Books I Read in 2018 (and My Top 5)

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[1] Kurunmi (Three Crowns) by Ola Rotimi

Genre: Historical Play

Kurunmi is a historical war play staged sometimes in the 19thcentury. Aare Kurunmi, the protagonist, occupies the position of war-general-cum-defense-minister of the disintegrating Oyo empire of the West Africa. The author (knowingly or unknowingly) explores the skin-in-the-game philosophy, where leaders lead with their skin in the game. In shorts when a leader cooks, they eat from their own cooking very quickly. The way things are supposed to be, not the baloney set-up we have in today’s world

Aare Kurunmi’s skin-in-the-game philosophy is particularly penetrating – he went to war with his 5 sons! Fighting at the forefront, where the battle boils of the greatest heat. And, well, the sad part: they all died. A leader should lead right in front, with all his skin in the game. If a leader calls for ‘war’, let them go to ‘war’.

And what led me to the book? My study of the Old Oyo Empire and a beautiful song titled Kurunmi by Beautiful Nubia.

[2] Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Genre: Fiction

An African literature classic.

[3] The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis

Genre: Non-Fiction | Christianity

Peter betrayed Jesus, and even so he was chosen. Indeed, the name of God is Mercy. A graceful book by the Pope. One of the best books I read this year.

[4] The Lion and The Jewel by Wole Soyinka

Genre: Historical Play

A Play by an African Nobel Laureate. It explores the rapid modernization of Africa in the 60s.

[5] Under Bridge by Immuanuel James

Genre: Fiction

A grass to grace story of a Nigerian (Igbo) boy. It’s discuses important socio-cultural themes in the Nigerian Clime. And, I must say, the book is very well written, that I failed not to envy the architecture of Mr James’s sentences. (A few of them threw me off my seat while reading).

[6] 20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker by Deborah Treisman

Genre: Fiction | Short Stories

A compilation of twenty short stories from the New Yorker. A few great stories: Second Lives, An Arranged Marriage, An Honest Exit, The Landlord.

[7] God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? by John Lennox

Genre: Philosophy | Science

Dr Lennox communicated, very brilliantly, that the belief that Atheism is (or should be) the default intellectual position is faulty. Stephen Hawking was the scape goat.

[8] Tenth of December by George Saunders

Genre: Fiction | Short Stories

This was my first time of reading George Saunders. In this collection, I found a few great stories: Sticks, Exhortation, and Escape from Spiderhead.

[9] Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Genre: Self Help

A compendium of deep work schedules of creative artists, mostly writers. It’s worth reading.

[10] Skin in the Game: The Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Taleb

Genre: Philosophy

I typically follow the advice of Lindy with books (i.e. reading older surviving text is more benefitable), however, this is one of my few exceptions, as the author is a very wise man.

We will live in a much better world if (some) Taleb’s idea in SITG, are popularized, debated, and institutionalized (where possible). And what exactly is the book about? It is about fairness, it is about the silver rule, it’s about what the book screams… skin in the game. It’s about, if you are going to be cooking, be ready to eat your cooking.

[11-13] Shakespare’s Memory, The Book of Sand, In Praise of Darkness by Jorge Luis Borges

Genre: Philosophical Fiction

I read three of Borges’s collection of philosophical fictions. They are very short, deep, dry, and cerebral. That, I was only left to envy the writer’s erudition.

[14] Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton

Genre: Non-fiction | Street Photography

A birthday gift from my brother. I wouldn’t have purchased the book, until I read it, and I was totally glad I did. From the Popular blog, Humans of New York (HONY). This book will make you feel even more human. Everyone should read this.

[15] Seven Days That Divide the World by John Lennox

Genre: Science | Religion

Prof Lennox always deliver the cargo!

In this book, he argues (very brilliantly) for the following among several others: 1) That the book of Genesis leaves the question of the age of the earth widely open 2) Natural selection has no creative force whatsoever. (just like the law of arithmetic don’t put money in my pocket) It needs a mind. etc. etc.

[16] This Will Make You Smarter (Edge Question) by John Brockman (editor)

Genre: Science

A collection of essays from some on the world most brilliant thinkers on cognition and decision making. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Richard Dawkins, Brian Eno, Steven Pinker, Daniel Kahneman etc. This will make you smarter.

[17] Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals by John N. Gray

Genre: Philosophy

Like the abstract says, ‘Straw Dogs’ is a radical work of philosophy that challenges our most cherished assumptions about what it means to be human. Some brilliant ideas, unconformable to read, misanthropic, devastatingly depressing, and a bit hard to digest. Perhaps that’s one of the roles of a philosopher, to make you as unconformable as you could possibly get. However, I see the book primarily as a devil’s advocate nothing more, all these ‘humans are no different from a fish’ are just utter nonsense.

[18] 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

Genre: Self Help | Psychology

This is a (very deep) self-help book marinated in mythology, theology, and psychology. And a three-word summary will look something like this: ‘Freedom requires constraints’.

[19] The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? by Jared Diamond

Genre: Anthropology

Great, great book on anthropology. This is the first Prof Diamond’s book I read, and I am not disappointed. Prof Diamond carried out a comparative analysis between non-state traditional societies and modern societies, under the following themes: War and peace, market economics, land use, child-rearing, treatment of old people, danger and response, religion, language, and health.

And what did I learn? One (overarching) message: Sometimes we remain under the illusion that anytime we journey out from a traditional framework or system; that that had to be progress. Well, the book shows that we could be very wrong, our ancestors were really smart ‘beasts‘, and evidence for that is embedded in the fact of their survival (in many respects). Sometimes, indeed, we need to look back to solve some of our greatest problems.

One of the best books I read this year.

[20] The Diabetes Code: Prevent and Reverse Type 2 DiabetesNaturally by Jason Fung

Genre: Science | Medicine

More of a book on metabolic syndrome. A Paradigm shift, the knowledge in this book will save lives.

[21] Poke the Box by Seth Godin (Re-read)

Genre: Self-Help

Mr Godin argues for the following: failure is better than napping. I agree.

[22] Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue by Sam Harris, Maajid Nawaz

Genre: Religion

Short, extremely pragmatic and useful discourse about the complexity of Islam

[23] Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction by Samir Okasha

Genre: Philosophy

What does an explanation mean? How do we know that that which we opt for is the right one? This is an important question that the author surveys throughout the book (directly and indirectly). Explanation in science gives less than most people think it gives; which is why many scientists (and non-scientists alike) confuse ‘agency’ for ‘law’; why they confuse God with, say, law of motion. Explanation in science is extremely pragmatic but remarkably shallow, only if you look through a philosopher’s lens.

[24] How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie (Re-read)

Genre: Self-Help

“A good book gets better at the second reading”, I once heard a philosopher say. I read this one for the first time few years ago, and picked it up again. The book – when read with the apt mindset, receptive mind – works like a ‘medisin’: extremely therapeutic. It is bathed in common sense (heavily), psychology (mildly), Christian philosophy (heavily) and stoicism (somewhat heavily). We will always live with worry and anxiety, there is no escape, it comes with the baggage; perhaps, then, it’s a good idea to manage it, so that one could do that which one should do relatively calmly and optimally. That sounds like a good plan to me.

If you sick and tired of life, read this book, it might just be helpful.

[25] The Secret to Success by Eric Thomas

Genre: Self-Help

Okay, okay, here is the thing; life is NOT a level playing ground. Kapish? Kapeesh?! I mean, we are the product of 1) our genes and 2) our childhood experiences – all of which are wayyyyyyy too far from our reach – but (and here is a big BUT), one could extract out meaning from one’s life as best as one can. In order words, we can all be ‘successful’ as ridiculous as the claim might seem. The book shares an inspiring story from an African American Male, acting out the gospel. But the truth is, there are no secrets, only suspended knowledge, untapped knowledge.

[26] Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Genre: Psychoanalysis

An antidote to nihilism – 5 stars!

[27] Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier

Genre: Technology

I have had shadows of pessimism towards social media the first time I heard of Facebook years ago, in college, somethings just don’t feel right.

“And how much am I going to pay?” I asked my friend. It was in a cyber cafe, the night was dark, very dark, I remember. Gleefully, he replied, “nothing!”

And what comes for free? What exactly?

Only God’s salvation if you ask me. Even so, you still need to pay a price by acting out “truth”, some will say.

Mr Lanier explains very clearly the business model of the Facebooks and goggles of this world, it’s pretty scary. Humans are turned into lab rats (and, in his words, assholes) in the name of social networking. Hopefully things change, in the meantime he advises: delete your accounts!

Fair enough.

[28] Parable of the Sower(Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler

Genre: Dystopia | Science Fiction

Parable of the Sower is a dystopian, bildungsroman novel. Where a kid ‘discovered’ this religion called earthseed. I didn’t particularly loved reading it, but I found thinking about earthseed (the religion) very intellectually stimulating. It’s seems more panentheistic than pantheistic to me, I still remain confused as to which pan- to put this; but one could smell existentialism all over the pages, a heavy scent if you ask me. I will say some sort of logo-therapy and Buddhism too. Anyways, for all of -isms, Lauren, the protagonist and earthseed discoverer, says [her] “God is Change”. Here is one of the verses in the scripture, “All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.”

Coming up with a religion which you could hardly place in A bucket is deep enough for me.

[29] The Twenty Greatest Philosophy Books by James Garvey

Genre: Philosophy

An aerial view of western philosophy, a taste of the bests.

[30] The Secret of Fatima by Peter J. Tanous

Genre: Religious Thriller

A Catholic priest crossed with James Bond. A quick, absorbing read.

[31] Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Genre: Historical Fiction

War and Love. Perhaps they are one of the same kinds. Chimamanda wrote this book well. A Nigerian Civil War (1967 – 1970) hybridized with love stories, and a deep African aura. Just plain beautiful. Now I have to read about the civil (Biafran) war of which I embarrassingly know very little.

[32] 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Genre: Nonfiction

No need to say, but I will say anyways, Dr Harari is brilliant. His insights on technology, the economy, and life in general is extremely deep (and sometimes useful).

However, I don’t buy the naturalistic philosophy which undergirds much of his writings. He presents this view as a fact, misleading readers in wholesale; except that the philosophy he espouses is riddled with too many fallacies, some of which I have written about here.

[33] The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Genre: Philosophical Fiction

I initiated some adventure into some deep philosophical fiction this year, and here is one.

There are so many things I did not get from Kundera’s novel.  Kundera contrasted an idea (the unbearable lightness of Being) with Nietzsche’s eternal return. I will summarize: because we only get to live life once, then life has to be meaningless. And by ascribing meaning to life we become ‘weighty’, but it’s only a matter of time before we become awakened to our ‘authenticity’ (a state of Being where you discover that life is meaningless).

The latter part is an important tenet of absurdism, but the whole argument is disturbingly irrational: “just because we only get to live life once” then life has to be meaningless?

To get the most from the book the reader might want to familiarize themselves with existentialism.

That being said, the book is very deep. It’s a great work of literature.

[34] The Stranger by Albert Camus

Genre: Philosophical Fiction

The stranger is an absurdist and existentialist novel. It rests on the assumption that life is meaningless, and then, very quickly, you see the utter meaninglessness that pervades such philosophy when acted out. Apart from the philosophy that undergirds the novel, one of the ‘features’ unpacked was the fragility of the justice system, where Meursault, the protagonist, was sentenced to death because ‘he failed to cry at his mother funeral’ (roughly speaking).

The Stranger is intellectually stimulating and a deceptively simple novel.

[35] A Little History of Philosophy (Little History Series) by Nigel Warburton

Genre: Philosophy

Another aerial view of western philosophy.

Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Pyrrho, Epicurus, Epictectus, Cicero, Seneca, Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Thomas Reid, George Berkeley, Voltaire, Gottfreid Leibniz, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, C.S. Peirce, William James, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russel, Alfred Jules Ayer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hannah Arendt, Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Philippa Foot, Judith Jarvis Thomson, John Rawls, Alan Turing, John Searle and Peter Singer.

All in 250 pages. Very easy to read and concise, no philosophical jargon. Will be great for a beginner.

[36] Great Thinkers: Simple Tools from 60 Great Thinkers to Improve Your Life Today by The School of Life

Genre: Nonfiction

A demystified, short version of the works of some great western thinkers. It covers philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature, and so on, and so on.

[37] Data Science from Scratch: First Principles with Python by Joel Grus

Genre: Text book | Computer Science

I covered a large swath of the content in this book, especially the part on Python’s anatomy. I enjoyed it; it’s bringing me up to speed on data science.

My Top 5 Books of 2018*


* I selected my top books based majorly on new insights I garnered from reading them; not primarily because of readability, writing style, structure,  or pleasure from reading it.

Just plain ideas (and its impact on me).

And have a wonderful 2019.



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2 thoughts on “Books I Read in 2018 (and My Top 5)

  1. Obiora Okechukwu says:

    You read quite a lot, Tomi. Do you have an algorithm to summarise books you read?

    I’m looking for such to document my reading journey this year.

    • Olatomiwa Bifarin says:

      Thanks. Yes, I do.
      After I finish a book, 99% of the time, I write a review (I write a bit longer reviews these days on Goodreads). In fact, this blog post is just an edited version of my book reviews on Goodreads that I wrote through the year.

      Then, 85% of the time, I use Ryan Holiday’s notecard system for taking notes.

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