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A Year in Books: 2021
Dec 28, 2021
7 minutes read

This is the list of books I read during the 2021 calendar year. Overall, I read 21 books from start to finish. Among these, 5 were technical books (about engineering, mathematics, statistics, or computer science). I often read two books at the same time, one technical and one not. This may change in 2022.

Immediately after finishing a book, I wrote down my notes, comments and general review of the book. These notes are reported here, unedited except for grammatical errors.

I left one book unfinished (Programming Quantum Computers, E.R. Johnston et al.). To let a book go is the reader’s right, in my opinion. The book may not be good, or it may not be a good fit, or may have been selected out of curiosity. In the present case however, the book was a good one – I simply didn’t have the energy to delve into a topic that’s entirely new to me.

I was very consistent from January to September. In the last quarter I slew down sensibly, due in part to other things happening in my life, in part to the sheer size of the selected books.

Looking at the entire list now, and reading again my own comments that I wrote with each book fresh in my mind, I believe Hackers by S. Levy was my favorite book of the year. I loved the historical perspective, the great insights and the writing style. Second, but not very close, is Drive by D. Pink – interesting subject to me, well written and definitely worth reading again.

Special mentions to Once a Runner by J.L. Parker Jr., which I had never read before. It could easily top the list, but I suspect I am very biased toward the main topic of the book. Regardless, a lovely story.

General books

The coaching habit, M.B. Stanier (Jan 2 – Jan 8)
Great and I wrote a review on this very site.

Plato (a review) (Jan 19 – Jan 25)
Interesting like always, a short book.

In the beginning… Was the command line, N. Stephenson (Jan 27 – Jan 31)
A short, funny book that will amuse everyone who’s a bit of a hacker.

The Dip, S. Godin (Feb 2 – Feb 5)
Very short book, but a disappointing one. It’s more like a collection of random thoughts, around the same subject. That’s fine, but I like coherent flows of thoughts.

Give and Take, A. Grant (Feb 10 – Feb 27)
Good book with a lot of interesting stories that can move you easily. Somewhere half a way through I had the impression it became too academic. The final chapter however is incredibly sincere and worth the time it took to get there.

Make it Stick, H.L. Roediger III et al. (Mar 2 – Mar 14)
A great book that I warmly recommend and will surely read again in the future.

Drive, D. Pink (Mar 19 – Mar 30)
A fenomenal book. The duo with “Make it stick” put a big sign on my 2021. I have decided to write a combined review of the two, starting from the notes I took but reversing the order eventually. The gem in the book is also the list of 15 recommended books.

Flow, M. Csikszentmihalyi (Apr 18 – May 16)
A tough book to read. Lengthy, in opposition to a concept that could be expressed in fewer chapters. The writing tends to distract the reader from the core concepts, which is for me a cons, despite being beautifully written. The topic of the book is one of central importance though. And the few key insights, extracted by the lengthy pages, are indeed extremely welcome. The final chapter sums everything up very well, and it’s worth the price of the wait.

Mindsets, C. Dweck (May 19 – Jun 4)
A good book. I didn’t like the writing too much though. Sure, the book is about “fixed” and “growth” mindset, but from a writing perspective it’d be nice if these two words weren’t constantly mentioned! Some of the example stories discussed seem totally fake, but nonetheless useful.

Once a runner, J.L. Parker Jr. (Jun 14 – Jun 20)
This book is great, and it lives up to the expectations. The last few chapters made me sweaty as if I was running too.

Hackers, S. Levy (Jun 22 – Jul 18)
Fantastic. Fascinating. Engaging. To read and reread. Serious candidate for my best book of the year.

The creative habit, T. Tharp (Jul 24 – Aug 1)
This book grew on me day by day in an impressive manner. After the first 50 pages I wasn’t very happy, but then it just started throwing brilliant concepts at me one after the other, until I found myself saying, almost on every page, I need to read this part again in some months. And that’s the sign of a great book.

Epitteto (a biography) (Aug 14 – Aug 24)
A nice little book which I read in a few seats. Recommended.

On the road, J. Kerouac (Sep 14 – Sep 24)
This book’s reputation is justified. At the beginning it was just like a funny story. But more and more pages into it, I started to feel many of the emotions described in the story as mine, surely drawing parallels with my own “on the road” experience.

Stranger in a strange land, R.A. Heinlein (Oct 5 – Nov 27)
The beginning is very fast paced. I was surprised when I realized that the book was much longer than the initial chapters made me think. I also got in the middle of many other things, which delayed the reading a lot. The central part of the book felt very slow, but, on the whole, a nice story and one I would recommend.

When genius failed, R. Lowenstein (Nov 29 – Dec 17)
Beautifully written saga of a true story. I loved the writing, enjoyed the drama and definitely recommend this one.

Why Nations Fail, D. Acemoglu et al (Dec 18 – )
Still in progress.

Technical books

Get Programming with Haskell, W. Kurt (Jan 1 – Feb 15)
The book is OK-ish. I feel like I’ve found too many typos for a book on programming. I worked through all chapters' exercises that were definitely helpful. Some topics are dealt with in a too simplistic manner. For example, basic monads (maybe, either) aren’t explained in depth, and they should in my opinion.

SRE book, Google (Feb 28 – May 15)
Definitely a must-read. But not an easy one. The procedure world when applied to engineering is hard. Overall a great overview of many important concepts, even though it feels like missing the practical part. I am looking forward to the workbook.

Open Statistics, C.D. Barr et al. (Mar 2 – Jul 30)
I have read several texts on statistics, and every now and then I go back to basics, since these are not topics I work with. This is the best book I have ever read about it.

SRE workbook, Google (May 21 – Sep 8)
I didn’t write down any comments after finishing this book, but it’s a good one and I definitely recommend it.

The architecture of open source applications, multiple authors (Jun 6 – Jul 12)
The book’s idea is great, and one I am deeply convinced of. The (many) authors however don’t always fulfill the requirements, because instead of explaining their reasoning for choosing this or that way they instead get lost in the technicality of their work. Understandable: everyone loves to speak about themselves. A few chapters are great. Overall, a good book.

Graph representation learning, W.L. Hamilton (Nov 1 – Nov 20)
Very dense book, which explains the size (just over 100 pages). Recommended if used along other resources (colabs, videos).


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