Thanks to the Kindle, one of the healthiest habits I started in 2021 was reading more books. Over the course of the year, I read around 50 books. Now that 2021 is over and I have the chance to reflect on everything I read, I decided to make a list of my favorite books of the year. You’ll notice that most of the books in this article have been mentioned before, especially in the “10 Lessons I Learned from Reading Over 50 Books” article. Of course, that is no coincidence. One of the benefits of reading is being exposed to the lessons it took authors decades to develop. Without further ado, here’s the list of the best books I read in 2021 in no particular order.
The Steal Like an Artist Trilogy by Austin Kleon
Including three different books as one entry might sound like I’m cheating. But whenever I think about Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work, and Keep Going those three books seem like a single body of work. Also, the three books have been compiled in an audiobook called The Steal Like an Artist Trilogy: How to Be Creative, Show Your Work and Keep Going. The books offer great value in the form of inspirational passages, collages, and images. The conversational tone makes the book feel like something the author wrote to himself. I can’t wait to start forgetting parts of the trilogy so that I can read everything all over again.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I felt like I knew some details about Steve Jobs’ life before going into this book. I knew about his mercurial personality, his tumultuous personal life, and his brilliant approach to technology. The best part about the book is that it eloquently articulates how brilliant and complex Steve Jobs was.
There’s a balance to this book: on the one hand, it shows Jobs as a visionary, and on the other hand, it exposed how he manipulated people emotionally to get what he wanted. Ultimately, Jobs’ influence in the world is ubiquitous, since you can find Apple products everywhere. If you ever asked yourself how those products came to be, this book gives you an answer. Also, while I read several books about minimalism, this biography shows how Jobs applied those principles to designing technological devices. The result is something that even people who don’t like Apple products can appreciate.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
There’s one idea behind Essentialism: instead of trying to say yes to everything, we should focus on what’s absolutely essential. According to McKeown having more options distracts us from what’s truly important. So by limiting those options, we focus on the “less but better”. You can apply the principles of Essentialism to every aspect of your life. From choosing a film to selecting a work-related project.
The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl
I really wanted to like Dave Grohl’s The Storyteller, but I didn’t know what to expect from it. What I found was a well-written memoir with unforgettable stories about music, but also life lessons that teach you the value of hard work and perseverance. That makes The Storyteller easy to recommend not only to fans of Dave Grohl, Nirvana, or the Foo Fighters, but also to anyone who’s remotely interested in the life of a musician.
This is one of those rare books I couldn’t put down. I heard Grohl talk before, but his written prose is evocative and shows the author as down-to-earth and genuine. Two qualities I can’t say I associate with most rockstars. As the book’s title suggests, Grohl knows how to tell a story and I found his tales relatable and warm. There was always energy and passion in Grohl’s music. It’s great to see that those qualities are also part of his book.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
I read numerous books about organization and minimalism last year. One that stood out was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Not only because it gives you practical advice, but also because it explains the philosophy behind the “KonMari method”. There are some great reviews about this book and some of them include pictures or videos showing people’s houses and rooms transformed.
That said, this book isn’t for everyone and I certainly read reviews from people who found it useless. I don’t agree with everything The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up suggests, but it helped me declutter. This book (along with the Steve Jobs biography I mentioned earlier) opened the doors to minimalism for me. In the end, if you take anything away from this book, it should be that less is more and that we don’t need much to be happy.
Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
On the surface, Anything You Want is a series of lessons for entrepreneurs and people who own businesses. The more you read though, the more principles you can apply to your everyday life. One of the best principles explained in the book is the “Hell Yeah or No” principle. According to it, if it’s not a “hell yeah”, then your answer should be a resounding “no”. This is in one word, brilliant and I’ve been applying the “Hell Yeah or No” principle to pretty much every aspect of my life for a while now. I can’t recommend this book enough and the best part is that it’s so short that you can read it in one sitting.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear wants to teach you to build a system so that you can be 1% better every day. The process is simple, you stick to the good habits and get rid of the bad ones and it’ll only be a matter of time before you achieve your full potential. Unlike most productivity books, Atomic Habits doesn’t encourage you to make big changes to expect big results. Quite the contrary actually, as the title of the book suggests, you make easy, tiny changes that have big results. Atomic Habits is a great read that I highly recommend if only to try the system suggested by the author and see how the titular, atomic habits work for you over the course of 100 days.
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life In a Noisy World by Cal Newport
As I said before in this article, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up taught me the basics of minimalism. Before I knew it though, some of the principles of minimalism started showing up in unexpected places, such as technology. I didn’t think you could like technology and be a minimalist, but I was wrong. Digital Minimalism is a practical guide that teaches you how to use technology more responsibly and with fewer distractions. This is one of those books that will change your relationship with technology and for that alone, I can’t recommend it enough.
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zaretsky
Here’s something most of us can relate with: you want to do an activity, but we never find the time to do it. Unlike most productivity books, Make Time doesn’t really suggest a series of “hacks” do what you want. Instead, the book gives you a list of tools that might work for you and you choose the ones you prefer in order to achieve what you want. If anything, Make Time is worth reading just to think about the activities that truly matter to you and how you can achieve laser focus to actually achieve them. Being more intentional with our time and ignoring distractions is something that most of us should focus on nowadays and this book can be the first step towards it.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier
I’ve always been fascinated with video games. But when I was young, not only did I take them for granted, I never thought about how they were made. Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is a book about video game development. It involves both the creative side, as well as the technical wizardry necessary to develop a game. Written by Jason Schreier, the book has 10 chapters that focus on 10 different games. Some of those chapters end on a triumphant note and others are heartbreaking. Some of those chapters focus on “AAA” titles and others follow indie darlings. All of those chapters though are worth reading thanks to in-depth conversations with the people behind those games. Jason Schreier also wrote Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry which I can’t wait to read.
The end of a year is always great to reflect on the experiences you had. Just by taking a look at the list above, I see the lessons I’ve learned and that gives me hope. I honestly can’t wait to see which lessons I’ll learn from books in 2022.