2021 – My Year in Books 📚 

This year was anything but normal. In the beginning, I had no idea how the next 12 months would play out the way that they did, and books are one of the things that helped me get through this year.

I spent a lot less time driving to work, eating lunch in the office, and doing groceries. And I used this time to read (and watch some amazing documentaries) that gave me a better perspective of our world.

So here’s a quick wrap-up on everything that I’ve read, in no specific order.

1. Think again – Adam Grant

“Think Again” is one of the best books that I have read and this has to be my top recommendation for 2021.

Author (Adam Grant) examines “How we know what we know” and Asks us to Re-think our Beliefs, Assumptions, and Opinions. He does an incredible job outlining what makes someone good or bad at re-thinking when presented with new information or context.

I like with the idea of re-thinking / questioning oneself with anything and everything. Remember, there are always different perspectives, possibilities, so it doesn’t help to get stuck on one view.

A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet.

Adam Grant

2. Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love – Marty Cagan (Author)

A friend recommended this book to me, and I’m glad they did – Inspired is possibly one of the very few books actually on Product Management, and it’s a good one. It presents a unified philosophy of what’s the job of a product manager and how to do it well. It help clarify a bunch of things that people think are Product Management but which they aren’t.

Although I am not a Product Manager, I would say that I am at the best point in my career to have read this book and would recommend it to anyone working on a tech product.

Build relationships before you need them.

Marty Cagan

3. Think Like a Monk – Jay Shetty (Author)

Think like a monk is a self-help book (in my opinion). Author (Jay Shetty) shares many personal stories of his three years spent as a monk in an ashram in India. He explains the way a monk thinks (aka monk mind) and the ancient techniques they use to live a meaningful life. I loved the practical strategies to think (and act) like a monk and find peace in our fast-paced modern world.

Overall it’s not a spectacular book, but not terrible either. There are some parts that were quite boring (because self-help books do tend to get Lil preachy no matter who writes it ).

Anyway, plenty of value here, and worth a read.

Our search is never for a thing, but for the feeling we think the thing will give us.

Jay Shetty

4. Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary – Linus Torvalds & David Diamond (Author)

Just for Fun is the story world’s most popular operating system “Linux”, and it’s unlikely creator Linus Torvalds (with Linus himself is narrating it). Unlike many other revolutionaries, Linus presents himself as a simple human being: surely gifted, but with many of the flaws and doubts present in all of us. But his brilliance lies in the simplicity of his beliefs, and his focus on solving problems, simply because they are interesting, on not giving up his ideas, not using money and fame as a guide in the pursuit, and most importantly – just having fun while doing all this.

Only quibble: The book doesn’t ever get very technical, and the author talks more about life than the architecture of Linux.

So if you’ve ever worked on Linux, Unix, Git, or any other open-source, this is a book you won’t regret picking up.

I did learn fairly early that the best and most effective way to lead is by letting people do things because they want to do them, not because you want them to.

Linus Torvalds

5. Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software – Jeff Meyerson (Author)

So I’m an avid listener of the Software Engineering Daily podcast hosted by Jeff Meyerson, where he does Technical interviews about software topics. Pulling from lots of those interviews with Facebook engineers, Jeff summarizes how Facebook builds software, from the perspective of product, culture, and engineering.

The book is short, to the point, and pretty well written. In general, I liked the book. Not that much practical advice to be honest, but overall good reading.

We don’t make (software) services to make more money, we make money to build and experiment with more services.

Jeff Meyerson

6. Moby-Dick: Novel by Herman Melville (Author)

Moby Dick is a novel by Herman Melville based on his own experiences on whaling ships.

Lol! I can’t believe I’m adding this this to the list, but why not. I picked this up from my daughter when she challenged me to read her school literature books, as she finds them boring. Accepting her challenge, I completed the book in one sitting and I absolutely loved it (NO! I hated it, it was boring, and at somepoint, you might wonder where the whale even is).

Pretty good, kinda silly – but I think that is what Moby Dick deserves – 0.5 stars.

I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.

Herman Melville


7. Free Solo

“Free Solo” has to be the most gut-wrenching film I’ve ever seen.

It is a documentary of Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California. The movie captures an amazing feat that somehow still seems utterly impossible (even after watching it). It is a visually captivating journey, one that takes us across various countries and continents, and Chin and Chai (directors) have crafted an extremely confident and competent effort that is well-deserving of its many awards.

Free Solo is not just about Alex’s climb, instead, it’s about the human will and drives to achieve a goal that others may see as impossible. It is not just a selfish intent to put your life at risk, but much deeper selfishness, a belief that you get one life and you have to live it for yourself.

I’ll give solid 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐!

8. The Social Dilemma

The Social Dilemma is a shockingly disturbing and insightfully captivating film that explores the dangerous impact of social networking. There is no other film that is more important than ‘The Social Dilemma’ right now.

This eye-opening documentary will make you question your life, choices, and opinions. As a software engineer, I considered myself someone aware of digital privacy invasion issues, however I had no idea how social media leads to behavioral changes within us and affects the fabric of society.

It’s definitely worth a watch. If nothing else, you’ll be urged to do your own research the next time someone forwards a propaganda-filled message on WhatsApp or posts hate speech on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Good luck fighting the algorithm, folks!


2021 is not done yet, And I’m planning to squeeze in a few more books, so we’ll see how that goes. Until then….Happy Holidays, Stay Safe 🎄📆 🎉

Author: Varun Dhawan

Hello dear reader, I'm a Product Manager @Microsoft based in MN, US (beautiful land of 10,000 lakes). I am perpetually curious and always willing to learn and engineer systems that can help solve complex problems using data. When I am not engineering or blogging, you’ll find me cooking and spending time with my family. Varun.Dhawan@gmail.com

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