I have read 41 books this year so far. While that is much less than previous years, I made it a point to stop reading for the quantity’s sake and to really slow down and enjoy each and every book. I watched more TV, I went for more walks, and I listen to exactly zero audiobooks. I, once again, attempted to read the colossal 1,100-page Robert Moses biography, The Power Broker, to no avail. After nearly two years I am only about 400 pages in.
This year, many of my favorite books were biographies, memoirs, and life advice from the world’s most successful people. I can’t express how much I thoroughly enjoy cultivating the knowledge and wisdom of great minds. There is no better feeling than learning something new that completely shifts your worldview or mindset for the rest of your life. A good book is like a psychedelic experience. Books were the original metaverse. Books give you the opportunity to step into an alternate reality and experience things as you imagine them in real-time.
These are the best books I read in 2021
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
da Vinci may be the most interesting man in the world. If you’re like me, you probably knew him from the Mona Lisa and maybe a couple of other paintings. Reading his biography by the great Walter Isaacson (also wrote bios on Steve Jobs, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin), I was floored by the brilliance and curiosity of Leonardo. I normally don’t go for biographies but this one was special. Leonardo Da Vinci should be known for much more than just the Mona Lisa or the Vitruvian Man. He was a true polymath and one of the most diversely talented individuals to ever have lived. He remained curious throughout his entire life and made discoveries about the human body, water engineering, astronomy, weapons, and physics centuries before scientists “discovered” the same things officially recognized these feats. I sped through the 535 pages thanks to Walter Isaacson’s incredibly research and easy prose.
I defy anyone to read the first chapter of The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe and not be dazzled by his style of writing. It’s riveting, unique, incredibly informative, and throws you right into the excitement of the action. 🚀 Wolfe takes us into the lives of the first astronauts before they were selected and during their training. They were considered the greatest pilots and the bravest men in America because they were pilots on the most daring flights in American history. When they accomplished their missions they became national heroes because they risked their lives for their country and for their people. They possessed courage and honor but more importantly, they all had “the right stuff.”
The fourth novel of the James Reece political thriller series did not disappoint. After his debut novel The Terminal List came out in 2016, Jack Carr has exploded in popularity with his best-selling series about a rogue former Navy SEAL who is tasked on vengeance missions to hunt and kill those who want to hunt and kill us. This book takes place directly in a world post-COVID, where our foreign enemies exploit America at its weakest point to unleash a man-made biochemical virulent disease on U.S. soil. And it’s up to James Reece to find those responsible. Amazon is actually coming out with a TV series based on the books starring Chris Pratt, which I’m extremely excited about.
If you haven’t seen Simon Sinek’s TED talk on how great leaders inspire action, I definitely suggest you check it out.
Sinek is a marketing expert and inspirational speaker. But his solution to success in business and in leadership doesn’t amount to strategy, tactics, or even what you say or do. It all starts with WHY. Those who have a larger purpose and can communicate that to the world will be the most successful. It isn’t WHAT you do or HOW you do it that creates success, it’s WHY you do it every day in the first place that drives long-term prosperity.
What is your WHY?
Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
If you haven’t heard of Jordan Peterson, take the time to look into his work. He is a clinical psychologist and professor at The University of Toronto. The New York Times has called him “The most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now” and maybe one of the most publicly misunderstood people on the planet. Peterson’s Youtube channel has over 3.6 million subscribers with several clips receiving over 30 million views worldwide. He rose to fame so quickly there is even an Amazon Prime documentary about him – The Rise of Jordan Peterson. Through his 2018 best-selling book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos and his speaking tour around the globe, he has helped more men and women improve their lives than just about any public personality in the last decade by promoting personal responsibility and ethical principles to guide the lost and misinformed through their lives. Despite all of this, Peterson has been vilified by the media, and has been called everything from “dangerous,” “alt-right,” “the professor of piffle,” to “the stupid man’s smart person.” Regardless of the public pillory, I believe his work is truly valuable. Like anyone, he is not perfect, and several of his ideas are flawed or misunderstood by people who see his work from afar. He has openly struggled with severe depression, anxiety, and auto-immune-related disease. He is an ardent student of history and chooses his words carefully as he fully understands the danger of where society is heading. At times he says controversial things to fight back against the idealogical zeitgeist and the decay of courteous debate His books and videos have helped me to become a better person.
The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories About Defying the Impossible
These stories elicit just about every emotion you can imagine. 🦋
The Moth @mothstories is a storytelling phenomenon and hit podcast and this book captures some of the best accounts of the occasional magic that occurs in everyday life. It’s a lovely collection of very short stories (5-7 pages each) of real people in real life – some profoundly moving, some endearing, and at least one seriously disturbing.
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
Alright, alright, alright. A career launched of three improvised works, Matthew McConaughey has quite the story to tell. His book ‘Greenlights’ exceeded all expectations, as his wisdom from years of travels is woven into stories both amusing and tragic. I read the hardcover, but I’ve been told that the audiobook is the way to go, as McConaughey narrates in his silky smooth Texas accent.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Wow, I could not put this one down. Killers of the Flower Moon is a true story about a secret plot to take over land from the Osage tribe in the 1920s. The Osage Indians just so happened to live on some of the richest oil fields in Oklahoma, making them some of the richest people in the entire country. They literally didn’t know what to do with all of the wealth and so others tried to exploit them for it and even murder people. The US government, secret spies, and the FBI all wanted a piece of the action. It’s an incredibly juicy plot that leads to more and more drama as it goes on.
The story is being turned into a movie with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
As a culture, we are becoming increasingly aware of how trauma is at the root of so many problems: psychiatric, physical, emotional, behavioral. Even if you’re a long way from a mental health provider, anyone who works with people should be informed about it, and this book is an excellent resource.
Trauma can shape every aspect of our psychology and physiology. In The Body Keeps the Score, renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk exposes how trauma physically affects changes in the brain and body – causing anxiety, rage, depression, and the inability to concentrate. Experiences of neglect, abuse, or danger can also result in flashbacks and problems remembering, trusting, and forming relationships. It can make us attracted to dangerous or painful situations, affect our perception of time and space, and it can dispossess us of the ability to describe our discomfort – causing chronic muscle pain, headaches, and autoimmune disorders.
van der Kolk shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies. Based on his own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score offers proven alternatives to drugs and talk therapy—and a way to reclaim lives.
One of the most acclaimed science fiction novels of the twentieth century, Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction masterpiece Snow Crash is a satirical and prescient look at a fragile, hyper-digital society – kind of like a funny version of The Matrix.
The story follows hacker and pizza delivery driver Hiro Protagonist (I know…) who learns of a virus that has the power to infect hosts both online and in the real world. Hiro discovers connections between the virus, ancient Sumerian gods, and the hidden computer-like programming of the human brain. Snow Crash has influenced the development of the internet and computing since its publication, popularizing the term “avatar,” pioneering the idea of a shared virtual “Metaverse,” and much more.
The novel’s central exploration of the distinction between humans and machines is a theme featured throughout the exhibition “Lynn Hershman Leeson: Twisted.” For over fifty years, Hershman Leeson—who posited in 1998, “Imagine a world in which there is a blurring between the soul and the chip”—has incorporated the latest technologies like artificial intelligence and DNA programming into her work, often predicting the impacts of technological development.
One of the best books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I know it’s one I’ll absolutely read again and buy multiple copies for friends and family.
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I was guilty of that here. After several women recommended I check it out, I reluctantly assumed it would be some kind of lecture in women’s empowerment at the behest of toxic masculinity or something like that…
But Untamed blew me away. It spoke to a different compartment in my brain. The whole book felt like a conversation between me and her, calling out everything I already knew to be true but didn’t have the conviction or words to truly know with all my heart.
Without being demeaning or giving “ra-ra” motivational tropes, it’s a manifesto for uncovering ourselves, living true to our values, and boldly proclaiming ourselves to the world – bravely holding our ground regardless of what’s “normal” or expected.
For those of you who like comparisons, Beartown is the hockey version of Friday Night Lights, and I’m honestly shocked it’s not more well-known.
It’s the story of a small town that is obsessed with hockey and its teenage star players. But like any good small-town sports story, there is drama. How bad is it? Read and find out for yourself…
The Fresh Prince 👑 Growing up I loved watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air every night. I dreamed of being as goofy, funny, and charismatic as Will Smith. Of course, he went on to become the biggest movie star on the planet with Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men in Black, and on and on.
The book is somewhere in between an autobiography and a memoir, as Will takes us through the valuable life lessons he learned stumbling along the way. It’s honest, unwavering, vulnerable, and inspiring.
I mean, it’s Will Smith. Of course, it’s good.
This book will certainly have a profound impact on my life. As the title suggests, Deep Work illustrates how to develop the mental faculties to eliminate distractions (internet, social media, etc.) and deepen concentration on your most dominant high-impact activities for success. As Cal Newport points out, the two core abilities for thriving in the new economy are:
On to next year. In 2022 I hope to re-read some of my favorites of all time. I haven’t yet compiled my list of where I’d like to start but Christmas gifts have already got me down an exciting path of reading. I look forward to recommending more books and I hope you all can enjoy some of my favorites from this year.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year y’all
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