Year 2021 in Book Review

In the beginning of 2021 and having read 18 books in 2020, I set a SMART goal of completing 24 books. Besides, I had formed a habit out of it, enjoyed the downtime it gave me and as an insatiable learner, I found it rewarding in every way. At the end of it all, I surpassed my goal of 24 by a small margin – finished 28.

There are a couple of books that I really enjoyed reading and would recommend and some that I only kept going because I thought I was missing something and it would get better. I know. I know. I should have put a full stop earlier.

Whereas I prefer reading physical books, I picked up listening to audio books when running, gardening or when I’m doing things that tie up my hands up like house chores. My strategy so far has been reading physical books that I would like to learn something from, that are technical or that I definitely want to remember and opting for audio books when it comes to light reading – fictional books – that I do not really need to concentrate on or care about the minute details.

With regards to the question: What have I been reading? The answer is – everything! I gravitate towards historical and cultural books that are relatable so historical books like Beneath the Scarlet Sky and The Diary of a Young Girl and cultural books like An American Marriage and The Girl with the Louding Voice were really my type of book. I also ventured into new territory by reading an epic fantasy titled the Tempest of Bravoure by a new and upcoming writer – Valena D’Angelis. I’ve read two of her 3 books. The last is saved for 2022! Another book I really enjoyed was A Fault in Our Stars. Oh what misery! I cried my heart out while reading that one.

I’m all about self development, continuous improvement and relationship building so I went for The Culture Map, The Culture Code and Thinking Fast and Slow – books that were highly recommended by my peers. I was interested in understanding how people think, how my actions and words can be perceived and how I can adjust my behaviour accordingly. The first two – three chapters of Thinking Fast and Slow were good. Thereafter, it felt like repetition. In my opinion, the 500 paged book should have been easily condensed into just 250 with the same end result. On the technical side,

A book that really got me thinking is The Smartest Person in the Room. I must admit this is not a book I would actually have picked myself just going by the title but I’m glad I followed my mentee’s recommendation. It is a really thought provoking book that tries to get to the root cause of our current problems in cybersecurity.

My highlight for the tech books was The Phoenix Project. I highly recommend IT and Security folks to give it a read as the events described here still happen to date, which is rather unfortunate. The Blue Team handbooks are good reference guides.

Thos are just a few of the books I read that stood out for me. Here is a breakdown of all 28 books below with my personal rating.

1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones [Audio Book]

Just when life is starting out for them, Celestial’s husband gets arrested and is sentenced to years in prison. This puts a strain in the marriage and Celestial turns to her childhood friend. Her husband gets out and all are forced to deal with reality. A story on how one can have it all and in a brink, loose it all. A story of love, betrayal, hope and healing. Rated 5/5.

2. A Promised Land by Barack Obama [Physical Book]

I could not have missed this one for the world! I wanted insight on who Obama really was. How did he get to where he was? What challenges and tribulations did he encounter and how did he overcome them? What drove him to run for president and how did that go for him?Enjoyed the autobiography and learnt a lot about the making of history! Rated 4/5.

3. The Fault in Our Stars by Jone Green [Audio Book]

A powerful yet heartbreaking story written beautifully. Hazel, a terminally ill cancer kid meets Augustus and her life finds new meaning. A story of love, hope and dreams. Loved every single minute of this book. Rated 5/5.

4. The Technological Singularity by Murray Shanahan [Physical Book]

A short, clear and concise explanation of a rather complex topic. It delves into what singularity is and when and how it can be achieved. We learn more about brain emulation and the stages involved. It looks at artificial intelligence, the concept of Super intelligence, the impact of AI and what risks are posed. A rather educative book that may be a little daunting for some. Rated 3/5.

5. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank [Audio Book]

Anne Frank, a 13 year old Jewish girl and her family are forced to go into hiding during the Nazi occupation in Holland. They hide somewhere I Amsterdam and cannot leave the building they are in. The book is Anne Frank’s diary and recounts what her days were like until the very end. Rated 5/5.

6. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi [Audio Book]

This book is based on a real life account of a neurosurgeon’s life after being diagnosed with cancer. Paul used to be the one saving lives but things change with the diagnosis. A story of a life taken too soon. Rated 4/5.

7. The Boy At the Back of the Class by Onjali Q.Rauf [Audio Book]

This is actually a kids book that addresses the issue of refugees. A young kid gets a new classmate – Ahmet. He is different and a war survivor. From day one, he wants to befriend Ahmet. This book is a recount of his mission to learn more about Ahmet and help him find him. A really toughing book. We adults could learn a thing or two from this book. Rated 5/5.

8. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kanheman [Physical Book]

A detailed description of how our minds work and how we think:

  • System 1: Fast , automatic, intuitive , impulsive and effortless thinking
  • System 2: controlled, conscious and effortful thinking.

The book got a little repetitive half way though the book since it all boiled down to the same thing: conscious vs effortless thinking. It would have been easier to digest had it been more condensed. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth a read if you want to know more about how the mind works backed by evidence. Rated 3/5

9. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T Sullivan [Physical Book]

A captivating historical account of a young boy – Pino living in Italy during World War II and just before the Nazi invasion. He recounts how he came to join the underground resistance helping jews escape Italy through the Alps. It goes on to talk about the his time working as a driver for Hilters Commander to Italy and falling inlove with Anna. It is a really enjoyable and fascinating story based on real world occurrences. Rated 5/5

10. Foundation by Isaac Asimov [Audio Book]

I feel bad that I did not really enjoy this sci-fi book as much as other techies. It was part of our bookclub reading but is otherwise not my type of book. What I understood was that a galactic empire is on the brink of extinction. A decision is made to move some bright minds to some other planet and after a while, some difficult choices need to be made. You can tell from my description that I barely understood what was happening in this book. Rated 3/5

11. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson [Audio Book]

Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist, is hired to uncover the truth of a missing person – Harriet. He is joined by Lisbeth, a social misfit. Together, they end up uncovering the truth but in the process, are met by unexpected social injustice. Rated 5/5

12. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson [Audio Book]

After finishing the first book, I was left hungry for more so picked up this one. It continues the Mikael and Lisbeth saga. This time, they are linked together by the murder of two reporters. Lisbeth is caught in the middle and Mikael tries to clear her name. Rated 5/5

13. Blue Team Handbook: Incident Response Edition: A condensed field guide for the Cyber Security Incident Responder by Don Murdoch [Physical Book]

A useful reference guide for all your IR needs. It covers topics from planning the IR program to processes, key considerations when it comes to host based and network based analysis. A good book to keep next to you regardless of your years of experience. Rated 4/5

14. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larsson [Audio Book]

Book 3 of the Blomkvist/Lisbeth saga. Lisbeth ends up in hospital and in critical condition following the outcome of book 2. She is also expected to stand trial for murders she really did not commit. Blomkvist comes to her aid and helps unravel the mystery. Rated 5/5

15. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz [Audio Book]

As I mentioned, I was on a roll with the Millennium series. Blomkvist and Lisbeth saga are involved in a cyber investigation that would expose people higher up. This was the book I stopped at because I did notice the change in writing. Maybe I will go back and read the other two remaining books but for now, I’m done. Rated 5/5

16. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business by Erin Meyer [Physical Book]

I learnt a lot from this book on communicating across cultures and what perceptions are involved. It also provides actionable feedback that one can use to adjust behaviour to suit a certain style or culture. Rated 5/5.

17. Tempest of Bravoure: Kingdom Ascent by Valena D’ Angelis [Physical Book]

I’m glad I got my hands on this book despite the fact that it’s not my usual go-to genre. This is the first of a 3 part series that describes how Ahna, a mage and dark elf joins the resistance to fight against her evil brother – Xandor. She learns that her younger brother is still alive and the 3 siblings reunite during during the final battle. Despite great loss, the resistance emerges victorious and are able to free the Kingdom of Bravour from the dark Lord. The story is well written and full of suspense from the very beginning. The journey with the characters leaves the reader wanting to learn more and more as the story unfolds. It was also difficult to guess the ending, which made IT an even more enjoyable book to read. I love how the author manages to make each reader feel comfortable by touching on a sensitive topic of diversity, inclusion and belonging without even mentioning it. Overall, a well written book with a good storyline. Rated 5/5.

We live brave. We die free!

18. The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr & George Spafford [Physical Book]

It’s amazing how relatable the events are even today (almost 10 years since the book was written). It’s not only true for IT (Iived through it a couple of times) but it’s the same thing in security. I think there is a lot that folks can learn from it in this day and age. In our miniature world (tactical), everything might seem urgent and critical but we miss asking ourselves the most important questions that tie it back to business value add (system /strategic thinking). The book also gives us practical examples on the types of questions that one would ask to better understand the why and bridge the gap between our roles and business! I’m looking forward to digging a little deeper on the 3 ways advanced here (detailed in the DevOps Handbook) and trying to incorporate them as best as I can. Rated 5/5.

19. The Volunteer: The True story of the Resistance Hero who infiltrated Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather [Audio Book]

Witold volunteers for the Polish underground to go into the Auswitchz camp and find out then report what was happening. His numerous attempts to get the allied forces to do something failed. An important story is told but it’s also a depressing read of how the world watched on while Auswitchz turned to a slaughter house and did absolutely nothing! Rated 4/5.

20. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou [Audio Book]

Maya shares her childhood memories and life journey and how she found her love for books and poetry. She addresses real world issues such as rape and racism. I could not help feel sorry for her. Rated 3/5

21. Blue Team Handbook: SOC, SIEM and Threat Hunting usecases. A condensed field guide for the Security Operations Team by Don Murdoch [Physical Book]

Yet another handbook from Dan, this one with a focus on building and maintaining a SOC and Threat Hunting. It has a bunch of really great use cases for tooling in the SOC and threat hunting. You also get guidance on how to show business value proposition for the SOC, planning, training considerations, sample SIEM deployment. If you are building a SOC or just want to confirm whether you have everything covered, this is a really helpful resource to turn to. It can be referenced not only in the early stages of the deployment but also in later stages as a field handbook. Rated 4/5.

22. Learning How to Learn: How to succeed in school without spending all your time studying; A guide for kids and teens by Barbara Oakley, Terrence Sejnowski and Alistair McConville [Physical Book]

As a person who believe is continuous learning and growth, I decided to read this book after it was recommended during one of the shows I was co-hosting. In a kid friendly way, it explains how the brain work and how memory links are formed, how to make the most of your learning sessions and the importance of sleep etc. Rated 4/5.

23. The Smartest Person in the Room by Christian Espinosa [Physical Book]

This book is geared towards leaders, however if you are an individual contributor, get yourself a copy. Read it! In a non conventional way, Christian provides a root cause analysis of what is wrong with cyber security today and how we can fix our tomorrow using the “Secure Methodology”. As a takeaway, guess what? Mono tasking is the new kid in the block. A real eye opener. I definitely recommend reading even if it’s just for some self awareness. Thanks Christian for all the “Ouch” moments I felt while reading this book. I’ll try #DoBetter. Rated 4/5.

24. On writing: A Memoire of the Craft by Stephen King

King shares how he got to writing, his writing habits and few tips and tricks for those that wish to do so. He also gives examples of how he went about a certain piece and the choice of language. Key takeaway: consistency is key. Rated 4/5.

You can. You should. And if you are brave enough to start – You will!

Stephen King

25. The Girl with the Loading Voice by Abi Dare

All she ever wanted was an education but instead, at an early age, Adoni’s mother dies and she is married off to an old man as a 3rd wife by her own father. She is forced to grow up so fast and run away from her marital home after one of the wives dies. With hopes of a better tomorrow and help from a Good Samaritan, Adoni struggles till the end. Having grown up in Africa, I know how real this story is. A story of resilience and hope! I felt myself rooting for Adoni till the very end. Rated 5/5

26. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

With specific examples, Daniel shares secrets of how highly successful groups are built and maintained. It boils down to creating a safe place where people feel they belong, building habits of group vulnerability and creating and sustaining purpose through simple beacons that focus attention on the shared goal. On purpose, knowing whether you are building a highly proficient environment or highly creative environment is important because those two work differently. Based on the 3 pillars, Daniel shares actionable takeaways for any leader. I read it as an individual contributor and recommend this for the individual contributors too who value having the bigger picture. Rated 4/5

27. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Cotes

I picked up the book due to high rating and with high expectations. I really really wanted to love this book but it fell short of actionable recommendations – something I was hoping for seeing this was a letter from father to son. As an African, I saw and felt the pain, but missed the hope for a better tomorrow and how one can make it better. Rated 2/5.

28. The Tempest of Bravoure: Castaway by Valena D’Angelis

After the Final battle and filled with hope that part of hr past still lives on, Ahna sets off with Jues in search of something but unsure of what exactly. Thery are joined by a young mage that up until then did not know he was one. They somehow end up on the moon. There she learns the truth of what happened 50 Sols ago and together with a small group, embark on a difficult and dangerous journey to find their way back home. Enjoyed the storyline – a pageturner- not boring and kept me wanting to know what next. I learnt a lot about magic 🙂 and found the characters relatable as they silently address important societal matters without being overly explicit. The ending was definitely unexpected and I’m looking forward to my next downtown so I can enjoy the last book in the series. All in all, highly recommend reading this especially if you just want to relax and get lost in a world full of fantasy. Rated 4.5/5.

That’s all for Yr. 2021. To bigger and better in 2022!

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