Every year, around this time, I take a look at all the books I read in the past 12 months and highlight my favorites. While I haven't read quite as much as I had for last year's post, I still managed to read 26 books totaling 9,676 pages over the past year. I usually bounce between fiction and non-fiction, spanning a lot of different genres. Here are the 8 books that stood out to me this year!
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As I read more as an adult, I have found myself intrigued by a lot of the "classic" pieces of literature that often popped up in school curriculums, but during a time in my life when I was not really that interested in them. 1984 is one of those classics, and when I had the opportunity to acquire a copy for free, I went ahead and gave it a read. It is a haunting tale that birthed the term "Big Brother," and it really feels ahead of its time as the science-fiction of 1949 (the original publication date) feels close to home with a lot of the technological developments of the 21st century. I felt myself completely absorbed in the story, and while not at all a happy read, it was engaging enough to make my list.
As I learned programming and pursued my degree in Computer Science, one of the topics that I always found most interesting was algorithms. The thesis of Algorithms to Live By is that we can learn a lot from the optimal algorithms that have been discovered for Computer Science problems, and use those learnings to apply to situations in our own life. While most situations in our lives have far too many variables to simplify to an optimal algorithm, they can still provide guidance and help to combat some of our internal human biases. For example, when looking for a house or apartment, how many should you look at before you consider pulling the trigger? By stopping your search early, what is the risk that you are passing up on a way better option that you never got to see? The book relates this scenario to the solved "optimal stopping problem," and I found it fascinating to hear how that and many other real-world problems could relate to problems that have already found optimal solutions in the world of programming.
I had never really read mystery or "whodunit" novels, and I figured there was no better place to start then with the most famous mystery novelist's most popular book. The genre has a lot that appeals to me; I've always enjoyed movies or books that have me trying to figure out how to explain the story's events, and having it all revealed in a satisfying way at the very end. And Then There Were None feels like a classic premise with a mysterious group of people on an island that start dying off one by one, but it is popular for a reason, and I found the final payoff to be worth the journey. Perhaps I'll check out some of Agatha Christie's other popular novels, there are certainly a lot of them!
I enjoyed Matthew Syed's book Bounce, and Black Box Thinking seemed right up my alley as I have enjoyed a lot of books about human psychology and behavior. The title references the "black boxes" that airplanes use to ensure that important data and recordings will survive a plane crash, allowing it to be analyzed and allow experts to learn from the problems that caused the disaster. Syed contrasts this with the medical community, which historically suffers from tragedies being chalked up to "we did everything we could do," without any critical evaluation of exactly what could have gone differently. It is a fascinating look into human psychology and how we have such a hard time owning our mistakes, and gives insight into how we can set ourselves up to recognize and learn from mistakes instead of slipping them under the rug.
Cryptocurrency is a super hot topic, especially when it comes to people investing in Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, etc. I actually find myself less interested in the investing side of cryptocurrency, and more interested in the underlying blockchain technology that makes it work. Searching for a book that approached it from that angle was a little difficult as most literature on the subject tries to capitalize on the "get rich quick with crypto" craze, but I finally settled on Bubble or Revolution? It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for, and I came away with an understanding of what blockchain makes possible, and a more realistic perspective on the future of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. It outlines many of the challenges that cryptocurrencies will have in becoming widely adopted, while also highlighting what blockchain does really well and what kinds of problems it can solve effectively. Definitely recommended if you have wondered about what's "under the hood" of crypto and want a balanced perspective of what the technology has to offer.
Timothy Keller has quickly become one of my favorite Christian authors, as I have now found several of his books both compelling and extremely practical. Every Good Endeavor tackles a topic that I think a lot of Christians wrestle with, which is, how does my everyday work relate to my faith and calling as a Christian? It is very easy to lump pastors, missionaries, and other church workers into a select group of "people doing God's work," while assuming that the rest of us non-church workers are doing something completely different. Keller breaks down how everything we pursue in life is directly connected to God's work, and there were many times while reading that I found myself looking at my life through a new lens and appreciating the new perspective.
I enjoy reading biographies and autobiographies, as it is fascinating to immerse myself in another person's life story, empathize with their experiences, and learn or gain inspiration from how they approached areas of their life. Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a truly unique and interesting life as he continually defied odds to achieve success in bodybuilding, Hollywood, and politics. While there is a lot about Arnold's life that is not worth imitating, his discipline and ability to focus on achieving his goals is definitely special and inspiring. His autobiography Total Recall paints a clear image of a person who knows how to truly work hard, consistently, and always with a clear end goal. It is the kind of book that makes you feel like all of your excuses for not making progress on your goals are bogus, and sometimes that's exactly what we need in order to kickstart effective habits.
I have continued my journey through Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere (which spans several different series) in chronological order, and Words of Radiance is definitely in the top tier of Sanderson's books that I have read so far. The Stormlight Archive books are his biggest and most epic, with a huge amount of world-building that really sets the reader up for big payoff as the plot progresses. With my completion of Mistborn books #4-6 this year, the third Stormlight Archive book Oathbringer is likely in the queue for the coming months. Interested to see where the series goes, as well as the Cosmere as a whole.
I have a large number of books on my shelf that are still marked "to read," and I am looking forward to seeing which books make the list next year!