Monday, December 27, 2021

Top Reads of 2021

I read a lot of books this year. I have been reading a lot in the last few years, and I wanted to start capturing some of the best for posterity. Here are most of my 5-star reads from 2021, with links to each book's Goodreads page and my review. Ordered by date read, with most recent at the bottom. 

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World - Sarah Stewart Johnson
A poetic and contemplative account of humanity's search for life on Mars, and the author's own experiences in the field. Space non-fiction. (my review)

Where Is My Flying Car?: A Memoir of Future Past - J. Storrs Hall
A masterclass in persuasive technical writing; a no-holds-barred deep-dive into the technology, energy, policy, and regulation (and more) that's holding back flying cars a salty career scientist, wrapped into a meta-thesis about technological stagnation. Technology non-fiction. (my review). 

A Promised Land - Barack Obama
A highly readable, insightful, and captivating memoir allowing the reader to peek behind the curtain of the world's most powerful office, which remains surprisingly non-inflammatory given the last few years of global politics. Memoir. (my review)

Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX - Eric Berger
An addictive and page-turning look at the chaotic, high-stakes early days of SpaceX from a senior space writer at Ars Technica, mostly covering the years 2002 through 2008. Space non-fiction. (my review)

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men - Caroline Criado PĂ©rez
One of the most impactful books I read this year that I've most recommended to friends and colleagues (particularly males), an eye-opening and persuasive look at systematic gender biases in science, policy and data. Feminism/science/policy. (my review)

Children of Time - Adrian Tchaikovsky
Biology driven, "lost in space", far-future parallel plotlines with a lot of "woah!" moments. Science fiction. (my review)

Why Nuclear Power Has Been a Flop: at Solving the Gordian Knot of Electricity Poverty and Global Warming - Jack Devanney
A thorough dissection of misconceptions and myths about nuclear energy, and the bull case for how and why nuclear is required for future decarbonization. Available free online here. Energy/science non-fiction. (my review)

Stoner - John Williams
Not about cannabis or written by a composer - I was not expecting to so deeply love this tale of William Stoner, a tortured academic  with a horrible marriage and dead-end career. Fiction/classics. (my review)

Underland: A Deep Time Journey - Robert Macfarlane
A beautiful, reflective and captivating travelogue-style exploration of all things underground, and their societal and cultural importance. Science/nature non-fiction. (my review)

Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion - Robert B. Cialdini
The book you should read before making major purchase to inoculate yourself against common (and extremely effective) persuasive techniques of salespeople (also useful in other areas of life). Psychology non-fiction. (my review)

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer - Siddhartha Mukherjee
An Isaacson-caliber biography of a complicated subject; this book is a thorough, fascinating, and engaging history of cancer diagnoses and treatments. Medicine/science non-fiction. (my review)

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion - Jonathan Haidt
An exploration of human morality and why our morals are different; this incredible book increased my patience and helped me understand where other people are coming from. Psychology non-fiction. (my review)

2001: A Space Odyssey - Arthur C. Clarke
Must-read classic sci-fi with a perfect balance of awe and existential terror. Science fiction. (my review)

Failure to Learn: The BP Texas City Refinery Disaster - Andrew Hopkins
A must-read for anyone in manufacturing, chemical or process industries where process safety risks exist, and one of the best books on leadership and management I've ever read. Manufacturing/safety non-fiction. (my review)

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race - Walter Isaacson
I love almost everything by Isaacson, but his latest subject is supremely interesting and the content could not be more relevant for building a deeper understanding of highly relevant technologies to fight COVID, as well as genetic engineering issues for years to come. Science/biography. (my review)

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale - Art Spiegelman
Compelling, funny, and sad graphic novel of the author's family's experience in concentration camps in WW2. Graphic novel/biography non-fiction. (my review)

Hyperion - Dan Simmons
It's the Canterbury Tales (a band of unlikely travellers telling each other stories) but in a distant space-faring future, as they travel to confront a mysterious time-bending monster. Science fiction. (my review)

The Mission - David W. Brown
An extraordinarily entertaining account of the science and politics behind NASA's Europa Clipper mission, in the works for decades and now set to launch in ~2023. Space non-fiction. (my review)

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity - David Graeber, David Wengrow
A fascinating and compelling take on "pre-history" that challenges every assumption and narrative about so-called pre-agriculture societies; the two Davids make pre-history exciting by starting from the hypothesis that ancient societies were comprised of smart, interesting, culturally and politically mature peoples. History/anthropology non-fiction. (my review)

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