This article highlights the 10 best books I read in 2020.
For the 3rd year in a row, I read 18 books. (That feels about right for me with two young kids.)
A disgruntled woman on Twitter said, “That’s great, but how many did your wife actually get to read?”
“Ten,” I replied, “But she watched 47 Hallmark movies.”
“Good clap back,” she said, seemingly less disgruntled.
Nonetheless, as I always say, it’s not about the number of books you read. It’s about reading the *right* books and applying what you learned.
What follows are a few quick notes/thoughts on ten of my favorites from this year.
I’d love to hear from you. What was the best book you read in 2020? Use the comments or shoot me an e-mail and let me know.
Best Books I Read in 2020
Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon – Robert Kurson
Like Michael Lewis, I will read anything Robert Kurson writes. I might’ve liked this even more than “Shadow Divers,” which is incredible and one of my favorite books to recommend.
In 1968, our world was more fractured than it is now: Vietnam War, MLK assassination, DNC Protests, Cold War, etc. And yet, in FOUR hours, men from NASA designed a mission to have men leave Earth, orbit the moon and return home safely. A couple of years later, they succeeded in their audacious goal.
I loved reading about this mission and how it was arguably more risky, and more important, than Apollo 11 in which Neil Armstrong was the first person to ever step foot on the moon. It’s cliche to say, but after reading about these men, many of which cite their wives as their secret weapons, I truly don’t think we “make them like we used to.” (I also think we’ve lost sight of the important of familial values, but we’ll save that topic for another time.)
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World – David Epstein
This is unquestionably the book that taught me the most this year. Epstein debunks the 10,000 hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, and shows that early specialization (e.g. Tiger Woods) is the exception, not the rule.
Covering topics like parenting, business, education and sports, Epstein concludes that people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive. I’m still thinking about this book 6 months later. I captured tons of notes and will likely revisit throughout 2021.
The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness – Eric Jorgensen
Many of you reading this newsletter will be familiar with Naval, but if you’re not, you should be and this curation of his most insightful interviews and poignant reflections is a great starting place. The book is a tremendous collection of Naval’s wisdom and experience from the last ten years.
Like “Range,” I have a ton of notes from this book and will be revisiting throughout 2021. If you’re looking to become wealthier and happier, and who isn’t? This is as good a place as any to start.
Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food – Catherine Shanahan, M.D.
Physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan, M.D. examined diets around the world known to help people live longer, healthier lives―diets like the Mediterranean, Okinawa, and “Blue Zone”―and identified the four common nutritional habits, developed over millennia, that unfailingly produce strong, healthy, intelligent children, and active, vital elders, generation after generation. These four nutritional strategies―fresh food, fermented and sprouted foods, meat cooked on the bone, and organ meats―form the basis of what Dr. Cate calls “The Human Diet.”
If someone asks me how they can get healthier and improve their diet, this is the book I unflinchingly recommend over and over. I’ve read it multiple times over the last two years and it’s the most evidenced-based, and thorough, guide I’ve encountered on nutrition, health and strength.
PSA: If you’re accustomed to listening to the mainstream media, your out-of-shape physician, pop pysch studies and paid propaganda heretics (see: Dean Ornish) trying to pass off weak epidemiological studies because they’re incentivized to sell [bad] books, telling you to eat a metric ton of plants and avoid red meat, you’re going to have your illusions shattered.
Another one from Rocket Men author, Robert Kurson. (I just said I’d read anything he writes.) Blinded at age three, Mike May defied expectations by breaking world records in downhill speed skiing, joining the CIA, and becoming a successful inventor, entrepreneur, and family man. He had never yearned for vision. Then, in 1999, a chance encounter brought startling news: a revolutionary stem cell transplant surgery could restore May’s vision.
This one read a bit slower than Rocket Men (and Shadow Divers), but was fascinating nonetheless. The science behind having your vision restored and yet your brain not understanding how to truly “see” was an interesting rollercoaster ride for me.
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
Pressfield’s The War of Art is universally lauded as the go to book to help people defeat what he calls “The Resistance” and how to overcome it to produce and share high quality creative work.
The ever-respected Seth Godin says, “Steve Pressfield has written the most important book I’ve ever read on creativity and why it doesn’t happen. The resistance is the most profound force in the life of the artist, the writer and the leader, and Steve has given it a name and called it out.”
I really enjoyed the first book, The Resistance, which outlines what it is and how it manifests when we’re trying to create. The second book, Combating Resistance, compares professionals to amateurs and reminds us to show up, do the work, and not to get distracted. Lastly, I will caveat that the third book, Beyond Resistance, goes a bit off the rails for my tastes.
That said, it’s a short, easy read and it’s extremely well reviewed. If you’ve ever struggled with procrastination disguised as perfectionism, this book might be for you. (If you’re curious, I actually extracted my favorite highlights and takeaways here.)
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy – William Irvine
I’ve long been a fan of stoicism (Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca), but I’ve never really taken a deep dive. A worldwide pandemic provided the perfect motivation to revisit stoicism and “A Guide to the Good Life” does a great job showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Irvine draws from and highlights each of the stoics mentioned above; as well as, his own first-hand experiences to illustrate how to become thoughtful observers in our own lives.
Among other things, this book will help you learn how to minimize worry, let go of the past to focus your efforts on the things you can control, and how to deal with insults, grief, and the distracting temptations that plague our lives. It can be a bit dense at times, but it’s a thoughtful primer with applicable, and actionable, takeaways.
Stillness is the Key – Ryan Holiday
I’ve actually stopped following Ryan on social media due to his condemnation of everyone who doesn’t think exactly like him, but his books are still worthwhile reads, and “Stillness is the Key” is no exception.
24/7 news, e-mail and social media constantly bombard our lives. We spend endless amounts of energy in an effort to maximize our productivity and we wear “busy” like a badge of honor. This is a topic that I’ve written about and explored extensively.
Ryan’s book is the antidote to the never-ending chaos. Stillness is the path to meaning, contentment, and excellence in a world that needs more of it than ever.
Show Your Work! – Austin Kleon
I really enjoyed Austin’s first book, “Steal Like an Artist,” which I read in 2015. (25 takeaways here). This year I finally picked up the sequel and it did not disappoint. In “Steal Like an Artist” Austin taught us how to borrow from others to produce our most creative work. In this follow-up, he offers a roadmap into the next stage of the journey, getting your work in front of others—getting known.
“Show Your Work!” is about why generosity trumps genius. If you consider yourself an artist or an entrepreneur and want to know how to succeed in the digital age, I suspect you’ll find this book immensely helpful.
Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think – Bryan Caplan
Admittedly, this is a bit of a niche read/choice, but my wife and I are our trying to decide if we want to continue growing our family and author and psychology professor Geoffrey Miller recommended this book to me.
The book talks about how we’ve turned parenting into an unpleasant chore—investing more time and money in our kids than ever. The thesis is that this doesn’t make sense, especially given the research that nature overwhelmingly defeats nurture. In other words, enjoy your life more and spend less time trying to mold your kids. They will turn out fine.
If your appetite for reading is insatiable, or these titles don’t jump out at you, you can check out my previous year’s book recommendations below:
*No idea why I skipped 2018 except that my daughter (2nd child) was less than two months old. I must’ve been too distracted to do a write up, but I did read 18 books, some of which were excellent: including Red Notice, Bad Blood, Die Empty, Astroball, The Quest of the Simple Life, The Death of Ivan Ilych and Lessons of History, which is page for page, one of the best books I’ve ever read. I extracted my favorite highlights and takeaways here.