The 2021 Q1 book retrospective.

· March 27, 2021

A tweet-sized review of all 15 books I read this quarter.

A quarter in numbers.

I am going to divide this section into two parts - “Noise” and “Signal”. Noise is just meaningless data that I have access to, and will have no bearing on what and how I read. The Signal section is data that will actually affect what I read next quarter.


  • Books read: 15
  • Pages read: 4532
  • Average book length: 302 pages.
  • Average Year of Publication: 1999


  • Median Year of Publication: 2010 (not good, skewed towards modern work.)
  • Standard Deviation of Year of Publication: 25 years (very bad, need more variation in the publication of work.)

The reviews

Okay here are the rules - 15 books, 240 characters and a score out of 10 to express my opinion of the book. Perfect for us attention emaciated folk of the 2020s. This is written in the order that I read the books. Complete review in the title link.

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning.

  • Published: 2008
  • Rating: Strong 7/10

This book offers few original insights, its value lies in it compiling various methods of learning and thinking into one entertaining package. If you haven’t read a lot of books on the topic, this book is a great starting point.

On Writing Well.

  • Published: 1976
  • Rating: Light 8/10

This is a no-nonsense guide to writing non-fiction - all the way from humour to sports to memoirs. There are many examples that illustrate the principles of writing. The examples and references are too USA centric though.


  • Published: 2016
  • Rating: 8/10

Written by a leading expert in the field, if there is one book on mastery you want to read, this should be the one. Extremely actionable step for attaining mastery and debunking the talent myth. Gets a little repetitive at times.


  • Published: 2012
  • Rating: 10/10

If there is one book that I urge you to read out of this list, it’s this one. To me, this is a life-changing book. Sprawling, intelligent and salty, you may sometimes disagree with this book, but Taleb does make excellent points.

Volume Control.

  • Published: 2019
  • Rating: 6/10

This book is about the science of hearing, its importance in society and how we mistreat our ears. It is an easy, entertaining and informative read. It was less a science book, and more a book-length magazine article.


  • Published: 2020
  • Rating: 8/10

This is a slightly more practical, and less philosophical take on the idea of “Optionality” that is introduced in Antifragile. The author writes from experience, has a great writer’s voice and has some good wisdom to share.


  • Published: 2012
  • Rating: 3/10

This book was garbage. It was about 40% longer than it should have been. It has all the tropes of the hate-to-love genre. Avoid. I recommend reading “The Hating Game” instead, a novel that hits the same narrative notes.

Built To Sell.

  • Published: 2010
  • Rating: 8/10

Written in the form of a parable, this book is short and impactful. Owing to its short length and highly actionable insights, I feel like anyone interested in building a business should read this, whether they want to sell it or not.

How to Take Smart Notes.

  • Published: 2017
  • Rating: 8/10

Introduced the Zettelkasten method of note-taking. Has completely changed the way I research, take notes and generate ideas. The implementation details could have been a little better. Must read for non-fiction writers and researchers.

The Pragmatic Programmer

  • Published: 1999
  • Rating: 8/10

A programming classic. Timeless principles that every coder should know. Must read for young programmers. More experienced folk may already know most of these principles.


  • Published: 1987
  • Rating: 9/10

The history and mathematics of Chaos theory from first principles. Will change the way you look at the world. Written beautifully. Chaos theory is extremely interdisciplinary and applies to most aspects of life.

Amusing Ourselves to Death.

  • Published: 1985
  • Rating: 7/10

Extremely relevant to today’s social media age. Great critique of the role that the medium of public discourse plays in the discourse itself. Sometimes too America and religion-focused, but recommended for some excellent ideas.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

  • Published: 2011
  • Rating: 4/10

This unfocused vomit of thoughts is a memoir by Mindy Kaling of “The Office”. It is in parts funny, entertaining, and random in a boring way. Read if you are a Mindy Kaling fan or into gossip magazines.


  • Published: 1922
  • Rating: Strong 8/10

This classic is about the life of Siddhartha, a Brahmin boy during the time of Buddha. It’s written beautifully and makes you think about life. This could be a life-changing book for the right reader. It’s short, so give it a read.

Fooled by Randomness

  • Published: 2001
  • Rating: 8/10

Book 1 of the Incerto, Taleb shows how we are all fools of randomness. Excellent meditations on probability, biases and the role of luck in our lives. Typical Taleb ego, albeit a little subdued compared to later works.

My picks

These are books that stuck with me. This list need not align with the numeric score I have given and is in no particular order.

  • Antifragile
  • Peak
  • Fooled by Randomness
  • Build to Sell
  • Chaos
  • How to Write Smart Notes
  • Optionality
  • The Pragmatic Programmer

Learning for next quarter

  • Books should be from more varied periods of history.
  • More varied non-fiction topics. I am currently skewed towards productivity and entrepreneurship. Very VC bubble.
  • More classic fiction.
  • More eastern work. I am disproportionately exposed to western thoughts.

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