Last year was an excellent year for reading. I’ve read 31 books, totaling almost 10,000 pages: 17 fiction books (way more than last year), 13 non-fiction (as a surprise, because I usually read non-fiction faster), and one graphic novel. Some books were unbelievable literary mistakes. Others were absolute gems that I’ll keep in my mind and heart (it is wise for the Chinese to have a single word for both: 心).
What can I say: I love reading. Maybe even too much (because I should write more).
To celebrate and share this achievement (and the joy of deep reading), I decided to share the list of books I read in 2021 with a series of super-quick reviews for all of them. 💪 😃
The Books I Read
The Institute – Stephen King
I find Stephen King to be pretty hit-or-miss. The Institute is a rare in-between. It goes very well for 90% of the books, only to completely derail in the end. 🤷♂️
L’Ultimo Orizzonte – Amedeo Balbi
(“The Last Horizon”, not available in English as far I know)
This was a pretty standard divulgation book on astrophysics. It goes over the latest discoveries and challenges of the field. It is good if you are new to the topic. Unfortunately, I know a good amount of facts in astrophysics, so this book didn’t add a lot.
The Man in the Black Suite – Stephen King
Another King book. This is an illustrated short story and, as such, it was really enjoyable.
The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
As I wrote on Goodreads, this was a complete waste of time. It is technically a horror, but the only scary thing is the amount of nonsense. On the other hand, if you like books without explanations, motivations, ending, explanations, and any sort of closure, maybe you can try it.
The Power of Rituals – Casper ter Kuile
This was a lovely book that explains how to recover the good parts of religion (the rituals) in a secular world. Unfortunately, like many similar books, it suffers from the “this could have been a couple of blog posts” problem. Nevertheless, it is a good read if you skip over some repeated examples.
Una Storia Americana – Francesco Costa
(“An American Story”, not available in English as far I know)
Costa is an Italian journalist with good expertise in American politics (I think it may be considered a weird fetish). In this book, Costa draws a portrait of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. As a non-American, it was really informative.
A World Without Email – Cal Newport
I stumbled into this book as a sporadic follower of Newport work. I think it wasn’t for me because I do not have communications difficulties. But if you do, Newport usually can string together valuable pieces of advice.
Think Again – Adam Grant
Think Again is a solid book on the benefits of always being ready to admit that we are wrong and, as the title says, to think again.
The topic is increasingly important, and I agree with the author’s claim that it is important to not identify ourselves with our opinion. We must always be ready to change views if they are proved wrong. Nevertheless, I think that there are some pretty weird bold examples. I have the feeling that the author cherry-picked some stories to highlight the validity of his arguments. Not the best thing to do for a book on the benefits of being wrong. Oh, well.
Io, Leonardo da Vinci – Massimo Polidoro
It is a short biography of Leonardo da Vinci. Nothing more to say.
The Queen’s Gambit – Walter Tevis
After watching the TV show, I read this, and I admit that I could have avoided that. It adds nothing to the TV show. Moreover, it has the same problem (I find it impossible to empathize with the main character). (Moreover, there is that underage sexual assault scene that makes no f*kin sense).
Roma Sub Rosa Serie – Steven Saylor (Books 1 to 10)
I read 10 books of this series, so I will condense all of them in a single “review”. Just to not annoy you with my guilty-pleasure series. If you don’t know Steven Saylor, he writes books set in Ancient Rome. As someone fascinated with antiquity, these books are a charming time killer. They are also pretty well documented, so it is not rare that I learn something in the process.
Some books of the series are excellent, some of them are much weaker. My favorite, so far, is Catilina’s Riddle.
I say “so far” because there are still books in the series that I need to read. Probably they’ll be on the 2022 list.
Stephen King – Later
Another King’s book. This one is much weaker. The only emotion I had reading it was: what’s the purpose of everything’s happening?. Unfortunately, the book ends before I had an answer.
The Drunkard’s Walk – Leonard Mlodinow
This is a good introductory book on the importance of randomness in everyday life. The main message is that we greatly undervalue the role of randomness.
Tempo: Il sogno di uccidere Chrónos – Guido Tonelli
(“Time: The Dream of Killing Kronos”, not available in English as far I know)
A book on time. The physical time. It is a fascinating read on the history of human relations with time (also because I find Tonelli’s prose quite enjoyable). But, unfortunately, I don’t know if it was translated into English.
The Dream Universe: How Fundamental Physics Lost Its Way – David Lindley
Lindley’s “The End of Physics” wasn’t really great. I’ve found that book too bold in its claims (and it went a bit disproved by the events). This one, though, is a good book on the problems of the recent trends of modern physics. I will not go into a lot of details because there is a comment by Sabine Hossenfelder that explains my opinion perfectly.
The Last Best Hope – Una McCormack
I’m not usually into fandom books. However, this was a delightful one. It works as a prequel for Star Trek: Picard by going over the last mission of Picard, explaining the events leading to his abandonment of Star Fleet.
(Okay. Let’s talk this out: I know the modern Star Trek is unbelievably opinionated. I like them. I like Discovery, and I like Picard. Are they perfect? No. Are they flawed? Yes. There are things I don’t like. But I like that they are trying something new. It may not work, but it is worth exploring.)
I may continue reading this series this year. Who knows. There are already SO MANY THINGS on my reading list…
A Thousand Brain – Jeff Hawkins
If you can read only one book this year… read Project Hail Mary (more on this, next). But if you can read two books, this is the next you should read.
It is an exciting description of the new discoveries for a human brain’s neocortex model. There are also fascinating discussions on Artificial Intelligence and the existential threats for the human race.
I have a review on Goodreads for this. But I will copy it here:
The book is divided into three parts. The first is about the Brain, the second is about Machine Intelligence, and the third about the future existential threats that humanity will face.
The first part is illuminating. The second one is very interesting: I don’t agree with everything, but it is a must-read for the future of Artificial Intelligence.
The third part is a bit at odd with the rest of the bot. It is an captivating collection of discussion point. It is definitely worth reading, but there is no real insight. There are a lot of speculations on the far future that should be taken with abundant grains of salt. They are not farfetched, let’s be clear, but every time we try to talk about more than 100 years in the future we are very likely to go in “total speculation mode”. Moreover, I can see that the first two parts came from the expertise of the author, while the third not.
Anyway, it is a book I really recommend.
Four Thousand Weeks – Oliver Burkeman
I still have not metabolized this book. It is an anti-productivity book. Or better: it reflects on the intrinsic limits of our lives and the importance of accepting that we cannot do everything.
I think I liked it. I keep coming back with my mind to it. This is the sign of a valuable book.
Lost in Math – Sabine Hossenfelder
This book looks apparently similar to Lindley’s The Dream Universe. But it is better. They tackle a similar problem: why contemporary physics is losing their way? But Hossenfelder’s book is more on point, and it draws a cleaner answer: because contemporary physics keeps forgetting that theory must be empirically observable and verified.
This book also made me know the fantastic Hossenfelder’s Youtube channel. That’s a must-subscribe Youtube channel.
Classical Philosophy – Peter S. Adamson
Peter Adamson has a super-interesting podcast on philosophy called “History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps”. This book is the revised transcription of such a podcast (covering the Classical western philosophy period).
If you are a Philosophy expert, you may find nothing new in it. Still, if you are an amateur philosophy scholar like me, you will find this book dense with interesting information. All that while being light and fun to read.
Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir
I have not read Weir’s The Martian. This was my first Weir book, and it is the best hard sci-fi book I read since… a decade? It reminds me of Arthur Clarke’s books. But more modern and dynamic.
In my rating system, I think I gave it 9.5? I’ve never given more than 8.5. It is an absolute must-read.
I hope you enjoyed this quick list. What are your favorite books of last year? Let me know.
Have a bookwormy 2022!