The Best 5 Books I read in 2020

Recap of my reading year and some book recommendations.

The Best 5 Books I read in 2020

2020 has not been my best year for reading.

I read 12 books, which is a significant step back from previous years.

At the same time I've spent more time taking notes, reflecting and acting upon the lessons I learned, which is ultimately what really matters.

So without further ado, here are my favourite 5 books I'd highly recommend anyone for the next year. (You can see my list for 2019 here)

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

Get this book on Amazon - Read my notes - Score: 9/10

From Amazon:

Money investing, personal finance, and business decisions is typically taught as a math-based field, where data and formulas tell us exactly what to do. But in the real world people don't make financial decisions on a spreadsheet. They make them at the dinner table, or in a meeting room, where personal history, your own unique view of the world, ego, pride, marketing, and odd incentives are scrambled together.

I've fallen in love with Morgan Housel's blog early this year and I've probably read every single post. When his book came out later in the year it was an instant purchase.

The Psychology of Money is without a doubt the best book I've read this year.
Unlike most "traditional" books about money and investing that focus on the latest trends and fads, this book focuses on what doesn't change; the ever-present, unchanging quirks of human nature that stay consistent across cultures and generations. Morgan's writings have, above all, hardened my belief that in life is better to avoid stupidity than seeking brilliance.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Get this book on Amazon - Score: 8/10

From Amazon:

In Exhalation, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth – what is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human? – and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.

Probably the best sci-fi book I've ever read, on par with The Foundation trilogy (and I've read A LOT of sci-fi). Chiang's short stories often reminded me of Black Mirror episodes, but without the dark twist. It's rare for a book to ask philosophical questions and even more rare for a book to make you question the nature of reality. Chiang manages to do this using superb storytelling and mind-bending paradoxes. A must read.

Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant

Get this book on Amazon - Read my notes - Score: 7/10

From Amazon:

In this illuminating and thoughtful book, Will and Ariel Durant have succeeded in distilling for the reader the accumulated store of knowledge and experience from their five decades of work on the eleven monumental volumes of The Story of Civilization. The result is a survey of human history, full of dazzling insights into the nature of human experience, the evolution of civilization, and the culture of man. With the completion of their life's work, they look back and ask what history has to say about the nature, the conduct and the prospects of man, seeking in the great lives, the great ideas, the great events of the past for the meaning of man's long journey through war, conquest and creation - and for the great themes that can help us to understand our own era.

I found the authors a tad too opinionated but there's no doubt that they have the fantastic ability of looking at history and human nature from a 5,000 feet point of view and extract the most important lessons.

Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress by Christopher Ryan

Get this book on Amazon - Read my notes - Score: 7/10

From Amazon:

Most of us have instinctive evidence the world is ending—balmy December days, face-to-face conversation replaced with heads-to-screens zomboidism, a world at constant war, a political system in disarray. We hear some myths and lies so frequently that they feel like truths: Civilization is humankind’s greatest accomplishment. Progress is undeniable. Count your blessings. You’re lucky to be alive here and now. Well, maybe we are and maybe we aren’t. Civilized to Death counters the idea that progress is inherently good, arguing that the “progress” defining our age is analogous to an advancing disease.

A few years ago I read "The Rational Optimist" by Matt Ridley who basically says that despite a few drawbacks, progress is overall a very good thing and we should all be glad for it. Whilst very well argued, it left a bitter taste in my mouth and a sense that something was off but I couldn't quite say what.

Civilized to Death is the nemesis of The Rational Optimist. While at times too pessimistic and gloomy (and definitely very biased), it is a very interesting read about the "other side" of the story.

I particularly liked Ryan's idea that progress is really good at curing diseases that itself creates, like for example medical advances to treat diabetes caused mostly by our high-sugar diet. I really enjoyed it because it helped me think through certain contradictory aspects of society, culture and even nutrition that I've struggled to reconcile for a long time.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Get this book on Amazon - Score: 8/10

From Amazon:

A mix of cultural criticism and actionable advice, DEEP WORK takes the reader on a journey through memorable stories -- from Carl Jung building a stone tower in the woods to focus his mind, to a social media pioneer buying a round-trip business class ticket to Tokyo to write a book free from distraction in the air -- and surprising suggestions, such as the claim that most serious professionals should quit social media and that you should practice being bored.

Deep work was the first book the really highlighted for me the importance of working in a state of flow for prolonged stretches of time. I didn't agree with the all arguments but Cal Newport's criticism of the way most knowledge workers (including myself) work has helped me ask myself the right questions about how I work and what kind of work I want to produce.

Hope you enjoy it!

Which books have changed the way you think or blown your mind away in 2020?