The Best Books I Read in 2016

In the past twelve months I had, I have to admit, found myself distracted and slipping in my reading efforts. For fifth year in a row, I am aiming to read at least one book per week. This year, I amounted a sloppy number of 40 books. Below are some of the very best of not only the past twelve months, but of all the books I’ve ever read.

Death Be Not Proud by J. Gunther

In ‘Death Be Not Proud’ J. Gunther tells a story of his young son Johny, who was diagnosed with a large brain tumor at the age of fifteen, and how that changed his (their) life. What I found most inspiring and moving was Johny’s excitement and zeal about life. He truly wanted to stay alive and do, be, and love. He would study tirelessly in hospital rooms and in home treatment, hoping to get at least something done, to grasp more, to understand more. In the midst of his struggles, though, he had also thought about his parents and was concerned about them and the sacrifices they had done in order to provide him with the best treatment.

Johny died at the age of 17, shortly after his graduation.

Other great reads on mortality: When Breath Becomes Air by P. Kalanithi; Mortality by C. Hitchens.

Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie

Rushdie’s memoir took be aback. For those of you who have never heard about Rushdie – back in late 80’s he has published a novel called The Satanic Verses, which in few chapters made fun of the origins of Islam. Months after its publication, a word went from Imam to Imam, until the whole issue was brought in front of the dying Ayatollah Khomeini, a religious leader of Iran. Khomeini, being told that there is a book mocking Islam, had, without reading it, pronounced fatwa over Rushdie and asked Muslims to use all their means kill him. The bounty money for Rushdie’s head was announced. Thus started an avalanche of dramatic events that changed Rushdie’s life forever.

In his memoir, he takes us through his childhood and adult life, through times when he was a free man, to the days of fatwa, when he was condemned to a life of hiding, secrecy, and code names (hence Joseph Anton). Rushdie was demonized and the whole world, it seemed, has turned against him, and wanted his head to fall. It is this cruelty and attitude of no mercy of the world, that I found daunting, terrifying. The ignorance of people and hate-mongering of the media, that would not refrain from perpetuating lies, for they made a good profit on it. Yet, it was met by love, courage and support of Rushdie’s close circle and sometimes that of complete strangers. It portrays a polarity of human minds, the good and the evil.

To me, it is an ode to love and friendship in the midst of struggle. I loved the book very much.

Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert

Life of Winston Churchill has been a sinusoid of ups and down, victories and defeats. In his early childhood, he constantly struggled at school and barely graduated; he had an extremely fragile health and, on few occasions, almost died. In his early adolescence, he almost did not make it to cavalry school (succeeded on 3rd attempt), which was a downgrade from infantry school, which was a downgrade from law school – for both of those he was considered simply as not intelligent enough. And then off he went – he scored several successes in India and Sudan as a soldier, and in South Africa (war correspondent). He wrote memoirs of his father and of great duke of Marlborough. He entered politics. All went more or less well, until… the Gallipoli episode. And then twenty five years later, after more of ups and downs, came his finest hour. And then… in the hour of victory, he was removed from the office and denied his want to rebuild the devastated free world.

You see where I am heading. Churchill’s life was remarkable and I believe time spent studying it is worth it. Many a good lesson is there, waiting to be found. I wrote more about WSC’s life here.

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Other great reads:

Yet again I must heartily recommend Neil Strauss’s The Truth – a book I consider even more important after second reading. Truly, truly important.

I also thoroughly enjoyed The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets by Benoit Mandelbrot – a great antidote to the theories as presented by universities, and a sobering book. Hand in hand with it, The Hour Between Dog and Wolf by J. Coates shows how our bodies react under stress and the influence of hormones – something tightly connected with trading and investing.

My Early Life, 1874 – 1904 by Winston S. Churchill is a tremendous, autobiographical account of Churchill’s early years. He was a true man of letters, and his great adventures make for a gripping read.

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If you’d like to see more reading recommendations, follow me on Instagram, where I regularly post about stuff I’m reading.

To get regular reading recommendations, I can point you out to Ryan Holiday’s reading newsletter, to which I am happily subscribed for a couple of years.

Happy reading!

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About Petr Klíma