When the sun rose on January 1st, I was thrilled to take on 2020. Sarah and I were in a beautiful beach in Brazil cheering champagne alongside my family just before hopping in a plane back to Canada to start a new chapter in our lives.
We were officially moving to Toronto.
It was an exciting first 3 months, exploring a new city and building new relationships in what was shaping up to be an epic year… until March 11th came. That’s when I left the office for the last time unsure of what lied ahead, and the 2020 that we came to know officially began.
Oftentimes the books I’m reading follow my present state of mind. I try to line up about 20 books that I intend to read each year ahead of time, but then unexpected things happen that scratch my curiosity about different topics I had never thought about. Below is a snapshot of where my head was at throughout 2020:
And so, I’d like to share with you my Top 5 books from above that helped shape my thinking going into 2021.
Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
This was an extraordinary piece of writing by one of the biography industry’s very best – Walter Isaacson. I did not have this book on my reading list before the end of the year, but while I was in Brazil in 2019 I visited a Leonardo da Vinci exposition (which I talked about on this post) that completely blew my mind.
Aside from having been one of history’s most brilliant painters, Leonardo embodied the definition of a true renaissance man. He invented military weapons, water systems and flying machines, he was a sculptor, he was an exceptional writer, he studied the human body and drew the most detailed anatomy pictures of his time, and the list goes on.
This book was an inspiration to me as I’ve always identified myself as a “generalist”. After seeing how the mind of one of history’s greatest generalists functioned I was finally ready to proudly wear my polymath hat.
Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities by Vaclav Smil
This was recommended by Bill Gates in his 2019 yearly book roundup, but it does come with a word of caution: it’s an extremely technical book, heavy in academic language and mathematical detail.
But Vaclav, known for his deep knowledge in policy and energy systems in his work at the University of Winnipeg, does such an incredible job in explaining how things grow and the patterns in which they do that somehow this 600 page unit, which contains an additional 100 pages purely devoted to sources, becomes a page-turner.
If you’re curious to understand how the laws of thermodynamics explain the economic activity we see today and how to predict the future of growth trajectories (of any type: cells, crops, cities, societies, and more), then this book is for you. I can say that this was one of the most intellectually challenging books I’ve ever read, and because of that it was also the most rewarding one to dive into.
The Canadian Regime: An Introduction to Parliamentary Government in Canada (6th Edition) by Patrick Malcolmson & Richard Myers
I began reading this book in the week leading up to Canada Day. There was a lot of talk about “cancelling” Canada Day due to its complicated history with Native Americans and policies passed over the years, and I realized how little I knew about how my government worked.
Patrick and Richard do a fantastic job in explaining the foundational theory of our parliamentary democracy and how it differs from other systems (such as federal republics, autocracies, communist states, etc.), and they also figured out how to explain our political conventions in a way that will finally make it “click”.
This book is updated after each election to reflect the latest political realities in the government, and is a must read for anyone looking to be a more active member of Canadian society or for someone just trying to navigate our presently charged political reality.
Principles by Ray Dalio
In 2019 I worked as an analyst and took on projects in which I manipulated big data to make more educated forecasts/decisions in business. I quickly learned that when seeking to propose change that impacts large swaths of people, aligning on a set of principles will make it a lot easier to roll out future plans you may have in mind. As long as the ideas ladder up to the core principles of the project, it will oftentimes be safe to try.
So, what better person to talk about drafting principles than hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio. He talks through every single one of this personal principles in detail and how they helped him in business and in life.
Many of the culture building tactics Dalio used at Bridgewater Associates have been implemented across every industry in the globe due to their success in the world’s largest hedge fund firm. On top of his many business successes, Ray also provides a great framework of thinking for anyone navigating complexity at work or at home.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff
I began reading this book after a friend of mine recommended me to watch “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. It was an eye opening docudrama that shone light into a number of philosophical and pragmatic issues with social media that sadly most people aren’t even aware of. After questioning my own relationship with Facebook and Google, this was the perfect book to help me determine where I stood in this so called dilemma.
Understanding privacy in the 21st century has become a far more complex exercise due to how our minds have been wired to interpret it over the previous century. The iPhone was only launched 13 years ago (2007) and so most people still aren’t well versed in the bits & pixels emanating from their personal pocket computers.
The idea that someone wouldn’t care about their privacy because “they don’t have anything to hide” no longer holds up – with the emergence of social media interweaving itself in every aspect of our lives we have become vulnerable to manipulation; so much so that we have recently seen a wave of populist movements threaten democracies across the world.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to confidently take control of their data, which effectively has become our social currency in the 21st century world.
I hope I was able to be of help in picking a couple books for your 2021 reading list. Please drop me a line with what you’re planning to read in the new year in the comment section!
To see what I’m reading year-round, follow me on Goodreads here.
You can find my 2019 Book Picks here.