2019 in 20 Books

Global Inequality, by Branko Milanovic.

Milanovic approached inequality from an obvious American standpoint, but I thought there was plenty that we, from the developing world, could learn. The intriguing key argument in the book that, ‘inequality doesn’t negatively affect capitalism, but threatens democracy’ is a valid one, in my opinion. It’s a good and often technical read on globalisation and political science.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
The Leadership Killer, by Bill Treasurer and Capt. John R. Havlik.

If there’s one thing I am lucky with, it’s that I have mentors and leaders who tell it to my face when pride and hubris are taking over my words and decisions. Co-written by an executive coach and a soldier, this book is brutally honest about what makes leaders fail. Practical, straightforward, and the real talk many of us need.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh.

As a Southeast Asian, it’s not often that I associate ‘white American’ with the concept of being broke, helpless, and future-less. This picture is what Smarsh paints, and it’s heartbreaking for all the wrong reasons. This book is a thoughtful parallel of the misfortunes, lack of opportunities, and vicious cycle of poverty in both the West and where I’m from, a developing former colony.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
The Myth of Capitalism, by Jonathan Tepper with Denise Hearn.

What causes socioeconomic inequality? Capitalism has long been the pantomime villain, but Tepper and Hearn offer a different viewpoint: it’s the lack of competition. It’s made me think about how the gap between the haves and the have-nots have widened, and how we need to see success in business and industries (especially with monopolies) from a different lens.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Scaling Leadership, by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams.

A book that took me through the ‘three levels of leadership’: the first (reactive), the second (creative), and the third (integral). It’s the third that we all aspire for, a leadership style that demands humility from us (acceptance of the forever unfinished-ness of things), and a spiritual-level of trust towards unseen forces, such as intuition. Anderson and Adams also repeatedly calls us to build relationships with the people we lead.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Customer-Driven Transformation, by Joe Heapy, Oliver King, and James Samperi.

Conceptually, Design Thinking sounds good – but what does it mean for people who are running and leading businesses? The authors are challenging us to put serious thought in our business models, and if these said models suit the appetite of the 2020s client/customer. It also asked a great question: “Would your company’s product and services delight you?” Well, would it..?

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Linchpin, by Seth Godin.

A book made for thirty-eight total hours in an airplane, this somewhat gung-ho reading argued for a simple point: that we are all capable of so much more. Part inspirational and part self-help, Godin’s blog-like book challenges us into asking difficult questions, and examine whether or not we’re willing to do what it takes to be so much more – in other words, to be a linchpin.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Everybody Lies, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

A gift from two brilliant and curious interns, this is my favourite book of 2019. Three times, cover to cover, was informative entertainment as Stephens-Davidowitz made data sets interesting, fun, and at times mind-blowingly WTF. He explored how flawed our current observation methodologies are. Plenty of case studies and insightful commentary in this fantastic read.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
To-Do List Formula, by Damon Zahariades.

A book that discusses the many different kinds of to-do lists available, a lot of it are Google-able, if I’m being honest. However, I appreciate how the book challenges us to create less/shorter lists (long ones are mentally draining, it argues) and be more deliberate with the tasks we need/want to get done.

Rating: 2 out of 5.
The AI Advantage, by Thomas H. Davenport.

I never thought of artificial intelligence (AI) as something scary, but Davenport managed to make it a quite intimidating portent of things to come. He did explore the many ways AI – used in varying complexities and by companies of differing maturities – can augment humans, and transform the future of work, commerce, and industries.

Rating: 4 out of 5.


I’ve received messages asking where I get my books. Generally speaking, industry books are pricey in the Philippines (unless I get them as gifts), so I would buy them online (Amazon) and just read a soft version. I do not have a dedicated Kindle device, and I find that my smartphone’s Amazon Kindle app works perfectly fine.

Do you have your own annual reading or book list? Have you read any of the books that I did last year? I’d like to hear your thoughts and future book recommendations!

Featured Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

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