My Top 10 Books From 2021
It’s that time again — the end of the year. A time to look back on the good and the bad, and create lists.
I enjoyed a variety of books this year, many of which came from lists like this one. So I try to pay it forward by giving you some of my favorite reads from the year. A number of these books were released in 2021, while others were significantly older and made it into my reading from suggestions or our current events.
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I recently reviewed this book in my newsletter, so you can check out that post via the link. The Alchemy of Us explores an intriguing topic: that we shape matter and the world around us, and in turn, are shaped by our creations.
I find this exploration fascinating. It is also helpful as professionals and technologists to understand how we can change material or applications, and be affected by the changes we’re making.
The Alchemy of Us has many examples of human inventions, how we created them, and how they created a new world.
I read both Recursion and Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Both were just awesome. I’m a huge science fiction fan and he did an amazing job. Highly recommend both as an exploration of life, the meaning of memories, and our existence.
“Life with a cheat code isn’t life. Our existence isn’t something to be engineered or optimized for the avoidance of pain. That’s what it is to be human — the beauty and the pain, each meaningless without the other.”
Cyberpunk is fairly broad genre, and I read a number of “cyberpunk” books earlier this year. Some were okay, some were awful, and others, like Snow Crash, were awesome. The book that coined the term “metaverse” is a must-read now. And it is worth it.
“Did you win your sword fight?”
“Of course I won the fucking sword fight,” Hiro says. “I’m the greatest sword fighter in the world.”
“And you wrote the software.”
“Yeah. That, too,” Hiro says.”
If you’re serious about the craft of writing, reading books from those who are good at writing is helpful. Not people with the largest Twitter follower count, but talented writers with good advice for the craft itself. And I’ve been doing just that. This is a standout book for me about writing. I hope my writing reflects this more and more.
“Writing isn’t a conveyer belt bearing the reader to “the point” at the end of the piece, where the meaning will be revealed. Good writing is significant everywhere, Delightful everywhere.”
AI and machines are taking more and more of what we used to do as humans. I’m under no illusions that parts of my job could be automated at some point in the future (though I think it’s not incredibly close). I think anyone who thinks they don’t have to worry about AI, machine learning, and automation is naïve.
That said, there are things we can do to prepare ourselves to be more future-proof. And that is what this book is all about.
“AI is better than humans at operating in stable environments, with static, well-defined rules and consistent inputs. On the other hand, humans are much better than AI at handling surprises, filling in gaps, or operating in environments with poorly defined rules or incomplete information.”
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
— Octavia Butler in The Parable of the Sower
The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents are about as good as speculative fiction comes. Set in an apocalyptic future, it is an incredible story. Just read the books.
I wrote about this book in an earlier newsletter post as well, and it was one of my favorites of the year.
The authors were part of Amazon through most of its growth, and were in charge of some of the highest profile initiatives, helping to launch things like Prime Music, Prime Video, Amazon Studios, and Amazon Associates.
Much of what they wrote about and the advice they gave jibes completely with my experience. If you haven’t had the chance to work at Amazon (I haven’t) or at a place that espouses these principles and practices (like I have), I can tell you they take them very seriously. And it is a serious shift from the way most companies work. But the value in shifting is immense.
“The best way to fail at inventing something is by making it somebody’s part-time job.”
Surprisingly, I haven’t reviewed this one in my newsletter yet, but may add it to the list still. It is a fun exploration of lessons from rocket science and how to face complex problems using a variety of frameworks and mental models.
“If you stick to the familiar, you won’t find the unexpected. Those who get ahead in this century will dance with the great unknown and find danger, rather than comfort, in the status quo.”
I covered this one a little while back in another newsletter as well. It’s a nice, quick read with lots of examples of myths that we may think of as “common knowledge” regarding how innovation works.
While a few of the examples are a little dated at this point, the wisdom is unchanged.
Howard H. Aiken, a famous inventor, said, “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
I’m finishing this book up now and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll be reviewing it in January in Product Thinking, but for now a couple of key points:
Our supply chain is vast and complex. But so many of the people who are critical to getting us our packages each day are in really difficult situations. From the factories that produce goods, to the ships that transport them overseas, to the truckers who transport on land, to the warehouse workers, to the delivery people. Their jobs are getting worse and we need to fix that.
“In America and in rich countries the world over, for many workers, the warehouse is the new factory.”
*I only recommend books and products I’ve read or use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that add no additional cost to you, but may earn me a small commission if you purchase them (though Amazon will get most of your money).
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