2021 was an exceptional year for reading and an especially significant year for audio books. At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to re-read several of the most important books I’ve read in the past. This decision was difficult for me at first because it felt like a waste of time. What more can I learn from a book if I’ve already read it? I was wrong. While I didn’t re-read as many books as I originally planned, the ones I did re-read made me realize the value of re-reading, and I plan to carry the practice forward into 2022 and beyond.
Once again, I’ve categorized the books I’ve read into different categories. Most Transformative, Most Fun, Great, and Good, but this year I’ve added my choice for “Book of the Year.” I’ve also noted which books I re-read and which books I listened to rather than read.
Book of the Year
Courage is Calling – Ryan Holiday
I don’t want to oversell this book, but I absolutely loved it and I think our culture could see a massive shift towards the better if all Americans gave it a read.
I’m a fan of anything Ryan Holiday writes, but this one caught my special attention from the moment I heard it was coming out. The book does not disappoint. I enjoyed it so much I purposely slowed down my reading to savor every word.
You could easily blow through this book in about a week, but you won’t get the full effect if you do so. One of my favorite aspects of this book is that the chapters are short; Usually readable in around five minutes. Because of this, it’s the perfect book with which to start your morning, even if your schedule is hectic. One quick chapter can give you the inspiration you need to go out and conquer your day.
Once completed, it’s the perfect book to leave on your coffee table to read a quick chapter when you need a mental boost. This is exactly what I plan to do with my copy throughout 2022. Don’t be surprised if this book makes the list again next year.
If you only read one book in 2022, make it Courage is Calling.
The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday
Have I mentioned I’m a fan of Ryan Holiday’s writing? The Daily Stoic was first published in 2016, but I only first heard about it in 2021. The book is a daily reader with a chapter (usually only 1 or 2 pages) assigned to each day of the year. Each chapter starts with a quote from the great stoics (Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Cato, Seneca, etc) and continues with a brief lesson expanding upon the quote. I found this book very helpful when I first became interested in stoic philosophy. As much as I’d like to think I could pick up the ancient writings and understand them fully, I’m not there. This book not only introduces you to the ancient writings, it helps you understand them and how they apply to everyday life.
Besides the Daily Stoic, I also bought The Daily Stoic Journal, which matches the lessons in the book with questions to ponder and journal on. I didn’t manage to journal every day, but even occasional journaling helped shore up my thinking and make the lessons sink in deeper.
The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin (Re- Read) (Audio)
I’ve suggested this book to my Jiu Jitsu students constantly since I first read it. When audible put “The Art of Learning” on a buy one get one sale, I jumped on the opportunity to own it. Originally, I felt like listening to books was cheating. With “The Art of Learning” I think I got more from the book by listening to the author read it than I did reading it myself. If you’re the type who invests in improving yourself and you haven’t read or listened to this book yet, make it a priority.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport
This was one of those books I was very excited to read and that didn’t let me down. I read “Deep Work” by Cal Newport last year and throughly enjoyed it. This book was no different. I will say you need a bit of thick skin to read this one. It’s not offensive in any manner, but it may destroy some deep-seated beliefs you may have about your life and success. If you’re looking for a book to get you back on the path, this one will do it. I have already added this book to my re-read list.
Good to Great – Jim Collins – (Re-Read)
This is another book I read many years ago. I was intrigued to read it again after listening to both of Jim Collins’ interviews on the Tim Ferriss podcast. I mentioned previously that I used to think re-reading books was a waste of time. This book reminded me of the quote by Heraclitus “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Re-reading this book with more mature eyes was a completely different experience. Good is the enemy of Great.
4 Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss – (Re-Read)
Speaking of Tim Ferriss, I can’t re-read books without re-reading “The 4-Hour Workweek.” I’ve re-read this book more than any other and will continue to do so for years to come. It’s interesting to see how a lot of the specific information in the book is outdated, but how the principles not only remain, but are more relevant now than ever. This book was the first book I read in 2021 and I did so while sitting on the beach in the Dominican Republic. I have a feeling it will be my beach book from here until the end of my life.
The 10x Rule is like mainline cocaine for any high achiever. I’d heard of Grant Cardone through several channels but had somewhat of a negative opinion of him. After a successful friend recommended the book, I swallowed my pre-conceived notions and picked up a copy. I’m glad I did and I’ve added all of Grant’s other books to my must read list.
If you haven’t immersed yourself into the world of James Reece, don’t delay. The first book of the series is being turned into an Amazon series starring Chris Pratt, so you’ll want to get on it quickly. This book is the third in the series and one of my favorites. Be forewarned, as much as I enjoyed this book, I lost a couple good nights of sleep over a certain aspect of the story. In my opinion, that’s one sign of a talented author.
The Devil’s Hand – Jack Carr (Audio)
I grabbed this audio book the day they released it and it’s excellent. Part of what I like about Jack Carr’s writing is that it takes place in the real world as we know it, but with fictional characters. In “The Devil’s Hand” the premise of the story takes place in a post Covid, post BLM riot United States, which is exactly where I was living when I started the book. Playing off this theme, Carr paints a devilish picture of how terrorists could capitalize on our disarray, and how our arrogant and impotent excuses for leadership are ignoring it.
Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield (Audio)
I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time, but after a recent study of the Spartans, it became a must. I got the audio book from Audible and when I started it; I thought I’d made a mistake. The first few minutes are difficult understand because they’re written in an old style of speech. Don’t fret, this style of speech ends as the story begins.
If you’re a warrior of any type, you’ll love this book. I especially recommend reading this book and then immediately watching the movie “300.” The movie doesn’t follow the book, other than a few characters, but reading and then having a visual of the Battle of Thermopylae will elevate the impact of the story.
Gone Tomorrow – Lee Child (Audio)
I binged on “Jack Reacher” books this year. In the past, I never considered listening to them rather than reading them, but now that I have, and now that I know our library has all the audio books online, I’ll Never Go Back (pun intended). This book threw me off at first. It’s written in the first person, which differs from all the other Reacher books I’ve read before or since. Maybe it was a ghostwriter, or maybe Child just wanted to try something different. That said, after getting past that first hiccup, the book is a twisted and enjoyable thrill ride.
I’ve known since I started reading Reacher books that eventually he makes his way to the Midwest, and eventually Nebraska. People in Chicago, New York and LA have countless stories set in their cities. Living in Nebraska, you get little attention from the books and movies, so whenever you do, you become more interested. This book takes place in South Dakota, so I knew he had to be getting close to Nebraska. This book was fun, but I had the bad guy figured out before Reacher did, which is always a little disappointing.
Worth Dying For – Lee Child (Audio)
At long last, Jack Reacher finally makes it to Nebraska. It’s always fun when people write about my home state, if for no other reason to show how little they actually know about it. The book takes place in a fictional small town and comes complete with a bunch of ex-Cornhusker football player security thugs. It sounds cheesy, but it’s well done (though I can’t imagine we have that many evil ex-players). This is also the first Jack Reacher book that ties in directly with the book ahead of it. Most Reacher books are standalone books. A few of the same characters show up here and there, but the stories don’t tie together. All that changes with this book.
On a side note, I will say that the villains in this book were the most evil villains I’ve encountered in a Jack Reacher book, and that’s saying something. I hated the Duncans to the core. I hated them so much, I’d read another book entirely devoted to Jack Reacher torturing them all. Great work Lee Child.
The Affair – Lee Child (Audio)
Can’t stop, won’t stop. Another reason I’ve been blowing through Reacher books is I want to watch the 2016 Jack Reacher sequel movie with Tom Cruise and Coby Smulders, but I want to read the book first. This book is not that book, it is a prequel, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that. The events of this book occur just before Reacher leaves the Army, and it shows you why and how he has developed certain habits. I enjoyed this one from front to back.
A Wanted Man – Lee Child (Audio)
This book was a surprise. I knew “Worth Dying For” took place in Nebraska, but this book picks up where that one left off, and much of the story takes place in Nebraska as well. The premise of this story sounded silly to me, but it wasn’t. I really enjoyed it, though one occurrence in the story was so disturbing it disrupted my sleep (similar to Jack Carr’s “Savage Son”). I hate i it, but I also love it and I hope to do the same to people in one my books some day.
Never Go Back – Lee Child (Audio)
Finally, the second Jack Reacher book to have a movie. It’s also the book that was the culmination of Reachers’ travels that started way back in “61 Hours.” It’s an enjoyable book. One with a predicament so complicated you wonder how Reacher will ever find his way out. It also dives a deeper into Reacher’s humanity in a way that Lee Child hasn’t done before. I’m looking forward to jumping into the next book in the series to see if he continues to peel back the layers. All said and done, though, I’m not sure why they made a movie out of this book. So many others could have been so much better.
*On another side note, since I listened to this book and wrote the above blurb about it, Amazon Prime has announced a Jack Reacher series that looks excellent and is based on the first book of the series, which is easily one of my favorites. It arrives early February 2022.
” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener sponsored nofollow”>Endurance – Alfred Lansing (Audio)
This book has been on my list for ages, so when Audible had their BOGO sale, I grabbed it up. This story is amazing. It shows just how important leadership, teamwork, and individual mental toughness are. What these men endured is almost unfathomable, and yet they persevered and emerged victorious. Fortitudine Vincimus.
When the greatest of all time writes a book, you buy it immediately. We have a direct link to Rickson in our gym and I hope to train with him personally some day. This book dives deep into not only Rickson’s life, but it gives an inside glimpse of the Gracie family’s true nature. I took a lot of great insight from this book that I hope to leverage in my Jiu Jitsu training. If you’re a Jiu Jitsu player, this book is a must.
Bomber Mafia – Malcolm Gladwell (Audio)
I usually have my finger on the pulse of any new Malcolm Gladwell books, but this one slipped through the cracks. I heard about it, surprisingly, on the Black Rifle Coffee Podcast. Malcolm was the guest interviewed by Evan Hafer. While most books start out as a book which are then read and recorded for an audio book, “Bomber Mafia” started as an audio production which was then transcribed into a book. I’d recommend the audio. Gladwell reads the books himself and its production value makes it almost cinematic.
The Greatest Salesman in the World – Og Mandino
Matthew Mcconaughey said this was the book that changed his life. You can’t NOT read a book after an endorsement like that. I started reading this book early in the year and tried to keep the schedule it suggests in the first chapter. I failed. Eventually I read the book like any other book. It’s got some wonderful insight but it wasn’t life changing for me.
I was drawn to this book when I was feeling overwhelmed with life. I was doing a lot of things I wanted to be doing, but it was still a lot of things, and I couldn’t find much breathing room. Honestly, I didn’t find this book all that helpful. It’s well written with good information, but very little of it was new or useful for me.
I read almost everything Derek Sivers writes, so I was excited to pre-order this one. Once again, it’s a good book, but I took little away from it. That said, I think some people could get a lot from this book. If I understood the purpose, it was to prove how completely different approaches to life can be equally valid. Derek would write one chapter that said something like “Here’s how to live: Chase the Future” and then the very next chapter would be “Here’s how to live: Value only what has endured.” The advice is completely contradictory and yet they both make sense.
Mind Over Money – Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz
This book is another that’s been on my list for a long time. Somehow the library lost the copy I reserved, so I had to buy it. I’m happy to support the authors, but I doubt I’ll need to read it again. That said, there was one piece of information I found valuable. It’s that we all have a money story we tell ourselves. My upbringing shaped mine, and despite what I might believe, it’s not completely accurate. Because of this book, I’m trying to view money as it really is and not how I believe it to be. The most interesting thing about the book is just how messed up some people’s money stories are.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
I always enjoy a business origin story. This book has origin stories inter-spliced with hip hop lyrics. It’s refreshing to see how difficult extremely successful people had it at one point. I also enjoy the razor thin margin between victory and failure. This book is full of these experiences.
On The Road – Jack Kerouac (Audio)
I never had the chance to read this book as a young person, so when Josh Waitzkin mentioned it in “The Art of Learning,” I figured it was time. I picked up the audio book which is read by Will Patton. You might not recognize the name, but you’d likely recognize his face as he’s been in a lot of movies. Honestly, I’m not sure what the big deal is about this book. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t understand the hype.
Outwitting the Devil – Napoleon Hill (Audio)
I learned about this book on a podcast. The story is that Napoleon Hill wrote it and his wife forced him to lock it up because it was so controversial. 70 years later, the manuscript was discovered and released. After listening to the book, I can understand his wife’s fear. If they released this book back in the 30s or 40s, it would have been banned and burned. The premise is that the author had an actual conversation with the devil to learn how he causes people to fail in life. In all honestly, the tricks used by the devil in the book seem to align with the reality of chronic failure, many of which I’ve been susceptible to in the past.
If Jocko writes a book, I read it. “Final Spin” is his first foray into adult fiction. I’ve read his “Way of the Warrior Kid” books and enjoyed them. I enjoyed this book as well. It’s a fast read and a good story. I wouldn’t call it a great story, but it’s a good example of how one poor decision can have large repercussions.
So what books stood out to your in 2021? What do you plan on reading in 2022? Let us know in the comments.