Books I Loved Reading This Year

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

William Styron, Conversations with William Styron
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I’ve always loved reading. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get my library card. Once I finally had one, I would walk down to the Lincoln Park branch of the Chicago Public Library and load up on as many books as I could check out and still expect to read in the two-week loan period. I always had my nose buried in a book. My reading tastes varied widely, even at a young age. I loved science fiction and read everything I could get my hands on. I devoured Azimov’s Foundation trilogy (and am enjoying the Apple TV+ series now – even though it doesn’t match the novels closely). I loved Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Ursula Le Guin, and countless others. Those writers jump-started my interest in technology and the future – both topics I’ve been fortunate to explore in-depth throughout my professional career.

As I got older, I started reading more non-fiction books – especially biographies and histories. And space, anything about space exploration is on my reading list. Growing up, I watched every Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo mission on TV. I continued to follow the space program missions – from Skylab, through the Shuttle, the ISS, and all the JPL planetary missions, even today (NASA TV is on my Roku device). So, it probably won’t surprise you that there’s a novel about space in my favorites this year.

Getting the list down to a manageable number was tough. But, after a lot of thought, some novel scoring algorithms (none of which would qualify as scientific), and in no particular order, here are six that I’d recommend as a gift to yourself or another reader in your family.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – I did say I loved science fiction, right? Like most people, I was first introduced to Weir’s writing through The Martian. His latest novel is a wild tale about a high school science teacher who wakes up in a different star system with no memory of how he got there. The rest of the story is all about how he uses science and engineering to save the day. I have both the Kindle and Audible versions, and I love that I can bounce back and forth between the two.

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson – Isaacson is another author that I read religiously. I have his biographies of Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci. So when he released this book, it was a no-brainer for me – especially because I’ve followed and reported on Dr. Doudna’s work. The CRISPR gene-editing system is perhaps the most powerful scientific breakthrough of the last decade. I learned a lot from this comprehensive and accessible book about the discovery. Isaacson does a good job highlighting the most important ethical questions around gene editing.

Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response by Andy Slavitt – I’ve been following Slavitt’s work since his days at CMS during the Obama administration. As CMS administrator, he was able to work across the aisle, though quietly, more than some predecessors. His pragmatic problem-solving (he dislikes the word “technocrat”) approach helped him build good ties with much of the health care industry and many governors, including those in red and purple states. I wanted an honest account of what happened during the pandemic and got it in this book.

Deep Tech: Demystifying the Breakthrough Technologies That Will Revolutionize Everything by Eric Redmond – The world of “deep tech” has launched seven simultaneous global revolutions: artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, and quantum computing—a perfect storm that will drive the global economy for the next decade. Since each of these technologies has applications to health care, I wanted to get a sense of where they stood today from someone who advises groups like the MIT Media Lab and the World Economic Forum. A fascinating read.

The Digital Reconstruction of Healthcare: Transitioning from Brick and Mortar to Virtual Care by Paul Cerrato and John Halamka – This book is part of a series from HIMSS. Although somewhat expensive for an e-book, it is well worth the investment. Everyone is talking about digital health these days and the transitions of much of patient care from hospitals, clinics, and offices to various virtual settings. This book combines Dr. John Halamka’s lessons learned from years of international consulting with government officials on digital health with senior research analyst Paul Cerrato’s expertise in AI, data analytics, and machine learning. Together, these two experts support the contention that these technologies can help solve many of the seemingly intractable problems facing healthcare providers and patients. If you want to move beyond the hype and learn practical, real-world examples of how digital health works, this is THE book to read.

Troy: The Greek Myths Reimagined (Stephen Fry’s Greek Myths Book 3) – Last, but certainly not least, is this latest book from Stephen Fry. I also have the other two but was especially drawn to this volume because I had to study the Trojan myth in high school. Troy is the story of the epic battle retold by Fry with drama, humor, and vivid emotion. This is another one where I have both the printed and audio versions. And hearing Fry narrate his work is a real treat.

Hopefully, one or more of these recommendations has piqued your curiosity or aligns with your interests. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have. If you have favorites of your own, please share them in the comments section below. I’m always looking for another great read.

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