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The 17 Books That Shaped Me in 2021

Here are the books that nourished my soul, satisfied my curiosity, and shaped my thinking in 2021.

Of the seventeen books in the stack,

  • Thirteen (76%) were non-fiction.
  • While I only read four fiction books this year, one of them — The Stand — was 1,300 pages! Seems like that should count as at least three books, no? 😁
  • All but three were on the Kindle. I also read one in paperback, one in hardcover, and one as an ePub that I was able to buy directly from the author. (It was a breeze to upload it into Apple Books on my iPad.)
  • As much as I would like to get away from Amazon’s hegemony, the ability to share my Kindle library with family members, as well as the occasional evening reading session on the eye-friendly Kindle Oasis, kept me hanging on to the Kindle format for the another year.

And now for the list, in order consumed:

1. Evil Geniuses: The Unmasking of America

by Kurt Anderson

Kurt Anderson’s work joins the pantheon of writers who are using their experience and their many talents to help us understand how America — and capitalism — got to where it is today.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

2. My Own Words: Ruth Bader Ginsberg

by Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams

RBG was a legend and a force of nature. This collection of writings and speech transcripts could be a bit of a slog some times given that her audience was people in the legal profession, but RBG’s impact on America and society made it worth the read. I read this as part of a book club.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

3. Leading hArtfully: The Art of Leading Through Your Heart to Discover the Best in Others

by Diane M. Rogers

This book was given to me by a friend of the author. The content is well-intended. Alas, the writing style could have used a few more rounds with an editor.

Rating: ⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Paperback

4. The Night Watchman: A Novel

by Louise Erdrich

This 2021 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was my first foray into the writings of Louise Erdrich. It won’t be the last. The characters are richly drawn and the story is compelling.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

5. Our House Is on Fire: Scenes From a Family and a Planet in Crisis

by Greta Thunberg, Svante Thunberg, Malena Ernman, Beata Ernman

This book is beautiful, profound, and moving on so many levels. The primary voice is Svante Thunberg, Greta’s mom. Svante is an artist through and through. Although her primary talents are as an opera singer, she is a wonderful writer. The is the story of a family filled with neurodivergent children who help us see the world the way it really is. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

6. The Sickness Is The System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself

by Richard D Wolff

This is the year that I learned about Richard Wolff and his efforts with Democracy at Work. Since graduating with my MBA in 2004, I have had the sense that our current incarnation of capitalism was unsustainable. Richard Wolff is helping me see what else is possible. Wolff is a teacher at heart. His weekly radio / TV show, Economic Update is worth a listen, as are his frequent Ask Prof Wolff shorts.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | ePUB

7. Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security

by Sarah Chayes

I first learned of Sarah Chayes from her appearance at The Commonwealth Club. I was instantly struck by the depth of her insight, the credibility of her experience, and the power of her voice. This is the first of two of her books that I read this year.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

8. Isadore’s Secret: Sin, Murder, and Confession in a Northern Michigan Town

by Mardi Link

This too, was a selection with my northern Michigan-based book club. It’s a true crime saga from the early twentieth century set in a local church not far from where I live. Unfortunately, I am not much for true crime.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

9. Killer Angel: Book One “Hard Player”

by Myles Stafford

For some reason I woke up one morning with the thought that I wanted to read a zombie novel. I had this vague sense that zombies might be a metaphor for some of the self-destructive craziness were are seeing play out in the Coronavirus pandemic. I went all-in, buying the Killer Angle trilogy. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. This book plays out like a first-person-shooter video game. Not my cup of tea.

Rating: ➖No stars | Fiction | Kindle

10. Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of the American Mind

by Charles H Ferguson

The financial crisis of 2008-2009 nearly collapsed the global economy. Yet, more than 10 years later, it seems to have faded into the rear-view mirror with no repercussions for those that caused it. In the opening pages, Fergusons explained that he wrote this book for two reasons: the bad guys got away with it, and there has been stunningly little public debate about this fact. This book is the perfect compliment to Sarah Chayes’ work on corruption.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

11. Hellhound on His Trail: The Electrifying Account of the Largest Manhunt in American History

by Hampton Sides

Another true crime story that was on the list for my local book club, this book exceeded all expectations. It is the story of James Earl Ray’s assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and his ultimate apprehension. Sides is a very good writer, creating a narrative that is as compelling as any novel.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

12. On Corruption in America: And What Is at Stake

by Sarah Chayes

If you measure a book by the amount that it shapes your thinking then On Corruption in America is my #1 book for the year. Chayes came to understand corruption while working at high levels in the Middle East for more than a decade (See Thieves of State). In this book she turns her lens towards America. The results are undeniable.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

13. The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements

by Sam Kean

Sam Kean is an excellent science writer who takes us through a fascinating romp of the scientific history by way of the periodic table. Best for people with at least a rudimentary interest in chemistry and/or physics.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

14. Co-Active Coaching: Fourth Edition

by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandhal, Laura Whitworth

Every year I try to study something to help me improve my skills as a coach. This year I went back to where it all began with the updated edition of the textbook from my original coach training. This book is highly recommended not just for coaches but for anyone in a position to lead other people.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Kindle

15. The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World

by Sandor Ellix Katz

I started with sourdough bread. The thought that I could bake such a delicious loaf of bread using only flour, water, salt, and a dollop of magical “starter” that I nursed out of seemingly thin air never ceases to amazes me. I moved on to making my own sauerkraut, which turns out to be much easier than sourdough bread but every bit as delicious. It was then that I realized I needed to know more about fermentation. Like a good ferment, I digested this book slowly throughout the year. It was worth every slow page turn.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Non-Fiction | Hardcover

16. The Stand

by Stephen King

I finished the year with a couple of novels that have been on my list to re-read for a long time. I picked up The Stand after the coronavirus had us all scrambling trying to figure out what to do. I was curious to check back in on how King thought that society might behave when normalcy breaks down. I would say that the gist of the novel is that, in the end, bad people eventually self-destruct. Unfortunately, they do a lot of collateral damage along the way.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Fiction | Kindle

17. The Great Santini

by Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy is one of my favorite writers, not just for his beautiful style of writing, but also for the way in which he conquered his demons with his writing. For him it was like therapy with a ball-point pen and a writing pad. (He wrote all of his books long-hand. His father wouldn’t let him learn to type.) The Great Santini is Conroy working out his issues with his father.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5) | Fiction | Kindle

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