Best Books I Read in 2021 (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 01 Jan 2022

Best Books I Read in 2021

Happy New Year!

I wrote a few years ago about keeping lists of the books I read, first because I was curious how many books I read, but later because I found the lists quite useful for other purposes.

But I realized this year that I hardly ever write about the good books I discover each year. That's a shame: how are we to find out about great new authors if we don't all make a point of sharing them?

So today I'm going to write about the best books I read in 2021. I'll probably write catch-up articles about some of the best from earlier years in future articles.

Note that these are not necessarily new books. There are some newly published books here, but also some older books that I'm only now discovering.

In 2021 I read 50 books. Only two were re-reads, which is unusually low.

Best Nonfiction I Read in 2021

I didn't read that much nonfiction this year; seemed like my queue kept getting stuffed with fiction books, including a series of dense time-consuming Kim Stanley Robinson tomes (Dave has been on a KSR kick this year). But there were a few real gems.

The Premonition by Michael Lewis

I only found out about this book near the end of the year, when a science writers' list traded names of good new books and Michael Lewis' work on the COVID-19 pandemic featured highly. I see why! The book tells the stories of people who worked to understand and track COVID-19 and to shape the US response to the pandemic. It's entertaining, fascinating and often infuriating as the players try in vain to get someone to listen to them and take action.

I'd only read one previous book by Lewis, The Big Short, which I quite enjoyed; I enjoyed The Premonition even more, and will certainly seek out more of his books. He's kind of a cross between Tom Wolfe and John McPhee.

Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid by Thor Hanson

While perhaps not quite up to The Premonition, this account of the ways animals and plants deal with climate change (or not) is full of fun facts and anecdotes. And if I hadn't read it, I'd never have known to search on YouTube for lizard leafblower.

The Data Detective, Tim Harford

I enjoy Tim Harford's segments on several math- and statistics-oriented podcasts. His books are less consistent; some I haven't liked that much, but he has a winner this time with his lessons on how to watch out for shoddy statistics in the news. Even though I feel like I'm fairly good at noticing such things, I found his tips useful enough that I even took notes, but you don't have to study The Data Detective to enjoy it and learn some useful tips.

How to Read Water, Tristan Gooley

This weird but fun entry gets an honorable mention. My first reaction was, "A whole book about looking at water?" But sure enough, there's plenty of interesting material, from the way traditional Polynesian navigators read ocean swells to finding trout or following rapids in a stream to reading erosion patterns while hiking on a trail, all interspersed with wide-ranging nature commentary.

Best Fiction I Read in 2021

Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir

Andy Weir hits it out of the park again. I've liked all three of his books a lot; this one has a fun and unforgettable character, about whom I can't tell you anything because the way the story is structured, saying practically anything about the plot or characters will be a spoiler. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

In the Shadow of the Glacier, Vicki Delany

Dave and I had been reading Delaney's Sherlock Holmes bookstore mystery series, but only just discovered this series about a woman rookie cop in a small Canadian Rockies town. We've read several in the series this year and enjoyed them all.

Lies Come Easy, Steven Havill

I've enjoyed Havill's mysteries for years, though in recent years there's been too much of the superhumanly amazing, rich and famous musician son. This entry dialed back the super-son narrative and gave us more New Mexican mystery, which made it much more enjoyable.

That's it for this year's books. Have a happy new year, everybody -- stay healthy and vaccinated and try to stay joyful despite the pandemic.

Now please excuse me -- I'm off to start plowing through yet another Kim Stanley Robinson boat anchor that Dave just dumped on my desk.

[ 16:25 Jan 01, 2022    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

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