In 2020, I read 58 books, which is quite a bit higher than normal, something I attribute to a desire to read during the quiet pandemic moments. Given the number of books I was reading I thought a single year-end review would be unwieldy so I chose to publish a mid-year review in June. This list, therefore, only covers some of the books I read between early July through late December.
The other difference in 2020 versus previous years is the relative lack of titles in the productivity/self-improvement genre. A global pandemic is the sort of thing that caused me to consider what is being asked of me, and reading about how I can be more effective in my professional life seemed less urgent than it normally does. I read more fiction/literature/poetry in 2020 as a result.
In general, if you’re looking for my book recommendations go to my “Great Books” list here. Without further ado, here’s a listing of the best books (not all) I read in the second half of 2020.
|Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein — I enjoy Ezra’s writing and podcasting. And while I have a quibble or two with some of his arguments, this book is a thoughtful analysis for how our national discourse became so polarized.|
|Humankind by Rutger Bregman — This book is a hopeful look at humankind’s proclivity to cooperate. In a time when we are surrounded by narratives emphasizing how bad humans can be, Bregman looks at “…200,000 years of human history, setting out to prove that we are hardwired for kindness, geared toward cooperation rather than competition, and more inclined to trust rather than distrust one another” (from the book review on the Amazon site). This was a good read in 2020.|
|Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel — This was a re-read for me, but reading a wonderfully-written tale about a dystopian future brought about by a global pandemic (gulp) seemed like the thing to do. This book was a National Book Award finalist in 2014 for a reason.|
|Main Street by Sinclair Lewis — Perhaps you read this in high school or college, but I never did. I found reading Lewis’s famous book, set in mythical Gopher Prairie, MN (modeled after the author’s hometown of Sauk Center) to be even more interesting than it might otherwise be since it was published in 1920. Reading about the clash of attitudes between small town America and urban America from 100 years earlier made me realize we don’t live in as unique a time period as we might think.|
|The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents — David Priess’s book about the famous Presidential Daily Brief, or “PDB”, is a great read if you’re interested in the presidency and national security. Since the Kennedy administration, the daily PDB arms the president and senior national security advisors with the most important information generated by our intelligence agencies from around the world. This book outlines the history of the PDB and how different presidents had different styles in how they consumed it’s important contents – including two presidents who didn’t read it at all (Nixon and Trump).|
|The Cold Millions by Jess Walter — I loved Jess Walter’s “Beautiful Ruins”, so was eager to read this latest book from a great author. It did not disappoint. While a work of fiction, the book weaves historical figures into the story about the clash between labor and local industry titans (and their police force) in early 20th-century Spokane, WA. I expect this will win a few awards.|
Six-Month Honorable Mentions (no links)
- Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
- Once a Warrior by Jake Wood
- A Promised Land by Barack Obama
- Seagull Reader of Poetry (Anthology)
- The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
- Missionaries by Phil Klay
- Jack by Marilynne Robinson
- The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (re-read)
- Zucked by Roger McNamee
- Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs
- Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (re-read)
- Jarhead by Anthony Swofford