Books I want to read
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 16, 2018 - 12:00am

I read somewhere that successful people read at least 50 to 60 books a year. I was also happy to read that in this digital age, the millennial generation is actually reading more books than the past generations. A few weeks ago, I wrote down a list of the best books I read this year – Filipino and foreign. They are not necessarily the best books published. I limited the list to the books I have actually read.

At the end of each year, I try to list down the books I would like to read the following year. Like New Year’s resolutions, I am happy with a 50% batting average. So, for better or for worst, here are some of the books I would like to read in 2019.

Economics has become an area of knowledge that has become an essential need in a world facing economic volatility and new challenges. I have read the books by the ‘staple” economic authors – Samuelson, Schumpeter, Keynes, Schumacher, Friedman and even Ayn Rand. I would like to venture a bit out of this comfort zone starting with two books.

The first one is GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History by Diane Coyle. In today’s world of rising income inequality and the rapid replacement of fixed asset based industries with technology based enterprises, I believe it is crucial how we measure economic growth. I got interested in this book when I read a quotation from Coyle: “ Economic growth is essential. It is one of the key contributors to our well being, although clearly not the only one. Without economic growth, there would not be enough jobs to keep the unemployment rate down to a tolerable level. It is not possible to distribute incomes unless the economic pie is growing. Democracy is more fragile when growth halts. ‘No growth desired by some is for the rich. There is, for now, no alternative to using GDP to measure economic growth.”

Many economics article I have read keep referring to a new branch called behavioural economics. I googled this topic and I read this intriguing quote from the book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard Thaler: “There is, however, a problem: the premises on which economic theory rests are flawed. First the optimization problems that ordinary people confront are often too hard for them to solve or even come close to solving. Even a decent sized grocery offers a shopper millions of combinations of items within the family’s budget. Does the family really choose the best one? And, of course, we face many much harder problems than a trip to the store, such as choosing a career, mortgage or spouse. Given the failure rates we observe in all these domains, it would be hard to defend the view that all such choices are optimal.” A book reviewer wrote: “Homo Economicus or rational man is quite a different species to ‘homo sapiens’ which often seems to make decisions that seem to go against its own interests.”

At year’s end, when I list the books I want to read, I always turn to the Economist magazine for their best books list of the year. I look at the reviews of the books I have not read and decide which ones to include in my reading list. Here are some from the 2018 best books on my bucket list.

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee. 

I have always been a science fiction fanatic since my grade school days, in La Salle-Bacolod, when I discovered the Tom Corbet series of science fiction books for boys. I discovered Asimov and Heinlein during my high school days. In college, I started reading fantasy fiction like Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy decades before they were made into movies. Here is the book review: “An indispensable book for anyone trying to understand the birth and meaning of modern science fiction in America from the 1930s to the 1950s – a genre that reshaped how people think about the future.”

MONEYLAND by Oliver Bullough.

I have always felt that one of the greatest sins of the rich – politicians and businessmen – was avoiding taxes through money laundering. Here is the review: “Moneyland is the author’s term for the virtual country into which the world’s mega-rich smuggle their (sometimes ill gotten) wealth, so insulating it from the attention of tax and other officials. Focused in part on the kleptocrats of the former Soviet Union, the book ranges across the world and a wide cast of lawyers, accountants and mountebanks who see it to it that money stolen in poor, ill-run countries can be invested in rich, safe ones. An urgent expose of a vital subject.” I promise to devote a whole column to this book once I have read it.

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress by Steven Pinker.

I confess that I brought this book a month ago, but I haven’t read it yet. I originally bought it because it was one of the few books by a known author that expressed an optimistic view of today’s world. Here is the review: “His critics regard him as Panglossian, and suspects he cherry picks statistics, but the author’s case for global optimism is entertaining and well argued. The Enlightenment virtues of reason and education, allied to trade and technology, have made the world richer, safer and even happier he contends, and the improvements are likely to continue. Populists and demagogues are merely a blip in this consoling counterpoint to the misery of the news.”

100 Best Novels in Translation by Boyd Tonkin.

“ Critical essays introducing some of the greatest works of fiction ever translated into English. Our regular reviewer’s appreciation is always fresh, unforced and illuminating...” This book will hopefully guide me into the non-English world of literature. 

This list of six books is only 10 percent of the 60 books that I am supposed to read in 2019. I will continue this list in future columns. In the meantime, I hope you will start your own 2019 reading list.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com.

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