Readings

All of the books listed below are ones I highly recommend. Each includes a brief description of the book, why I particularly liked it, and a PDF of all of my notes and thoughts from reading the book.

Development & Social Change

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

In one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read, Boo dives deep into the interpersonal dynamics of one of Mumbai's largest slums, Annawadi. The stories she shares of different families and how they cope with tragedy and navigate blatant corruption embedded within each layer of India's judicial system offer readers with a perfect microcosm of how India actually works and how wide the inequalities due to caste and gender really are.

The Moment of Lift by Melinda French-Gates

My experiences on the field in Nepal, South Africa, India, and other countries taught me the realities of development work: the cost of delivery mechanisms, the political dynamics of local government, and internalized traditions of exclusivity among others. French-Gates focuses on how these affect women in particular in this excellent overview of the political, economic, and cultural barriers facing women in Global Majority countries and how the liberalization of women is the best indicator for progress in any community.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

At a time in which I grew frustrated at the paralysis of fellow academics and colleagues in international development in doing any actual work, I discovered Paul Farmer. His experiences in Haiti and public health were extremely inspiring to a young idealist right out of undergrad trying to conceptualize the line between theory and action. Farmer understands people above all, and his willingness combined with a moral brashness allowed him to reach thousands of people who cared not for the glacial scholars in their ivory towers but for the doctor willing to live with them, speak their language, and dance in their celebrations and mourn at their funerals. Kidder shares Farmer's whole story in Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Identity

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Sed omnia praeclara tam difficilia quam rara sunt - "but everything great is just as difficult to realize as it is rare to find." This harrowing, beautiful memoir both covers Frankl's experience in Nazi Germany and the formation of his philosophy of suffering and finding meaning in life through that suffering.

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

Accepting that our suffering matters has always been a point of contention for me - what about others that go through worse? Hong challenges this sentiment by breaking down the pretenses that prevent Asian Americans from reconciling their racial self-hatred.

Hong's book came at a especially depressing time in my life: in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing resentment for Asians in the US, and my own personal mental health journey culminating in a particularly isolating time, Hong's essays on her identity helped me reckon with how I relate to being brown.

Microbiology

Immune by Philipp Dettmer

The founder of the popular science YouTube channel Kurzgesagt writes one of the most engaging overviews of cellular biology I've ever read. Similar to his dozens of extremely thought-provoking and accessible videos, this book dives into the immune system in a way that allows your inner child to run wild with curiosity and passion about the world and how it works. It's full of pictures too.

Politics

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

However controversial opinion may be about Barack Obama, I think it's pretty universal to consider him as one of the most thoughtful and deliberate presidents in history. His memoir, similar to his previous two books, is intricate, reflective, and very self-critical. Unlike many other presidential biographies, Obama goes deep into every issue, policy, and political battle, allowing readers to understand what went through his head at every point in his presidency. At many points it seems as if he tries to both defend his position but empathize with contrarians by exploring what might have happened had he acted differently.

Obama shines just as much as a writer as an orator, and A Promised Land may be the most explicit example of this sentiment.

Why We're Polarized by Ezra Klein

As a big fan of Klein's podcast, I was excited to dive into Klein's book on the history of political polarization in the United States. He delivers a thoughtful, comprehensive analysis on the viral nature of politicization, the correlation of geography on partisanship, and how we need to hone in on local politics just as much as national in order to have more of an impact on the state of things.

Technology

Geek Heresy by Kentaro Toyama

What if technology isn't a panacea for the world's problems? Toyama reflects on his experiences working in information and communication technologies for international development (ICT4D) and how many such projects fail due to an insistence on technology as the be-all, end-all.

Geek Heresy set the foundation for how I perceive technology, completely subverting my techno-solutionist mentality and helping form a human-first, grassroots understanding of how everything from mobile apps to generative AI influences society.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil

O'Neil uses her extensive background in data science to outline exactly how algorithms and new models being used in sectors like law enforcement, finance, and education are inherently racist and sexist due to a racist and sexist status quo. The examples O'Neil employs in her arguments and her proposed solutions to combat problematic bias in algorithms are very well thought out and offer viable futures for our emerging digital futures.