Best books I’ve read in 2020

With more time on my hands this year due to the pandemic lock-down I have been able to devote more of my time towards reading. 

After trying for the fourth time in a row, I have managed to read 52 books in a calendar year! In 2017 it was just 25, a year later – 28, then in 2019 I managed 29. As you can see, I was a way off in previous years, however in 2020 I have done it and I am very proud and happy to share my top picks, which I hope can inspire you:

I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai

Malala is a Pakistani human rights activist who advocates for rights to education especially for women and children. Her growing influence caught the attention of the Taliban who control the region she was living in, in northwest Pakistan, and organised an attack to assassinate her. She was 15 at that time and miraculously survived a gun shot to the head. This book is Malala’s story and her message.

This is Going to Hurt, Adam Kay

Adam Kay is a former doctor of medicine who became a writer and “This is Going to Hurt” is his memoirs of his time spent working for the  e NHS (United Kingdom National Health Service). The book is funny / scary view on a doctor’s life – it shines a light on the extremely underrated and many times unappreciated work of doctors and nurses, but Kay also underlines how the system is overexploiting the med staff, which often puts at risk either the personal life and wellbeing (or sanity) of the hospital employees or the life of a patient. After reading “This is Going to Hurt” you will have a greater appreciation for the people who literally take your life in their hands.

The Intelligent Investor, Benjamin Graham (updated with new commentary by Jason Zweig)

Anybody who is seriously interested in investing should be familiar with the name of Benjamin Graham. Or at least Warren Buffet :). Both gentleman share similar views on how to approach the mysterious art of buying stocks for profit. The Intelligent Investor is a guide for everyone who hopes to repeat the success of the world’s most successful individual investor. It explains the know-how and provides insightful examples on value investing, but also warns (repeatedly!) about the dangers of investing world.

Super-forecasting. The Art & Science of Prediction, Philip Tetlock, Dan Gardner

As a forecaster, I knew that I would explore this book sooner or later. Whilst, in my job, I try to predict sales aided by statistical, this book seeks predict of global events. One of realisations you gain with reading this book is how we are all biased to trust ‘expert’ opinions reported on the news. ‘Superforcasting’ points out the lack of scrutiny these talking heads receive, and highlights their almost their retrospective back-peddling when their forcasts are proven incorrect. 

However, there are people, who are very good at foreseeing the future and Philip Tetlock together with Dan Gardner found those people by creating a contest which results they could later study and share with the readers the secrets of super-forecasting. 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Ivan Denisovich was a prisoner in a Soviet labour camp, wrongfully convicted of treason and sentenced to ten years of hard labour. The story focuses on a harsh and unforgiving realities of life in a siberian Gulag. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shares a simple message with the reader – whatever your circumstances, it is possible to remain positive. Ivan Denisovich finds contentment in his bleak surrounding for the sake of his sanity and survival.  

The Hopkins Manuscript, R.C. Sherriff

Written from the point of view of the egotistical Edgar Hopkins, a man of leisure, and a champion rabbit breeder, the Hopkins Manuscript takes place in a rural English village and chronicles the events leading up to a unstoppable natural catastrophe with the ability to obliterate civilisation – in this case, the moon and earth colliding. The book is a dystopian, yet original and throughly entertaining novel.

Life 3.0. Being human in the age of Artificial Intelligence, Max Tegmark

A must read for anyone who is even remotely interested in AI or curious about technological advancement. It provides a very clear and well explained picture of the current situation along with possible threats, possibilities and challenges that lay ahead. What you take out of this book is entirely up to you – you may become more scared of the complicated realities of the future and fusion of our lives and machines, or you may find this to be an excisting prospect. Wherever you stand on the AI issue, you definitely will agree with the main message of Max Tegmark that he is trying to pass on – that we are currently unprepared for both the good and the bad scenarios. Regardless of when we will be able to build a super AI in 10 or 100 years, we need to be ready in order to survive, especially in terms of safety, and regulations.

Dune (original series), Frank Herbert

By the end of 2020 a new adaptation of “Dune” directed by Denis Villeneuve was suppose to enter the theatres. Although, the premiere was postponed to October 2021 (due to the pandemic), I decided that it was time for me to get familiar with what many consider to be the best sci-fi novel  collection of all time, comprising of 6 books, (Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune).

Platform, Michel Houellebecq

The first time I encountered the work of Michel Houellebecq, was when we read one of his novels in the book club – “The possibility of an Island” -, back in 2018. The book didn’t make it to the top ten then, although it made quite an impression on me. 

This year I have read several Houllebecq novels and “Platform” tops the list. The book received mixed reviews and was considered very controversial, dealing with topics including sex tourism and Islamophobia.

Losing My Virginity, Richard Branson

This autobiography of Richard Branson covers the first 40 or so years of his life. I chose it as a light read and didn’t have high expectations about it – how surprised I was! “Losing My Virginity” is an engaging and inspiring story of the successful businessman, and self-made billionaire, who is also so much more than that! I don’t know about you, but I find those real-life stories the most compelling! 

Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

My favourite (and only) tv show that I watch these days is “Pointless”. In particular, the show’s presenters, Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, absolutely hilarious. During one of the shows, there was a question concerning a book by George Saunders who in 2017 won a Booker Prize for “Lincoln in the Bardo” and Richard Osman’s recommendation of it made me want to buy it and read it. It’s Saunders’ first full-length novel and it became the New York Times bestseller for the week of 5th March in 2017. The book follows the events after the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son and tackles the topic of loss and grief. The majority of the action is set in the “bardo” which represents the place between life and “the next level”.

If you are hungry for more, check out the lists from previous years:
Best books I read in 2019
Best books I read in 2018

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