Kamil Choudhury

#define ZERO -1 // oh no it's technology all the way down

Culture Report, 2020 Edition


What follows is a constantly updated list of books I read in 2020. At the very least it will save me the trouble of having to write up a humblebrag post at the end of the year.

  • Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Bradley Hope and Tom Wright: The book details the misadventures of Jho Low as he steals several billion dollars from the Malaysian government by exploiting holes in bank compliance departments across the US, Europe and South East Asia.

  • A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles: Charting a Russian aristocrat's house arrest in the Metropol Hotel following the 1917 Revolution, it answers a very important question with unusual deftness: can meaning be found when one's circumstances are drastically reduced? The answer is perhaps not surprisingly in the affirmative, but is conveyed in language that somehow simultaneously evokes Wodehouse and Tolstoy. Best line in the book (and there are many, many candidates): "It is a gentleman's business to change with the times." Highly recommended.

  • Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber by Mike Isaac: Removed from Twitter rage, the book is a surprisingly dispassionate (and probably definitive) retelling of the story of Travis Kalanick's rise and fall at Uber. There aren't really any surprises for anyone who followed the saga as it unfolded, but is nonetheless a good reference summary to have on the bookshelf.

  • Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel: Shadowy unnamed operator/narrator assembles crew of Super Smart Authority Hating Misfits to rebuild a 200 foot gund^H^H^H^H robot left by aliens who are also actually the basis of all gods in Greek mythology. An attempt to consider the geopolitical implications of this discovery is undermined by the author's complete inability to write women: the Beautiful But Tough main character works out her emotional issues by having sex with her male coworkers who are, respectively, Nice Guy With Jealousy Issues and Nerd With Secret Tough Streak. Oof. On the positive side, the book is 300 pages long, and took only an afternoon to read; I will leave you to guess if I will be reading either of the two sequels.

  • Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven: Merits way more than a little blurb; my notes and review are here.

  • Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk: This retelling of Europe's steady exploration and theft of lost Silk Road civilizations in the early 20th century throws the characters of colonial explorers into bright relief: most were hucksters, and while serious academics did take part in the race for Central Asia, most let their thirst for scholarly fame overwhelm any sense of ethics they may have started out with. While much is made of Chinese laments about stolen cultural artifacts, it is difficult to take them too seriously in light of their contemporary efforts to erase said cultures by driving their Central Asians populations into concentration camps.

  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen: Very close to being one of the best contemplations about the immigrant experience in America I have ever read. The book crystallized for me the fact that a part of me will never be American, and will instead always be lost abroad to a place that neither wants nor needs me. The book is also an excellent mini-history of the Fall of Saigon, and a serious reflection on the nature of American colonialism and how we see and forgive itself in the aftermath of the wars we start abroad.

  • The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen: Gripping as a history of the revitalization of Russian totalitarianism since 1991, this book is far less convincing when it attempts to cast said revitalization as a manifestation of collective psychological trauma. A background in Hannah Arendt's work is almost mandatory to fully appreciate what Gessen is trying to drive at, but the argument that Russia can only exist in a stable equilibrium as a totalitarian state because of the trauma caused by Stalin almost a century ago never really landed for me.


I stumble upon new music via Spotify these days, and don't really actively curate my music collection anymore. Instead, I thought I would just list the best stuff I find here.

  • Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree (2008): I fell off the Goldfrapp train after leaving college fifteen (jesus!) years ago. Listening to this album was an exercise in dissonance, because it doesn't sound anything like Supernature or Black Cherry. Much poppier than its predecessors (I thought I was listening to a Kylie Minogue album for the first few songs), Seventh Tree is still lushly produced and a regular fixture on my daily playlist.

  • Goldfrapp - Head First (2010): Having put out a highly competent pop rock album in the form of Seventh Tree, Goldfrapp reinvents itself yet again with peppy lyrics and a heavy dose of synthwave. It must have taken serious balls to release this album into the musical hellscape that was the early 2010s, and I can't help but think that it was a sign of things to come: just a few years later, everyone would be obsessed with Nightcall and scorpion-logo jackets.

The resurgence of synthwave in the last half of the 2010s was one of the few redeeming parts of an exceedingly terrible decade... I have a lot to say about it, but this Vice article does a much better job than I ever could.