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.

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.


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

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. 4.8 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.

Cooling Off Day (Alfian Sa'at). Saat 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.

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.