The books I read in 2021
For the last few years, I’ve written a post describing the books I’ve read in the previous year (see 2020, 2019, 2018). This serves to help me remember what I’ve read, and occasionally as inspiration to friends that might be looking for something to read.
2021 has been a bit less productive on the reading front, having spent the two halves of the year in two jobs that both gave me an engaging stream of interesting side projects on which to spend time. However, I don’t want to break a habit, so here are the books I read over the year.
Uncharted: How to Map the Future — Margaret Heffernan. This had some interesting ideas on forecasting and managing uncertainty, but overall I found it a bit disappointing.
Inspired — Marty Cagan. I read this in my quest to improve my product management skills, and found it really useful.
Measure what matters — Chris Doerr. I read this wanting to be convinced of the value of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Unfortunately, it failed to convince me.
Think Again — Adam Grant. I am a big fan of Adam Grant writes, and I am always interested in how we change our minds and learn. That said, I don’t remember much I learned from this book.
Humour, Seriously: Why Humour Is A Superpower At Work And In Life, by Aaker and Bagdonas. This book explains the importance of humour in different contexts, and how to use it most effectively. I enjoyed it.
Upstream: How to Solve Problems before they Happen, by Dan Heath. I really enjoyed this book, which used great examples to demonstrate both the benefits of proactively preventing problems, as well as the challenges faced. .
The Diet Myth, by Tim Spector. I follow Spector’s research on Covid, and was keen to get a better understanding of how much is and isn’t known in the realm of diet, and how much differs between people. I’m not sure I’ve changed my diet much on reading this, other than eating a bit more cheese.
The Glamour Boys, by Chris Bryant. This was a fascinating history of a group of MPs in the 1930s, united in their recognition of the danger of Hitler’s rise to power.
The Magician — Colm Toibin. A fascinating and beautifully written biography of Thomas Mann, who I knew virtually nothing about.
The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann, by Ananyo Bhattacharya. I had long known of von Neumann’s work in Game Theory and Economics, and in computer science, but I didn’t realise just how crucial a role in played in so many fields. This book did a great job of explaining the important concepts, and their significance.
Trans — Helen Joyce. With this topic generating so much controversy, I decided I should understand it a bit more. This book is much more critical of trans activism than anything I had read previously, and while I wasn’t convinced of all its arguments, I at least better understand the need to balance conflicting rights.
Too hot to handle: The democratic challenge of climate change — Rebecca Willis. This is a short but much needed guide to how we can, and indeed must, solve climate change through democratic institutions.
The Collaborators — R.P. Nathan. Years ago, my manager took some time out from work in a bank to write a novel that I had enjoyed, so when I discovered he had published several more, I jumped at the chance to read them. This one was a beautifully written novella, set in WW2 Paris.
A Richer Dust Concealed — R.P. Nathan. Stylistically quite different from The Collaborators, this is a historical thriller that flits between historical and contemporary Cyprus, Venice and London. Slight echoes of The Da Vinci Code, but less predictable.