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My top books of 2021

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

I really enjoyed reading these books this year, and I think you will too.

But first, before the big reveal, this is the fourth year that I have published my book recommendations. 2021 was slightly different from other years, not just because of COVID lockdowns and working from home. I set myself two goals for 2021 relating to my consumption of books. These goals were to help cut down the distraction and noise and help me remember more of what I read. I hoped to achieve this by rereading books and writing book notes for my second brain.

How did I get on with my goals?

Goal 1: Not reading any books that were new to me, i.e. for the first time.

I did ok here. I reread eleven books in the first half of the year and now benefit from the book notes for each. But I couldn't stay away from books people had recommended. I found myself jumping at the chance to delve into the new material and sources. So I read books such as:

  • Naked Statistics

  • The Third Door

  • The Culture Map

  • Leadership and Self-deception

  • The Charisma Myth

  • Why we Sleep

  • When the Body says No

  • The Numbers Game

And I am pleased to have worked out a hybrid of rereading books and reading books for the first time. I experienced FOMO from not reading new material, even though I still read articles and listened to podcasts. Strange, but it was true.

Goal 2: Not reading any books published in 2020 and 2021.

On my second goal of not reading anything new, i.e. published in the past year, I have been 100% successful. The eight books above were all published between 2000 and 2017. I agree with Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile) and recommend using the powerful filtering heuristic that considers the age of books before deciding what to read. This selection approach helps select evergreen content that will stay relevant over a long period rather than only the next few weeks and months.

Here are my 2021 recommendations for (not new) books to read:

The Culture Map - Decoding how people think, lead and get things done across cultures (Erin Meyer)

Published in 2014 - and read for the first time in 2021

Once we are aware of the cultural context that shapes a situation, we can take several steps to be more effective in dealing with it. This book provides a systematic, step-by-step approach to understanding the most common business communication challenges that arise from cultural differences and offer steps for dealing with them effectively.

Why we Sleep - The new science of sleep and dreams (Matthew Walker)

Published in 2017 - and read for the first time in 2021

Until very recently, doctors and scientists could not give you a consistent or complete answer as to why we sleep. We now realise that evolution did not make a spectacular blunder in conceiving sleep. This book explains how sleep dispenses many health-ensuring benefits, yours to pick up in repeat prescription every 24-hours, should you choose.

The Checklist Manifesto - How to get things right (Atul Gawande)

Published in 2009 - I first read this book in 2015

Avoidable failures are common and persistent. And the reason is clear: the volume and complexity of what we know have exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.

That means we need a different strategy that builds on experience and takes advantage of people's knowledge but somehow also makes up for our inevitable human inadequacies. This book describes such a strategy - it is a checklist.

One last thing

I have a confession to make. I have a small but growing pile of books to read. I was first introduced to the Japanese term Tsundoku by a client and think it does a wonderful job of describing a pile of unread books. Wikipedia to the rescue:

Tsende-oku, to pile things up ready for later and leave

Dokusho, reading books

Here is my pile of books that will grow over Christmas before I manage to work through them in the new year:

If you want to discover more about reading, evergreen content or writing book notes, check out:


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