My 2021 Bibliography
Last year I decided to have a stab at writing short stories about the books that I read the preceding year. That was an enjoyable experience that got me thinking more in-depth about those books, so I’m continuing the reflection this year as well. If, by browsing the list, you find something worth picking up, I’d love to hear about it!
1. About Face, by Alan Cooper (1995)
The first time I picked this book up was back in 2017, but then I dropped it after making it 1/10th of the way through. At that time it seemed too complicated to bother — perhaps it was just too early for me.
Last year I decided to give it another go, and I am utterly happy that I did. It’s without a doubt a foundational work on user-centered digital design. My notebook was crammed with great ideas and insights, so much that I could practically find something amazing in every page. Finishing this book felt like I went through a university course on design. It was not easy, it’s a big, fat book, but it was rewarding beyond belief.
First book on 2021 list, but I already knew it was among the favorites.
2. Leadership Wisdom from the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, by Robin Sharma (1998)
There is a lot of great content in this book, although it is wrapped in an artificial scenario that is… unusual to say the least. There are great books where storytelling drives the point home, but in this one it seemed like storytelling gets in the way.
Nevertheless, the eight rituals of leadership are something worthwhile to practice. And I’m glad to see these principles becoming more and more commonplace as years go on!
3. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein (2019)
Being a generalist myself, I knew that reading this book would be just feeding my confirmation bias. Still, after doing all sorts of different things during adolescence and not settling into a specialized “bucket”, it was comforting to read that it’s a good approach to take. The whole book is a great compilation of stories about generalists and how they compare to people who are more specialized or started in a particular field from a very early age.
4. The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard (1957)
I got through the entire book, but frankly it was slow and difficult. Can’t say that I enjoyed it, although some sections seemed intriguing. Might be that there was a significant mismatch between my expectations and the content of the book. Or perhaps, as it was with About Face four years ago, it’s just too soon for me yet.
5. Fascism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright (2018)
Not being big on politics, I still decided to give this book a go, and it was a nice refresher on the content we were taught in school about the political landscape of 20th century. This book also ties it to the politics of these days and examines world leaders of today through the lens of fascism.
6. Toyota by Toyota: Reflections from the Inside Leaders on the Techniques That Revolutionized the Industry, by Darril Wilburn and Samuel Obara (2012)
Toyota production system is a well known phenomenon in the business world and what could be a better way to learn about it than from people who experienced it first-hand. Every aspect of Toyota philosophy is outlined in this book, from having the humility to assume a student’s role to hoshin kanri, which is a way to achieve strategic focus. One thing that stood out to me in this book that all principles mentioned in the book are promoting critical thinking and a habit of questioning the status quo. I am certain that these two habits alone propelled Toyota to be a successful company that it is to this day.
7. The Elements We Live By: How Iron Helps Us Breathe, Potassium Lets Us See, and Other Surprising Superpowers of the Periodic Table, by Anja Røyne (2020)
I have been always interested in the cycles of various materials — how they formed on earth, how are they used and recycled. This book was a perfect primer on that topic, explaining the nuances of various metals and minerals, the limits of Earth’s resources and it’s impact to economic growth.
According to the author, most materials are still cheaper to extract than recycle, but as we deplete our planet of natural deposits, the prices of extraction will overshoot those of recycling, no matter how difficult the process might be for some materials.
8. Envisioning Information, by Edward Tufte (1990)
Edward Tufte is one of the best-known names in the field of data visualization and I wanted to get my hands on his books for quite some time. Finally the opportunity came and Envisioning Information fully lived up to the expectations. The book is divided into six chapters, each chapter discussing one concept of data visualization, starting with “Escaping flatland”, that is managing to display many dimensions of data on our two-dimensional mediums such as paper and screens. Overall, the content of this book is fantastic and the visuals are on par.
9. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte (1983)
Going in a bit of a reverse order, the second Tufte book that I read was released earlier then the first one. Having read Envisioning Information, my expectations to this book were already high, but it managed to beat even that!
I found Visual Display of Quantitative Information even better. Although the topics discussed in these two books are highly similar, surprisingly, there was little to no repetition of material. This book expanded a bit more on how to effectively use every drop of ink in data visualization and how to spot lies in poorly or intentionally maliciously designed displays of data.
As with About Face, this was one of my favorite books of the year.
10. Lateral Thinking, by Edward de Bono (2014)
This book is a trove of concepts, ideas and methods that explain and foster creativity. Lateral thinking, opposite to vertical thinking, is a deliberate practice of disregarding everyday patterns, using mind exercises to explore and come up with new (sometimes unusual, but genius) ways of solving problems.
I found a lot of thoughts from this book extremely insightful, for example did you realize that a lot of the barriers for new ideas are self-imposed? Some patterns can be so deeply ingrained in our minds that we’re limiting our ability to solve problems just by being unnecessarily rigid. This is explained in the book with various visual examples that help understand such concepts as they can be difficult to fully explain in words.
Overall, I’ve learned a lot from this book and I’m putting it among my favorites.
11. Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction, by Susan Blackmore (2005)
For a long time I was puzzled by various questions about consciousness. Like… what makes me me, or how are we able to have inner thoughts. I was hoping to get some things answered by this tiny book, but it seems that no one has those answers yet.
Nevertheless, it was interesting to find out about some different schools of thought and research being done on consciousness and free will. I was amazed to find out about the experiment where participants were asked to press a button at any random time they came up with. And brain activity showed the intention of pressing the button just moments before the participants had the thought that they should press the button now.
Although I did not get my answers, I think it’s a good book that outlines the current state of our understanding about consciousness.
12. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (2011)
The whole book is based around the idea that all human thinking is carried out by two different systems. System one is fast, automatic, without any sense of voluntary control. System two is responsible for all cognitively demanding thinking and is associated with concentration and subjective experiences.
As Daniel explains it, the content of this book is intended to teach people about the nuances and flaws of everyone’s thinking, and indeed there is a lot to cover. This book describes a lot of cognitive biases and heuristics that help understand the ways of thinking and hopefully catch ourselves before we let our brains deceive us.
13. Continuous Discovery Habits: Discover Products that Create Customer Value and Business Value, by Teresa Torres (2021)
We were starting to adopt continuous discovery habits across our product teams at PVcase and reading this book helped me understand the CDH framework better. It helps product teams become more user-centric by promoting constant conversation with the people who should benefit from the products you create. On top of that, the book outlines some useful techniques on how to test ideas while they’re still in early stages and see if they are worth pursuing further.
14. The History of Science in Bite-sized Chunks, by Meredith MacArdle and Nicola Chalton (2019)
I had higher hopes for this book, but the content was a bit dry and lacking context. More often than not, emphasis was on what instead of why or how, which made the paragraphs quite forgetful. Nevertheless, it covered most relevant scientific developments and I guess it could be useful as an index to browse through significant milestones of science to choose what to look up in more depth somewhere else.