Books I Read in 2021
I hope to make this type of article a yearly feature. This lists most of the books that I read in the past year. I left out highly technical books and books that I started but abandoned. I've added brief comments after some books. Favorites are bolded. Books are grouped into broad categories. Some could fit in multiple categories, in which case I put them wherever I thought they fit best.
- Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life by Oswald Spengler.
- In the Presence of Schopenhauer by Michel Houellebecq. Though it's best to read great thinkers themselves (and they are usually more accessible than you've been led to believe) sometimes you need a push from someone who admires them to spark your interest. Houellebecq is one of the few interesting non-genre novelists writing today and his appreciation of Schopenhauer led me to explore his work.
- H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq. Unlike Houellebecq's Schopenhaur book, this book did not make me want to read the works of its subject, but as a fan of Houellebecq it did provide an interesting glimpse into Houellebecq's development both as a person and as a writer.
- Meditations on Hunting by José Ortega y Gasset.
- Sexual Utopia in Power: The Feminist Revolt Against Civilization by F. Roger Devlin.
- Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche.
- Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern by John Gray.
- The Soul of the Marionette by John Gray.
- The Forest Passage by Ernst Jünger.
Literature and Fiction
- Hadji Murat by Leo Tolstoy. This was the best piece by Tolstoy I've read, but I still do not get much out of the Russian writers.
- Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
- Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Better than the Martian (which I also enjoyed).
- The Lusiads by Luís de Camões. This is the best epic poem I have read.
- Mr. Either/Or by Aaron Poochigian. Very fun. A long, rhyming poem. The story is a thriller set in contemporary NYC. More writers/poets should explore this format.
- Dune by Frank Herbert. My girlfriend and I listened to the audiobook of this and loved it.
- Heraclitus: The Complete Fragments.
- Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq.
- The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq.
- The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver.
- A Sailor of Austria by John Biggins. A review I read described this book as “a techno-thriller about the crew of an Austrian submarine in WWI”, or something to that effect. If that at all intrigues you, you will love this book.
- The Quantum Supremacy by David Goldman. An entertaining thriller. Wildly overoptimistic assessment of quantum computing.
- The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker.
- War Music: An Account of Homer's Illiad by Christopher Logue.
- Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger. The author of this book loved fighting in World War I. If your education led you to believe war is hell and a relic of the past, this book is worth grappling with.
- The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949 by Sarah C. Paine.
- The Centurions by Jean Lartéguy.
- The Freedom Fighter: A memoir of a member of the Donbass Militia in the War in Ukraine by Vitaly Fedorov. Like Storm of Steel, this is a good book for gaining an underrepresented perspective on war. In this case, that of a Russian nationalist who volunteered to fight in Ukraine.
- What To Do When The Russians Come: A Survivor's Guide by Robert Conquest and John White.
Biography and Memoir
- Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. Probably the only biography of Steve Jobs I'll ever read and one of the best modern business biographies.
- The Man Who Solved the Market by Gregory Zuckerman. RenTech is arguably the best hedge fund of all time and this book is the best public attempt at explaining how it became that way.
- The Republic of Tea: The Story of the Creation of a Business, as Told Through the Personal Letters of Its Founders by Mel Ziegler, Patricia Ziegler, and Bill Rosenzweig.
- Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic by Mel Ziegler and Patricia Ziegler.
- Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties by Robert Irwin.
- Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder by Samuel Wilson Fussell.
- Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons by John Carter.
- The Seychelles Affair by Mike Hoare.
- The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard by James Burton.
- Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert by William Langewiesche.
- Deferred Admission: Stories from a Kid Who Skipped College to Move to China and Work for a Bitcoin Billionaire by Bill Byrne.
- Freedom by Sebastian Junger.
- The Illustrated Christmas Cracker by John Julius Norwich.
- The Eudamonic Pie by Thomas Bass. You've probably heard about the MIT Blackjack Team. This is about a group of physicists and other odd characters on the West Coast who attempted to beat the casinos at roulette by developing a computer that would predict where the ball would land.
- Trespassers on the Roof of the World by Peter Hopkirk. Tells the stories of the earliest Europeans to visit Tibet.
- Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk. Everything Hopkirk writes is fun and interesting. It's unfortunate that there is no room in the modern world for the men (and occasionally women) he writes about.
Popular Science and Similar Type Books
I generally avoid books of this sort since the signal to noise ratio is terrible and most of these books have enough content for a long magazine article at best, but sometimes they are the most convenient source of information.
- Lying for Money: How Legendary Frauds Reveal the Workings of Our World by Dan Davies.
- Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by McKenzie Funk.
- Hard Green: Saving the Environment From the Environmentalists by Peter W. Huber.
- Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat by Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf.
- Estrogeneration: How Estrogenics are Making You Fat, Sick, and Infertile by Anthony G. Jay.
- The Death of the Artist by William Deresiewicz.
- Medieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn Townsend White Jr. Paul Graham recommended this book. It is interesting.
- The Lessons of History by Ariel Durant and Will Durant.
- The Death of the Banker by Ron Chernow. Finance is more important than ever before with venture capital, private equity, and enormous corporations affecting the lives of basically everyone, but the banker as an individual has never been less important. This book explains why.
- The Economic Laws of Scientific Research by Terence Kealey.
- Absentee Ownership by Thorstein Veblen. If you've heard of Veblen it's probably because of the phrase “conspicuous consumption”. But he wrote several other books besides the one that coined that phrase. This one describes the transformation of the American economy from one in which business owners worked in their businesses to modern financial capitalism in which owners are largely absentee owners. It also has an interesting aside on why a “deep state” (though he doesn't call it that) will always arise as a country develops.
- The Shape Of European History by William H. McNeill. Good overview of European history. Probably a good first book to orient you to some broader themes before diving more deeply into specific time periods, events, and countries.
- Rifle Accuracy Facts by Harold R. Vaughn. I'm interested in precision machining, so I found this book on what is required to make an extremely accurate rifle fascinating. Shows that there is a lot of myth and false information surrounding what matters for accuracy.
- Ammunition Making: An Insider's Story by George E. Frost.
- Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents by Robert Irwin.
- Science and Civilisation in China: General Conclusions and Reflections by Joseph Needham. I skimmed some other parts of this series (I think it is possible that no one has read it in its entirety). The conclusion is as good a place to start as any and may help you decide if you're interested in reading other parts of it.
- Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography by Robert Irwin.
- The Secret Horsepower Race by Calum E. Douglas. Skimmed this one and only read the parts that interested me. Has a lot of detail about the development of piston aircraft engines.
- Dying of Money: Lessons of the Great German and American Inflations by Jens O. Parsson. Michael Burry recommended this book. I read this early in the year when I began to expect high inflation was imminent.
- Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000 by Stephen Kotkin.
- Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present by Christopher I. Beckwith.
- War in European History by Michael Howard.