Before starting to form the content of this page, I decided to check how the events related to Covid-19 – lockdowns, no commutes, no travels – impacted our reading habits.
What I found wasn’t that surprising. Some news sites reported that reading books has surged during lockdowns others pointed out completely the opposite – that a lot of folks were unable to concentrate and their progress with books was snail-like slow.
Why some people were able to read more while others struggled? Well, based on my findings, I can say that people who had difficulties concentrating all had one thing in common – kids.
Personally, I can familiarize myself more with the second group and categorize my reading habits as spectacularly fragmented. Yes, I’m a victim of domestic dysfunction. My son learned to walk around May of 2020 and what was previously a well-arranged apartment now looks like a little arena full of scattered toys and torn apart children’s books. I’m not saying this to complain, simply to give you perspective.
Fortunately, somehow, I was able to read the number of books I had set as a goal at the beginning of the year – 41 books. And to be honest, I’m quite thrilled about the titles I found in 2020. If you check my book summaries page chronologically, you’ll see that I focused more on philosophy and psychology books. And also, you’ll probably see more unfamiliar titles. Yes, I no longer romanticize popular books.
Let me explain…
My initial intention when I started this site was to pick famous books that are categorized as best-sellers. The more I consumed those “celebrities” books, though, the more I realized that they don’t deserve the attention they get. Most of the books sitting on top of the charts are usually there because the marketing around the book is pretty decent. But best-seller books doesn’t mean best-content books. The truly eye-opening books are such that aren’t widely known to the public – I learned this the hard way. That’s why I focused more on finding books that are not that famous but on the other hand, are far superior in terms of quality.
So, without further ado, let me show you the best books I read in 2020. Hopefully, this reading list will help you find your next addition to your library.
I was quite hesitant to start this book. After all, why would you want to read a whole book – more than 400 pages – on how to read a book? But let me tell you, I’m glad I got the book and read it. This book gives you a unique perspective on how to approach reading and learning in general. If you consider yourself a lifelong learner, if you are interested in making positive improvements in your life, you absolutely need to read this book.
You improve as a reader when you begin to ask better questions before and while you read. Consuming content printed on paper shouldn’t be considered a one-way type of communication where the author is doing all the talking. You should ask questions all the time and find the answers inside the text by yourself.
To agree without understanding is inane. To disagree without understanding is impudent.” Charles Van Doren & Mortimer J. Adler
Book 2: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The ability to concentrate in a world full of distractions is an important skill. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains what needs to happen in your mind, and life, so you can focus better and get more done. Interestingly, the first thing someone needs to do is not related to blocking distractions. Csikszentmihalyi explains that reaching the flow state happens when what you’re doing, the actual task, is something you truly love doing.
Deep, wickedly intense concentration is closely related to happiness. When you love what you do, you’ll naturally enter the state of optimal experience. Therefore, your lack of focus comes from a busy life. A life where nothing is prioritized, everything is important. To focus better, and to actually feel better, find one task that is important for you.
Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. “He who desires but acts not,” wrote Blake with his accustomed vigor, “Breeds pestilence.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The writing style of Ryan Holiday reminds me of Robert Greene. And I love Greene’s books. Every chapter starts with a history-related story and based on the mentioned facts, a certain conclusion is formed. The Obstacle Is the Way is worth checking if you are currently in a pit. If you feel stuck and nothing seems to matter. The proposed ideas by Holiday inside will give you a new perspective on how to deal with hardship.
“It’s supposed to be hard.” These simple words are still stuck in my head. I remind myself of this paragraph from the book every time I encounter difficulties and my progress stalls. Life can be portrayed as a series of obstacles where things don’t get easier, it’s quite the opposite. Things get harder as you move. But this shouldn’t feel discouraging, it should motivate us to keep moving.
We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.” Ryan Holiday
This is not a light read. In fact, you’ll most probably walk around with a couple of dictionaries while advancing through the text. Believe me, though, every minute spent on digesting the text is worth it. Kegan presents a profound evolutionary theory that aims to explain through what stages we go as human beings. Meaning that if you’re feeling currently stuck, thanks to the text, you can spot where you are and what you need to do in order to advance in life.
You’re constantly changing. Not only physically, but also psychologically. Robert Kegan points out that you can better understand others, and yourself, by understanding where they are (and you are) in the human evolutionary stages. Initially, we’re extremely attached to physical things – called subject-object relationship. With age, we focus more on communities and relationships.
Respect above all is the most important thing to me. You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to care about me, even, but you do have to respect me.” Robert Kegan
Book 5: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Susan Cain takes us on a journey to “introvert land.” In Quiet, the author explains the main differences between extroverts and introverts. Why the majority is keen on listening to the loudest person in the room and what you can do, if you’re sworn loner, to express your ideas better. Essentially, this book is something like a how-to-survive-in-a-alpha-dominated-world guide for quiet people.
People are predisposed to believe people who loudly and clearly express their ideas. What they share can be terribly wrong but the enthusiasm in their voice is a lot of times convincing enough for the general audience.
There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” Susan Cain
Book 6: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
Talent is not god-given and your abilities are not fixed. The main goal of Carol S. Dweck in the book is to convince us that we’re all capable of success. We only need to realize that the skills you want, but don’t currently possess, are within reach if you’re willing to work for them. Mindset is full of stories of famous people who were able to become popular through hard work, not with their natural talent.
Success is not a one-time thing. It’s a continuous process. You don’t sweat in the gym to win one gold medal. You exercise daily to become great and stay great. If you want to advance in a field, any field, you first need to change your perspective about what success means. It’s always a process, not a one-off thing.
We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” Carol S. Dweck
Book 7: René Girard’s Mimetic Theory by Wolfgang Palaver
The text is a dissertation of the famous mimetic theory by René Girard. The author, Wolfgang Palaver, explains how the theory was formed, why it’s true, and what we can do to prepare ourselves for the resulting bad consequences. Or in other words, how to mitigate the negative influence of the outside world and create our own genuine worldview.
Our desires and ambitions are projections of the desires and the ambitions of the people that are closest to us. This is both good and bad. It’s good if what our friends and family strive for is noble. It’s bad because, usually, what others want is not what we want – and also a lot of times vain and superficial. Therefore, if we choose to follow the outside “wants”, we become alienated from ourselves. We experience bad faith. We strive to be someone we’re not. And the more we’re not us, the more we latter suffer.
A man cannot live without worshiping something; without worshiping he cannot bear the burden of himself. And that goes for every man. So that if a man rejects God, he will have to worship an idol that may be made of wood, gold or ideas. So those who think they don’t need God are really just idol worshipers, and that’s what we should call them.” Wolfgang Palaver
Brené Brown is a shame researcher. She spent her entire adult life exploring the painful feeling of embarrassment. The book will give you permission to pursue your goals and desires even if you don’t consider yourself an expert. Essentially, the text will make you feel better about yourself even if what you’re doing right now cannot be considered perfect.
Striving for perfection will kill your progress. Do things even if they are not perfect. Embrace imperfection and pursue your goals regardless of their current quality. You’re worthy of love and appreciation even if your skills and qualities are flawed. After all, all is bad initially. It can only get better if we keep trying.
Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?” Brené Brown
Fromm writes that we’re misled and also crippled. By promoting endless consumption, the industrial age turned us into selfish consumers who are only interested in showing external wealth while being internally empty. This book explains how we look at life through the lens of possessing. How we’re interested in only having, not being. But only the latter can make us feel pleased and truly satisfied with ourselves and with the life we live.
You are not what you own, you are what you do. Our materialistic society made it difficult for us to express ourselves and to focus on our inner desires – the “being” nature. We’re more interested in possessing more stuff because this is what others value – the “having” nature. However, owning more doesn’t make you happy, it only encourages you to own even more.
To be an egoist refers not only to my behavior but to my character. It means: that I want everything for myself; that possessing, not sharing, gives me pleasure; that I must become greedy because if my aim is having, I am more the more I have.” Erich Fromm
Book 10: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
It’s shocking how modern media influence us. We’re stuck in an endless cycle of consumption of irrelevant to us facts. Sadly, we’re unaware of the negative consequences because TV and now social media are successfully exploiting our psychological vulnerabilities. We become obsessed with checking things because they continuously serve us doses of dopamine. The more we watch, the more we want to watch. The book carries an important message – that the world will be controlled by an oppressor with a smiling face. Sadly, we won’t be able to spot his cunning plan – to rule us – because we’ll be too busy enjoying the fruitless perks that were created for delusion.
Consuming without setting prior goals equals mental regression. You get preoccupied with facts that are not related to your being. All of these things eventually lead to feelings of despair. Become media conscious. First decide what you want to learn, then find the best sources to learn and block everything else.
What I suggest here as a solution is what Aldous Huxley suggested, as well… He was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.” Neil Postman
Some Closing Thoughts
Like people, books mold our minds and help us form new ideas. In a way, though, books are better. They represent the elaborate thought process of someone. Meaning that the end product – the book – is absent of flaws. They can only help you get better. Unlike people, who can sabotage you by messing with your feelings.
You might be thinking that there are a lot of books that don’t make a strong theory and that the suggested strategies inside are not enough. Or in a sense, that the actual book is not good enough. Of course, this is a correct assumption – there are a lot of bad books out there. Still, a bad book doesn’t necessarily have to mean fruitless outcomes. The proposed idea by the author, especially if it’s bad, shouldn’t be considered as final. If you don’t agree with the text search for better alternatives. Don’t simply label the book as bad.