Books read in 2020

A list of the books I have read during 2020.

Currently Reading January 2021…

  • Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity, Scott Galloway. non-fiction. Prof Galloway is a provocative thinker. He is not always right, but he takes strong positions and makes good arguments. Even when I disagree, his arguments help me clarify my beliefs and reasoning. Covid is an “accelerant”. We have accelerated 10 years into the future and society is still catching up.
  • Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Steven Pinker. non-fiction. Recommended by a good friend. A reminder of the positive future and the importance of markets.  Reminds me of The Rational Optimist that I read earlier in 2020.

The books I have read during 2020

This is basically an extract of my amazon kindle content, with a few notes.  List in reverse order of purchase date on amazon.

  • Stoner: A Novel, John Williams – novel. reminds me of Franzen. The life of a decent man made hellish by other human beings and his own inability to find the strength to be himself.  A wonderful read.
  • Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow – biography. They lived through some tough times back in the 1750s. A great insight into the background of George Washington, his wealth, his emergence as a military and political leader, the “fake news” of his time, the bitter politics and how he dealt with the challenges of life.
  • The Weirdest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous, Joseph Henrich – non-fiction. An insightful look at how reading has made a huge difference to society, and to the human brain. We are not “normal”. Literacy changes the brain, how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to family, friends and strangers.
  • Pathways to Possibility: Transform your outlook on life with the bestselling author of The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander – non-fiction. Lovely book. Helpful anecdotes and approaches to living in difficult times. I was expecting something more like Benjamin Zander’s other book… but I actually preferred this. I loved the 5 “infinite games” introduced in the final chapter.
  • Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential, Shirzad Chamine – non-fiction. Very helpful guide to our inner saboteurs – the voices in our heads that make a mess of our lives and relationships.  Good guidance on how to regain some balance when stress, anxiety, worries push you off balance.
  • Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens – novel. Brilliant creation of the character of a young girl abandoned by her family and how she makes a heroic life for herself (in a small but meaningful way) in spite of the challenges.
  • Rediscovering Life: Awaken to Reality, Anthony De Mello – non-fiction. Spiritual. Reflections on how to focus on what is really important and let the small annoying irritations stop bothering you so much.
  • Napoleon: A Concise Biography, David A. Bell – biography – the life of Napoleon. They say that “a great man is often not a good man”. I would agree. A man who took huge risks to rise to be the Alexander the Great of the 1800s. Insights into the politics of the times, and the rise to power of an outsider.
  • The Penguin History of the World: 6th edition, J M Roberts history. I re-read this book after finishing the book 1177BC. I wrote a review here: lessons from history.
  • 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Turning Points in Ancient History), Eric H. Cline – history. There was a vibrant civilisation in the eastern Mediterranean with trade and travel amongst the agricultural city states… until the year 1177BC… when it all collapsed seemingly overnight.
  • Serious, John McEnroe – autobiography – McEnroe is a good writer and makes this book an engaging read as well as an insightful biography of a polemic celebrity tennis player.  I read this as I played lots of tennis over the summer.
  • The Overstory, Richard Powers – novel. A unique book. The central characters are… the trees. You learn to see trees in a new light.  It starts as if each chapter is a short story independent of the other stories… but the stories start to connect and come together as the book goes on.  Highly recommended, very different from any other novel I have read.
  • The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, Matt Ridley – non-fiction. A positive celebration of markets, trade, science and a needed optimistic boost during this year of Covid. If you need to reconnect to a hopeful, positive future -> this book is worth a read.
  • Rafa: My Story, Rafael Nadal – biography. The life story of Rafa Nadal, tennis player from the island of Mallorca in Spain. Rafa is inspiring as a human who out-worked other tennis players to victory. Federer has the natural talent. Rafa brings discipline, focus and intense hard work to tennis.
  • Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything, BJ Fogg – non-fiction. Similar to the book Atomic Habits, which I think I prefer as the go-to book on habit formation. This is a guide to reducing bad habits and increasing good habits in our lives. Major lesson: a consistent small habit and a shift in identity (“I am the type of person who is fit”) is how to build positive habits.  Show me your habits and I’ll show you your life.
  • The Caucasus: An Introduction, Thomas de Waal – history. The geography, history and politics of the Caucasus region. Good insights into the challenges of being on the edge of empires (bordering Ottoman, Persian, Russian empires and now Turkey and Russia).
  • Wealth, Poverty and Politics, Thomas Sowell – economics. Deeply interesting book on the factors that create wealth.  Geography: navigable rivers that reach the sea made a huge positive impact.  Africa is a tough continent to build wealth for many reasons. Culture and its impact on wealth. Strongly written defence of the democratic capitalist system and the dangers of “woke” liberal politics, populism, nationalism and other isms.
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami – novel. I love Haruki… don’t know many other readers that do. He has a fetish for cats and strange lonely human beings… but I find his stories addictive.
  • The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties, Paul Collier – non-fiction. I was looking to get insights into how business leaders can play a positive role in helping society reduce some of the blatantly unfair and unjust imbalances in society. I got some vague ideas, but found the book hard to grasp and synthesize.
  • The Fast Forward Mindset: How to Be Fearless & Focused to Accelerate Your Success, David Schnurman – non-fiction. David is a friend and fellow EO member. This is David’s guide to personal and professional leadership of an entrepreneurial business.
  • Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back, Mark O’Connell – non-fiction/biographical. This follows author Mark O’Connell as he spends time with the strange group of “preppers” – people building bunkers to prepare for the apocalypse. Why do we as humans have this constant sense of impending doom? Helped me see some of my own anxiety as “natural for human being”.
  • Spillover, David Quammen – non-fiction. I read this in March during extreme lockdown. Brilliantly written with wonderful stories over 50 years of following the scientists that study bacterial and viral epidemics.  This was written a few years pre-Covid and you can see that all the virus scientists knew that “the Next Big One” was coming.
  • Tales of Unknowing: Therapeutic encounters from the existential perspective, Ernesto Spinelli – non-fiction. Case histories of psychiatric patients as they work to gain clarity on their lives. I read lots of this type of case study and find it fascinating as insight the struggles of being human.
  • The Orange Girl, Jostein Gaarder – novel.
  • Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me – a Memoir, Deirdre Bair. novel
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever, Marie Kondo. non-fiction. I was pushed to read this (lockdown means you spend a lot of time in your own home!). It was much better than expected. I expected a guide book to tidying (ugh). It was more a philosophical approach to getting clear what is really important in your life and removing junk, obstacles and stuff.
  • Understanding 4-5-Year-Olds (The Tavistock Clinic – Understanding Your Child), Lesley Maroni – non-fiction. I have learnt lot about my youngest daughter from this series of books from the Tavistock Clinic, and you can guess the age of my youngest daughter…
  • The Cicero Trilogy, Robert Harris – novel/biography. Insightful novel (there are 3 books in the series) about the end of the Roman Republic and the re-emergence of monarchy under Julius Caeser. Given the politics of USA, Great Britain this book feels like the Romans lived a similar political experience.  The Romans failed to stop tyranny… will we?
  • Existential Counselling & Psychotherapy in Practice, Emmy van Deurzen – non-fiction. How to help others come to terms with what their life is about.
  • 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan B. Peterson – non-fiction. I loved Jordan Peterson’s youtube videos and his book doesn’t disappoint. Strongly argued but inspiring.  Life is hard… and you must choose to face it.
  • Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse – non-fiction. Fascinating book.  Simon Sinek says this book inspired him.  The style of the book is almost poetic. Simple distinction, but this book makes it clearly and I came out with a different mindset as to how I lead in business.

Great books for 2021

What great books did you read in 2020 that I should be putting on my list for 2021?  I’d love to get your recommendations.

As you can see from this list I mainly read biographies, coaching/counselling cases, business leadership books, personal development books, novels and history books.  Typically at any one time I am reading one novel, one non-fiction and one history/biography book.

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action. View all posts by Conor Neill