2021 Reading List

6 min

Every year I do my best to read at least 12 books. I don’t take this goal too seriously and just read whatever I want. Still, this year I managed to finish 13 books. Here are my short reports on each one.

P.S. This is the fourth year I’ve been doing these reports. You can find the rest here.

Developer Hegemony: The Future of Labor by Erik Dietrich

First half of the book just blew me away describing and explaining the nature of corporate work so well. I’ve never worked in a true corporation, but lots of observations apply to any company. It felt liberating to realize that some frustrations I’ve had were not unique to me, but rather an omnipresent result of misaligned incentives and inherent power dynamics.

The rest of the book felt less impactful. Author suggests a more powerful way for knowledge workers to position themselves - basically freelancer partnerships, but there’s more to that. I don’t share the author’s optimism that this is likely to ever go mainstream, but I’d like to live in a world where every knowledge worker has that option.

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

A sci-fi classic that explores the line between life and death by inventing layers between the two. The novel describes a bleak, techno-dystopian world. Mysteries never really get resolved - they just keep piling up and then are explained in the final pages. The action is incoherent at times and characters don’t always behave like actual humans, which is frustrating. Still, I enjoyed it, and it’s not a long read anyway, so it never gets boring. Just be aware it’s not the fun kind of sci-fi.

Dune by Frank Herbert (first three books)

An impressive feat in world-building, most often compared to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Descriptions are often clunky and hard to follow - the glossary at the end of the book takes more than 20 pages. Once you get past that, the narrative is gripping in it’s scope and ambition, even if it can feel a bit dated. Overall I enjoyed it very much and got through it all in a few days.

That’s the first book, and second to some extent. Third felt like a slog, but I still managed to finish it. I love the world that Herbert created, but it kind of got away from him. I don’t have plans to finish the saga, but I still highly recommend reading at least the first book.

When I started reading I didn’t know there’s a movie coming out soon. I enjoyed what they did with the source material and am waiting for the second part.

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

One of the classics on negotiation strategies and tactics. Negotiation often has negative conotations, but only because most of us find it awkward. The main point Chris Voss makes is that it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, and good negotiators are good communicators. The lessons are backed by plenty of good stories that are worthy of a read in themselves.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

The world would be a better place if this book was mandatory reading for everyone.

Given that pretty much everything you see or touch was created by someone, you’d think we should be pretty good at designing things for humans. However, bad design is still a lot more common than it should be. The problem is that we learn to go through life without questioning our surroundings. This book fixes that.

On one hand, ignorance is bliss. Once you develop a sense for bad design, there’s no going back. It’s annoying and frustrating.

On the other hand, once we acknowledge the problem, we can begin doing something about it.

P.S. this book is in the public domain and you can easily find copies online, so there’s really no excuse.

The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan

All models are incorrect, but some models are useful.

This book presents a geopolitics-based world-view on XX and XXI centuries. The author abstains from commenting on aspects of the future that escape his competence. I see that as intellectual honesty and applaud it.

Still, seems like a big omission to just ignore knowledge work, cyber security, global warming, etc. when talking about future.

Also problematic is the assumption that countries and regions will mostly agree on whats best for them, which doesn’t seem like a given in a post-truth world where everyone is free to choose their facts.

Overall its a decent addition to your own thinking framework, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Exactly what you would expect from Andy Weir: unapologetically nerdy and fun, hard sci-fi. Characters are still mere caricatures, but I still don’t care. Better than Atremis, still not as good as The Martian.

The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

If you haven’t seen last years' report, I finished the main dark tower series last year. I really missed the world that King created and knew I’d want to go back at some point. “The Wind Through the Keyhole” was a perfect occasion to revisit familiar characters for a few days. I don’t have much to say - it’s really more of the same, but that’s exactly what I wanted.

48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Fascinating, ruthless and amoral look at our society. If you enjoyed Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, this should be right up your alley. Leave your morals at the door and you’re gonna have a great time.

As with most of these books, you shouldn’t take it too seriously. It’s main purpose is to shock and entertain you. Some laws contradict each other and are highly situational, so they’re not really “laws” at all - more like tactics and strategies.

Each law is backed with plenty historic examples - I’d say too many. That should be resolved with concise edition. I wish I had picked that one instead.

Advertising For Skeptics by Bob Hoffman

Haven’t read anything by Bob Hoffman, but from what I gather if you’ve read one of his books, you’ve read them all. This is mostly a collection of blog posts and newsletters, and it reads as such, but I didn’t mind. The main theme is disillusionment with digital advertising and targeting. Critique is well argued and I’ve heard familiar sentiments before.

Huge caveat though - Bob is mostly talking about global brand building here, not your average small business advertisement needs. That kinda weakens his thesis that adtech is just a fraud.

Overall a short and entertaining read, can recommend.

The Minimalist Entrepreneur by Sahil Lavingia

I’m generally not a fan of business-self-help genre, but Sahil seemed like a cool guy and I really enjoyed that one blog post that went viral, so I figured I’d give this a try. It’s an ok book, but really, it should’ve been a blog post :). If you follow Sahil on twitter or already know the Gumroad story, there’s not much point to reading this. He just expands on the same ideas with more contrived arguments to hit the page count, which is admittedly not that high. Not great, not terrible, just meh.

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