2021 Book Recommendations



As always, here are some books I've enjoyed this year, rated on a 5-point scale. Previous lists are available in the links.


Business, Finance & Economics


Building A Story Brand (Donald Miller). I've become increasingly interested in branding and marketing, and this is an excellent introduction to a powerful brand-building framework. Worth a second read for sure. 4.8 stars.


Quality Shareholders (Lawrence A. Cunningham). Cunningham is a prolific author, teacher and practitioner. I first read his work on Berkshire Hathaway and have since enjoyed his writing on business and corporate governance. Much of his work revolves around high quality companies and management teams. This book flips the analysis on its head, looking at high quality shareholders instead. I particularly enjoyed considering the parallels to the ESG movement. 4.7 stars.


The Glazer Gate Keeper (Tehsin Nayani). Nayani served as spokesman for the Glazer family for roughly 6 years, spanning the acquisition of Manchester United almost till the club's IPO. Given his former role, and the extremely deferential tone he takes towards his former employers, one can be forgiven for thinking this is a Glazer-authorized book. Nonetheless, this is a great history for Manchester United fans, particularly those interested in the business of football, and a valuable corrective to the relentlessly negative coverage of the Glazer family. Highly recommended despite the likely biased tilt, especially in light of fresh criticism of the owners. 4.6 stars.


Neither Civil Nor Servant (Peh Shing Huei). Philip Yeo is legendary for his time as an important figure in Singapore's economic development. This is an excellent one for anyone interested in a look at how a small country has constantly tried to reinvent itself. 4.6 stars.


Richer, Wiser, Happier (William Green). Green's interviews with many of the world's greatest investors have rightly attracted a lot of praise. The chapter with Nick Sleep and Qais Zakaria was probably my favourite, and alone worth the price of admission. 4.6 stars.


An Ugly Truth (Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang). This book covers the travails of Facebook, focusing particularly on election integrity issues in recent times. A fascinating look at one of the most important companies in the world today, albeit with a highly negative tilt. 4.5 stars.


The Asset Management Industry (CFA Institute). Despite 13 years in and around the asset management industry, I'm constantly learning how much I don't know. This is an excellent primer on the industry and also covers the economics of the industry, a topic I'm increasingly interested in. 4.5 stars.


ESG


On Board (John Tusa). Tusa is a luminary in the British non-profit world and brings together many lessons from his years on a variety of boards. This is a great read for anyone interested in institutional governance, with plenty of lessons applicable to the private sector. 4.8 stars.


History, Politics & Society


Being Mortal (Atul Gawande). A brilliant book, both moving and informative, on how American society currently deals (inadequately) with death and disease. Cannot recommend enough. 5.0 stars.


The Looming Tower (Lawrence Wright). The 20th anniversary of 9/11 prompted me to re-read this classic. A true masterpiece on the personalities and events that shaped this shocking event. 5.0 stars.


The Good Women of China (Xinran). The author describes her experiences as a radio host in China, telling the stories of Chinese women after the Maoist era. I imagine that gender equality has shifted significantly for the better in China, but this excellent book is a reminder of those hard-won gains. 4.8 stars.


Say Nothing (Patrick Radden Keefe). Radden Keefe covers The Troubles in Northern Ireland through the prism of a single disappearance. This is a remarkable history told in a crisp fashion. With renewed tension in Northern Ireland, this is worth reading. I'm also very eager to read his newest book on the opioid crisis. 4.8 stars.


Building the Yellow Wall (Uli Hesse). I've become increasingly interested in Borussia Dortmund, so delved into this comprehensive history of the club. A really insightful read on the fluctuations in the club's fortunes as well as the tensions it faces between authenticity and commercial success. 4.5 stars.


Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas (Adam Kay). British doctor-turned-comedian Adam Kay reveals the bizarre incidents that happen on the Christmas shift at NHS hospitals. Some hilarious anecdotes, with short chapters perfect for a busy time. 4.4 stars.


Fiction


Shuggie Bain (Douglas Stuart). The 2020 Booker Prize winner, it is a beautifully written book about a family living among poverty and substance abuse in 1960s Glasgow. 4.9 stars.


The Janissary Tree (Jason Goodwin). Goodwin features heavily in an excellent Netflix series on the Ottoman Empire. A historian, he also writes historical fiction, and this is an excellent mystery with Yashim, a eunuch turned detective in the Sultan's court. Beautifully written and with outstanding historical detail. 4.6 stars.


Midnight at Malabar House (Vaseem Khan). A highly enjoyable piece of historical mystery writing about India on the brink of its Independence. 4.4 stars.


Cooling Off Day (Alfian Sa'at). Sa'at never shies from controversy, and he captures various elements of Singapore political society in this short play. 4.3 stars.


Sirens (Joseph Knox). Long-time blog readers will know that the city of Manchester holds a special interest for me. Knox bases his crime fiction in Manchester, although the seedier venues for his stories may be unfamiliar to many. The plot was fast-paced if unremarkable. 3.9 stars.


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley). A crime story with a highly unusual (if unrealistic) protagonist. 3.9 stars.


The Wire in the Blood (Val McDermid). I remember watching the Wire in the Blood TV series perhaps 10 years ago and really enjoying it. The first two books are entertaining but hardly the best crime writing I've read. This - the second in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series - is superior to the first. 3.8 stars.


The Mermaids Singing (Val McDermid). The first in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. 3.7 stars.


Knots and Crosses (Ian Rankin). Rankin's John Rebus novels seem to be the gold standard for crime fiction creating moody atmospheres. I was a little disappointed with the book, although the series is clearly popular enough to have numerous sequels. 3.7 stars.


Bloody Foreigners (Neil Humphreys). This is part of the Inspector Low mystery series, which has featured in previous lists. Set in Brexit Britain, it's an entertaining read with no pretensions to being high literature. 3.7 stars.

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