One of my goals in 2021 was to read more. I got through a total of 24 books and abandoned a few. Most were read on kindle, with a few in audio and on paper.
These are my top picks from that pile, in no particular order.
The Price of Peace by Zachary Carter
I wrote some long, difficult proses about this book so I’m not going to retread it here. Keynes was an important figure, and getting to know his biography provided context around both the then contemporary and subsequent development of finance, economics and geopolitics in the 1900s. More usefully, you see him play both the sides of policy and critic, and how his ideas were tested and evolved through the tumultuous first half of the century. The book can be uneven across the first and second halves, but you are sure to be richly rewarded at the end.
The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson
Books that enthrall me broadly covers topics that I know little about. Following my introduction into the gene from the titular book by Siddharta Mukherjee (read in 2019), The Code Breaker follows it up with recent developments, specifically the discovery of CRIPSR and the invention of gene editing technology. There is scopophilic satisfaction in being able to read about each individual discovery in the moment and simultaneously witness how they build on each other to achieve something incredulous, formidable and terrifying. The human intrigue here is interesting but pales in comparison to scientific story. Walter Isaacson does what Walter Isaacson does best, making a complex winding story accessible to mainstream readers like myself.
This is How They Tell Me the World Ends by Nicole Perlroth
Good books does one thing in common for me, which is they reveal the larger picture underlying the individual stories we see in our day to day lives. This is How They Tell Me the World Ends is a resoundingly frightening book for our society shaped by the forces of social networks and smart phones. The author Perlroth, a reporter for the New York Times, picks up the character and threads in cybersecurity right around Stuxnet, and chronicles the development of this underground (and state funded) market for leaks and software exploits over the past decade. Even for the sheer terror it may inspire, I would recommend it for everyone building technology as a tale of intent, implications, and unintended consequences.
Living in Data by Jer Thorpe
I ordered Living In Data sight unseen. After thumbing through the starting pages, after 6 months on my bookshelf, it became clear to me that I was in for something different and special. This book is not another exposition on the virtues of data visualization (I know I know, my fault for assuming) but a series of thoughtful meditations on what it means to live in, be represented by, and the uncanny valley of data collection and use. Thorpe, the author and a data artist, writes about the lived experience working on many of his data projects. The human stories here cuts through the technological view that data is often filtered by – big, warehouse, lakes, mountain, peak, et cetera – and tunnels through these geographical features by making the effects tangible of what it means to be measured up.
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
char* have been allocated about the virtues of comics, but The Secret of Superhuman Strength is a prime example of why the graphic novel format works. The story told here is gripping and compelling on its own, but even so, the illustrations really lifted the words off pages and turned them into visual and experiential landscapes. There are still new and interesting details to be picked up on my second and third reading. The story, an autobiographical account, uses Bechdel’s lifelong obsession with fitness and the endless hill climb of physical achievement as a narrative vessel for her well-lived life story. This poignant mirror, when held up against our lives, can also sharpen the important and blur out the rest. Ultimately, a reminder that in the end time will reign over us all.