I did not begin the year intending to read ’21 books in ’21’. That would make things really tough by 2051… This was purely a coincidence, and I only discovered the count when I well, counted the books for this post. But is something I am proud of. I am really excited about what I read (or listened to – some were audio books), what I learned, and most importantly what I spent time thinking about as a result of what I read. Below I share the list of all the books I completed. I am not only proud of the fact that I read all these books, but also that I got to really diversify the topics and subjects I was able to explore thru the books.
I am fortunate to have a fantastic local library that lets me experiment with books – pick up books in areas I have no knowledge of or even know upfront if I would enjoy reading, or learn from.
The ‘100-my age’ rule:
For any book I pick up I follow the ‘100- your age’ rule. I do not recall who shared that ‘rule’ on Twitter, but here it is – read (100 – your age) number of pages of a book before you decide whether to give up or continue reading it. I like this rule as it allows me to reduce the number of pages I must read as I grow older, and my runway for exploring new books and new subjects gets shorter with age. It has allowed me to pick up dozens of books and return them to the library after the requisite number of pages. This would be way too expensive to do if I was buying every book. Again, I have my county’s public library to thank. The downside od using a library of course is all the books I have to return before I finish them and then wait to check them out again. Some of the books have long wait lists. I took me at least three separate checkouts to finish ‘The Gene’ (should have bought it…).
They also have audio books available thru our library – so it started me on listening to audiobooks, something I had not done prior to this year. I mostly listened to podcasts or music while driving. This year due to the pandemic I took a couple of long road trips as I was avoiding flights. Audio books worked perfectly. I also listen to audiobooks at 1.5x or 2x the speed – so was able to knock out two full books when I drove to Charlotte at that speed (reading speed, not driving speed. Well that too…). I need to come up with a ‘100 – your age’ equivalent for audio books. If you have any suggestions please leave in a comment below.
My 2021 book list
Here is the list of books I completed. The only caveat to the ‘completed’ point is ‘Out on a Limb’ by Andrew Sullivan. This is a collection of essays. I browsed each and every one of them, but only read the ones which were topics that I was interested in or curious about. Some were really long essays and I lost interest. I have added short comments/reviews of each book. One day I hope to get to a Derek Sivers style notes of every book I read. (Disclosure: All links lead to Amazon.com).
- What is Real, by Dr. Adam Becker. I have been a physics geek since middle school. It led me to Electrical Engineering and if I had not come to the US and switched to Computer Science for my masters, I was looking at Nuclear Physics as my masters major if I had stayed in India. This book goes into the history of Quantum Physics. From the early days of the discovery of quantum behavior, the war between the various ‘factions’ of quantum physicists, all the way to the modern model of Quantum Physics today. Fascinating read on history of the subject, the evolution of our understanding, and what we still don’t understand.
- The Gene: an intimate history, by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. Similar to the ‘What is real’ book, this is the history of genetics. Extremely well written, in detail, citing examples and providing biographical portraits of all the major contributors of the field since it early days of the understanding of genetics and hereditary. Dr. Mukherjee does not shy away from the darker side of genetics – Eugenics, including what the various governments did with it, from the Nazis to the American government. A timely read given the pandemic and the maturation of mRNA technology.
- The end of everything: (astrophysically speaking), by Dr. Katherine Mack. It will all end one day. How will it end is explored in this fascinating read by Dr. Mack. Again Physics, baby! Again, as with most books I have ready on Astrophysics, the expanse of space, our universe, and the understanding (or the lack thereof) of time, space and gravity leaves one in wonder.
- Out on a limb: selected writing, by Dr. Andrew Sullivan. Already talked about this book above. Some of the essays are extremely thought provoking. I have ended reading much more of Dr. Sullivan as a result, outside of this book. He is truly one of the great thinkers of our time.
- Caste: the origins of our discontent, by Isabel Wilkerson. Whew! Man that hit hard. I am from India. I do not however, know a lot about caste. I grew up ‘privileged’, protected from the impact of caste. Yes, I am from what would be called the ‘dominant caste’ in India, but I was protected because of the liberal nature of my family, and growing up in military bases where you rarely saw caste in action (at least from my perspective – others may disagree). But I am not unaware of what has happened and is still happening in India. Reading about it from the eyes of Ms. Wilkerson, an non-Indian, who experienced a totally different form of caste based discrimination had me seeing social justice issues with a totally different set of lenses. A timely read. Read it soon after the ‘Back Lives Matter’ movement gained momentum.
- Think Again, by Dr. Adam Grant. This book, like Dr. Grant’s previous books is brilliantly written and makes you, well, think again. I find myself using examples from this book when talking to my peers, my bosses, and people on my team at work. This one I bought. It is a book I will be rereading and referencing often.
- Fooled by Randomness, by Dr. Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This was a re-read for me. I am re-reading Dr. Taleb’s entire series – I own all his books. One of my favorites.
- The Big Short, by Michael Lewis (audiobook). Seen the movie? Now read the source. The amount of money that was made, lost, and wasted, based on assets that added no value to anyone expect the ones buying and selling ‘paper’ is amazing. We are doing it again. With Alt-coins, NFTs, and printing enormous sums of fiat currency to create ‘value’ where there is none.
- The Bomber Mafia, by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook). This book is actually an audiobook that was later converted to a print book. I listened to the audiobook. Was a WWII geek, and an aviation geek, this was a geek-fest for me. Well made with audio of interviews from actual pilots and bombers, this is a masterpiece.
- The rise and fall of Osama bin Laden, by Peter Bergen. My daughter saw me reading this and asked why I would ever read the biography of a terrorist. Well, simply put, because he has impacted our lives globally more than probably any other human in our generation. Just like Hitler altered the course of history for an earlier generation, Osama did the same for us. 9/11 was our Pearl Harbor or D-Day. Everyone alive and even born since then around the world is impacted by the ripples created by Osama. How we travel, how anyone with a certain skin color, or a certain religion is looked upon by others. How we as Americans and countries all over the world have sacrificed precious lives in the wars that followed as a result of one man’s actions. One needs to read it to understand what drove him. Peter Berger does a great job documenting not just what we know but also what remains unknown.
- Creativity, Inc, by Edwin Catmull. I studied Computer Graphics and Animation in grad school. I have been following Pixar as a geek ever since I saw ‘Luxo Jr.’. This is the inside story.
- The ride of a lifetime, by Robert Iger. Robert Iger made Disney the entertainment juggernaut it is today. An extremely well written autobiography by one of the corporate worlds great visionaries and leaders.
- Play nice but Win, by Michael Dell. Another corporate giant who created one of the most well known brands on the planet today. His detailed descriptions of all the internal corporate challenges – starting the company – going public – going private – and then public again, provided a deep insight into a world we rarely get a view into.
- I must Say, by Martin Short (audiobook). Laughed my head off. I heard the audiobook which is narrated by this master himself. Got it right when the Hulu show ‘Only Murders in the Building’ was on.
- Bossypants, by Tina Fey (audiobook). Short and sweet book by Tina Fey. Funnier as it is narrated by Tina herself.
- Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight (audiobook). Staying on the topic of corporate giants, I got the autobiography of Nike’s founder. What a story. Well written. Goes deep into his challenges, his fears, and his passion.
- Still Fooling Them, by Billy Crystal (audiobook). One of the funniest books I have ever read (heard). Billy Crystal has been a long time favorite of mine. Not just funny but also thought provoking. He sneaks in life lessons while you are too busy laughing. Get the audiobook for this one for sure as Billy narrates it himself in his own style.
- Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain (audiobook). This was the first ever audiobook I heard. I am an Anthony Bourdain fan. I loved that he narrated it himself in is own colorful style and his flavorful language.
- Foundation, by Dr. Issac Asimov. This was also a re-read. I had read the series before, a couple of time. Re-read it before watching the Foundation TV series on Apple TV+. The classics are evergreen. The TV series did a great adaptation. You have to get a massive screen to watch the TV series on if possible – the visuals are fantastic. I plan to read the rest of the trilogy this year,
- Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir. This is Andy Weir’s third book. The Martian, his first, remains the best. I liked Artemis too. This was different. Does not have the pace of the earlier books, and as the protagonist is interacting with an alien, does not have the scientific rigor of the earlier books, that are set in our (mostly) understood and nearby Mars and Moon, where the story leverages technology that mostly exists today.
- SevenEves, by Neal Stephenson. I hope they are making a multi-season TV series of this one. Any book that has a sentence ‘5,000 years later’ (sorry, spoiler) in its middle cannot be called anything else other than epic. An examination of human survival, the physics of orbital dynamics, and human evolution. This will go down as a classic.
Onwards to 2022. I have 4 books by my bedside table as I type this – I just finished Recursion by Blake Crouch. I’ve read his Dark Matter before and it was awesome). Recursion is even better. The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch. This is a heavy read so far – past my 48 pages, so I am committed… The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, by Dr. Steven Novella, and Star Wars: Shattered Empire, by Greg Rucka (a graphic novel). In audiobooks I am about halfway thru From the Ground Up, by Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks. Started it last week on a road trip. Trying to finish it as I drive around locally to the grocery stores, and of course, my local public library.