Favorite Books of 2021

Books read, not necessarily published, in 2021

Favorite Books of 2021

As we close out another year of spending more time inside than we would have liked, members of our team found themselves reflecting on reading material that resonated with them. We wanted to round up some of our favorite books that we found thought-provoking, entertaining, or immersive to share with our readers as we turn the corner into 2022.

 

The Moor’s Account, by Laila Lalami

Team Member: Robert Beatty

Genre: Historical Fiction

This is a fictionalized account of Mustafa al-Zamori, a Morraccan slave that is credited as the first black explorer of the Americas. He is a member of the Narváez Expedition, enslaved to a Spanish nobleman who served as a high-ranking officer of the exploration party. The novel spans the entirety of their journey and the hardships they encountered along the way as they trekked from modern-day Tampa Bay to Mexico City. This was an excellent take on a historical period so commonly told from the perspective of the colonizers.

Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen, by Alexander Smalls

Team Member: Marcus Hodges

Genre: Food, cooking, music

“If wine is bottled poetry, and jazz is brown sugar sprinkled in your ear, then Meals, Music, and Muses is a smorgasbord of fine words and sounds, a delicious symphony of haute cuisine that’ll make you wanna kiss your momma, then thank the ancestors for making a way out of no way―for Hoppin’ John Cakes and Grits and Sage Sausage Gravy and Frogmore Stew and all the recipes Alexander Smalls has reimagined so elegantly.” – Kwame Alexander

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

Team Member: Justin Etheredge

Genre: Nonfiction

Writing is one of the most important skills that software engineers can cultivate. I’ve practiced a lot of writing over the years, and tried to hone those skills, but I’ve never studied the processes or approaches of professional writers. I picked up “On Writing” figuring that I would learn a few solid writing tips, such as Stephen King’s intense hatred of adverbs, but what I found was a fascinating memoir of one of the greatest writers of the 21st century.

The book tells the story of how Stephen King got into writing, what inspired him, and unsurprisingly is so stuffed with wonderful quotes (one of my favorites is below) that you’ll find yourself making highlights on almost every page.

“Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do ― to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street.”

― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Burn: New Science Reveals How Metabolism Shapes Your Body, Health, and Longevity, by Herman Pontzer

Team Member: Al Tenhundfeld

Genre: Nonfiction, Health, Science

This is one of those books that takes you by surprise, written by a leading academic expert in metabolism research yet completely accessible by the layperson. It starts with a surprising observation: Americans, with our desk jobs and cars and sedentary lifestyle, burn roughly the same number of calories as people living in traditional hunter-gatherer societies who move 5x more than we do. How is that possible?

In trying to answer that question, the author goes through brilliantly-concise primers on evolutionary anthropology, the biochemistry of how our bodies use energy, and how academic research is performed. It’s one of those books where I find myself frequently stopping in the middle of a page to consider aspects of modern society I’d never really thought about. It’s also funnier than any health and fitness book has a right to be. Highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in health or nutrition.

Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality, by Jaron Lanier

Team Member: Nick Agliano

Genre: Autobiography

Probably the bizarre person I learned about in 2021: Jaron Lanier. He’s famous in the tech world for a bunch of reasons, but is perhaps most well-known for pioneering the field of virtual reality. You might have seen him in a documentary (most recently, Netflix’s The Social Dilemma), or heard his voice on a podcast—he’s usually discussing topics such as “high-technology business, the social impact of technology, the philosophy of consciousness and information, Internet politics, and the future of humanism” (list of topics taken from the bio on his website).

Dawn Of The New Everything is a good mixture of insight into Jaron’s very unusual life (i.e., living in a geodesic dome house that he designed when he was a child, or smuggling Timothy Leary in the trunk of his car), explanations of what early virtual reality was like, general commentary on the impact of technology, and to round it off, whatever else Jaron wants to tell us about. If nothing else, Jaron Lanier is an extremely interesting individual and his story is worth reading.

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