Every year I have a target of reading 20 books. Like with many targets and goals, meeting the target is not the goal in itself. I’m happy to say that I actually reached my target this year. But I guess just having a target motivates me to start reading and achieve my goal. It helps me to not choose Netflix and pick up a book. I could write a post on my 5 favorite Netflix shows of 2021, but that might be less helpful. And could reveal my terrible series choices.
So here are my 5 favorite books of 2021. This is a recurring post, so if you are looking for some more inspiration or some extra recommendations for your holiday reading, check 5 books I loved reading in 2020 and 5 books I loved reading in 2019. I guess with the new lockdowns we are expecting at least in the Netherlands, some extra reading is one of the few options left. So my top 5, in random order:
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – Hans Rosling
If you follow the news, your worldview might be quite negative, as mostly negative news makes the headlines and therefore that is the news that gets imprinted on our minds. I think the COVID pandemic has only worsened this. The older you get, the more likely you think the old days were better. It’s one of the reasons I love following the Good News Movement on Instagram. We all need our daily dose of good news.
Factfulness helps us understand how several instincts cause us to exaggerate situations and influence how we react to these situations. Rosling outlines ten instincts and advises how we can work towards a shift towards a perception based on actual facts. Ultimately this will change the way we think, feel, and behave for the better.
I love that each chapter ends with key takeaways and a Factfulness lesson. This book is absolutely a recommendation if you think that the world is in a worse place than 20 years ago. I can almost guarantee that you will recognize yourself in one of these intuitions.
Live no lies by John Mark Comer
Last year, one of my top 5 books was his The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. I loved reading Garden City early this year – I could easily include it in this list. This year, Live No Lies has got to be my favorite book of 2021.
John Mark Comer speaks a language that both Christians and non-Christians can understand. Whether you accept the Bible as authority or not, JMC makes interesting arguments, backed up by both the Bible as well as social sciences.
This is one of the best books I have read on opposition, on our pitfalls of this world. JMC describes how the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life affect our lives and our way of thinking. These concepts are ancient, but as relevant today as ever before. We struggle with these concepts every single day. Lust, greed, and pride might be the most pervasive sins in our society and in our lives. The idea of the devil as a shiny red-horned creature that is always obvious in how he tempts is outdated. Rather, he is the father of lies; and how quickly we choose to believe his lies. How quickly we believe our lives improve as we are tempted.
I find that John Mark Comer, with every book he writes, challenges me to follow Jesus and makes me reflect on my spiritual health and my routines. I am challenged in my thinking and his books help me to follow Jesus. If that’s not a recommendation to read this book (and his other books too), I don’t know what is.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Earlier this year, I spoke on meaning from a Christian perspective, and also wrote a post about it. It is such a big topic, I started to read and re-read some books on the topic. I re-read Garden City and What on Earth Am I Here For?, read up on some schools of philosophy and read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
Viktor Frankl was a psychotherapist of Jewish descent who, in the late 1930s, had the opportunity to move to America for work, but remained in Austria because he did not want to leave his parents behind. He and most of his family ended up in concentration camps. Frankl details his journey in Auschwitz and other camps and talks about some of his observations and the requirements for surviving. Spoiler: having meaning, a reason to live, greatly increases the likelihood of surviving. In the words of Nietzsche: he who has a ‘why’, can bear to survive almost any ‘how’. That statement might be even more powerful coming from a person who did not believe in a larger purpose to life.
For many of us, if we would talk about our experiences in a concentration camp, I guess there would be a great deal of emotion and personal reflection involved. There really isn’t for Frankl: he describes many situations dispassionately and descriptive like a scientist would. To me, that makes the whole book somewhat eerie, but also very impressive.
Think Again – Adam Grant
This book is all about re-thinking. You probably already guessed that, as the title is Think Again. Adam Grant starts this book with a story that happened in 1949 and a team of smokejumpers, firefighters that jump into wildfires in areas that are difficult to reach. Only one person in the whole team deviated from the instructions and threw off his gear at some point. It helped him to survive. This story shows the necessity to rethink wisdom and intelligence when new information arises.
Grant describes three roles that we fall into when we are interacting with others: the preacher, the prosecutor, and the politician. None of these roles describes a person that is actively pursuing the truth through engaging with others. Grant promotes the role of scientist – which probably isn’t surprising, being the professor he is. His idea obviously is that even in discourse, we should be open to testing hypotheses, learn from others, and most importantly to be open to change our opinions.
Today, we have access to more information than we can possibly process. New information comes available all the time. What we thought to be true yesterday, does not have to be true today and tomorrow might be different again. To me, the pandemic is a classic example. Some assumptions or worries we had months ago prove to be either true today or absolutely false. However, many people are not aware of the evidence. Many people still hold to the opinions or impressions they had at the beginning of the crisis.
In this information age, it is important to develop the skill to rethink your position and to adjust your opinion. Obviously, as a pastor, there are some truths that I hold to as I believe them to be absolute truth, but regarding many other things in life, I should be flexible to adjust and rethink. This book gives some compelling cases and good examples of how to approach Thinking Again. A few of my favorite ideas from the books: persuade by listening, acknowledge complexity and lead transparently.
The Cultural Map – Erin Meyer
In the last couple of years in my career, I have worked with people literally from all over the world. In my immediate team, several continents are represented. And whilst we have always tried our best to really understand each other, I don’t think the cultural aspects have always been properly assessed or even considered properly. We have done personality tests, MBTI team profiles and whatnot, but we have never really thought through the true cultural differences within the team.
Erin Meyer describes a system of eight values that can help us determine how cultures vary along a spectrum: communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing and scheduling. Meyer gives examples of several cultures interacting along these scales and where misunderstanding or even mismanagement happened.
For example, I am Dutch. I am influenced by my Indonesian background, but especially in my communication, I’m as Dutch as we come. Very direct and transparent. To others, especially British people who are a lot less direct, I can come across as aggressive when that is not my intention at all. There is this brilliant Anglo-Dutch translation guide that you can find here that illustrates this perfectly. And it’s just one example. English has over 170.000 words in use. Some languages employ way fewer words. Communication becomes very different; in some languages, listening becomes more important as meaning has to be derived from context rather than be spelled out.
Erin Meyer discusses each value in the book and gives examples and cases. Some of these will be very familiar to you: for example time management or disagreements with people from different backgrounds. So especially if you work in an international environment, or live in one of the big cities in the world, this book is bound to give you some moments you will recognize and how to deal with them.
So every year I try to make my reading goal of 20 books; next year I’ll do the same. I just started reading Cynical Theories by Pluckrose & Lindsay, so that might be added to my 2021 tally or maybe it will just spill over into 2022. If you want to follow my reading through the year (no idea why you would, but your choice), you can add me on GoodReads. I also really enjoyed The Lost World Of Genesis One, The Prodigal Prophet, and The Formula this year, and you can find references to all of those on my GoodReads.
If you have any recommendations for me to read in 2022, please let me know! I love being inspired by what others read. So let me know, add a comment, send me a text or whatever and for now: enjoy this Christmas season!