I read 34 books in 2021 which amounted to about 11’500 pages. I deliberately didn’t set a “reading goal” for the year because I preferred not to focus on quantity, but rather maximize enjoyment and utility. Here are six books, both fiction and non-fiction, that stood out for me.
The Peacemaker’s Code – Deepak Malhotra
Deepak Malhotra is a Harvard professor who focuses on negotiation and diplomacy topics. This book is a fun and exciting way to learn about these topics in a fictionalized scenario. The main character, professor Kilmer, is a historian who gets involved into an alien landing that threatens humanity. He needs to apply his skills of negotiation and diplomacy to save the earth. This book is a treat. Just the excerpts from professor Kilmer’s fictional book on history alone are worth it. You also get fundamental concepts and principles of negotiation on the side, while you’re sucked into fast and gripping storytelling.
The Tartar Steppe – Dino Buzzati
A young military officer is sent to a remote fortress in the tartar desert. At first, he’s just counting the days until he can leave and proceed with his glorious military career at more prestigious posts. The desert and potential tartar invasion seems to hold everyone at the fortress in a spell. Soon, the same spell takes hold of him too. The Tartar Steppe is a book where not much is happening really, but at the same time it keeps you engaged in an almost hypnotic way. Albert Camus apparently loved it, and I can see why. It’s a heroic Sisyphus type story with the question of life’s meaning at its core. I loved it.
Shibumi – Trevanian
A westerner raised in Japan, he survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world’s most artful lover and its most accomplished assassin. His greatest desire is to attain a state of effortless perfection… shibumi. But he is about to face his most sinister and corrupt enemy – a supermonolith of espionage and monopoly bent on destroying him…
Shibumi is an exciting plane read with a great mix of interesting characters, eastern philosophy, strategy, and action. I particularly enjoyed the philosophical talks, the almost exclusively eccentric characters, as well as the clash and contrast between eastern and western values and behaviors.
Optionality – Richard Meadows
I love Nassim Taleb’s work and especially the barbell and optionality concept. Richard Meadows is a journalist and investor that took Nassim’s principles to heart and applied them to every aspect of his life. His book Optionality offers a way to cope with the incredible uncertainty of the world, which was exceptionally poignant in 2020/21. You’ll find strategies and tactics to barbell your health, wealth, and social capital.
How to Live – Derek Sivers
In this book, Derek lies out 27 different ways of living life. The book doesn’t offer any answers, but it’s a wonderful cumulation of different ways of living life. It’s a short book with no superfluous words in it. Every sentence feels necessary, which is something you don’t find that often anymore in today’s one-idea book market. Derek is always an incredibly insightful guy and this book is no exception.
The Great Mental Models – Vol. 2 & 3
This is a bit of a cheat, since it’s a series of books, but the Great Mental Model series from Farnam Street is absolutely hardcover worthy. The books are beautiful and summarize the main concept of Physis, Chemistry, Biology, Systems, and Mathematics in the typical Farnam style – concise, clear, and interdisciplinary. Alone the fact that they almost entirely provide new examples and case studies for their principles instead of defaulting to the usual is refreshing.