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Favorite Non-Fiction Books of 2021

Jan 13, 2022

I consumed about 45 books last year – some I read, some I listened to -- down from the previous year and my intention this year is to get back to one book per week.  And because I had so many to recommend, I split my list into fiction and non-fiction.  So many books, so little time...

Here were my favorite non-fiction books for 2021:

All In, An Autobiography by Billie Jean King.  I don't usually claim an absolute favorite, but last year, this was it.  The audio version was read by the author, which was really special because it conveyed her passion and energy for tennis and life, as well as her struggles.  Billie Jean is definitely a national treasure and the work she does for human rights is truly impressive.  What I especially admired was her honest vulnerability when discussing her tortured confusion about her sexuality, her marriage, and keeping secrets from people she loved and the public.  She eventually came to terms with it all, but only after it took a toll on her health.  Her writing was so real and moving, I felt I was right with her in some of the tensest moments of her games.  What she did for women's tennis and women's sports in general is nothing short of monumental impact.  This is a book that all young women should read, because it’s important to know the giants whose shoulders we stand on while all for granted the freedoms we have today because of BJK. 

A Promised Land, by Barack Obama.  Read by the author, which always adds another element.  Hearing Obama's recounting of his journey and some of the tensest, most critical moments of his presidency from his own perspective was truly enlightening.  Even though I lived through this time frame, I guess I wasn't paying much attention.  This book was a great history lesson for me.  His ability to stay positive and focused, despite the incredible challenges faced by his administration, is an inspiration for us all.

Brag:  The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus.   This book is a must read for anyone who has trouble with self-promotion.  The author provides a framework to help you prepare for those moments when you have an opportunity, then miss it because you didn’t know what to say.  Advance preparation by thinking through the highlights of your success and the accomplishments about which you are most proud is the key here.  This was recommended by a colleague with whom I teach leadership programs at the Leadership Development Institute.  Such valuable advice!

The Sun Does Shine:  How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton.   This book is special.  It is the author’s account of spending 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. An Oprah’s Book Club Selection, it has been described as “A powerful, revealing story of hope, love, justice, and the power of reading.”

The story is at once heart-breaking, exasperating, and inspiring. Not unlike Nelson Mandela, Hinton left prison without the type of resentment you would have thought probably under the circumstances.  He is an amazing human being.  That read inspired the next one:

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson is the story of the Harvard-educated black lawyer who fought for Anthony Ray Hinton and many others who were unjustly sentenced to death row in the state of Alabama.  The personal risks he took were a testimony to his determination to make a difference for a largely forgotten population.  The book was the inspiration for the movie, which I also recommend.  Bryan Stevenson is an American hero.  These stories broke my heart.

Never Split the Difference:  Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss with Tahl Raz.  This book is full of terrific advice on negotiating and leadership, but what makes it really special are the stories and experiences from Voss’s amazing career.  He not only successfully negotiated some of the most notorious hostage situations in recent history, but also teaches the techniques to law enforcement, business clients, MBA students, and parents.  A fascinating read.

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. This is a memoir of Sotomayor’s life up until she was appointed as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  As a female, and a minority, she had a lot to overcome as she made her way.  Her story is one of determination and grit and believing in oneself.  I look forward to more from her when she is able to write about her experience on the high court.

Chatter:  The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross.  For anyone who believes in the power of mind over matter, this book is so insightful.  We all talk to ourselves, and much of what we say has a negative bias.  Kross provides insight into where it all comes from, but also provides some very tangible ways to manage the self-talk to our advantage.

Those were my favorites.  I’d love to hear yours.

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