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Sandor Dargo
Sandor Dargo

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The best 8 books I read in 2021

Like each December, I share with you the best books I read this year. They represent a considerable chunk of my book reviews, but I don't post reviews in all the books I read. And in any case, it's nice to remind me and probably you as well on good books.

They are in the order I read them, not in any other order.

The links lead to the original full length reviews.

Awaken the giant within by Tony Robbins

If you are interested in similar books and you read motivational writers, bloggers, etc, you’ll realize that so many of their ideas are coming from this book. Reading Awaken the Giant Within helps to understand the work of many of the later authors.

What makes this book particularly powerful is that it gives exercises broken down into small steps. as such they are easy to answer, easy to implement, but they are still relevant. they also help to discover your values, your rules.

As such this book can be easily life-changing, it depends on you!

What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography by Bruce Dickinson

What a great title, what a good way to live a meaningful life! Ask questions and be curious all the time!

I took this book into my hands as Ryan Holiday recommended it and I like heavy metal, in particular Iron Maiden. I cannot find anymore why he recommended the lead singer’s, Bruce Dickinson’s autobiography and to be honest at a certain point I questioned why I’m reading it.

I know that many books of “celebrities” are shadow written. By the end, I became pretty sure that this one was not. I’m convinced that someone who wrote so much music, who has that kind of education, someone with such a prolific life didn’t need anyone to write his own story.

If you like metal, if you like Maiden, read it, you’ll like it. Or if you like flying. Or just to read a good one. The moving stories, the inspiration you can take from his versatile life are worth those hours of reading.

Up The Irons!

Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Taleb

This was once again a very interesting book by Nassim Taleb. I realized that I don’t just like his books, but I sympathize with the author, with his style, with his sarcasm.

More than that, I like that someone without social sciences background writes about philosophy, about life. He is a former options trader and risk analyst, a statistician with quite some experience in real life.

I think about him as I think about stoics, about Ryan Holiday. For these people, philosophy is not something they think about in their ivory towers far away from people. No, for them, philosophy is a way to conduct their lives. To me, they are more credible.

In this book, Taleb explained what it means to have skin in the game. If you have something serious - even imaginary - to lose by making the wrong calls, my not working hard, by not following your mission, then you have.

He takes a long time in the book to speak about social groups who in general have no skin in the game. Like the IYIs, western politicians, CEOs, football coaches, etc.

There is a very important message. The risks we take in our life, they compound. The more risky habits we have, the higher the risk that we won’t have a long life. We have to limit those risks. At the same time, we have to realize that some risks are worth taking and history is written by risk-takers.

By people with skin in the game.

The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks

Although The Big Leap is not a long book it touches many interesting ideas, the most interesting one is probably the idea of the upper limit problem.

It says that because of different limiting stories you have in your life, whenever you are in a positive flow for a longer time or you’re winning big, you’ll find ways to mess things up instead of living a happy and successful life.

In the book, he doesn’t only speak about these problems but also suggests solutions. Both to remove the limiting stories and to find your unique ability that will help you to constantly live in your Zone of Genius.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland

Who would be more capable of writing a book on Scrum if not one of the most important person among the 17 founders of the Agile Manifesto?

Jeff Sutherland just did that, he wrote Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time and he clearly considers it the best way of doing things - if Scrum is done right.

It's an inspiring book with many real-life examples and pieces of advice. Some I followed up, like the OODA principle and some I'd be happy if managers would follow such as the number of people on a team.

And if you've never seen a successful agile project (like many of us), then at least you'll have a few references.

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

I found this book - like several others - in the monthly reading list, I receive from Ryan Holiday. I was not sure what the biography of a fighter pilot would offer to me, but the subtitle of the book is The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. A fighter pilot, who made a difference way beyond his field. That must be interesting. I cannot express with words how fascinating his story is. If I just think about this book, I feel thrilled deep in my bones.

Boyd kept telling his associates that one has to choose between being someone and doing something. It was his famous "to be or to do" speech. He never became a general, but his results, his legacy are still with us. Not only in the military but in the business world too. Even in software development with Scrum and the famous OODA loop.

He clearly decided to do.

He could have been court-martialed at least a dozen times, he was threatened to be fired, to be relocated, yet he had ever-lasting effects fighter tactics, aeroplane design, military and even business strategy.

A highly recommended read!

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim

The Phoenix Project is a fantastic book that is both a professional book aiming to guide teams and "a **novel* about IT, DevOps, and how to help your business win"*.

It's written in a style I love the most and I think we have a clear lack of this type of book. It offers both what I'd look for in fiction and in non-fiction books. The author is a great storyteller, he makes you not want to put the book down, not only because you want to learn about DevOps and how to organize properly a modern organization, but also because you are interested in how the story unfolds. Whether the CISO commits suicide or just leaves the city without notifying anyone from the organization or if the main character actually finds another job instead.

The Phoenix Project is a mix of a novel and a cookbook for implanting a successful DevOps mindset. More than that a mindset that will help you turn a dysfunctional IT - business relationship into prospering collaboration.

The Ape That Understood The Universe by Steve Stewart-Williams

You'll love this book if you like books where the author first shares his concepts, then he goes into detail trying to prove why his views are right and then he also examines how his hypotheses could be attacked and why the critics would fail.

If you don't like people who can only see black or white, but you'd rather prefer people who think in a more balanced way, you'll love this book.

Therefore while some might think that evolutionary psychology claims that there is only nature and no nurture, it's wrong. That's what Steve Steward-Williams also says.

Nurture is important, it's part of the game. Yet, in many cases, nature is more important and we cannot simply ignore it.

I strongly believe that if you want to have a better understanding of the world, you should delve into the science of evolutionary psychology and this book.

Conclusion

There are the 8 books I liked the most this year. You might be surprised that there is no clear programming book among them. It doesn't mean that I haven't read any. I did, and they were really valuable, if I'd recommend one it would be C++ 20: Get the details by Rainer Grimm.

But these books probably give more to your life. And after all, The Phoenix Project is clearly about software engineering.

Please, do share in the comments section your favourite books.

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