Top 10 Security, Technology, and Business Books of 2021
Welcome to the 2021 edition of my top 10 books of the year list. This year’s list includes 8 non-fiction and 2 fiction books as I believe fiction can always inform our perspectives on security, technology, and business. If I had to define one theme for this year, I would say it is “disruption” as many of the books that resonated with me dealt with past, current, and future disruption. In fact, this year I also developed a new presentation entitled “Surviving Exponential Disruption” so it is clear I’ve got disruption on my mind.
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Here is the 2021 list:
If you read my Global Frequency newsletter or follow me on social media, it is probably no surprise to you that this book was my favorite of the year. Thorp does an incredible job of humanizing data science and captures not only the huge disruption potential, but also the inherent risk.
I’ve always been fascinated with shifts in technology, finance, and society and Trillions captures the story of one market mechanism that impacted all three at once. You might think of the creation of a stock index fund as something benign, but it marked a leap in technology as computers were used to do something that was previously cumbersome and it created a whole new mechanism for investing. The characters in this book are compelling and the cast of those impacting this approach is filled with those that would later be acknowledged as the greatest minds in mathematical finance.
In the history books 2021 will be regarded for many things, but one of my favorite moments to watch was the emergence of the Reddit disruption of the financial markets around a handful of stocks and most notably Gamestop. Mezrich’s book gives us an inside look at the known and unknown players behind the scenes and does a good job of capturing the essence of the moment that will likely linger in the markets from here forward.
“The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11” by Garrett M. Graff
Increasingly, I find myself dealing with folks who have no adult memory of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Graff’s book is a historical masterpiece capturing the events of 9/11 with the real voices of over 600 people with unique and humanizing experiences from that day. This book is not only a great reminder for those of us for whom the day is forever etched in our minds, but also as a gift for those who have no memories, but want to understand.
“The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race” by Walter Isaacson
The most disruptive technology of the 2020s won’t be blockchain, quantum computing, or AI as those deal with coding in the environment we have created. CRISPR looks at coding what we are, and will herald incredible advancements in medicine, but also great risks for abuse. Isaacson is a classic biographer and takes a look at the emergence of this technology and the road ahead.
“The Key Man: The True Story of How the Global Elite Was Duped by a Capitalist Fairy Tale” by Simon Clark and Will Louch
The Key Man is a detailed look at a modern confidence man who captured the attention of the global elite with a promise of achieving incredible returns through investments in the most emerging of markets. It is a constant reminder that initiatives like this can’t be entrusted to organizations without adequate transparency and how easily credibility can be built once a few key relationships are in place (similar to Theranos story as told in the book Bad Blood). The most unfortunate aspect of this tale is I constantly felt like the approach would have worked and would have been impactful, but was dragged down by the cascading levels of fraud.
If you want to identify the next disruptive technology, it is always useful to study the lesser known personalities that catapulted previous initiatives. The Genius Makers tells the tale of the Machine Learning gold rush where key technology players gobbled up emergent companies, academics, and disruptors in an effort to become the Kings of AI.
“The Wires of War: Technology and the Global Struggle for Power” by Jacob Helberg
As past observers have noted, it is hard for cybersecurity books to make this list as I’m so close to the topic as to be underwhelmed by most of the generalist tomes I encounter. That said, Helberg does a tremendous job of stacking up the critical security, economic, and societal issues in this space so as to paint an insightful and constructive view of the current and emerging risks and opportunities for action. At the core, this is also a book about inevitable great power struggles as the U.S. and China provide increasingly divergent poles on these issues.
“The Ministry for the Future” by Kim Stanley Robinson
Of all the books I read in 2021, this one stuck with me the most as it felt like I was reading a letter from an inevitable future. I find myself referring to and recommending it often on a variety of topics including global warming, cryptocurrency, disruptive technologies, and global terrorism. Robinson paints a future disrupted by global warming and acts of desperation and hope put in play by future citizens to halt and reverse the devastating impacts.
“When the Sparrow Falls” by Neil Sharpson
Sharpson paints a world of nuanced science fiction that is fully immersive and unique as if dropped into a 1980’s Soviet city, but in a future in which general AI has emerged as a fully realized technology. In fact, AI has become so advanced as to achieve global citizenship and autonomy, except in this last depressed foothold of totalitarian control where one AI has been granted a temporary passport to investigate the death of one of its own caught living amongst the humans in this non-permissive environment.
“Greenlights” Matthew McConaughey in audio book format is delightful.
Always looking to learn from masters, I’ve really enjoyed consuming the Market Wizards series by Jack D. Schwager
“Masters of Scale: Surprising Truths from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs” by Reid Hoffman is perfect reading for those with entrepreneurial aspirations.