Top 10 Reads of 2021

Whether you’re looking for a book for your holiday downtime, or ideas for your 2022 reading list, here are my favourite reads from the last year!

One of my favourite parts of the holiday season each year is the chance to share my best reading finds from the last year with you, and as always, the decision about what makes it on to the list is purely based on what I personally found most compelling, helpful, interesting or entertaining!

In no particular order, my top 10 reads from 2021 were – 

1 – At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor (Carey Nieuwhof)

“And at the heart of the Thrive Cycle is the habit of doing what you’re best at when you’re at your best. For me, doing what I’m best at when I’m at my best has been the Archimedes lever that moved my world. It generated all the productivity I shared with you in the last chapter (and more), but better than that, it’s resulted in a deeper, lasting peace. That peace comes from, among other things, the assurance of knowing that if I can just do what I’m best at when I’m at my best for a good chunk of each day (as I get time, energy, and priorities working for me), my effectiveness soars—work is far better, and my home life has a quality and joy that was missing for too many years.”


2 – A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick-Fix (Revised Ed.) (Edwin Friedman)

“I want to stress that by well-differentiated leader I do not mean an autocrat who tells others what to do or orders them around, although any leader who defines himself or herself clearly may be perceived that way by those who are not taking responsibility for their own emotional being and destiny…

I mean someone who can be separate while still remaining connected and, therefore, can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. I mean someone who can manage his or her own reactivity in response to the automatic reactivity of others and, therefore, be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing. It is not as though some leaders can do this and some cannot. No one does this easily, and most leaders, I have learned, can improve their capacity.”


3 – The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (John M. Barry)

“But the virus, even as it lost some of its virulence, was not yet finished. Only weeks after the disease seemed to have dissipated, when town after town had congratulated itself on surviving it—and in some places where people had had the hubris to believe they had defeated it—after health boards and emergency councils had canceled orders to close theaters, schools, and churches and to wear masks, a third wave broke over the earth.

The virus had mutated again. It had not become radically different. People who had gotten sick in the second wave had a fair amount of immunity to another attack, just as people sickened in the first wave had fared better than others in the second wave. But it mutated enough, its antigens drifted enough, to rekindle the epidemic. Some places were not touched by the third wave at all. But many—in fact most—were.”


4 – Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets: 5 Questions to Help Determine Your Next Move (Andy Stanley)

“Five Questions –

1. The Integrity Question – Am I being honest with myself, really?

2. The Legacy Question – What story do I want to tell?

3. The Conscience Question – Is there a tension that needs my attention?

4. The Maturity Question – What is the wise thing to do?

5. The Relationship Question – What does love require of me?”


5 – Predictable Success: Getting Your Organisation on the Growth Track – and Keeping it There (Les McKeown)

“At the core of Predictable Success is an ever-present, ever-shifting tension that holds two competing but equally necessary forces in a fine balance: On the one hand are the creativity, drive, initiative and entrepreneurial spirit that give the organization its vision, and on the other are the precise and mundane systems and processes that bring scalability, consistency and profitability.”



6 – Leadership in Turbulent Times: Lessons from the Presidents (Doris Kearns Goodwin)

“Scholars who have studied the development of leaders have situated resilience, the ability to sustain ambition in the face of frustration, at the heart of potential leadership growth. More important than what happened to them was how they responded to these reversals, how they managed in various ways to put themselves back together, how these watershed experiences at first impeded, then deepened, and finally and decisively molded their leadership.”



7 – Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (Adam Grant)

“Research reveals that the higher you score on an IQ test, the more likely you are to fall for stereotypes because you’re faster at recognising patterns. And recent experiments suggest that the smarter you are, the more you might struggle to update your beliefs…

The better you are at crunching numbers, the more spectacularly you fail at analyzing patterns that contradict your views. If they were liberals, math geniuses did worse than their peers at evaluating evidence that gun bans failed. If they were conservatives, they did worse at assessing evidence that gun bans worked.

In psychology there are at least two biases that drive this pattern. One is confirmation bias: seeing what we expect to see. The other is desirability bias: seeing what we want to see… These biases don’t just prevent us from applying our intelligence. They can actually contort our intelligence into a weapon against the truth…”


8 – High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out (Amanda Ripley)

“To thrive in the modern world, we need to understand how this happens. We need to step back from high conflict and marvel at its contours. Then we can recognize the way it warps our vision and imagine another way to live.

Wishing your opponent will finally see the light is a fool’s errand. It will only lead to heartbreak. Counting up the other side’s wrongs is a hobby that can last a lifetime. Obsessing over the next election is a delay tactic. Telling people to reject hate and choose love will not work. Because people swept up in high conflict do not think of themselves as full of hate, even if they are. They think of themselves as right. Hate is an important emotion. But it’s a symptom; conflict is the cause. And high conflict is a system, not a feeling.”

[Note: I highly recommend the audio book, which has audio excerpts of interviews, meetings and exchanges that convey non-verbal layers of conflict that go beyond concrete words]


9 – The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor (Eddie Jaku)

“Happiness does not fall from the sky; it is in your hands. Happiness comes from inside yourself and from the people you love. And if you are healthy and happy, you are a millionaire.”




10-12 – Donald Miller Trio:





Storybrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen (Donald Miller)

Marketing Made Simple: A Step-By-Step Storybrand Guide for Any Business (Donald Miller & Dr. J.J. Peterson)

Business Made Simple (Donald Miller)

“In business, if we don’t communicate clearly, we shrink. When we’re motivating a team, convincing shareholders, or engaging customers, we must define a desire our customers have or we will have failed to open a story gap and our audience will ignore us. Remember, customers want to know where you can take them. Unless you identify something they want, it’s doubtful they will listen.

Imagine your customer is a hitchhiker. You pull over to give him a ride, and the one burning question on his mind is simply Where are you going? But as he approaches, you roll down the window and start talking about your mission statement, or how your grandfather built this car with his bare hands, or how your road-trip playlist is all 1980s alternative. This person doesn’t care.” – (Storybrand)

[Yes, I’m cheating a little by including three books in the final slot here! But I read these three straight after one another and they really do go together well as a set, so I decided it counts as a single slot, the same way the Harry Potter set did in 2016 ????]


Other 2021 Reads:

13 – That Sounds Fun (Annie F. Downs)

14 – Journey to the Cross: A 40 Day Lenten Devotional (Paul David Tripp)

15 – Enemies of the Heart (Andy Stanley)

16 – Soundtracks (Jon Acuff)

17 – Winning the War in Your Mind (Craig Groeschel)

18 – Year of Yes (Shonda Rhimes)

19 – Effortless (Greg McKeown)

20 – Yes Please (Amy Poehler) [re-read]

21 – Win at Work and Succeed at Life (Michael Hyatt & Meghan Hyatt Miller)

22 – Aesop’s Fables (Aesop)

23 – Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling)

24 – Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street and Other Stories (Virginia Woolf)

25 – The Most Dangerous Game (Richard Connell)

26 – The Allegory of the Cave (and other books from Plato’s Republic) (Plato)

27 – That’s Not How We Do It Here (John Kotter)

28 – Is This Anything? (Jerry Seinfeld)

29 – Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (Richard Bach)

30 – Buy-In (John Kotter & Lorne A. Whitehead)

31 – Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

32 – Challenge Accepted (Celeste Barber)

33 – On Confidence (Alain de Botton)

34 – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)

35 – Bringing Ararat (Armand Inezian)

36 – The Royal Game (Stefan Zweig)

37 – Four Thousand Weeks (Oliver Burkeman)

38 – Make Your Bed (William H. McRaven)

39 – Jean-Paul Satre (John Compton)

40 – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote)

41 – Farmer Giles of Ham (J.R.R. Tolkien)

42 – Letter from an Unknown Woman (Stefan Zweig)

43 – White Nights (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

44 – The Beast in the Jungle (Henry James)

45 – Social Media Success for Every Brand (Claire Diaz-Ortiz)

46 – Start With Why (Simon Sinek)

47 – Never Give Up (Bear Grylls)

48 – You Were Made for this Moment (Max Lucado)

49 – Giftology (John Ruhlin)

50 – The Long Game (Dorie Clark)

51 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J.K. Rowling) [re-read]

52 – Breath (James Nestor)


You can find the lists from previous years here: