Books We Loved in 2021: Mistral Crew Recommendations

In our community of 250 people, never a day goes by without a constructive dialogue. Many of our team members are avid readers, and very often we have discussions around the latest title some of the crew members read.

We asked some of our bookworms to recommend favorite books they got their hands on in 2021. Whether it’s the classic of the Sci-Fi world or the latest publication that offers tools to communicate better – everyone got to cash in something new in their memory bank.

Hopefully, their reviews will inspire you to grab one or more of the following works. In their own words, Amina, Kristina, Bekir, Dalila, and Azra explain why these titles landed the name of favorites for 2021.

Recommendations by Dalila Balić, Software Developer

“Warbreaker” by Brandon Sanderson
(Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi)

This is one for the fantasy fans out there. Like in all his books, the magic system is one of the most incredible written creations. The worldbuilding and lore of the world are incredibly immersive, and the plot is very satisfying in the sense that every detail makes a difference for the plot and pays off in the end. One additional aspect I enjoyed is that the story is very much written as a mystery, with different characters trying to solve the mysteries they are involved in.

“I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov 
(Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi)

This is a classic of the Sci-Fi world. I think it’s the perfect casual read for people in the IT world. The collection of short stories shows how three quite simple rules can sometimes lead to unexpected results and behaviors. I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the book so much. I feel that QA folks might enjoy this a lot.

 “The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness 
(Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopia)

This is a young adult dystopian novel, and the first book in a trilogy I devoured quickly. Don’t get deceived by it being a young adult story, it tackles some heavy themes (especially in books 2 and 3). This one is great for people who love to read books with interesting premises, as the imaginary world the story is set up in, has quite a few unique perspectives. Even though the book is very thought-provoking, the pacing of the plot still manages to be borderline neck-breaking, and trust me – every page will leave you wanting more.

“Beartown” by Fredrik Backman
(Genre: Contemporary)

This was probably the most difficult read for me in 2021. Not in a sense that the writing style is hard to process or the plot difficult to understand, but it was emotionally difficult to go through. In the rawest way, it depicts the strengths and weaknesses of a small community, and what difference it can make in the lives of people who are a part of it, both the positive and negative ones. The characters are so incredibly real, that you feel they might be people you already know. The author did a fantastic job of placing them in a setting where you can see in a very real way what we yearn for as humans.

Recommendations by Kristina Zvonar, Software Developer

“A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future” by David Attenborough 
(Genre: Science)

No doubt about it – climate change is both – an important and scary topic; the bad news keeps piling on and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. In this environmental autobiography, the author explores the decline of the natural world he has witnessed during his lifetime and where that trajectory of destruction may lead us. What made this book special for me is the optimism it brings in the final part. It offers an overview of both individual choices and economic paradigm shifts we can make to restore our home planet and enjoy a bright future as a species. Reading about this almost-century long life dedicated to appreciation and conservation of our world, with wise and rare insights, I felt inspired in a unique way.

“Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder
(Genre: Philosophy, Non-fiction)

It’s an excellent introduction for those who might feel too overwhelmed to take on the unabridged work of great world philosophers, but also for those who already have an interest in the topic and need a (systematic, but fun) refresher. The main character, Sophie starts getting two types of anonymous letters: birthday cards meant for another girl and intriguing essays about the history of philosophy. Trying to understand the connection between the two, Sophie embarks on an adventure to explore questions far beyond her life in a mundane Norwegian village. I loved this book both as a great mystery novel, an exploration of human perception of life.

“Autobiography” by Agatha Christie 
(Genre: Biography)

As a life-long reader of Agatha Christie, it took me about two seconds to order a copy after I found out this book exists! From a childhood in Victorian England (which she made me see in a completely new light), her first novels and creation of Hercule Poirot, to archaeological expeditions in the Middle East – she painted a vivid feeling of appreciation for life and everything it brings along. Her writing transcends time and space and I believe there’s something in it for every type of reader out there, so if there’s one (auto)biography you want to read next year, let it be this one.

Recommendation by Azra Sarić, Chief Communications Officer 

“Art of War” by Sun Tzu 
(Genre: Classics, Philosophy)

Written around the 5th Century BC by Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, the Art of War is the oldest military treatise which has served as a strategic guidebook to many world generals since its creation. In the context of the modern world, business leaders have realized their value in driving business strategy. One of my favorite parts is the one about leaders needing to have “moral influence, that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders…”. When one treats people with benevolence and justice and instills confidence in them, s/he has ensured the pre-requisites of any successful endeavor. Quick book bites can be that:

  • Knowledge is power
  • Know your competition
  • Build the right team
  • Have a plan but make sure it is agile
  • Grow your network

This classic is the kind of book to be held in the office to be consulted at different times. There is always a new business lesson to be discovered from this ancient text. Circumstances change, but people in their essence remain the same, that is one of the reasons why I would recommend every leader to have the Art of War in their home/office library.

“Ghenghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford 
(Genre: History, Biography)

I really enjoyed listening to this book on Audible during my weekend hikes. History books take us on a journey of what the world was once like, and we often forget or disregard the impact these events made on the World. Most of us associate Ghenghis Khan with brutality and fear, and with good reason. However, did you know that:

  • He was born into a very low caste and had a childhood struck with hardship
  • Women, namely his mother Hoelun, played a great role in his life (she and another wife were left without a husband with 10 children and ostracized from the tribe)
  • He managed to bring all warring Mongolian factions together
  • He outwitted educated military strategists, kings, and rulers of known empires
  • He established the system of meritocracy in which your ability rather than a “birthright” enabled you to climb the ranks

I thoroughly recommend you embark on this vivid journey back to the world of the Mongols and learn how they contributed to the world we live in now.

“AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Visions for Our Future” by Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan 
(Genre: Science, Technology)

As technology continues to play a key part in modern civilization. Its impact will only increase in the future. The former president of Google, China Kai-Fu Lee, together with novelist Chen Qiufan vividly portray the world of AI that is just around the corner. Although AI tech has been developing since the 1950s, it is only in the recent period that computing power, amassed data, and other complementary innovations have evolved to bring about the vast possibilities of the use of AI in all walks of life. The book is a compilation of captivating 10 short stories set in different cities, each describing life with omnipresent AI technology in 2041.

This book has left me thinking about the positive and negative effects of the use of personal data, and an appreciation of those “warm skills” that only humans have (for now)!

Recommendations by Bekir Bukvarević, Quality Assurance Engineer

“The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene
(Genre: Psychology, Business)

In this book, Greene covers thousands of years’ worth of wisdom from people from all around the globe, breaking it into parts to help the readers understand how to become more powerful and avoid getting manipulated by other people. It is quite a controversial piece where the author states that if you become better at handling power, you will become a better person, friend, partner. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to learn and understand what power is and how it is gained, as well as learn to recognize manipulation, whether you or someone next to you is being the victim of it. However, the book is not a one-time read. I have read it a couple of times so far, each time grasping a new concept from the book and applying it in real life. I have the need to emphasize that the book is written in a way that some might find uncomfortable as it is brutally honest.

“The Maze of Games” by Mike Selinker 
(Genre: Fantasy, Logic)

This is a puzzle book featuring around 50 puzzles and a delightful story woven through the book. The story follows two siblings, Colleen and Samuel Quaice, in 1897 England. During a visit to Upper Wolverhampton Bibliotheque, they discover a musty book called The Maze of Games. Opening the book summons the Gatekeeper, a mysterious skeletal guardian who plunges the Quaices into a series of dangerous labyrinths, populated with myriad monsters and perplexing puzzles. Only by solving their way through the Gatekeeper’s mazes will the Quaice children find their way home.

I recommend this book to all those who love puzzles and riddles as its unique format provides a great challenge and hours of fun. It will have you jumping from page to page, solving a myriad of puzzles to get to the final solution. Beware, it is not really a book for casual puzzle fans, but for those more hardcore, thirsting for a challenge, kind of people. The book itself has no solutions in it, but the author has provided us with another book called The Keymaster’s Tome, which contains the answers to the puzzles. The book teaches patience, looking at things from several different angles, thinking outside of the box, and approaching problem-solving the right way.

“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius 
(Genre: Philosophy, History)

This book is a personal journal written by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, and it is a timeless classic of Stoic literature. He wrote down his daily thoughts, struggles and reflections, and it is the perfect read for all those looking for a book about self-awareness and self-reflection. The book was never intended for publication, but for the guidance of its author, contemplating the virtues of the universe and becoming a better person. I recommend it because there is something for everyone in it. You can pick up the book, open a random page, and not be confused by the plot or characters. ‘Meditations’ teaches you how to become more self-disciplined and withstand life’s emotional storms.

Recommendations by Amina Mehanović, Project Manager

“Death by meeting” by Patrick Lencioni
(Genre: Business, Leadership)

If meeting facilitators don’t bother explaining the value the team gets from a particular meeting in their schedule, the chances are they will see it as a waste. Yes, meetings are inevitable, and making them productive takes practice. With

a simple style, the author suggests what are the meeting styles every team should stick to (if you believe in Scrum, you will love the list) all in favor of reducing wasting time and keeping your teammates as engaged as possible. This book could be particularly interesting for project managers and team leads.

“Difficult conversations” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen 
(Genre: Business, Psychology)

If you want a book that teaches compassion, here it is. What if people could always know the true meaning behind our words? We have all been there – having an issue we are not sure whether it’s worth raising or keeping to ourselves. If we do want to talk about it, how do we go about it? What if people we talk to don’t respond the way we expect them to? This book will assist you with bettering your communication and provide tools for improving your communication style.

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Time spent reading is never wasted. It is a habit that enriches your mind and vocabulary, offering new perspectives and levels of understanding of the world around you. If you have a list for 2022 ready to share – we are listening. In the meantime – happy reading!