Through a combination of sheer determination and something akin to a miracle, I read 17 books in 2019. My goal was to read 12, so shooting past that feels like an achievement.
I love reading, but I’m not particularly disciplined at it. And much of the world is designed to be more distracting than a book. But last year I told myself I’d sit down and read for 30 minutes each day. I managed this most days. Not every day, but enough to read 17 books, so I’ll take it. This year, inspired by this post on Farnam Street, I’m aiming for 25 pages per day.
As I went along, I tried to keep track of how I felt about each book and gave it a rating. But ratings are pretty dumb and everyone’s scale is different, so I ditched them here. I struggle to finish books I don’t like, and every book here I finished, so by that measure these are all good books — I just happened to enjoy some more than others. Your mileage will vary though, and that’s the fun of it.
Around half of the books I read last year were paperbacks, a few (regrettably) were hardbacks and the remainder I read on the Kindle. I’m not a big fan of Kindles and Amazon in general. I should probably look at a more ethical alternatives, but I read ebooks significantly faster than dead trees for some reason. I have no idea why.
Finally, I haven’t included links to any of the books below, because they’re all pretty easy to find in lots of places. If you’re in the UK, go grab one from a local book store or at least Waterstones. Every time I walk into a Waterstones I realise how much I never want it to disappear. If you’re in the US or anywhere else, you’ll probably have your favourite non-Amazon book stores, too. Those are the best.
1. Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark
This was tough going for my small brain and his thought experiments when a little further than I could handle, but it’s an amazing read on the future of AI all the same.
2. Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Larnier
Quite philosophical and a little meandering in places, but overall an interesting and informed critique of social media as it stands today.
3. Atomic Habits by James Clear
A great place to start if you want to build useful habits to propel you through life. Well written and explained, if a little obvious in places.
4. The People vs. Tech by Jamie Bartlett
A good, political take on what technology is doing to our society as a whole.
5. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
I’ve always loved Cal’s writing and this one is no exception. This book is for everyone, really. Highly recommended.
6. Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
I struggled the most with this one out of Yuval’s “trilogy” of books, it was interesting but I’m not really sure it felt as clear or focussed as the others.
7. Artemis by Andy Weir
Loved it. Devoured it in a couple of days or less. Can’t wait to see it made into a film.
8. Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
Good, if a little jumpy and erratic in places. A great starting point if you’re wondering why the world leaves you feeling so anxious.
9. The Culture Map by Erin Meyer
For people who do business internationally, this one is a very handy read.
10. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
Dan Harris has nailed it when it comes to talking about meditation in a way that’s not off-putting or overly spiritual.
11. The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
One of my favourites of the year. A true story that’s hard to believe in places. Plus, it’s coffee, so that was always going to go down well.
12. Money: A user’s guide by Laura Whateley
A really good overview of what to do with money and how to make the most of it in the UK. Very accessible.
13. Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
A super interesting and practical take on getting shit done by two guys who clearly know how to sell their ideas.
14. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
I enjoyed this one more than Homo Deus, but I felt like the ending was a little rushed and I wish there was more substance in places.
15. Hello World by Hannah Fry
My favourite book of the year. Full of powerful anecdotes and brilliantly understandable insights that explained algorithms, AI and Machine Learning in ways that I’ve never grasped before.
16. Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
I rated this three stars write after I read it (which is a good rating!) but in hindsight, that feels a little harsh. A handy collection of insights — some of which I’ve definitely come across, others not.
17. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
This book resonated with me pretty heavily and forced me to think a lot about my reactions to situations, particularly in a work context. I’d do well to read it again, no doubt.