My Books of 2023 — Tosin Adeoti

'Tosin Adeoti
17 min readDec 27, 2023

Another year, another set of books read. In a way, this has been a strange year. I probably read the most I have ever read in any year this year but it’s also the year I read the least books. How? Good question. It’s because I wrote tons of articles — both personal and ghost articles for top media organizations — and five ghostwritten books. As any writer worth their salt would tell you, writing means you are reading a lot. The difference in this kind of reading is that you are not picking up books and reading them entirely for you to mark them as read. Instead, you are reading chapters, pages, and sometimes even paragraphs simply to pick up the ideas and thoughts you want to generate. After that, you put them down. So, can you really say you have read that book?

But hey, reading 30 books from start to finish should still be able to motivate you. Here is my list for 2022, 2021, 2020 and 2019. I also have the habit of announcing the books I plan to read in the year even though I always end up not reading all the books I put on the list because I get recommendations along the way, but people have told me how useful they find them, so why not. The list for 2024 will be out in a few days, but here are my lists for 2023, 2022, 2021, and 2020.

My Best Books of the Year

Finding Me, a memoir by Viola Davis, blew me away. I love this book to bits. One of the best biographies you will ever read. Viola’s narrative delves into harrowing, deeply traumatic experiences, particularly in the early chapters that recount aspects of her childhood marked by abject poverty, violence, abuse, and racism. If you have the chance to experience it as an audiobook, I highly recommend doing so. I gained profound insights from her insider’s perspective on the theater industry, as well as the TV and movie sectors. You have to read it.

One word for The Lumumba Plot: spellbinding. It is a chilling and thrilling tale of a notorious political assassination of the first prime minister of Congo DR. I left it feeling sad about that mineral-rich Congo and feeling angry at all the actors, including Lumumba, and especially Belgium.

Lumumba decided his [still — born] daughter could not be buried in Leopoldville and asked if he could take her remains to Stanleyville aboard a UN airplane so that she could be buried in Onalua. The request was denied on the grounds that sending Lumumba to his stronghold in the east would amount to an act of political interference on the part of the UN. When Pauline [Lumumba’s wife] tried to accompany the coffin instead, soldiers at the airport arrested her. The coffin flew onward as air freight. It ended up lost in transit.

Readers like me who didn’t live through those troubling times will find the narrative almost otherworldly. It is history worth remembering — and pondering as we work our way through different but equally challenging times.

Business / Finance / Economics

It was several months after I read Private Empire that the UN Climate Change Conference took place, and I could not help remembering ExxonMobil’s contribution to the oil industry and the ongoing conversation about climate change. The book is a penetrating, newsbreaking study of how the largest and most powerful private corporation in the United States influences American politics and foreign policy alike. As a Nigerian, it was eye-opening to see how the Niger Delta is part of a larger cast that includes countless world leaders, plutocrats, dictators, guerrillas, and corporate scientists who are part of ExxonMobil’s colossal story.

Once, at an industry meeting in Washington, an executive present asked Raymond [Exxon’s CEO] whether Exxon might build more refineries inside the United States, to help protect the country against potential gasoline shortages.
“Why would I want to do that?” Raymond asked, as the executive recalled it.
“Because the United States needs it … for security,” the executive replied.
“I’m not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.,” Raymond said.

The Price of Time, on the other hand, is a core finance book. It delves into the 5,000-year history of interest, shedding light on how this disagreement extends far beyond anything you think you know about the rate and how it is applied. Surprisingly, the dislike for high interest rates is not a phenomenon exclusive to our time. In fact, even before Aristotle in circa 350 BC, there have been intense railings about it. The book will leave you with an understanding of the merits of interest and also with your belief shaken in the financial system.

Many people have a problem with the tone of Nassim Taleb in Fooled by Randomness. And I understand why. His message can come off as ‘I’m smart, they’re stupid’, but if you ignore the messenger and look at the messages, you will see the beauty of it. A key lesson that comes out of this book is this, you should always be asking yourself “How can I not blow up?” How can I not be an acute successful randomness fool? In other words, how can I not take risks so enormously stupid that I never recover from them? It really came handy for me when I was about to make a major decision towards the end of this year. A part of me thinks I chickened out, but looking at the stake, if things do not go well, I would most likely be ruined. I am glad I reread the book for the sixth time this year.

Sowell is a man I am committed to reading every year. In a year when elections came with its intrigues and jokes, Basic Economics was a great reminder that it is always about the economy. If you allow stupid people into office who do not recognize that economics is about tradeoffs not solutions, then you should not be surprised when the economy gets worse. I always recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn the basics of economics in order to be a better-informed citizen. It doesn’t use technical jargon, but outlines basic principles clearly and in plain language, without graphs or equations, using real life examples.

Science and Technology

When the person I recommended Chip War to told me it was the best book he read this year, I could not argue with him. This book masterfully unfolds the intricate story of how semiconductors evolved to become the linchpin of our modern existence. Yeah, I know it sounds like a boring book already, but far from it. It’s a really fantastic book that merges history, economics, and technology.” I found Chapters 7 and 8 alone to be worth the value of this book.

Say you are an enthusiastic student who is curious about what the life of an astronaut is like and what it takes to keep them alive in space, Packing for Mars reads your thoughts and puts all the right questions to space experts. Roach strips away the glamor and valor attached to space travel to reveal the grittier, dirtier aspects of humans in space as it relates to the human body. Food, sex, personal hygiene, motion sickness, claustrophobia, and physiological changes are all covered. For instance, in earlier space flights,

“…the subjects’ clothes eventually began ‘sticking to the… groin and other body fold areas, were very odorous, and were starting to decompose.’”

It’s easier now that wipes have been developed since full-body baths are not feasible. Still, astronauts routinely go weeks and sometimes months without changing their underwear. No wonder, anger is normal in space. You should read the book. Mary Roach has an incredible sense of humour.

While Packing for Mars talks about life in space, Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century stays with us on earth. This is a book I have read before, and I usually say that it would be helpful to read his other books Sapien and Homo Deus first before starting on this, because it appears a natural continuation. Still, it is not an unreadable book if this is your first foray into Harari. He takes on complex political and economic concepts and breaks them down so anyone can understand them. It reads like common sense. I would have no problem recommending this to any person of any age — it is both easy to digest and extremely engaging. Harari’s writing is very important for the world.

“We should never underestimate human stupidity. Both on the personal and on the collective level, humans are prone to engage in self-destructive activities.”

The Committee of Sleep is less profound. Maybe it was because for a long time after I read Why We Sleep, a fantastic book, by Matthew Walker, where it was recommended, I had penned it down as a book I have to read. This is a book of stories about different people using dreams. Obviously, research confirms that people have always had answers, ideas, and inspiration when they dream. But what I expected from the book was missing — the practical scientific and psychological aspects of dreaming.

Memoir / Biography

I decided to revisit Elon Musk after Walter Isaacson released his version a few months ago. I had first read this book in 2017 and was so floored by the man that I decided to pitch my tent with some shares of Tesla. It’s still one of my best investments till date. Years later, I could only nod when Charles Munger said that Musk is “an extreme talent” but said “I would go crazy if I took the risks he did.” Everyone hails Musk as a genius now, but it’s when you read that book that you realize that things could easily have gone the wrong way and he’d have been called a foolish man. Vance’s book is unique because unlike Walter’s book where it was Musk who invited him to write the biography, Musk plain-blank told Vance he was not going to cooperate with him, and Vance had to use his can-do attitude to hound Musk and wear him down till he agreed to cooperate. I am less a fan of the man than I used to be, but I deeply respect what he has achieved against odds.

“He’s been known to obsess over typos in e-mails to the point that he could not see past the errors and read the actual content of the messages. Even in social settings, Musk might get up from the dinner table without a word of explanation to head outside and look at the stars, simply because he’s not willing to suffer fools or small talk.”

But I think Walter Isaacson’s biography of Musk would be great because the man is just extraordinary when he writes biographies. Have you seen what he wrote about Steve Jobs? Well, this professor of history continued that with Leonardo Da Vinci. After reading the book, I stand in awe of Leo.

“There have been, of course, many other insatiable polymaths, and even the Renaissance produced other Renaissance Men. But none painted the Mona Lisa, much less did so at the same time as producing unsurpassed anatomy drawings based on multiple dissections, coming up with schemes to divert rivers, explaining the reflection of light from the earth to the moon, opening the still-beating heart of a butchered pig to show how ventricles work, designing musical instruments, choreographing pageants, using fossils to dispute the biblical account of the deluge, and then drawing the deluge. Leonardo was a genius, but more: he was the epitome of the universal mind, one who sought to understand all of creation, including how we fit into it.”

Despite his remarkable artistic talent, do you know that Leonardo barely thought of himself as a painter. When he was about 30 years old, he applied for a job with the ruler of Milan. After listing interests from military engineering to science to designing sets for plays, he included almost as an afterthought, “I can also paint.” This was a man who dissected horses to understand their anatomy, created new systems for feeding horses, and designed cleaner stables.

Walter shows how Leonardo’s genius is in the details.

“He became fascinated about how a smile begins to form and instructed himself to analyze every possible movement of each part of the face and determine the origin of every nerve that controls each facial muscle. Tracing which of those nerves are cranial and which are spinal may not have been necessary for painting a smile, but Leonardo needed to know.”

That’s Leonardo Da Vinci for you. If you have a heart for lengthy books, you will be glad I recommended this one.

True Crime

Dead in the Water is an audacious and shocking expose of the mysterious underbelly of international shipping through the prism of the hijacking of the ship, Brillante Viruoso, and the events that ensued. It took the authors four years to piece together the awful reality of one of the largest financial swindles in shipping history. You will enjoy following how two ex-detectives from London’s Metropolitan Police try to unravel this complicated mess of a crime.

Narconomics, another reread, just shatters your preconceptions and updates your world view. This addictive book explores the narcotics industry through an economic lens. You’ll see how drug cartels are much more like McDonalds or Shoprite than you previously thought: optimizing their supply chains, competing, forming mergers, colluding, worrying about human resources, public relations and brand building, offshoring, franchising, investing in R&D, dealing with rise of disruptive online marketplaces, diversifying (kidnapping, prostitution, human trafficking). You will realize that, with the strategies used against the drug cartel, there is little chance the law enforcement will win the war. Take a pause at this quote:

“Sending a teenager to jail costs more than it would to send him to Eton College”

There was a time when Michael Laudor was one of the most prominent mentally ill people in the United States. The Best Minds tells us the story through the lens of Jonathon Rosen who writes as Michael’s childhood best friend. It is a compassionate memoir that wraps together the extremely complicated bonds of childhood friendships and family, the complexities of mental illness, and the shortfalls of public policy.

Politics

Read Formation. I really like Feyi, so when he mentioned he released a book, I had to get it. The book traces the origin of this vast country called Nigeria from 1804 to 1914. This book is a reminder that despite the faults of our ancestors and how their actions affect us even today, some of them were truly remarkable, and under different circumstances, things would have turned out differently. A remarkable book. Nigeria’s Soldiers of Fortune tells a more recent history. The goodness of Max Sillioun’s books is that while entertaining (as Nigeria is), they remind us of where we have come from as a nation, the characters that have shaped this image and where we are yet to get to as a nation. They make us realize that the scale might be much larger now, but it is more of the same. And that unless we make better decisions as a people, this is how we will always be. And lastly in this section is Aftermath, the very first book I read in 2023 — a spillover from 2022. If you have ever wondered how the German society evolved from that state of ruin after World War II to become a wealthy and respectable country today, then this is the book.

Self Help / Self Development

Not a year passes that I don’t want to read Morgan Housel’s classic, The Psychology of Money. If you care about personal finance, then this is a book you have to read. With interesting stories, it teaches the principles of keeping the money you make. Atomic Habits is another book you should read more than once. The book offers a proven framework for improving — every day. I often find myself recommending the book as my first option to anyone seeking a book recommendation.

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

And if you have never heard of Jim Rohn, 7 Strategies for Wealth and Happiness is a good place to get introduced to this mind-expanding individual. It is both motivational and instructive. Common sense principles but the way he says them are still powerful enough to make you think. Besides the quality of the content, it’s pretty easy to read and not too long. You can finish it in a weekend.

I don’t like Originals. The book is supposed to challenge you to originate new ideas, policies, and practices, but it could not even provide original ideas of its own. He densely packed his writings with anecdotes and descriptions of studies, but his conclusions come off as an overkill. Each time something is supposed to “work”, you wonder about all the instances when it doesn’t. For example, the author argues that it is useful to procrastinate. You and I can think of situations where that would not be so useful. I felt the same way with Ego Is The Enemy. Great message about the perils of egotism which is the negative notion of self-importance, conceit, and a self-centered drive that disregards others. But the issue is that he cherry-picked historical anecdotes to support his claims of putting one’s ego in check while evading examples of cases where those who were boastful still succeeded widely. Even more jarring is that some of the claims in this book may be inaccurate. The case he made about Putin and Merkel during their meeting was really wide off the mark.

There are several things to agree with in The Rational Male but I just couldn’t get past the pseudoscience disguised as fact. This is a book whose primary intent is to educate the average guy about his potential, options, leverage and best strategies when interacting with women, but its conspiratorial style leaves me unimpressed.

Women, being the calculating gender, know all too well to hit the gym months prior to a breakup — she’s not getting in shape for you, she’s getting ready to hit the ground running with the next guy she’ll be fucking.

Having healthy relationships with the mindset this book promotes would be difficult.

Range, I liked. The book’s great takeaway is that we need to be able to play and explore widely and to color outside the lines for a while in order to become very good at solving the difficult problems we later encounter. We don’t know what we will like as kids or even adults, so doing as many things as possible would increase the chance of eventually loving what we settle for. The greatest insight from this book that forces me to encourage you to read is that feeling like you are behind in life is unnecessary. Wealth Without Capital, Capital Beyond Money was also cool even if repetitive atimes. It is a thought-provoking exploration into the principles of wealth creation that transcends the conventional notion of financial capital. Written in a language accessible to everyone, the book draws inspiration from both biblical scriptures and real-life examples, challenging prevailing narratives, especially among contemporary youth.

Fiction

I regressed in fiction this year. From the five I read last year, I could only muster three this year. But I read really good ones. Everybody knows about the eternal classic called Animal Farm. It is a work of fiction that serves as a warning or cautionary tale about the dangers of certain political, social, or technological trends. In a concise fable about rebellious farm animals, it effectively conveys the dangers of dictatorships and the ease with which good intentions can be manipulated. And then there is the rereading of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the allegorical novel featuring a young shepherd in his journey to the pyramids of Egypt. A classic, any day.

Lastly in this section is The Testament which I read about 15 years ago and felt I should read it again. It didn’t disappoint. A rich old man is dying, leaving behind an $11B fortune. He doesn’t want his ex-wives or his children to inherit it. But the one he wants it to have, doesn’t want it. Solve for X! Excellent story right from the start to the very last page.

Subject Books

Always wanted to learn more about photography, and in On Photography I was no better when I finished than when I started. It is a bunch of essays about the meaning and career of photographs. The most boring book I read this year, by far. It is a book on photography without a single photograph included therein. As a result, the reading experience became a tedious and monotonous journey through complex sentences, featuring an impressive lexicon but failing to engage the reader visually.

Books I Have Written

There is no way I can conclude this post without exposing you to my works. I wrote Guide to Mastering ChatGPT in early 2023 after seeing how immensely useful the newly released AI product was. This guide provides step-by-step tutorials and real-world examples that will help you quickly master ChatGPT’s features and capabilities. Productive Days was released because many folks on my Facebook page wonder how I manage to do so many things without feeling overwhelmed by your daily tasks and not constantly falling behind. In the book, I explore the reasons behind our time management struggles and the detrimental consequences that follow. I delve into the benefits of effective time utilization and uncover the most powerful strategies to reclaim control over your schedule. Career Development is especially useful for young people starting their careers. It contains processes involved in succeeding in the industry of their choice.

I want you to read The Art of Argument, not only because it is the only physical book on the list, but also because so many smart people have good things to say about it. Released a couple of weeks ago, it teaches readers how to call out falsehood and identify truth, even in the midst of today’s flurry of information. This book will help you be on your way to true objectivity devoid of bias and fallacies and encourage you to argue in a way that spreads knowledge and enlightenment among you and your peers. A physical copy is available here, while you can get the electronic copy here.

So, there you have it. My books of 2023.

In the next few days, I hope to provide a list of the books I have penned down to read in 2024.

You can join us to read at the Naija Book Club.

Let’s read together, people!

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