My Top 4 Books of 2021

North Korea, Science, Time management, and Self-Compassion

by garrison

Friday, December 24, 2021

Without You, There Is No Us

Undercover among the sons of North Korea's elite

by Suki Kim ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Suki Kim found herself teaching English in an elite North Korean school. But "elite" is a strange word. These students were from the upper class, but they had a poor understanding of the outside world. It must be awkward for a totalitarian government to educate the next generation of politicians and leaders while keeping them brainwashed enough not to tear the system down. Throughout the book, you feel this tension, with brave students asking questions that are a little too suspicious and the anxiety that fills the lunchroom and classroom when they do. You can't help but fall in love with the students and Suki as they try to navigate teaching and learning in this situation.

I felt a strange connection to these students because, based on world events discussed in the book, I calculated that I am the exact age of these students, and I could remember what I was doing during precise moments of the book.

The Demon-Haunted World

Science as a candle in the dark

by Carl Sagan ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book is about how we can use science to help us navigate a world that is seemly filled with Demons, Gods, aliens, and other superstitions. My favorite part was the Baloney Detection Kit, where Sagan gives thinking tools for evaluating claims. It probably needs a modern rework given the internet.

There is a section of this book where Sagan gets angry at tabloids for not taking responsibility for fact-checking what they publish. I wonder how he would feel about the internet today.

Four Thousand Weeks

Time management for mortals

by Oliver Burkeman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

No matter how you schedule your time, important things will be left undone. This book is a guide to accept that emotionally. According to Burkeman, the game is rigged. You don’t have enough time because time isn’t something you can “have”. You can’t make time, save time, or spend time. Thinking of time in this way is a new invention, along with clocks and capitalism. But time never did work that way, and it might be the reason we get so frustrated trying to manage it as if we can.

I think this book is good for anyone with time-related stress. Whether that stress is related to your limited time during the day, or your year, or your life, this book has new ways to think about it.

This Difficult Thing of Being Human

The art of self-compassion

by Bodhipaksa ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was the first book I read this year, and I’m still using its recommended journaling prompts. It’s a guide for building self-compassion and remembering that it’s hard just being alive. Being a human is difficult, and being compassionate towards ourselves is the first step to becoming compassionate towards others. This is my most highly recommended book of the year, and I plan on re-reading it.

A couple more books you might like:

I read a lot more books this year. Some good, and some not-so-good. Here are a couple more that you might enjoy:

Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✩

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✩

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✩