My 12 Books of 2021

Taking a pause to read on Valentine’s Day Weekend at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, California.

“Reflection teaches you only the best of what you know.

Reading teaches you the best of what others know.” — James Clear

In 2018, I read zero (0) books.

In 2019, I read four (4) books.

In 2020, I read ten (10) books (up from my goal of only six books).

In 2021, I set a goal to read twelve (12) books, and I hit the goal in November. I’ve listed the books below, along with a snippet of what resonated with me.

[Disclaimer: outside of the first book listed, every book was physically read on my iPad or a real book.]

A Promised Land” by Barack Obama: my first Presidential memoir book. Incredibly fascinating insight into the decisions and challenges of the highest office. What made this book even more special: Barack Obama himself narrated the audiobook.

“You know, Barry, there are people in the world who think only about themselves. They don’t care what happens to other people so long as they get what they want. They put other people down to make themselves feel important.

Then, there are people who do the opposite — who are able to imagine how others must feel and make sure that they don’t do things that hurt people.

“So,” she said, looking at me square in the eye, “which kind of person do you want to be?” — Stanley Ann Durham, Barack Obama‘s mother.

The Big 50: Men and Moments of the Detroit Red Wings” by Helene St. James: just when my fandom couldn’t get any higher, this book dives deep into the many icons of my hometown NHL team.

Getting Naked” by Patrick Lencioni: gifted to me by a colleague of mine at Google, this book provides perspective on client relationships and aims to uncover some fears we have in our day-to-day interactions with those that invest in the products we sell.

Thirst” Scott Harrison: Gifted to me by the Co-Founders of Sports Biz Cares, A fascinating origin story of the nonprofit charity:water. “Actions not words are what people need from us.” After I finished the book, I began monthly donations to the organization.

Open” by Andre Agassi: I played tennis all through high school (went to the state championships in my junior and senior year, nbd), and I always looked up to Agassi. Some of the learnings in this book definitely caught me by surprise. A great read focused on perseverance, love, loss, and glory of the game.

“My Lovely Wife” by Samantha Downing: the first fiction book I read as an adult. A suspenseful murder story. I ran through it in 2 weeks, which is the fastest I’ve read any book to date.

“Talking to Strangers" by Malcolm Gladwell: Strangers aren’t easy. A great book that dives into how we default to trust when meeting strangers.

“When” by Daniel Pink: Writing is an act of discovering what you think and what you believe. A great recommendation for folks seeking to understand and gain perspective on the value of time.

“The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz: as an aspiring entrepreneur myself, this book spoke to me on so many different levels. “Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness.”

“The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides: the second fiction book I’ve read as an adult. Not sure if I would call it a “thriller” but it was definitely a suspenseful murder narrative with interesting timeline storytelling.

New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World — and How to Make It Work for You” by Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms: “The right recipe for building an effective group is by making people feel like they are a part of it, and that they can stand out in it.” This book was an interesting take on “old power” versus “new power,” and how to achieve more by finding the balance and being agile between both.

“Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” by Adam Grant: “Our happiness often depends more on what we do than where we are.” A thought-provoking book that will encourage me to rethink my own assumptions and conclusions.



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Kevin Lao

Kevin Lao


Detroit-born, living and working in Silicon Valley. Passionate about sports, tech, leadership, fitness, & the transfer of knowledge from one person to another.