This is the not-for-work list. It’s also mostly based on my subjective sense of how much I learned from the books.
Iran: A Modern History by Abbas Amanat — This is a long book that covers several centuries of Iranian history (beginning in 1501). It is definitely worth your time. At the end I learned a lot more about the brief Pahlavi dynasty than I knew and got a peak into the dynamics of the Iranian nation-state before, during, and after the revolution. The bits on the Qajars were my favorite (while I was reading the book my wife and I watched a number of Iranian movies and documentaries. I highly recommend this strategy).
The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy by Mervyn King (former governor of the Bank of England). A great chaser to this is Paul Volcker’s excellent bio.
The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon — this is a great development book.
The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann — This book surprised me. I thought it would be yet another uncritical celebration of scientific progress. But Mann is nuanced and makes a strong case for belief in science’s potential to keep the human project going despite the many current structural challenges — not least of which is climate change. Those into development will particularly enjoy the bits on the Green Revolution.
I am still struggling to read fiction. In 2019 I will try harder.