2021 – What I’m Reading

This is a running list of books I’ve read in 2021 with the most recent first. Would love any recommendations you might have. First, here’s a link to our firm’s book club list (goes back to 2011): St. Louis Trust Book Club List.

51. Vita Nostra: A Novel, by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko. This book was a trip. It has been described as an “anti-Harry Potter” — which I think is about right. The authors are Ukrainian and the book was translated from Russian. The main character, Sasha, is coerced into going to a special college — “The Institute for Special Technologies” in a faraway town. There, she learns completely weird things. It’s a creepy but dreamy book. Total page-turner. I loved it.

50. The Wabi-sabi Way: Simple Principles to Bring Calm, Meaning & Authenticity to Your Daily Life, by Mike Strum. I just recently learned about the concept of Wabi-sabi from “The Little Book of Japanese Contentments.” Wabi-sabi is a tenet of Japanese philosophy. “At the root of wabi-sabi is the simple, but often difficult, task of making peace with reality.” The concept encompasses a lot and provides insight into materialism and making peace with aging. I’ve already found the concepts of Wabi-sabi useful as I look around my own life.

49. The Dark Tower V: The Wolves of the Calla, by Stephen King. Another fantastic book of the Dark Tower series. Stephen King is a master storyteller and the Dark Tower is his magnum opus.

48. Evolution Gone Wrong: The Curious Reasons Why Our Bodies Work (Or Don’t), by Alex Bezzerides. This book was so good. Written in a humorous and engaging manner, the author tours us through the evolutionary reasons so many of our body parts don’t work all that well. Examples include: why we need braces and to get wisdom teeth removed, why our eyes need contacts and glasses, why our lower backs hurt, why our feet hurt, why human females menstruate (which 95% of mammals do not do), and so on. So interesting.

47. The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles. This is the third book by Towles — his prior two being the fantastic Rules of Civility and awesome Gentleman in Moscow. This book in its own way is as good as the other two. From Amazon: The story follows four boys who set out to travel the country in search of a fresh start: Emmett and Billy want to find their mother who left them when they were young, and Duchess and Woolly are on the hunt for a stashed wad of cash. Sometimes their dreams are aligned but often they are not. In other words, adventure ensues: There’s train hopping and car stealing, and with that comes the inevitability of trouble sparked from both good and bad intentions. Each of these young men is chasing his dreams, but their pasts—whether violent or sad—are never far behind. 

46. The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns, by John C. Bogle. The author was the founder of Vanguard and the inventor of the index mutual fund. This book is chock full of investment wisdom and just reads like the truth. The point of the book is that investors should index rather than try to beat the market. The data backs him up.

45. A Little Book of Japanese Contentments, by Erin Niimi Longhurst. This is a treasure of a little book. It lightly covers the basics of Japanese living and philosophy. Things like tea ceremonies, forest bathing, Wabi-sabi, and the like. Loved it.

44. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. This book is about two women who are friends during WWII. One is a pilot and one is a spy. They fly into Nazi-occupied France and everything goes wrong. This book is so well written and the plot is compelling. The story is a beautiful one about friendship, duty, and loss. Highly recommended.

43. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester. Great book! Here’s the summary from Amazon: The making of the OED was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, was stunned to discover that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. But their surprise would pale in comparison to what they were about to discover when the committee insisted on honoring him. For Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

42. The American Experiment — Dialogues on a Dream, by David M. Rubenstein. I learned so much from this book. The author, the billionaire founder of private equity firm the Carlyle Group, interviews various experts about U.S. history. His interviewees include academic historians, author historians like David McCullough and Walter Isaacson, as well as famous people like Cal Ripkin Jr. and Billy Jean King. Out of the interviews, the reader gains a better understanding of important events and people who shaped U.S. history.

41. The Killing Moon, by N.K. Jemisin. This is a work of fantasy. I don’t read a lot of fantasy but I really enjoyed this book. It’s about special priests who harvest dreams to heal and soothe but also ease people into death through dreams. Really solid book.

40. Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change, by Morgan Simon. This book is about impact investing. It was just okay.

39. Don’t Look Now, by Mary Burton. This book is a page-turning murder mystery which follows a female detective as she hunts for a serial killer. She has a personal connection to the case and becomes a target herself. Fun read.

38. Extreme Ownership: How Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. This is one of the better leadership books I’ve read. It’s very engaging as the authors tell stories about their experiences as Navy SEALs, the lessons they learned from those experiences, and how those lessons are applicable to business.

37. Our Fourth Age: A village elder’s story for young Homines sapientes about surviving their future history, by Terry Vernon Thiele. I was asked to read this book prior to publication and I liked it so much I added a blurb that is included on the back cover. Here’s what my blurb says: “Drawing on history, psychology, philosophy, evolution, and science, Our Fourth Age is a tour de force journey through our species’ history and a preview of what lies ahead for us. Terry Thiele links together the three major epochs that have defined humanity and provide insight into the direct challenges and amazing opportunities that the fourth epoch brings.”

36. My Sister, the Serial Killer: A Novel, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. This was a quick and engaging read. Like the title suggests, the main character’s sister is a serial killer. The characters and the plot are deeper than it sounds. And the underlying theme is how people react to abuse as well as how beauty causes us to overlook underlying issues people might have. Very good book.

35. Cherry: A Novel, by Nico Walker. While labeled a novel, the book is semi-autobiographical. The main character drops out of college, enlists in the Army and is sent to Iraq. He returns with PTSD, becomes addicted to heroin and turns to robbing banks to support his drug habit. I found the book to be dark and disturbing; it’s an inside look into war and addiction.

34. Project Hail Mary: A Novel, by Andy Weir. This book was fantastic! I was worried it would be too similar to Weir’s prior book The Martian because this book is also about an astronaut alone in space. But this book has a totally different plot: the protagonist wakes without any memory and learns that he’s alone on a spaceship. Humanity’s very existence depends on him figuring out who he is and what problem he was sent to solve. So good.

33. Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, by Phil Buchanan. Effective charitable giving is challenging. Giving Done Right provides direction and advice for donors who want to be more strategic in their giving and aligned with the charities they support. Great book.

32. Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0, by Eliot Peper. This book basically created its own genre — entrepreneur/start-up business thriller. It focuses on Mara and her friend James, both of whom drop out of the University of Colorado-Boulder to start a software company. The book winds through the ups and downs and trials and tribulations of starting and structuring a business, finding funding with angel investors and venture capitalists, and the tensions between founders. Also, there is a thriller plot that includes hacking, secret organizations, and murder. Great book.

31. The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel. I really enjoyed this book. It focused on the lives of a handful of people who interacted at a luxury hotel deep in the wilderness of British Columbia. It is beautifully written and poignant with great character development.

30. Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life, by Gillian Tett. I’ve read the author’s columns in the Financial Times for years. Unbeknownst to me, Gillian Tett has a Ph.D. from Cambridge in anthropology. In this book, she explains how anthropologists approach questions and how their worldview is informed differently than other disciplines. She explains how viewing the world through an anthropological lens can be valuable. Good book — glad I read it.

29. The Last Dance, by Martin Shoemaker. This book is a fun work of sci-fi. It is about an act of insubordination by the captain of a spaceship. A young Inspector General from the space force is brought in to investigate the charges. The book consists of all the stories she uncovers about the captain during her investigations. Really good book.

28. My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh. I read this book in 2019 and then listened to it on Audible driving to Maine for a college drop-off. Here’s what I said about it in 2019: I really enjoyed this book. The narrator (we never learn her name) seems to have it all: she’s gorgeous and thin, a recent Columbia grad, and is financially secure from an inheritance. However, things are not always as they appear. She only has one friend who she finds irritating. Her parents are dead. She has no motivation and is in a dark hole spiritually. She decides to take a year off and mainly sleep. Her sleeping is assisted by an amazing assortment of psychological drugs she gets from what might be the worst psychiatrist in all of literature. I found it very well written, with great character development, and highly engaging. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Five Stars.

27. Constance, by Matthew Fitzsimmons. This book is a sci-fi ish thriller set about 20 years in the future. Genetic technology has advanced so that humans can be cloned and their consciousness uploaded into a clone. Constance wakes one day to find that her “original” body has been killed and that she is now a clone. But there is an 18-month gap in time. What happened during those 18 months? And why was her original killed? I loved this book — a super fun page-turner!

26. Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King. More Dark Tower!!! Very long but very good.

25. Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less, by Leidy Klotz. The author is a professor of engineering and design at the University of Virginia. This book is an in-depth discussion of his research into the benefits of considering subtracting rather than adding to solve problems. As humans, we are prone to want to add to solve problems or improve our lives, but sometimes subtracting is a better path. It’s an interesting book and provides a very useful mental model.

24. The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands, by Stephen King. More Dark Tower!!!!

23. The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King. The Dark Tower series is so good. In this book, Roland, the Gunslinger, draws Eddie and Odetta/Susannah from their world into his.

22. The Psychology of Money, by Morgan Housel. This was a dynamite book about how we think about money. It is chock full of wisdom about investing, spending, and our relationship with money. Jason Zweig, of the Wall Street Journal, calls The Psychology of Money “one of the best and most original finance books in years” and our Investment Committee agrees! Housel posits that doing well with money isn’t necessarily about what you know; it’s about how you behave. In this gem of a book, he shares 19 stories exploring the strange ways people think about money and teaches us how to make sense of this very important – and complicated – topic.

21. The Gunslinger — Dark Tower I, by Stephen King. The Dark Tower series is fantastic. I read the seven-book series in the early 2000s and have decided to read them again. King considers the series his Mangus Opus and wrote The Gunslinger when he was 19 years old. The series centers on Roland, the last of the gunslingers, which is sort of an old western knight, as he travels in search of the Dark Tower.

20. All I Ever Wanted: A Rock and Roll Memoir, by Kathy Valentine. I loved this book! Kathy was the bass player for the Go-Gos and in her memoir, she details her crazy and difficult childhood, her love of music, and the success and then break-up of the Go-Gos. As a result of this book, I’ve been listening to a lot of Go-Gos lately!

19. Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, by Antonio Garcia Martinez. This was a fun read about the author’s career as the CEO of a startup tech firm and then a product manager at Facebook. He provides an entertaining look behind the curtain at what goes on in Silicon Valley tech companies. I learned a lot about digital marketing as well.

18. Prep: A Novel, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I loved this book. It is told from the perspective of a girl named Leigh who is from South Bend, Indiana, and decides to attend an elite East Coast boarding school. It’s a compelling coming-of-age story and recounts Leigh’s struggles fitting in with wealthy and sophisticated classmates. What I found interesting about this book is that Leigh isn’t totally likable. She’s insecure, quiet, and withdrawn. This girl couldn’t be more opposite of me, so I found it fascinating to live inside her head throughout her high school years. What an experience!

17. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind. This was a re-read of one of my favorite books. The main character has an extraordinary sense of smell and ends up using the scents of people to create perfumes. Of course, he has to kill the people to extract their scent. The book is gruesome but interesting and compelling.

16. 22 Talk SHIFTs: Tools to Transform Leadership in Business, in Partnership, and in Life, by Krister Ungerböck. This book is putatively about leadership in business but is really much broader than that — it’s about how to improve your relationships with others. Talkshifts are techniques for changing the words we use with each other to improve our relationships. I have been using some of the talkshifts in my daily life and have seen the benefits. Great book.

15. Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I had read a prior book by this author about 15 years ago — Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life — and loved it. Tragically, Rosenthal died a few years ago of cancer, and reading this book was moving. In it, she talks about her insecurities, hopes, and dreams. Knowing that she died shortly after its publication really brought home the ethereal nature of life. It’s a beautiful and interesting book that jumps around to all sorts of different topics.

14. Jurassic Park: A Novel, by Michael Crichton. I had read this book a few decades ago and of course, have seen the movie. It was great reading it again — fantastic book. The thing that stuck out to me most upon re-reading was the character Ian Malcolm’s views of chaos theory and the inherent unpredictability of complex systems — really insightful and applicable to many areas of life.

13. Klara and the Sun: A Novel, by Kazuo Ishiguro. This book is told from the perspective of an “artificial friend” named Klara. Artificial friends are A.I. robots that act as companions to children whose batteries are recharged via the sun. The story on its face is interesting: Klara tries to fit in with her human family and support her sickly child. However, the deeper message is the limitations of A.I. as Klara is amazingly smart but yet struggles to decipher the nuances of human interaction and also believes that the sun can heal her child’s illness. Great book.

12. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, by Robert Coram. John Boyd was a polymath autodidact. He was a fighter pilot who made major contributions to the art of air-to-air fighter combat and discovered a theory about the performance of planes which changed how planes are designed. He also was a war strategy theorist who had a major impact on US military strategy. This book was fantastic and thought-provoking. I learned a lot.

11. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books and this is the fourth time I’ve read it. The book is about Ender Wiggin, a young genius who is recruited to go to battle school to learn to be a fleet commander to lead humanity against an alien race of “buggers.” The book has amazing insight into leadership, strategy, and not thinking linearly. It’s required reading at various officer training schools in the military. Fantastic book!

10. Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. Foundation is the first book in the Foundation Trilogy. The trilogy is set far in the future and is about a band of scientists who settle a planet at the far end of the galaxy. They are disciples of Harry Seldon who has used math and psychology to predict the fall of the Galactic Empire and has set a path for his followers to save the human race from eons of barbarism in the wake of the collapse. This is one of the best (if not the best) sci-fi trilogies of all time. This is my second time reading this trilogy – the first time being when I was in high school. Great book/series – totally stands the test of time.

9. Transparent Investing, by Patrick Geddes. I was honored to be asked by Patrick to read his manuscript of this book that has yet to be published. Patrick is the co-founder of Aperio Group, an investment firm with over $40 billion of AUM which is now owned by Blackrock. Aperio is a pioneer in tax-managed indexing and socially responsible investing. Transparent Investing is about how to invest. It hits on investor behavior, and why we make bad decisions, why passive investments should be the core of your portfolio, and when to use an investment advisor.

8. The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones. This is a work of horror fiction with a unique premise: a group of four friends who are members of the Blackfeet tribe slaughter a bunch of elk on a hunting trip. Then, over the next ten years, one of the elk hunts down each of the four hunters. This was a pretty graphic but chilling read. Pretty good book, especially if you like horror fiction.

7. Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last, by Wright Thompson. This was a book club selection at work. It’s the story of Julien Van Winkle, the grandson of Pappy Van Winkle. The Van Winkle’s are bourbon royalty and bottles of Pappy usually sell for thousands of dollars. But things haven’t been easy for the Van Winkle family. They lost their distillery in the 1980s and Julien spent decades rebuilding their brand and trying to reproduce the taste of the family whiskey. Fantastic book.

6. The Almanack of Naval Ravikant, by Eric Jorgenson. Naval Ravikant is a venture capitalist who is a deep thinker about life and thus something of a philosopher. This book is a collection of Naval’s thoughts and philosophical teachings ranging from how to make a lot of money to the meaning of life. I loved this book and got a lot out of it. I will likely re-read it soon.

5. Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi. This was a super fun read. I love how John Scalzi writes. Agent to the Stars is about an alien race who looks like clear jello who want to connect with humanity. They realize that things won’t go well if they appear in their native form. So they hire an agent to figure out how to introduce them to the human race. This is such a fun read, both funny and poignant.

4. Travel Light, by  Naomi Mitchison. This is a fairy tale and a good one. It is about a princess who is discarded by her stepmother and then raised first by bears and then by dragons. This is a fun book and a great distraction from the pandemic and COVID.

3. This Is How You Lose The Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. This book was written in a unique style — almost poetry. It is the story of two special agents, one named Red and the other named Blue, who work for opposing factions. These agents move along time and across different versions of reality in order to shape the future. Red and Blue fall in love through a series of letters they write each other. Cool book.

2. Pretty Things: A Novel, by Janelle Brown. This book is told from two different viewpoints — from Nina and Vanessa. Nina grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and is a con artist in her late 20s. Vanessa is a member of an old-money family and a famous social media influencer. The book provides insight and perspective into each woman and the plot is centered on Nina’s efforts to steal from Vanessa. Fantastic book!

1. Anxious People: A Novel, by Frederik Backman. Another winner from the author of two of the books I previously really enjoyed: A Man Called Ove and Bear Town. This book is putatively about a bank robbery gone bad that turned into a hostage situation. But it’s really about how life can take us in directions we don’t expect and how we can make connections with other people in unusual situations. I found this book both entertaining and moving. I will remember this book for a long time. I highly recommend it.

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