10 Great Books to Buy With Your Holiday Bonus

Manuel L. Quezon III shares his reading-list favorites

 

(SPOT.ph) Yes, there’s that hugely expensive limited-edition pair of sneakers and that bottle of trendy gin you want to get, but a good book can be just the thing for that period of austerity when your holiday bonuses have run dry. So why not spend a portion of it on a good book or two that will feed your mind and withstand the shifts in fashion?

In no particular order, here are 10 titles that will do to your brain what you’ve been trying to do to your abs.

 

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region by Joe Studwell

He previously wrote a book with a self-explanatory title, Asian Godfathers. He takes a look at our neck of the woods and asks, why did some countries end up rich, why are others poor, and why did others go from poor to middle-of-the-road but never made it further? If, in particular, you’ve wondered why some countries can be blessed with many natural resources and still stay poor, while others with far fewer advantages become permanently wealthy, this book is for you. As we all seek a better future, this book identifies the hard decisions and generations-long choices that succesful societies have to make to truly succeed.

 

The Romanovs 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore

The story of the Romanov dynasty started with a fightened boy named Alexei who suddenly became emperor, and ended with a frightened boy propped up on a chair and shot by a firing squad three centuries later. In between, the story of the dynasty was the story of an empire, initially ignored, and eventually, one of the largest nations on earth, with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia. There are vivid personalities here: the cruel, relentless, six-foot-seven tall Peter the Great; the clever German princess who became Catherine the Great; a total of 20 emperors and empresses, including the last, ill-fated emperor, Nicholas II and his German wife, executed upon orders of Lenin.

 

On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks

In his long and fascinating career, the late Oliver Sacks was intrigued by what our brains did to us. Along the way he wrote with humor—and a really engaging humanity—on virtually every aspect of our lives, from the manner in which missionaries promoted Spam as a means to wean cannibals off human flesh (it’s the closest in taste and texture, supposedly, to human meat), to startling case studies such as the man who mistook his wife for a hat. He studied the brain—including his own—not out of a clinical, unfeeling curiosity, but out of a profound desire to help others. Here, he tells his story: of his bipolar brother, of his love for motorcycles, bodybuilding, and other men, and most of all, for his patients.

 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

I like books with pictures, and this volume has plenty. It’s also written in meaty chunks for you to chew on now and again. From Louis XIV in high heels, to Obama in dark, boring suits—whatever happened to the age-old peacock behavior of powerful men?—it looks at who we are, by exploring where we came from, in terms of how we organize ourselves, reproduce ourselves, what we eat, and many of the things we do. Put together, it takes a big, bold, sweeping look at the story of ourselves as a species.

 

The Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan 1892-1897 by Jim Richardson

Andres Bonifacio took HR to a new level, insisting on photo IDs for the Katipuneros and keeping a Cabinet of Shame in which the photos of traitors and delinquents were kept, to be exhibited during meetings for everyone to boo and jeer at. Taking a look at secret documents scooped up by the Spanish as they tried to crush the Katipunan, and exploring the memoirs, letters, diaries, lists and minutes of meetings of our founding fathers (and mothers), this book has been described as one of the most important of our generation. You’ll see why as you go through each chapter, bringing these past people back to life.

 

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval

Some thought it was a good idea to stick you in half a box with other half-boxes containing people, and to proclaim it an office. This book tells you whose idea it was, and why. Along the way, your banging on your keyboard and the mania for organizing, organizing, organizing to increase production, production, production (efficiency!) is placed in the context of a tug-of-war between the bosses who want to exploit you, the workmates and workspaces that define you, and the artifacts, from desks to cubicles, that limit you and the generations of freedom-seeking drones that came before you.

 

The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy by Joel Beckerman with Tyler Gray

That earworm has science behind it, as does the elevator music that haunts you in the mall. Your ringtone, the start-up sound of your computer, the never-ending happy singing in Disneyland: they all contrive to make you feel a certain way. This book tells how it all comes together in your ear and your brain. If you’re a visual person, you might find some of the arguments a bit of a stretch; but with all of us swimming through a sea of sound, you’ll never hear things the same way again after you read this.

 

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

The one thing you need to know about Mary Roach is you should buy any book written by Mary Roach. She looks at the things that freak you out, that disgust you, but still fascinate you, whether corpses or sex or keeping humans fed and poop-free in space, and makes it a fascinating and hilarious journey of knowledge. What better way to be one with your expanding holiday waistline than to get to know what takes place as the food you’re nibbling now, makes its way through you, and out of you? Your gut is going to be your new best friend.

 

Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century by Christian Caryl

Today had to start sometime, and this book argues that it started in 1979. China’s rise to being a new superpower? Deng Xioping. Islamic fundamentalism? Ayatollah Khomenei. Privatization and the end of the welfare state? Margaret Thatcher. The fall of Communism? Pope John Paul II. These larger-than-life personalities and the combination of circumstances that enabled them to leave a lasting mark on the world as we know it today, makes for riveting reading.

 

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is one of those writers whose lives are every bit as fantastic as their prose. You can listen to her discuss her life and this, her new novel, in a talk at the Politics & Prose bookstore. The story takes you from Nazi-occupied Poland to San Francisco in the present day, with a caregiver acting as the bridge to take you to the story of a mysterious woman and her even more mysterious affair with a Japanese gardener during World War II. It’s a tale of gifts, memories, forbidden feelings, and thwarted love.