In the last 12 months I’ve bought 35 books… and have remarkably read a fair proportion of them. Here’s the list (and what I thought about them…). Not all of the books were published in 2021.

Calling Bullshit: The Art of Scepticism in a Data-Driven World Jevin D. West & Carl T. Bergstrom
This was a great start to the year – a statistician and a biologist combine forces to unpack some of the most common ways in which people attempt to hoodwink others.
The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being William Davies
I think the gist of this book was that we should stop measuring happiness because it’s all become a bit cult like. It’s a year ago nearly since I read it, and a lot’s happened in 2021…
Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain Sathnam Sanghera
Sanghera’s book charts the history of the UK from the perspective of what the British Empire did around the world and what of that filtered back to Britain. It’s a fascinating perspective.
HOWUL: a life’s journey David Shannon
I heard David Shannon interviewed on the radio about this story and it sounded fascinating. That I haven’t yet got around to reading it is a bad reflection on my prioritisation of non-fiction over fiction.
Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet Claire L. Evans
A history of the technologies that created the Internet, but with a perspective that focuses on the often untold stories of the women who were involved. A particular bit that stuck with me was that the 1968 NATO conference in Garmisch, to which no women were invited, signalled a shift from “programming” to “software engineering”. That semantic switch, Evans and others propose, marked a pivotal moment when information technology became male-dominated.
Jews Don’t Count David Baddiel
This short book from writer and comedian David Baddiel shines a light on how antisemitism is a “second class racism”, too often not taken seriously enough because of the depth of discrimination against Jews.
Improv Your Life Pippa Evans
In some of my research for PlayCards I was fortunate to briefly meet Pippa, and then see her improvise at the Comedy Store. She’s incredible, and has taken what she knows about performing off the cuff on stage into practical tips for using improv in day-to-day life.
The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance Steven Kotler
Something recommended by both my coach Mel Ross and card genius John Wilshire. Which makes me feel doubly bad for not having even opened it yet.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong Eric Barker
I think this one was a 99p special that looks interesting but not yet interesting enough to have been read.
Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution – 25th Anniversary Edition Steven Levy
Having read the female history, I thought it would be interesting to go back to a much more male-centric version. It’s heavy and a bit dull.
Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that changed Everything Steven Levy
However, I also remembered that I used to have a paper copy of this history of the Mac (not Steve Jobs) which I will get around to re-reading in 2022.
Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism Mariana Mazzucato
I’ve been fascinated by Mazzucato’s take on economics, but will be picking this one up next year.
Big Girl, Small Town: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award Michelle Gallen
I got to know Michelle back when she was part of the London tech startup scene. She’s since relocated back to Ireland, and written her first novel. Which is brilliant.

It’s set in the time at the end of the Northern Ireland Troubles, and tells the story of a young woman who lives and works in a small border town. It’s funny, claustrophobic, and also a reminder how that part of the world is potentially very brittle after hundreds of years of trauma.
How Britain Ends: English Nationalism and the Rebirth of Four Nations Gavin Esler
Another 99p special that I haven’t started yet.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives (Exponential Technology Series) Peter H. Diamandis
Another one on the backlog for next year.
Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male Power Ijeoma Oluo
As is this. But it’s hard to understand why such a title is needed when we have such exemplary leadership in Downing Street at the… oh.
Lab Rats Dan Lyons
And the final in a batch of special offers, it seems. Dan Lyons’ book about the world of Startup, Disrupted was excellent. This one looks more at the general world of work.
Debt: The First 5,000 Years,Updated and Expanded David Graeber
I love books like this – that take what is probably on the face of it a subject riddled with common sense, and then taking it apart. Haven’t completed this yet, but it starts by dismantling the idea that a money (and debt)-based economy was preceded by a barter-based economy.
Noise: The new book from the authors of ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ and ‘Nudge’ Daniel Kahneman
I was a bit underwhelmed by this book from the Nobel Prize winner. The gist is that humans often take noise as being the signal when looking at information.
Anthro-Vision: How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life Gillian Tett
I loved this book from Tett. But then I’m a social scientist so I would. An exploration of why anthropological techniques for research and analysis are so important.
NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently Steve Silberman
Neurodiversity is a concept that I’ve increasingly been getting my head around in the last few years. This book charts the history of autism, and is fascinating to better understand where we are today.
Re-educated: How I changed my job, my home, my husband and my hair Lucy Kellaway
I also loved Lucy Kellaway’s story of how she changed her life in just about every aspect. A really inspiring, but also engaging and funny, read.
The System: Who Owns the Internet, and How It Owns Us James Ball
A forensic breakdown of who runs the internet, from networks and telecoms companies to advertising, platforms and the money behind it all.
Social Warming: The Dangerous and Polarising Effects of Social Media Charles Arthur
The third of the authors on here who I have met, Charles’ book explores how social networks actively drive wedges between us, sometimes by accident but often through cynical design to drive interaction.
Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow Matthew Skelton
One of those books that loads of people have talked to me about but I haven’t yet got around to reading.
The Road to Conscious Machines: The Story of AI (Pelican Books) Michael Wooldridge
The bulk of this book looking at how technologies currently badged as AI I found fascinating. The latter part, projecting into the future less so.
The Cult of We: WeWork and the Great Start-Up Delusion Eliot Brown
This book, plus the film documentary, were both fascinating insight into the messianic nonsense that surrounded the found of WeWork. These ludicrous pyramid schemes will happen again…
A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel to the Car to What Comes Next Tom Standage
Tom’s work exploring the history of technologies to better understand the present and the future I find deeply fascinating. This time he explores that world of personal transportation. He came on our podcast a few weeks ago to talk about it.
The Promises of Giants: How YOU can fill the leadership void John Amaechi
The final person on this list I’ve met in person, I adore this book. It’s the first time I’ve read a book about leadership that has not only engaged me throughout, but also threaded the importance of diversity and inclusion everywhere. John is a wonderful storyteller.
Humankind: A Hopeful History Rutger Bregman
Bought on a whim, this is a really uplifting book. It’s an argument for the inherent good in people, and it backs up the hope with evidence throughout. Well needed in this challenging time.
The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World Adrian Wooldridge
This was introduced to me through the EI network, and I found it an interesting read. I’m of the Youngian view that meritocracy is a myth, and that Michael’s son Toby is the living, breathing proof.

Wooldridge takes the view that the world has become progressively more meritocratic over time. I was left still sceptical that it exists at all. There seems to be a strong view that examinations, for example, allow for meritocratic decisions to be made. Anyone who has witnessed the intensive tutoring that goes into Grammer School applications would quickly conclude it’s as much about ability to pay for tutoring.
Deep Sniff: A History of Poppers and Queer Futures Adam Zmith
Another look at a minority group through history, this time a curious journey through male gay culture through the medium of Amyl Nitrate.
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know Adam Grant
Grant’s books Give and Take and Originals were both very influential on my. And so it is with Think Again.

So many things that align with hunches that I have had through the PlayCards work.
Generations: Does When You’re Born Shape Who You Are? Bobby Duffy
Another one from the EI Network – yet to read.
The Accidental Footballer Pat Nevin
Currently working through this very entertaining memoir from a very unusual footballer.
Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart and How They Can Bring Us Together Ian Leslie
And I end the year with another cheapie for next year’s reading list. Leslie does write good books, though.

Conclusions? There was some good reading in 2021. I also bought more books that I could read. Damn you, Kindle.

One thought on “2021 Bookshelf

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