Books To Get You Thinking

The long frigid evenings of winter have been just perfect for settling down in front of the fireside to catch up on my reading. With 2012 gradually slipping away in the horizon, it’s a good time to reflect on the outstanding collection of books published in the year that will continue to dominate the fields of science, history, finance, biographies and memoirs for years to come. Here is a selection picked out as “Best of 2012” by some leading newspaper publications that is sure to provide hours of enjoyable reading.

Wall Street Journal 

Connectome by Sebastian Seung                                                                                                                           Sebastian Seung , a professor from MIT and one of the foremost experts in neuroscience provides a fascinating look into what determines an individual’s identity and why people are different . While DNA  plays a role in our physical structure and biological functions, it is the Connectome,  the vast network of billions of neurons and synapses within the brain, that holds the key to how an individual thinks and reacts.  The Connectome holds our memory and experiences, and it has unique adaptability. Human interactions and life experiences directly influence reweighting, reconnection, rewiring and regeneration of neurons. Mapping the Connectome and finding ways to change them, while an infinitely complex process that may take several decades to achieve, holds the promise of eventually alleviating disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Prediction Fail but Some Don’t by Nate Silver                                          
The author, whose blog Five Thirty is featured in the New York Times, first shot into prominence with his innovative computer program for predicting the performance of baseball players and followed it up with his astounding precise predictions about the outcomes of the 2008 as well as 2012 elections. In this fascinating book Nate Silver explores the science of forecasting, modeling and predictions in areas as diverse as weather, earthquakes, sports and politics. At the same time he also highlights how with the exponential growth of data and information in many fields it is becoming increasingly difficult  to identify meaningful patterns that are distinct from random occurrences, .

New York Times 

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon                                                  In this unique socio- psychological study,  the author, a lecturer from Cornell University  provides deep insights into the struggles and the triumphs, the hope and the despair engulfing parents of  exceptional children with a wide range of  physical, or psychological or cognitive disabilities.  Solomon has based this exhaustive study on interviews with over three hundred families who have children affected by  medical conditions including autism, dwarfism, schizophrenia, and deafness. The interviews are more than a narrative about the struggle of parents caring for their seriously disabled children - at a deeper level the book becomes a reflection on the indomitable human spirit to nurture, care, and overcome adversity.

The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy by David Nasaw               
Penned by renowned historian, David Nasaw, the book is based on comprehensive  archived material that has remained inaccessible to the public so far,  and on extensive interviews with the Kennedy family and friends. This engrossing book provides readers with a unique glimpse into the sweeping life and times of Joseph Kennedy, one of the icons of American history. Meticulously documented are his personal tragedies and successes, as well as the complexities and contradictions that defined both his personal and public lives.  It also takes readers back in history to the tumultuous eras of the Great Depression, the New Deal, the Second World War as well as the Cold War.

Washington Post 

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson            
A fascinating analysis of global poverty and the vast inequalities that exist between development levels in different parts of the world is the subject of this captivating book by Daron Acemoglu from MIT and James Robinson from Harvard. They identify political and economic institutions as the fundamental factors in determining a country’s growth trajectory. The authors make a distinction between an “extractive” and an “inclusive” political system. Successful nations are founded on an inclusive political system that shares power and property rights, promotes technology innovation and the empowerment and education of all citizens. On the other hand nations like Congo are lagging behind largely due to the dominant extractive political and economic infrastructure that concentrates power, economic opportunities and  wealth in the hands of a narrow elite group. The authors back up their analysis with rich historical accounts of countries demonstrating the critical role political institutions have played in determining the economic trajectory a country has taken over time.                                                                                                                                    

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid                                          A captivating and moving book penned by the late Pulitzer Prize winning reporter from New York Times. Raised as a Lebanese American in Oklahoma, Shadid grew up to become one of the foremost correspondents covering the Middle East. Bearing the scars of the horrors and turmoil of a conflict torn region that he toured extensively during his reporting, Shadid decided to return to the small town of Marjayoun, to the house once constructed by his great grandfather from where his family had moved to America after the First World War. The book is Shadid’s story about restoring his ancestral house and in the process learning about his family, his roots and the splendor of the country in a bygone era; it's also a story about ultimately finding himself.

-Nita Mathur 


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