What I read in 2021 📚

February 10, 2022

My first post of 2022! I’m looking to write some posts about the process of building blockcolors.app soon, but in the meantime I wanted to make a quick first post for 2022. So I decided to list the books I have read last year and give some quick thoughts about them.


Sea of Fertility (Yukio Mishima, 1968-1970)

  • Spring Snow (Yukio Mishima, 1968)
  • Runaway Horses (Yukio Mishima, 1969)
  • The Temple of Dawn (Yukio Mishima, 1970)
  • The Decay of the Angel (Yukio Mishima, 1970)

This year I read the latter three books in the Sea of Fertility cycle by Yukio Mishima. I had read Spring Snow late the year before, and I will add it to the list for completeness.

The tetraology is set in Japan and spans from 1912 to 1975. It chronicles the lives of childhood friends Kiyoaki Matsugae and Shigekuni Honda, and their various chance encounters throughout the lifetime of Honda.

The books deal with themes of reincarnation, purity and immorality, beauty and ugliness. Besides its philosophical themes, the books also shed light on the rapid evolution of Japan in the 20th century, and the division this caused in Japanese society between conservative nationalists and liberals. In a sense every book in the cycle offers a different perspective on this question, although Mishima’s own feelings about his home country definitely permeate every book.

Mishima writes in the most colorful, poetic prose that I have had the pleasure to read in my life. Every page reads like a precious painting. At times, I felt like I had to stop reading for a moment to pause and reflect on the beautiful passage I had just read. These books are definitely to be read mindfully.

I was absolutely blown away by these books and I recommend them to anyone interested in 20th century literature or Japanese literature. They have become my favorite works of literary fiction and I will likely reread them in the years to come.

We (Jevgeni Zamatjin, 1924)

We is another book I want to recommend to you. It is a novel about a science-fiction dystopia, similar to Brave New World. It is clear to me that Huxley was inspired by this book while writing Brave New World.

The book is about our planet in a far-future, where a single state rules all civilized people, and the savage natural world is kept out of the megastate with impenetrable walls. The state micro-manages the daily lives of every citizen with Taylor-like scientific precision, and all creative expression and emotion is suppressed. The book is written as the diary of an aerospace engineer called D-503, in which he intends to log his efforts working on a spaceship with which the State wishes to bring their glorious rational thinking to other planets. But when he meets the attractive I-330, his life seems to derail… (reminds you of another dystopian novel?)

What impressed me the most about this novel is how fresh the science-fiction elements still feel for being written in 1924. I could easily imagine a movie adaptation being made today and still have cultural relevance. As an engineer myself, the book was also a fun satire on rationalizing that which is inherently not empirical or rational.

We is another 20th century classic of Russian literature that you should not miss out on.


These are the other books I have read, but have no special recommendation for (they’re still good, though):

  • Siddharta (Herman Hesse, 1922)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote, 1958)
  • Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Haruki Murakami, 2006)
  • Sputnik Sweetheart (Haruki Murakami, 1999)


How to Avoid Climate Disaster (Bill Gates, 2021)

This works serves as a great introduction to and survey on the climate challenges we face and the most promising solutions for reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. You can read me summary of this book here.

How To Take Smart Notes (Sönke Ahrens, 2017)

I read this book to prepare myself for doing academic research for my Master thesis. The book offers some interesting strategies on note-taking and collecting knowledge, which I have tried to implement in Obsidian.

However, I think the zettelkasten method described in this book is a bit too rigid, and I recommend everyone who reads this book to take it only as a starter framework on how to take evergreen notes, and disover your own system as you go.

Atlas of AI (Kate Crawford, 2021)

The Atlas of AI offers some perspectives on the ecological and human costs of AI systems, and tries to reframe the concept of AI to something broader than just the world of machine learning models– to the real world impact it has on people’s lives.

While I think it is an important read to introduce ML engineers to some concepts to be conscious of when designing systems, I couldn’t help but find the overall tone of the book a bit alarmist. It doesn’t help that Crawford intentionally leaves the definition of AI extremely vague, so that she can attribute many different kinds of worldy suffering to the proliferation of AI systems. Proposing solutions is also left as an exercise to the reader.

This Goodreads review, while a bit harsh, hits home on many complaints I also have about the book.

The Revolutionary Genius of Plants (Stefano Manusco, 2018)

This is an interesting pop-sci book on how many species of plants have evolved into miraculously intricate functional designs to adapt to their environments. I read this as a preparation for my Master thesis on reservoir computing with plants.

For this year, I have joined the Goodreads reading challenge. My SO said he would read 16 books this year, so I said I would match him. Hopefully this motivates me to bring you a longer list next year!

Feel free to follow what I’m reading on my Goodreads page.

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About me

I’m a computer science engineer with interest in a wide range of topics, including productivity, PKM, artificial intelligence, product development and game design.

On my blog, you will find posts about personal projects, workflow and productivity, and reviews. Find out more about me here.