The Books that Defined My 2008

I am starting to grow convinced that pursuing a Master’s Degree to advance my career is not quite a good idea. True, it provides a framework, a network, and the much sought after credentials, but there are alternative paths to securing all three. It won’t be as easy — especially the last one — yet I am orienting myself more towards praxis to gain the credentials I need. Modern society is not built for autodidacts; I must be more a sophist than I ever cared to admit. I suspect that defining my career path will be a major theme in 2009.

That having been said, I am growing more confident in the array of books I read. My intellectual canvas widens with each passing year and hence I am sure that going back to school at this point will be utterly boring — save perhaps for getting to study specific cases in a public policy course. Yet even that last one I rather learn on the go; and considering that knowledge is power, I am growing rather sure that I will be a good learner wherever I end up.

Reading books has been a large part of this. It is the only activity I recommend doing in excess since one can never really know too much, but more often people know too little. I refuse to subject myself to a didactic and prosaic classroom, and prefer instead the

Of all that I have read this year, these books stood out to define it. Less than a handful of them were printed before 2008 but having read those this year was quite fortuitous.

But I’m not all brain. The last two sections present my top picks in historical fiction and graphic fiction, aka comic books.


Books on the global economic downturn have not yet made my list. I am still doubting the credibility of the latest releases; for instance, the latest offering by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman is a mere re-issue. A lot still border on the sensational, although I may begin with Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine released way before all these began. That book will kick off 2009.

What you see here are books that present broad global portraits whether it be in politics, economics, geopolitics, climate, and even education. All six are must reads, though only Larry Diamond and Kishore Mahbubani outdid themselves this year. Zakaria’s could have been longer though the current size makes it easy to recommend. Sachs presents an update for The End of Poverty but feels like he’s trying to cover too much in this book. And for those accustomed to an entertaining read by Friedman, this book feels didactic at times in trying to out-Gore Al Gore. But a pleasant surprise can be found in Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap which discusses a thesis I have long been wanting to flesh out. His book is urgent for all of us who care about how our children are educated and why.


Simon Winchester presents an admirable portrait of Joseph Needham in what I consider a fine biographical work. When Asia Was the World satisfied my need for a book on a macro-historical scale but through a very unique perspective — people and networks. And finally, The Way of the World is a stunning portrait of interculturalism, as told through several stories that began separately but ended as one.

I have a lot of history books sitting on my shelf but unlike reading non-fiction, I have to time my reading of history with the topics I teach in class. And when I time it right I don’t get to read the whole thing since I have to be expedient. As an early New Year’s promise, I’ll set aside a nice stack of history books just for the summer.


Eat, Pray, Love transcends gender. The quest for god and the self is universal. Liz Gilbert’s year in Italy, India and Indonesia (her three I’s) is a mirror to the yearnings and quests inside each one of us. We may not have lived through a divorce, but we know despair. We may not get to splurge in Italy, but we have been selfish. And we may not have gone to an ashram in India, but god is everywhere we are.

And there’s a bonus for guys — this is the perfect gift to the women you know.


By far, Robyn Young has become my favorite historical fiction writer. I still see a lot of potential in Iggulden but somehow his stories have lost their significance after the first book. And Sam Barone’s epic of the first empire in Mesopotamia continues to be an engaging read.

What I haven’t read much this year (and hence you won’t see highlights for it) are the Asian crime novels I’ve come to love in 2007. I can’t wait for Qiu Xiaolong’s next book and I think I just discovered a new author writing out of Bangkok. You’ll see more of that in 2009.


I am a comic book collector. However, I’ve never really warmed up to books like Sandman or The Watchmen. A lot of it has to do with the art and my preference in that was born in the 90’s. I love a good story as much as the next guy, but I prefer to have fresher art with it as well.

Witchblade exemplifies that right now. Under the guidance of Ron Marz, the title has moved beyond the 90’s “boob book” and is now a smart and thrilling read. Marz has crafted a rich mythology behind the artifact (and twelve others), and this keeps me coming back every month as far as story elements go.

But the real magic has to do with digital painter Stjepan Sejic who not only has impressive work in each issue but manages to turn each issue in on time. That’s a rarity in today’s comic book market and for that alone, he has earned my respect.

I am looking forward to Green Lantern in 2009. There is no telling how big The Blackest Night could be. I am curious to see where Brian Michael Bendis takes Dark Reign. But so far, the winner in the DC and Marvel duel is clearly Top Cow.


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