thought I could take on the role of the storyteller. When I told her about it she mentioned that The Class had a similar premise.
3. The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: This has been my bible. Time and again I have read excerpts from it, just to allow the messages from Gandhi’s life to soak into mine. I believe the book’s title is the best ever!
4. Riot by Shashi Tharoor: This book meant a lot to me when I was dating my girlfriend. My life was both stressful and uncertain because we came from different religions and our families opposed our marriage. The book mirrored the complex times we lived in and what it meant to be in a Hindu-Muslim relationship.
5. Maverick by Ricardo Semler: This book deeply impacted me during my formative years in the IT industry. While the idea of employees deciding their own salary and rating their managers seemed far-fetched, I was drawn towards it. I have tried to follow many of the book’s principles throughout my career as a people manager.
6. I Dare by Kiran Bedi: I have multiple editions of this book, which was one of the first biographies that I read. Calling Dr Kiran Bedi my mentor, guide and friend has been a privilege and an honor.
7. The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson: Citing this book’s mantra, I have often declared, “Magic happens at the intersection of science and humanities”. Or as the book suggests, at the intersection of ideas and disciplines.
8. The Groaning Shelf by Pradeep Sebastian: Pradeep has been a friend, mentor and guide in my journey of becoming a bibliophile. By sharing his unparalleled knowledge of books he helped me become a columnist on books and acquire some of the rarest books in my collection.
9. The Picador Book of Cricket by Ramachandra Guha: Guha (besides Gideon Haigh) has been one of my favorite cricket writers and I spent a decade collecting the top 50 books mentioned in a chapter of this book called “The Addict’s Archive”.
10. The Mahatma and the Poet by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya: I love the now-lost art of letter writing. This rare book is a collection of the letters exchanged between two of my favorite outstanding intellectuals, Gandhi and Tagore, and contains the remarkable debates they engaged in. Every letter is a lesson in how two persons can have deep respect for one another while disagreeing on many topics.
11. Highway Dharma Letters by Reverend Heng Sure: I learnt about Buddhist teachings from this book. When I met Reverend Heng Sure he deepened my understanding of the pilgrimage he undertook from Los Angeles to Mendocino county, doing the “three steps and a bow” — an astounding exercise in inner transformation. I visited the City of 10,000 Buddhas in Mendocino to get a sense of life in the Buddhist monastery. As Huston Smith said, “This is the most neglected book of the twentieth century… and one of the most inspiring.”
12. Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore: My favorite is Poem No 50.
“… I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all”.
13. Grit by Angela Duckworth: This book played a huge role in assembling the pieces of a puzzle that I had always struggled with, by making me realize that grit is the most important predictor of success in the long run.
14. Scaling Excellence by Robert Sutton and Hayagreeva Rao: This book is special not only because of its insights on scaling but also because both Bob and Huggy are dear friends. They have often helped me navigate complex scaling challenges in my work.
15. Give and Take by Adam Grant: I heard Adam Grant speak at Davos before I read his books. And boy is he a rock star! At 28 he became one of the youngest tenured professors at Wharton. Give and Take remains my favorite among his books because while I was researching on the topic of giving I found that he had already published his book on the same topic after a decade of work!
16. Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav: The book is about authentic power, the alignment of the personality with the soul. Its message about intention resonated deeply with me. My personal friendship with Gary and Linda has made me a better person over the years.
17. Letters of Note by Shaun Usher: A well-researched and produced collection of some of the greatest letters ever written, this book makes us realize how much we have lost in the digital age. No one ever stores an email for posterity!
18. The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Eswaran: This brilliant translation introduced me to the Gita. Its message about equanimity has stayed with me the longest.
19. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida: While I have read many books on autism, this opened my world to the mind of my non-verbal son, Vivaan. Every time I read it I get new insights into Vivaan’s incredible mind. The documentary on the book is amazing too.
20. A Promised Land by Barack Obama: Obama made me fall in love with words, and needless to say, I have been an Obama fan, having watched his inauguration from the hospital when my son was 3 days old, and closely followed his journey (Vivaan shares his birthday with Michelle Obama — January 17). I was most excited when this book was released on audible, narrated by Obama himself. I finished listening to it in one go. I also managed to get the deluxe signed edition of the book, thanks to my bookseller friend!
21. Bibliophile by Jane Mount: While I am a bibliophile myself and have read a lot of books on books, this book ranks high because of its simplicity and beautiful artwork. It’s a book I would have loved to have written myself. I am grateful to know the author Jane Mount and for her having agreed to make a personalized artwork of this list of favorite books(used as a header in this piece).
22. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig: I got introduced to this cult classic (written the year I was born) very late in life and yet it had a profound impact on me. That Zen can be found in everyday activity (I found my ‘motorcycle maintenance’ while dishwashing!) and that the best writing happens through pure boredom were notions particularly relevant to the pandemic times during which I encountered the book. I heard it on audible along with my son on my daily drives — like the author who wrote it during his motorcycle journeys with his son. His message that “It is better to travel than arrive — because you never stop travelling and you never arrive” resonated with me. The book that was rejected by more than 120 publishers still rings true after 48 years and the demise of both father and son who took the 17-day motorcycle ride from Minnesota to California.