The books I read in 2015

Mong Palatino

1. In Defence of Politics, Bernard Crick. I disagree with the author’s conservative views and his rejection of communist societies as totalitarian regimes but his treatise on politics, elections, and behavior of political actors allowed me to better understand the worldview of mainstream politicians.

2. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold. A sad novel about a murdered teen and how her family and friends coped with the tragedy. I have no plan of seeing the film version of the book because I want to retain my own interpretation of how the characters and village sceneries look like.

3. The Stories of Eva Luna, Isabel Allende. A collection of short stories inspired by the novel Eva Luna. Vivid storytelling about love, betrayal, injustice, war, the frailty of the human condition; yet all stories celebrate the triumph of the imagination.

4. Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, Tony Judt. A collection of essays and book reviews about modern history of the West, the role of intellectuals (in particular historians), and an indictment against some progressives who chose to be non-critical against the rise of neoconservatism in America and Europe.

5. Working Women of Manila in the 19th Century, Maria Luisa T. Camagay. A documentary about the factory system in old Manila and the livelihood conditions of women. Apparently, those deemed a threat to society were shipped to distant islands and even Davao.

6. From Affluence to Praxis; Philosophy and Social Criticism, Mihailo Markovi?. A decent elucidation of Marxist principles and an introduction to so-called humanist Marxism and its application in Yugoslavia.

7. Para kay B, Ricky Lee. Witty, original, poignant, contemporary love story. A delicate handling of the contradictions between the characters of the story and the social world they inhabit.

8. Singsing na Pangkasal, Lazaro Francisco. Still my favorite Tagalog writer. A traditional romantic novel that also provided us with lush descriptions of early 20th century Baguio and Manila, including how people travelled by rail in Central Luzon.

9. Where Monsoons Meet: A People’s History of Malaya, Musimgrafik. An illustrated guide about the colonial subjugation and the struggle for independence in Malaysia. Useful to understand the nationalist sentiment in the region and the roots of some of the racial conflicts in modern Malaysia.

10. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende. Reading this novel is like recalling the past history and fables of colonial Philippines and how these narratives impacted the evolution of modern society. The ending leaves the readers wanting for more.

11. Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive, Jodi Dean. The author warns us about the uncritical uses of blogging and how some of our Internet habits are serving the capitalist logic.

12. On the Political, Chantal Mouffe. An intellectual meditation on the nature of politics, the emergence of post-politics paradigms, and a rethinking of the politics of the Left in the global civil society.

13. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, Carl Schmitt. Theoretical reflections about the role of leaders during emergency moments and a critique of Liberal politics.

14. The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers, Will Durant. This is a relevant and useful text for philosophy students; it provides compelling biographies of great thinkers and how their ideas came to influence/disrupt the societies they are living in. Learn for instance how Plato’s teachings were both adopted by religious orders and communist regimes.

15. On Belief, Slavoj Zizek. The author never disappoints in his entertaining treatment of seemingly disparate subjects such as Marxism, psychoanalysis, Buddhism, and Hollywood.

16. Why We Don’t Talk To Each Other Anymore: The De-Voicing of Society, John Locke. The author convincingly argued about the negative consequences of information technology gadgets on how we interact with each other today.

17. Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, Steven Mosher. I endorse the main thesis of the book about the dangers of invoking population dynamics to explain socio-economic problems in the world. A must-read book for reproductive health advocates who aggressively advocate population control.

18. Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, J. K. Rowling. Graduation speech of the author of the Harry Potter series. I didn’t know that she once worked with a human rights organization.

19. Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), Michael Goodwin, David Bach, Joel Bakan, and Dan Burr. An illustrated guide about the history of economy and economic thought. Informative especially the section on the complex financial instruments that led to the housing and financial crisis in the past decade.

20. You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier. The father of virtual reality, Silicon Valley pioneer, and technology guru issuing a ‘manifesto’ against digital tyranny.

21. The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin. Sometimes you just have to grab that slim book, sit down, and relax. Funny read but some of the jokes are too American for me.

22. Breakfast with Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day, Robert Rowland Smith. Everything is political? No, everything is philosophical. A nice way to explain to the general public about the value of reading and understanding philosophy to make sense of what we are doing from morning to evening.

23. How to Be Alone, Jonathan Franzen. Thoughtful and moving essays about family, writing, and bureaucratic inefficiency.

24. Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri. Collection of short stories about migrant families and individuals trying to find deeper ties with their new surroundings.

25. The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton. As always, beauty in simplicity. He reminds us that we can have insightful reflections even if we are only doing mundane things in our everyday life. What is needed is a curious mind to see the newness of everything and to appreciate the peculiarity of even a dull moment.

26. Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City, Mark Kingwell. Philosophical musings of the place we inhabit, the space we are creating, and cultural geographies that we are continually redefining. The section on China is illuminating even if it feels like a narration of an encounter with an alien and exotic culture.

27. Hotel World, Ali Smith. Somewhat difficult novel to absorb but overall an enlightening read. Rich with symbols and creative presentation of the narrative.

28. The Tale of the Unknown Island, José Saramago. Proof of the liberating power of imagination and dreams in literary texts.

29. Who Owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier. Fascinating and interesting read about the cost of surrendering our future to software giants. Fortunately, there is an alternative. And the author offers a middle way on how the Internet economy can benefit social media users.

30. Elizabeth Costello, J. M. Coetzee. I became a fan of the author in 2014 after reading two of his novels: Summertime and Diary of a Bad Year. Meanwhile, this book features an elderly writer and her struggle to articulate and defend her ideas.

31. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon. Book for all ages (I persuaded my daughter to read this novel). The story of a brave and intelligent young boy determined to know the truth about the death of a dog. His adventures led him to discover other truths about his life.

32. An Invitation to Social Theory, David Inglis, Christopher Thorpe. A useful introduction to various ‘isms’ used in the academe. Every school of thought is adequately explained including its relevance today.

33. Youngblood 4, Philippine Daily Inquirer. I have two articles in this compilation of Youngblood columns. I enjoyed reading the articles of my contemporaries who are also grappling with similar quarter life issues.

34. Economics: A User’s Guide, Ha-Joon Chang. Refreshing take on how developed countries attained their wealth not by promoting free trade but adopting protectionist measures. Somehow, neo-mercantilism appears less primitive and dogmatic.

35. Creative Nonfiction: A Reader, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo (editor). Nick Joaquin’s article on literature and journalism, which is included in this textbook, inspires readers to rethink the compartmentalization of writing and the writing profession.

36. The Great Crash, 1929, John Kenneth Galbraith. Reprinted after the 1987 Wall Street stock market crash, this book should be made compulsory reading to policymakers, traders, and bankers in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

37. What I Came To Say, Raymond Williams. Collection of essays on post-war English literature, English professors, and English politics.

38. Forget Foucault, Jean Baudrillard. A slender book about the real, the symbolic, and the postmodern debate on knowledge and politics.

39. How to watch TV news, Neil Postman. Updated to include the impact of the Internet, the book remains instructive on deciphering the meaning of news broadcast and how the public can resist the disempowering effect of mainstream news.

40. Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, Immanuel Wallerstein and Étienne Balibar. Two radical thinkers address the issue of nationalism and the interplay of race and classes in the modern era. I find Wallerstein’s essays to be more engaging but both authors gave a comprehensive analysis on the relations of classes within nation states.

41. The Good Body, Eve Ensler. Testimony about the irrational expectations for women to subscribe to the ideal (read: patriarchal) notions of beauty.

42. The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani. As a parent, I also have to read what my kids are reading. Hence, this book. Surprisingly enjoyable. And hopefully, young readers will appreciate the philosophical take on what it really means to be good and evil in both the fairy tale and the real world.

43. The Myth of Consumerism, Conrad Lodziak. A plea for back-to-the-basics political economy analysis in discussing the destructive legacy of capitalism in the 21st century.

44. The Social Science Jargon Buster, Zina O’Leary. While reading the book, I realized there are many social science concepts related to Marxism.

45. Tongues on Fire, Conrado de Quiros. Speeches by an activist writer. Unapologetic defense of activism, passionate promotion of critical thinking, patriotic appeal to the young to continue the unfinished work of our heroes.

46. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond. Geography played a major role in the rise and development of human civilizations. Germs killed more Native Americans than guns. Readable book about the rise of agricultural societies and the uneven spread of technology across the world. My favorite book of the year.

47. Dear White People, Justin Simien. When is it ok to touch the hair of black people? Satirical, original, and highly persuasive. I like the term ‘microagression’ to refer to the unspoken everyday conflicts between whites and blacks.

48. Dear Life, Alice Munro. First time to read her and instantly became a fan. Her stories are perfectly written; every word is precise yet rich with meanings. She tackles difficult topics without overwhelming the reader.

49. Coffee with Isaac Newton, Michael White. I didn’t know that Newton became obsessed with the occult and alchemy which helped him in formulating the law of gravity and other scientific discoveries.

50. What Would Socrates Say?: Philosophers answer your questions about love, nothingness, and everything else, Alexander George (editor). Practical questions about life while philosophy professors provide succinct answers based on the teachings of famous philosophers.

51. The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, Nicholas G. Carr. A timely book about man’s over reliance on automated things. Time to bring back the human in the so-called Internet of things.(

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email:

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