The Books I Read This Year (2021)

January 01, 2022

Every year I try to take a short inventory of the books I read through that year. I find that doing so helps me solidify the concrete things I learned from each. You can see last year’s list too if you would like.

Let’s jump right in.

Dune by Frank Herbert

After hearing the hype about the upcoming movie and some positive reviews from friends, I decided to pick up this (almost) classic. I was surprisingly disappointed. While I really like the book’s premise and the environmental angle it took, I felt like the main character continues to be seemingly more powerful every second. It seems that nothing can stop him, and he doesn’t need help from others. New pieces of lore are invented on every page to explain how our hero continues to evade failure. To me, a great story requires some loss from our hero. I wouldn’t recommend the book personally.

Write Useful Books by Rob Fitzpatrick

I haven’t technically finished this book yet. The reason is that Write Useful Books is written much more like a guide through a process rather than something you read, think about, and apply. In particular, I like Rob’s push to involve potential readers as early as possible in the writing process - something the Agile-ists would appreciate. So far, I’ve found it really helpful on the book I’m working on :)

p.s. - Speaking of which, if you want to learn more about the book I’m working on - Follow Me on Gumroad and you’ll be the first to know about updates as they come!

The Book on Rental Property Investing by Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner has become the modern real estate investing guru. Being a part of BiggerPockets, he has built a fantastic platform for himself. The book itself is straightforward and extremely helpful. I’d eventually like to get into the real estate game (besides my own home), to which this book was a great primer. The top takeaways from Brandon to me were these: 1) you will run into issues to fix 2) you need to take action; it can be too easy to endlessly read and research. I also really appreciate Brandon’s take that not every investor has to do the same thing or follow the same plan. This is helpful to someone like me who takes a more cautious investment approach. I.e., I want to avoid the advice from some to fully leverage all of my cash to buy properties and have a mountain of debt. Altogether, I’d recommend this to anyone interested in real estate investing.

Building Wealth One House at a Time by Joshua Schaub

Another book on real estate investing, Joshua’s book focuses much more on the nitty-gritty of running a real estate investment portfolio. Instead of focusing on a high-level overview, Joshua quickly gets into the weeds on specific strategies you can take to find deals and turn them into cash flow. While he focuses on investing in single-family properties, he discusses the many different avenues that can produce cash from that property: renting, partnerships, flipping, etc. While much more “dry” than Brandon’s book above, I found this book to be a helpful guide on using a particular property to help build wealth.

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Over the past year or so, I’ve really started to grow in my leadership responsibilities in my career. Simon Sinek has worked with some of the top businesses in the world, so I was eager to dive into a book of his. In Leaders Eat Last, Sinek claims that good leaders need to think about their teams more as a family than as expendable resources. While I believe that corporate America has a problem in treating people as resources, I do not think we should view our teams as a family. The reason why is complicated and nuanced, but the core is that my co-workers are not my family; my family is my family. It’s ok for me to have a purely working relationship with co-workers built on respect and trust. I also found this book a little reductionistic. Simon distills all human behavior to four different brain chemicals firing in different situations, which might be true from neurochemistry. Still, I also find this to be the opposite of his call to action: see people as people and not as cogs and machines. I honestly didn’t find much practical wisdom here; just a lofty ideal that has some merits but falls short of helping leaders grow and lead confidently.

Team Topologies by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais

Team Topologies is a stand-out book for me this year. I enjoyed a book that focused on organizational problems around software engineering rather than technical problems. The authors focus on helping readers take practical steps towards creating solutions rather than creating an ideal without many steps to get there. They also provide several “guides” at the beginning of the book to help you know what parts of the book might address your particular problem(s). I hope to take some of the thoughts and tools from this book to every team/organization I join. If you want to read more of my thoughts, check out my top takeaways article.

Designing Data-Intensive Applications by Martin Klepman

If there ever was a single volume for how to write scalable applications, this would be that book. Methodical and extensive in his approach, Marty walks you through all the problems that arise once we start designing massively distributed systems built to handle extreme loads of data. He starts at files and eventually discusses the CAP theorem, linearizability, and patterns to help teams build data-intensive software. I also appreciate how Marty refrains from judging any database or technology as bad - he simply points out when those technologies are best suited for the case at hand. I’m planning on re-reading this book again in the future.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I’m a sucker for a good Steinbeck novel. There is something incredible to me in how he creates characters that are foolish, wise, heroic, and cowardly all at the same time. East of Eden is no different. We follow three generations of farmers who cross paths in California, all simply trying to make their way in life. Through twists and turns, tragedy and triumph, we see how life can truly break people and how odd it all turns out to be. I always learn nuggets of wisdom about how to live and die while reading Steinbeck. I enjoy how he shares that wisdom in one short sentence after chapters of preparing and guiding the reader to see a certain character in a certain way - and to question how we have been judging them that whole time. I hope to re-read this book again in the future.

The Innovation Biome by Kumar Mehta

This short book by Dr. Mehta is a good primer for leaders or managers looking to inspire their team to think innovatively. The Innovation Biome walks through the necessary elements needed for innovation to happen and how, like an ecological biome, an innovation biome is one in which innovation occurs naturally. Everyone within the organization asks questions, and everyone can offer ideas that will be considered. And the process for how ideas grow is structured enough so that ideas don’t get forgotten (which I find to be the hardest part). This book might also be a helpful tool for teams considering creating a hackathon, 20%-time, or other structures designed to generate ideas to help them fully capitalize on the output of those events.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I loved The Martian when I read it several years ago; Project Hail Mary is even better. Andy is just good at digging into the mind of a deeply intelligent but lonely problem-solver. We follow Dr. Ryland Grace aboard the spaceship Hail Mary as he races to save humanity. Like any problem solver, he makes mistakes along the way. Still, we also see the power of science to overcome obstacle after obstacle. The question is if he can solve all of them to save humankind…

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Dan Goslen is a software engineer, climber, and coffee drinker. He has spent 10 years writing software systems that range from monoliths to micro-services and everywhere in between. He's passionate about building great software teams that build great software. He currently works as a software engineer in Raleigh, NC where he lives with his wife and son.