Book recommendations – 2021

This year was a pretty good year for reading. One reason is the extra time at home due to COVID. I also started giving up on books I couldn’t get into more quickly . That kept me reading since finishing boring books results in procrastination as reading becomes a chore. Below are the best books I read 2021.


Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages started in the “dark ages” with the decline of the Roman Empire. It ended around 1000 years later with a Europe that greatly surpassed antiquity. The improvement was driven by new technologies such as the water mill and heavy plough. Many of the new technologies came from Asia. For instance blast furnaces existed in China around 1500 years before they came to Europe. Many of the technologies imported from Asia, such as paper and gunpowder, ended up transforming European society. Another good book on the same topic is “Medieval Technology and Social Change”.

Postwar: Europe after 1945

As someone born after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it’s easy to take a stable and industrialized Europe for granted. This book does a great job of showing the road to get there after 1945 and how it was by no means guaranteed. The knowledge of the author is impressive. I wrote more about it here.

Life in the Medieval Village

It can be difficult to understand the people of the Middle Ages. For instance when reading about customs like trial by ordeal or events like the People’s Crusade. This book does a great job of showing what it was like to live in a medieval village.

Other Non-Fiction

Status Anxiety

Many of us go through a lot of worry comparing ourselves to other people. But what our society considers prestigious (i.e. financial success) hasn’t always been the only measure. This book provides a great perspective on how chasing status is impacting us. It also gives strategies of using philosophy and art to counteract it. The author Alain de Botton is always entertaining and thought-provoking. I would highly recommend his Youtube channel The School of Life.

Almanack of Naval Ravikant

A lot of business books should have been blog posts. This book is the opposite where every page is interesting and thought-provoking. The book is available for free here.

Transforming NOKIA: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change

This Forbes cover from 2007 is one of my favorite pictures:

In 2008 Nokia and Apple had around the same market cap. In 2012 Apple’s market cap was 60 times greater. This book is written by a board member during those years and the transformation that followed. It’s a good case study of a culture that got too sure of its’ own success.

Practical Statistics for Data Scientists: 50+ Essential Concepts Using R and Python

This book does a great job of showing how statistics relate to data science in practice. A lot of technical books try to be exhaustive and become too long. This is an admirably concise book.


The Road

A father and his son walk alone towards the ocean in a post-apocalyptic America. Amazing writing. It’s hard to let go of this book after having finished it. Truly horrifying.

A Special Providence

Richard Yates is one of my favorite authors and this is a great book. The book follows a young man in the second world war and the relationship with his mother.

The Lost World

Great old time adventure story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about an expedition in South America. Easy to get hooked into the adventure and keep reading.

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