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What I Read in 2021

What I Read in 2021

This year featured a lot more fiction than past years, but that’s just where we are at a year into the Biden Administration, a never ending pandemic, and looming climate apocalypse.

My favorite book this year was the Wisdom of Crowds, a cynical grim-dark fantasy by author Joe Abercrombie. The best nonfiction book this year for me was Caste, which beat out two superb contenders, Warmth of Other Suns by the same author and Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain. A techno-thriller and climate-thriller by Neal Stephenson, a deeply satisfying time traveling scifi by Clair North, a gorgeous memoir by Chang Rae Lee, some real nerd shit by Andy Weir, and Seth Rogan’s hilarious memoir round out my top ten for the year.

I’ve drafted this post over the course of the year. After each book, I paste a goodreads link and write a quick blurb stack ranking the book against all previous reads for the year. As a result there is some recency bias. The higher up on the list, the more I enjoyed the book. The further down on the list, the less I enjoyed the book. At the end I list a few abandoned books as well.
The Wisdom of Crowds (The Age of Madness, #3)
*I was provided an ARC of The Wisdom of Crowds via the courtesy of Orbit Books US, per the request of Joe Abercrombie…*www.goodreads.com

The final book in the Age of Madness trilogy and I want more. Abercrombie is a master of cynicism, humor, and gore. He speaks my love language. (#1 book of 2021)
*Great book!! Not my usual fair at all. This was a thriller with online gaming undertones. I actually learned quite a…*www.goodreads.com

Neal Stephenson techno-thriller that came out almost exactly 10 years ago and it is very of the time. Stephenson is elite level, so gird up your loins for sudden 50 page deep dives into the intricacies of international charter jet travel, money laundering, Hungarian history and file encryption. His style is not for everyone, but I think he writes really captivating sentences.

If you have yet to attempt a Stephenson, you might try Snow Crash (foundational classic) or Seveneves (My favorite scifi other than the original Dune) first. This one is a bit more niche, but just as captivating. Fall is sort of a sequel to this one. I read them out of order, which I guess spoiled that certain characters from this book survive their adventures long enough to appear in the next one, but is otherwise no big deal. Also, I’d say 20% of Fall is significantly better than this book, but the other 80% is several orders of magnitude worse, so I’m forced to say that Reamde is a better book overall.

One idea from this book that I especially liked was how the character D squared is a not so subtle shot at George R. R. Martin. This pleases me.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
*I felt the same, but chose to slug through it. And while "Yes, it gets better" - it doesn't get a lot better. It gets a…*www.goodreads.com

Cross Groundhogs Day and Highlander, throw in the Matrix, and the Count of Monte Cristo and you get The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. This book is awesome in both conception and execution. I highly recommend.
Termination Shock
*Termination Shock book. Read 248 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. A visionary technothriller…*www.goodreads.com

Stephenson’s sentences have a rhythm that I can not get enough of. While the subject matter of this book is much more interesting than Reamde, I think the execution isn’t quite as good. Literally this is like a half length typical Stephenson work, so it might be a good place for Stephenson neophytes to begin their initiation. This is still one of the best books of the year for me and the fact that it is not number one speaks to my enjoyment of the the three higher up on this list.
My Year Abroad
*"A quantum of sweetness... what he meant was not just that a person should have a rightful share of whatever way you'd…*www.goodreads.com

I love this book. Please read it so we can discuss.
Project Hail Mary
*Assuming you are enjoying the book, why would you stop reading a book you purchased because of "so filled bad…*www.goodreads.com

I’m a complete sucker for this kind of optimistic, hard sci-fi.
*One of the most important books of this year, tackling the issue of race, caste, class and prejudice, giving insight…*www.goodreads.com

Caste is probably the best book about racism that I’ve read. I’d put this in the must read category because 1. it’s incredibly well-written; 2. it’s brutal; 3. Wilkerson left me believing there is still hope. This one comes in at the best nonfiction of the year for me.
The Warmth of Other Suns
*Thinking back, I tried to recall some of the migrations that took place within America that I had learned about: - The…*www.goodreads.com

More of a narrative history than Caste and just as powerful and important to read.
Empire of Pain
*The book covers the deeds and misdeeds of the Sacklers from the 1900s until now. Their history is mind-boggling in many…*www.goodreads.com

Dear Mr. Scorsese, can you do Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain with Leonardo DiCaprio as Richard Sackler? Please? Your friend, Jesse.
*Incredibly charming. I happen to love Seth Rogan, and I find him to be both extremely affable and very attractive. What…*www.goodreads.com

This is quite funny.
Wild Swans
*Like you, I wasn't familiar with the historical details, but this is an ideal way to learn. It definitely puts all…*www.goodreads.com

Very solid entry into the historical epic / family memoir genre. From warlord courtesan to member of the red guard, just an incredible amount of hardship and history passed through three generations of women in this family.
The Rise of Kyoshi (The Kyoshi Novels, #1)
*No. This book tells Kyoshi's origin story very well. Given that this is a prequel, I would say you don't need to know…*www.goodreads.com

A very worthy entry in the Avatar universe.
*CONGRATULATIONS- Goodreads Choice Awards Science Fiction Winner! ********************** "Everything will look better in…*www.goodreads.com

Time travel, bleak noir.
Reign of Terror
*"A measure called the material-witness statute was originally created to stop, in extraordinary circumstances, criminal…*www.goodreads.com

Here’s a fun tale of a race of reptile-like creatures who are the reason we can’t have nice things. It’s funny how just about all of them have never answered for their crimes.
The Way of the Runner
*The Way of the Runner book. Read 169 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. It may come as a surprise…*www.goodreads.com

I think a good sign of how much I enjoyed this one is that I had to talk about it with people. A lot of insane running feats just casually dropped throughout this book.
This Is Your Mind on Plants
*"Ehrlichman, you will recall, was President Nixon's domestic policy adviser; he served time in federal prison for his…*www.goodreads.com

This book has 3 parts. First, a previously published article about growing opium, second, a section on the subject of his last book — caffeine, and third, a section on the subject of his previous book — psychedelics albeit a new psychedelic. Recycled schlock Michael Pollan is still very good.
Stay Awhile and Listen
*"items. While Monster Hunter included a single-player mode, its appeal was its online play. The five-man crew who had…*www.goodreads.com

Part II of the story of Blizzard Entertainment covering the creation of games near and dear to my heart. Really looking forward to the third book.
Stay Awhile and Listen
*Stay Awhile and Listen book. Read 49 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. Two companies. Two…*www.goodreads.com

Really enjoyed getting a deep dive into the creation story of Blizzard Entertainment. Strongly recommend for folks who played Blizzard games growing up or are interested in the history of video games.
The Gameshouse (The Gameshouse #1-3)
*I had to waffle between 3 and 4 stars, so call this 3.5. But WHY? It's Claire North! You've never read anything of hers…*www.goodreads.com

After I read Harry August, I picked this one up by the same author. I liked this book a lot, which is a collection of three novellas that center around…. the Games House, which is a timeless, secret gambling club. Things escalate quickly.
Shit, Actually
*DNF at 7%. I thought this was going to be mostly humorous commentary on what's problematic about various movies…*www.goodreads.com

A quite enjoyable collection of funny essays about movies. Some of the movies I know well, some I did not.
The Shadow of Kyoshi (The Kyoshi Novels, #2)
*The Shadow of Kyoshi book. Read 716 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. The epic, can't-miss…*www.goodreads.com

Not as good as the first one, but still good.
The Snakehead
*Meticulously sourced, fascinating story The American dream, the Chinatown underbelly, and the mastermind behind one of…*www.goodreads.com

Decided to follow the Patrick Radden Keefe rabbit hole after Empire of Pain and picked up this one. I’m happy I did because now I know all about human smuggling in the 1980s and 1990s.
Crying in H Mart
*It feels weird to rate this book, because while reading it, I felt like the book was not intended to be for anybody but…*www.goodreads.com

This one will make you hungry. This memoir focuses on the author’s experience of her mother’s battle with terminal cancer, Korean-American culture, music, and food.
*A profoundly inspiring and transformative argument that purposeful commitment can be a powerful force in our age of…*www.goodreads.com

An interesting argument about the importance of commitment. Pairs nicely with The Happiness Curve.
The Verge
*The Verge book. Read 11 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. The creator of the hit podcast series…*www.goodreads.com

Honestly, the first book about the 16th century that I’ve really enjoyed.
Moby-Dick or, the Whale
*I have started reading Moby Dick for the second time. I have a habit of writing the dates I start and end a book on the…*www.goodreads.com

I decided to pick up this classic because a few writers I like say this is their favorite novel of all time. It’s not my favorite novel of all time, but it is fire. Whales are badass. 19th century whaling is totally wild. The language is amazing. I think this book is like a Bran chapter in Game of Thrones — I’m always hesitant to get started, but also am always glad I do.
Survivor Song
*Cabin at the End of the World punted on the ending. Survivor Song doesn't. Cabin at the End of the World punted on the…*www.goodreads.com

Fun little zombie romp.
80/20 Running
*"Low-intensity, high-volume training develops the sort of suffering tolerance that enhances fatigue resistance more…*www.goodreads.com

A good reminder to slow those easy runs down.
Four Thousand Weeks
*"mortality makes it impossible to ignore the absurdity of living solely for the future." "Productivity is a trap…*www.goodreads.com

Good take on productivity that veers deep into philosophy, Buddhism, mindfulness, and psychology. I recommend.
How the Word Is Passed
*A must read...for everyone. "The history of slavery is the history of the United States. It was not peripheral to our…*www.goodreads.com

Clint Smith takes a journey across historical sites to learn how they talk about slavery.
The Happiness Curve
*NOW AVAILABLE !!*www.goodreads.com

Presents current understanding of how ‘happiness’ declines during one’s middle age and then increases after fifty.
The Premonition
*I don't believe Michael Lewis peddles "American Exceptionalism." His books tend to drill down into specifics. And looks…*www.goodreads.com

You know I’m going to read Michael Lewis’s pandemic book. I just wish it had more Wall Street stuff.
The Economists' Hour
*The Economists' Hour is the biography of a revolution: The story of how economists who believed in the power and the…*www.goodreads.com

Here is worthy economics book that is a good reminder that: 1. Free markets aren’t always the answer. 2. Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker, Ayn Rand and the rest of the free market chuds all thought their poop didn’t stink. 2. Anyone who comes to you and says ‘This tax cut will pay for itself with the economic growth it will produce’ is either an idiot or working in bad faith. A good closing lesson from Applebaum — we should judge the success of our societies by the lives of those at the bottom, not the top.
*Humane book. Read 4 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. In the years since 9/11, we have entered an…*www.goodreads.com

I am one person away from the author so I had to check this one out. It’s a solid history charting how war has changed over time and gets at the idea that maybe talking about more humane war misses the forest for the trees?
Win at All Costs
*Professional sports live at the edge of legality (and more often than that, beyond) since forever, everybody knows that…*www.goodreads.com

Alberto Salazar seems nice. Nike’s moral compass is finely tuned.
So You Want to Talk About Race
*Amit, I think I understand what you are saying. I think, though, that the people who need the statistical piece are…*www.goodreads.com

Good discussion of intent vs impact. Nothing in here should be controversial. We have a lot of work to do.
Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive, #4)
*This review in video format is here: https://youtu.be/vzzMUk7B4Kk Brandon Sanderson is a storming genius. Rhythm of War…*www.goodreads.com

This was very meh. If I wasn’t already 5,000 pages into this series, I might stop. But I’ll probably stick around to see what happens next.
The Dawn of Everything
*"Max Planck once remarked that new scientific truths don't replace old ones by convincing established scientists that…*www.goodreads.com

This book was hyped pretty hard, and it was good, just maybe not as good as I expected going in. Basically when people talk about pre-history maybe it says more about them than about what they are purporting to enlighten us about. Nothing about our genetic make up requires capitalism, property, or hierarchy. It’s nice to read some counter arguments to Pinker, Harari, Diamond, etc.
Ballistic (The Palladium Wars #2)
*While we're still waiting for Kloos to wrap up his Frontlines series (seven books and counting), he's now on book two…*www.goodreads.com

The Empire Strikes Back of the Palladium Wars trilogy, by far the one I enjoyed the most.
Citadel (The Palladium Wars #3)
*This review was originally posted on Books of My Heart Review copy was received from NetGalley. This does not affect my…*www.goodreads.com

Kind of a let down after the second book, but still reasonably good for those of us who need a steady dose of scifi. Really the three books should just have been one big book instead of three small ones. It’s all the same story so I’d say don’t start these with the mindset that you’ll stop after the first one. You are committing to all three as the first two don’t really have endings. Overall the book has a good page count to action ratio. The plot moves, lots of stuff happens, it’s a page turner. It’s not tier one scifi though.
Aftershocks (The Palladium Wars #1)
*I had been meaning to read something by Marko Kloos for a long time. His science fiction is well received, and while…*www.goodreads.com

The first of the Palladium Wars trilogy was recommended to me by a coworker. I’d call it pulp scifi that is sort of a cross between Old Man’s War and Leviathan’s Wake. There is space marine combat, but not as good as Old Man’s War. There is gritty space travel, but not quite as bleak as Leviathan’s Wake.
Clean Architecture
*A review of programming paradigms and SOLID, adding very little more and simplifying the concept of architecture to…*www.goodreads.com

Make things small. Keep boundaries strong.
Under a White Sky
*Largely western solutions yes, but global challenges. Written from a western point of view, but more importantly from a…*www.goodreads.com

It is far easier to destroy the environment and our climate than to repair it.
Think Again
*Makes you question every single belief you had since time eternity. It is an important book to read from time to time…*www.goodreads.com

Easy pop social science. It’s fine.
Kings of the Yukon
*"The spruce is sculpted by the elements, bottlebrush scrawny, topiaryed by the weather. This boreal forest stretches…*www.goodreads.com

I like to get at least one nature genre reading in per year. This one is pretty good. If you like Eager or American Wolf, you’ll like this.
The Sandman (Sandman Audible Original, #1)
*No need to read the comics, the audiobook brings an introduction about all the characters and concepts, so you're good…*www.goodreads.com

More of an old-timey radio show than a book. I’d rank this higher, but some of the stories were more interesting than others.
Kill Switch
*Kill Switch is well written and describes U.S. Senate processes and procedures through history. So why did I have to…*www.goodreads.com

A few Vox thought pieces from 2018 sitting astride a poor man’s Master of the Senate.
San Fransicko
*"Complaints about human waste on San Francisco's sidewalks and streets were rising. Calls about human feces increased…*www.goodreads.com

A lot of hype, but a bit underwhelming in its delivery and would have benefited from some more aggressive editing. No one likes open air drug markets and homelessness is a problem that seems to be getting worse. His prescription that we centralize the care for the homeless and mentally ill in one state level organization makes a lot of sense to me.
The Ministry for the Future
*"I am a god and I am not a god. Either way, you are my creatures. I keep you alive. Inside I am hot beyond all telling…*www.goodreads.com

This started out like World War Z, but climate change. However, I wanted it to go in a different direction than it ended up going. A bit too optimistic to feel realistic for me. A bit too much hand waving.
The Maleficent Seven
*The author's own review for this book cited it as "like Kings of the Wyld smooshed together with Suicide Squad into a…*www.goodreads.com

Pulp fantasy garbage.
On Such a Full Sea
*Is this a dystopia, or is it accurately describing present-day America? You can make either case. Certainly each type…*www.goodreads.com

After reading My Year Abroad, I thought going deeper into the world of Chang-Rae Lee would be a good idea. Let me tell you, this book is pretty bleak.
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher
*Yes, just finished it. Best biography I've read in a long time. I'm a local Seattleite so this was historical &…*www.goodreads.com

This one is about a time period I have not read much about, so that was nice. If you like photography, and the “Wild West”, you might like this.
The Demon-Haunted World
*He neither mocks nor sets up straw men. He responds to real criticisms with logical answers. He never said not to look…*www.goodreads.com

Carl Sagan, you sweet summer child.
Several Short Sentences About Writing
*I see people love this book. I did not. You might. Good writing should be significant and delightful in every sentence…*www.goodreads.com

Should have been a blog post. Nah, it’s actually good but I felt it had diminishing returns the further I got.
Finding the Mother Tree
*Prof Simard's research on forests has transformed our understanding of how trees communicate with each other. In this…*www.goodreads.com

Part memoir, part science book, part nature book. If you like those things, you’ll like this one about the interconnectedness of species in forests. Lots of grizzly scat mentions.
Keep Sharp
*Audiobook....read by the author: Sanjay Gupta Sanjay Gupta is a respected well-known neurosurgeon, medical reporter…*www.goodreads.com

Some important brain health information not always presented in the most compelling manner. This book’s intended audience is primarily aging boomers, but also has recommendations on providing care for parents with dementia.
The Soul of an Octopus
*I think the answer is very simple: If other beings can't think or feel, that makes it easy and ok to do whatever you…*www.goodreads.com

This writer really likes Octopuses. If you like Octopuses, you might like this one too!

Abandoned Books

The Prophets
*I've followed Robert Jones Jr. through his Son of Baldwin Facebook account for awhile now, and I've always appreciated…*www.goodreads.com

Not bad, just not my thing.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union
*When I first heard about this novel, I found its premise too fascinating to resist: it's a noir-inspired murder mystery…*www.goodreads.com

Jewish crime noir. Could not get into it. Future me, consider picking this up again.
Children of Time (Children of Time, #1)
*Smart and imaginative, highly recommended for everyone who loves Sci-Fi and not recommended for anyone with…*www.goodreads.com

Very interested in terraform-centric space opera. Not interested in spiders waring with ants. Sadly, this book had a bit too much of the latter.