My favorite books out of the 50 books (~18,000 pages) that I read in 2022:
Terra Ignota Quartet (Too Like the Lightning, Seven Surrenders, The Will to Battle, Perhaps the Stars) — A fascinating unlike-anything-else romp through a sci-fi 25th century well-seasoned with 18th-century philosophy tied together with a page-turning plot set in a compelling and meticulously built world. One of those series that sticks with you long after you finish.
Eversion — “A ship is a dream of whispers.” A beautifully crafted tale that unfolds, bit by bit, and reveals more and more as it continues until everything comes together satisfyingly at the end.
The Door — Finely carved prose; almost austere, yet perfectly descriptive; utterly economical with words. Incredible characterization, introspection, and depth. “I know now, what I didn’t then, that affection can’t always be expressed in calm, orderly, articulate ways; and that one cannot prescribe the form it should take for anyone else.”
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century — A raging plague, social upheaval, and an uncertain future. COVID-19? No. The Black Death and the 14th Century. This surprisingly gripping history uses the lens of a medieval French nobleman’s trials and travails as a way to explore all aspects of the 14th century. Technology has changed, but humans have not. Deeply insightful, on aspects both mundane and profound.
The Origins of Totalitarianism — A rich, sobering book, filled with deep insights about human nature, societies, governments, anti-Semitism, imperialism, and totalitarianism. It remains relevant today.
The Cold War: A New History — A swift survey of the entire Cold War, from its emergent beginnings to its unexpectedly quiescent ending.
Truman — Truman is thus far the only human to ever authorize the use of atomic weapons in warfare (and may that long continue to be the case). He did not shy away from making tough decisions: “I am here to make decisions and whether they prove right or wrong I am going to make them.” This book paints a nuanced, complex portrait of a humble, diligent, courageous, and deeply honorable man.
Napoleon — Perhaps the polar opposite of Truman, Napoleon also did not shy away from making tough decisions. This book tells the tale of how he navigated the storm of the French Revolution, became Emperor, remade France, conquered Europe, and lost everything.
Economics and Politics
Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy — Compelling evaluations of the leadership strategies of several world leaders in the second half of the 20th century, as viewed by a long-serving diplomat who, to varying degrees, encountered and worked with them.
The End of the World is Just the Beginning — A blistering look at the decline of globalization and how the world might fall apart in the decades to come. (Spoiler alert: America will be fine, if it doesn’t self-destruct).
Business and Leadership
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World — A thought-provoking book about the nature of creativity, learning, and innovation, emphasizing the importance of being able to draw analogies across diverse fields.
The Scout Mindset — This book compellingly answers the question of how we can better equip ourselves to see, think, and act rationally.
Never Split the Difference — Written by a former FBI hostage negotiator, argues that successful negotiation is predicated on emotional understanding, not logic. Outlines a set of effective negotiation tactics emphasizing curiosity and humility.
Strategy and Product Management
The Innovator’s Solution — Why is it so hard for big, successful companies to continue to innovate? This book analyzes the challenge and offers some potential solutions.
Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making — A heartfelt collection of insightful business lessons that achieves its goal of being a “mentor-in-a-book.” Contains perhaps the best articulation of what it is to be a great product manager: “[a] needle in a haystack. An almost impossible combination of structured thinker and visionary leader, with incredible passion but also firm follow-through, who’s a vibrant people person but fascinated by technology, an incredible communicator who can work with engineering and think through marketing and not forget the business model, the economics, profitability, PR. They have to be pushy but with a smile, to know when to hold fast and when to let one slide. They’re incredibly rare. Incredibly precious. And they can and will help your business go exactly where it needs to go.”
The Four Steps to the Epiphany — Ancient (it came out in 2005) but offers timeless insights into how to create a product that people want, and, just as importantly, a business that can build and sell that product.
The Crux — How do you actually craft a good strategy for a business? What does that even mean? This book delves into exploring and answering that question, building on the author’s previous Good Strategy Bad Strategy by focusing on the actual mechanics of coming up with and developing a strategy in the first place.
The Blank Slate — Compellingly argues for epistemic humility given our nature as biological creatures.
Pieces of the Action — This book offers a reflective look back at how to create, design, and drive complex organizations to accomplish great things. The author, Vannevar Bush, was a key figure in creating both the Manhattan Project and the National Science Foundation.