I’ve written before about my love of reading. And last year, I did a short roundup of some books I’d read throughout the year, the good ones, bad ones and a few other noteworthy ones. So here are some books I read in 2021

The good ones

  • Elemental: How the periodic table can now explain (nearly) everything by Tim James. I enjoyed chemistry in school but didn’t take it very far, I was always more of a physics person, so I enjoyed the opportunity to learn some more about chemistry. The book covers some history of the subject and how our knowledge of elements, chemicals and the things they can do developed over time. The author also writes in a pretty conversational style which helps avoid any dryness traditionally associated with the subject.

  • Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson. After reading it, I wrote about this one here, but I still wanted to mention it. Not a book in the traditional sense, rather a collection of letters written over the years organised by theme. Most are responses from Tyson to queries he receives as a public scientist, some are letters he wrote to publications, and a few miscellaneous pieces are thrown in too. Overall I think it’s excellent and an intriguing look at the kinds of questions and answers a public scientist receives.

  • Elements of Style by Strunk and White. A classic on writing well, which is a skill I’m trying to improve. It was first written a century ago and is sometimes called out of date, but I disagree. Anyone who writes should read this. There may be differences in the way we communicate today, but clarity in communication is every bit as important now as it was then.

The not-so-good ones

  • Theogony by Hesiod. It’s probably the oldest thing I’ve ever read, written in approximately 700 BCE. It tells the story of creation according to the ancient Greeks. How the gods came to be, and how they relate to one another and their domains. It’s a significant historical text, and there are interesting stories within it, but there are also a lot of dry passages such as listing a god and their fifteen children. Kind of like reading Tolkien’s appendices without the rest of the book.

Some other noteworthy ones

  • Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark. A book about the potential futures of AI and the debates currently going on within the field. If you’re interested in AI or the future of technology, it’s definitely worth reading.

  • Strong Towns: A bottom-up revolution to rebuild American prosperity by Charles Marohn. I like to think of myself as a curious person, and I enjoy learning about all kinds of different things, but I didn’t expect urban planning to be one of the standout books this year. Charles Marohn is an engineer who is on a mission to convince Americans that how their cities are designed is failing them. His thesis is that municipalities in the US have seen a growth explosion following the post-war boom, which focused on giant suburbs and car-centric design rather than the walkable neighbourhoods of European and historic US cities. I found the argument to be very convincing, and his recently published follow-up book is sitting patiently on my shelf to be read soon.