My Best Reads of 2021

Now that 2022 has arrived, I can safely post my Best Reads of 2021. I get annoyed by the early birds who post their “best reads” list beginning in November. They may be trying to drum up sales for the holiday season, but they leave out potentially great books that come out in December. For instance, #6 in my list below, All About Me by Mel Brooks didn’t debut until the very last day of November 2021. I didn’t read it until the second half of December, and yet it made #6 on my list.

My reading was down from last year. It seems to have dropped every year, from its peak of 130 books back in 2018. 2021 saw me barely break 80 books. Some of these books were long books, but there were two things keeping my from my goal of 100 books this year:

  1. In the late spring/early summer, I got sucked into listening to dozens of episodes of the Tim Ferris Show Podcast. On average, those episodes are something like 2 hours long. They seriously ate into my reading time, although I got quite a few good book recommendations out of them.
  2. In the fall, after finishing Rhythm of War, I couldn’t figure out what to read next. Nothing seemed appealing. I started and stopped countless books and for nearly a month, completed almost nothing.

I think if it weren’t for these two interludes, I would have made my goal of reading 100 books in 2021.

Here, then, are my 10 top reads of 2021. Note that an asterisk (*) after the title denotes a book that came out in 2021. All other books came out prior to 2021.

10. Life Itself by Roger Ebert

cover for life itself by roger ebert

Life Itself was one of the very first audio books I bought back in 2013 when I started using Audible, but incredibly, I didn’t read the book until December 2021 while I was driving down to Florida for our annual holiday vacation. I’m sorry that I didn’t read it sooner. It was a great read, a terrific memoir of a newspaper man who happened to become a movie critic. I especially liked Ebert’s descriptions of his travels.

I wrote about this book in my post “On the Road with Stoker and Ebert.”

9. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life by Robert Dallek

cover for franklin d. roosevelt: a political life by robert dallek

I always enjoy a good Presidential biography and Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life was a good Presidential biography. I’ve read several biographies of FDR over the years. I am fascinated by his life and the times that he lived in. Having also read William Manchester’s 3-volume biography of Sir Winston Churchill, I especially enjoy seeing how these two extraordinary men worked together to help win the Second World War.

I wrote about this book in my post “Thoughts on Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life.”

8. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick

During the spring, I began reading books on information theory and the history of computing. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood was the first of these. After this book, I couldn’t stop myself and I ended up reading a total of 12 books on the subject. Remarkably, three of those 12 books ended up in the top 10 of my best reads of 2021.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Vacation Reading: The History of Computing.”

7. Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson

This is the second of the 3 information theory/history of computing books to appear this best-of list. Turing’s Cathedral was a fascinating look at the development of information theory. One of the people who provided Dyson with information for this book was the computer scientist Willis Ware, who I actually knew early in my career, and who once, in the mid-1990s, complimented me on a presentation I gave on the (then) new Netscape Navigator web browser.

I mentioned this book in my post “Best Book in the Last 125 Years.”

6. All About Me* by Mel Brooks

I was looking forward to All About Me! months before it was released. When it was released, on November 30, I had to force myself to wait to read it until I was down in Florida for our holiday vacation. That’s because I have a tradition of reading Hollywood memoirs while vacationing in Florida. I was not disappointed. Brooks’s book was everything I hoped it would be. And the audiobook was narrated by Mel Brooks himself which made it all the more enjoyable. Reading the book made me want to go back and watch all of Brooks’s movies, especially he early ones.

5. The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family* by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

One of the rare events that occurs in my reading is reading two outstanding books back-to-back. Usually, when I read a really terrific book, I find it hard to read whatever book comes next because it is rarely as good as the book I just finished. But The Boys by Ron Howard and Clint Howard was an outstanding follow-up to reading The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski. This was a terrific book about growing up in Hollywood from the perspective of 2 child actors who went on to spend their careers in show business.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Ronnie, Reacher and the Babe.”

4. Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

In the last 2 months of 2020, I raced through the first 3 books of Brandon Sanderson’s STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE series. Rhythm of War had just come out, but I decided that I needed a break from those books. After more than 3,000 pages, I wanted to get back to nonfiction. Then, in early November, desperate for something to read, I returned to the book. I raced through its 1,200+ pages in relatively short order. It was an outstanding read. I think it was this book that pushed Sanderson’s series ahead of Patrick Rothfuss’s KINGKILLER CHRONICLES as my favorite fantasy series. The last few hundred pages reduced me to tears more than once.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Books That Reduced Me To Tears.”

3. UNIX: A History and a Memoir by Brian W. Kernighan

Brian W. Kernighan’s memoir, Unix: A History and a Memoir is quite possibly the single best memoir of the early computing age I have read. I knew of Kernighan as one of the co-creators of Unix and of the C programming language. I’d been looking for a good history of Unix for a long time, and when I saw that Kernighan had written a memoir, I leaped at it. This was one of the books I read in the spring during my rampage through the history of information theory and computer science and it was my favorite of all of them.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Vacation Reading: The History of Computing.”

2. 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet* by Pamela Paul

I loved Pamela Paul’s My Life With Bob when that came out, and so when I saw she had a new book coming out, I jumped on it. 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet was a pure joy. It was full of nostalgia for me. I grew up in pre-Internet days, and my first real interactions with the Internet began in 1994 when I started at the company I am still with today. This was not only a wonderful read, but it is the kind of book I’d love to sit with and read aloud to my kids, one essay each night, to give them a sense of what life was like before Google and YouTube and TikTok and smart phones. It is a book I will definitely read again.

I wrote more about this book in my post “Pamela Paul Is Reading My Mind.”

1. The Baseball 100* by Joe Posnanski

When I started reading Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100 I had a glimmering that this was something special. He wrote these 100 essays, amounting to 300,000 words, in the space of 100 days as a feature on The Athletic. But reading them all together in a single volume was something remarkable. You get the entire history of baseball through 100 people who played the game. And while it doesn’t seem possible, the book isn’t repetitive, either in substance or in style. The essays themselves are works of art, often shaped by their subject. Over the years, I have read a lot of baseball books, but The Baseball 100 quickly became my favorite of them all. It was also the best book I read in all of 2021.

I wrote more about this book in my posts, “Thoughts on The Baseball 100,” and “Impressive Feats of Writing.”

There you have them: my best reads of 2021. The best part of finishing a list like this is knowing that there will be another list like this one a year from now and trying to imagine: what books will just blow me away in the coming year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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One comment

  1. A bit late on this one, but thanks for this post. I ended up getting “100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet” on Audible, which turned out to be great. Found your site on SearchMySite – and BTW, I contribute to the project as a disclaimer. But I couldn’t find any decent lists with recommend books on Google. They all ended up being Simon & Schuster’s or Audible pages recommending the same books.

    I miss finding blogs like this one with a simple search. But it looks like there’s several new search engines coming out to fill that need. Lets hope it gets better. 🙂


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