Best books of 2020

Time to read: 5 minutes

What is good

How do you decide what makes a book good,
or even the best?
I use a simple litmus test.

If I want to give it as a gift,
or recommend it for a read,
then it’s worth something.

If a few months later I forget,
what it was it even said,
then it was nothing.

66 in 2020

In 2020 I finished 66 books. It’s not a small number. Since 2012, this is the most I have finished in one year. This is what they look like, month by month. I’ve been posting them on instagram.

Choosing “the best”

To write this post, I tried to think of how to sort through all the 66, and I chose the “oscars” approach. It’s a method you can use in design thinking workshops for finding winning ideas. Look for “the moonshot”, “most likely to delight” or “the budget buster”. Make up as many categories as you want, sort the ideas into them, and choose a winning one per category.

So that’s what I did with the books.

Our categories are: Heart warmer, Aspirational life, Best escape, Most immediately useful, Mind expanding, Gift it to your colleagues, and For our goldfish brain.

Heart warmer

There was only one contender in this category, really.
The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse.
A beautiful and inspiring book, as well as heart warming. It’s about being human, and has beautiful drawings that make me want to draw and paint.
Book cover of The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse
Recommended to nearly everyone I have seen in person this year, as it seems to crawl into conversation about things that cheered me up.
Gifted to two friends so far, I have two more copies with intended recipients. If I could, I would give one to everyone. It should be the book of the year for 2020…

Drawing of a boy on a horse, walking next to a fox.
“What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy. “Help” said the horse.

Find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43708884-the-boy-the-mole-the-fox-and-the-horse

Aspirational life

The Snowball
Book cover The Snowball
Recommended to many people this year, because it is the book that got me out of a deep funk. During my week off, trapped at home by the pandemic, I went into the gardens, sat in the sun pretending to be on holiday, and read Warren Buffett’s biography.
All I knew about the man before was that he was a wise investor who had finally (around 2011?) bought some IBM stock. Turns out he is one of the hardest-working single-minded people I have read about, an extreme nerd when it comes to equity and compounded interest, and he has been alive throughout the invention of practically all the financial instruments we have today. He’s also met many people who shape the world, and it is great to read his story.
Reading his life’s story was like getting an education in what makes up the stock market.
Gifted to… nobody. It is the biggest book I read this year, and it does talk a lot about a nerdy topic: stocks. I can only think of one person who would find this interesting, and he doesn’t read much.
An awesome read, this life, and all the lessons about money too.
Find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2054761.The_Snowball

Best Escape

Nightwork
Book cover of Nightwork
A blast of a book. I read this one while on another forced staycation, and it was a great romp. A nightshift worker in a run-down New York hotel finds a lot of money next to a corpse… and takes it. And runs. Ensues a great adventure!
Recommended to several people on twitter who were looking for books to escape with this year.
Gifted to: nobody. I had to buy an old paper copy to read it, couldn’t find it on kindle or as a recent publication. Difficult to gift when you can barely buy a battered copy. Definitely worth chasing down though!
Find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2448984.Nightwork

Most immediately useful

Never Split the Difference
Book cover of Never Split the Difference
Ever wanted to knock $5000 off the price of a car, get late checkout for free, or rescue hostages in a bank robbery? Ok, maybe not the hostages, but all the rest. Well Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator who has done all of these things, and shares many of his methods in this book. I’ve already tried a few, and they work. Read it and re-read it.
Recommended to friends and colleagues. It comes up in conversation a lot. He also did a masterclass about it.
Gifted to: my brother. He’s already a charmer and good at negotiations, so I figured I’d supercharge him. Sadly he doesn’t read much, so despite me sending it to him, I don’t think he’s read it yet.
Find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26156469-never-split-the-difference

Mind-expanding

The women’s room
Book cover of the women's room
This was like living someone else’s life. Not always in a good way. It was… an awakening. So that is why it is on this list. Everyone should read this to understand what their mother or grandmother’s life was like, and why we need a society where all individuals have the same opportunities and responsibilities (and bathroom stalls). Not a society where one “partner” is forced to give up their identity and dreams to keep the home of the other.
Find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46456.The_Women_s_Room

Gift it to your colleagues

No hard feelings
This is a book I want to re-read already. When I read it I wasn’t able to concentrate as well as I would have liked. I remember it had many insights on how to be a better colleague, and be more effective at work. They’re interspersed with lovely cartoons.
Book cover of No Hard Feelings
Recommended to my colleagues, as I shared several screenshots of my reading on the office whatsapp.
Gifted to: one of my best friends, who read it and enjoyed it.
Find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42734244-no-hard-feelings

For our goldfish brain

Wayfarer’s Handbook
This is a weird one. I started reading it on a flight, while my heart was breaking, and I could focus on nothing at all. Long story, but the takeaway is that this is a great little book full of educational travel-related trivia that is so bite-sized, you can even read it when your brain is flying out of your ears.
Book cover of Wayfarer's Handbook
Not recommended to anyone, and not gifted to anyone either. Except to you.
Find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31420709-the-wayfarer-s-handbook

Find me on Goodreads

For the past few years, I have been tracking what I read on goodreads.
You can find all of the books in this post on my 2020 bookshelf.

If you liked these recommendations, you check out my Books worth reading bookshelf.

You might notice that there are no design books on this list. If that’s what you were hoping for, check out my UX design book “must reads”, or my design bookshelf on goodreads.