My books of the year 2021

22nd November, 2021

Ananyo Bhattacharya, The Man From the Future – A biography not only of the genius’s genius, John von Neumann, but also of von Neumann’s ideas and influence, which are nearly impossible to exaggerate. Serious and brilliantly-written.

David Bodanis, The Art of Fairness – A delightful and moving exploration of nice guys, nasty guys, and what it takes to succeed without being a jerk.

Michael Brooks, The Art of More – The history of how ideas in mathematics (such as algebra, geometry, statistics and accountancy) helped to shape the modern world. Given my own predelictions I was delighted with this book.

Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks – Did you want a strangely moving mix of Getting Things Done, Being and Time, and the Tao of Pooh? It’s here. Burkeman’s book is one of the hits of the summer and deservedly so.

Jordan Ellenberg, Shape – A really fun, witty exploration of ideas in geometry and their surprisingly wide-ranging application.

Julia Galef, The Scout Mindset – A charming and original contribution to the genre on being open-minded and curious. Great stories and ideas, alongside a serious argument for the virtues of exploring rather than defending ideas.

Malcolm Gladwell, The Bomber Mafia – Gladwell’s podcast company Pushkin publishes my Cautionary Tales podcast, but is also experimenting with ‘enhanced audiobooks’. This is their first attempt and it’s a cracker.

Adam Grant, Think Again – Grant is always witty and humane, but assembles a terrific range of ideas and research to analyse and overcome the obstacles to rethinking our own views and (even harder) persuading others to rethink theirs.

Steven Johnson, Extra Life – Johnson explores the astonishing expansion in life expectancy over the last two hundred years, and asks how we measure it and who – and what – deserves the credit. Wide ranging and a pleasure to read.

Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein & Olivier Sibony, Noise – when I interviewed him, Kahneman all but admitted that this is not a life’s-work-masterpiece like Thinking Fast and Slow. It is, however, brimming with interesting thoughts.

Cal Newport, A World Without Email – this is marketed as a self-help book by a self-help guy, but it’s much more than that. Newport delves into the manufacturing productivity revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century and makes a serious case that we need (and can get) the same kind of revolution in knowledge work.

Steven Pinker, Rationality – the joy of this book (other than Pinker’s playful wit) is the sheer range. It’s a crash course in game theory, logic, statistics, political science, moral philosophy, etc. etc. Perfect pre-reading for your PPE degree, but guaranteed to teach you something.

Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry, The Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything – just delightful, wide-ranging stuff from the surely best science-communication double-act in the world. The perfect gift for the nerd in your life.

Gillian Tett, Anthro-Vision – my colleague Gillian Tett makes the case for thinking like an anthropologist in business and in life. The description of how KitKats took Japan by storm is a particular delight.

I’ve set up a storefront on Bookshop in the United States and the United Kingdom – have a look! Bookshop is set up to support local independent retailers. Links to Bookshop and Amazon may generate referral fees.

The paperback of “How To Make The World Add Up” is now out. US title: “The Data Detective”.

“If you aren’t in love with stats before reading this book, you will be by the time you’re done.”- Caroline Criado Perez (Invisible Women)

The paperback of “The Next 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy” is now out in the UK.

“Endlessly insightful and full of surprises — exactly what you would expect from Tim Harford.”- Bill Bryson

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