2020 Was An Excellent Year For Insightful Non-Fiction Books. Here Are My Top Picks

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2020 Was An Excellent Year For Insightful Non-Fiction Books. Here Are My Top Picks

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For a year that has been incredibly depressing month after month, and emotionally charged even from a political point of view, no matter which side of the aisle you were on, the one small positive is that many of us have started reading more books. Many of the releases from this year have impressed me; I absolutely devoured each of these.

1. Praise for Walking: A New Scientific Exploration

AmazonPraise for Walking: A New Scientific Exploration

As one of two books on walking on my list, this deeply scientific book, written by a true neuroscientist, is full of brilliant insights. I liked the section that explained how active mode and standard mode work in our brains. The author has a flair and a wonderfully deep approach to science.

2. The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket

AmazonThe Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket

Your local grocery store is not quite what you think it is. The author reveals more than you would ever expect about how food is processed, delivered and presented to us. It’s an excellent bookend for one of my favorite Freakonomics podcast episodes on supermarkets.

3. Seven and a half lessons on the brain

AmazonSeven and a half lessons on the brain

I love everything about this book. The writing is clear and intelligent. The examples of how the brain works grab your attention. (I never knew that it took 20 minutes to quench our thirst in a glass of water or that dopamine was predictive.) I’ve learned dozens of new things.

4. Eerie Valley: A Memory

AmazonEerie Valley: A Memory

I’m a huge fan of memoirs related to the author’s personal thoughts. Unheimliche Tal held my attention partly because of this, but also because of the finely crafted narrative and funny writing style about the work in the valley. I almost feel like we became friends after reading it.

5. The Spy Masters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future

AmazonThe Spy Masters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future

I read this book in a week, soaking up all of the expert coverage (#goals), complicated storytelling, and even the humor. A report from the CIA directors over the past few decades is full of life and insight into the human condition.

6. The Book of Eels: Our continuing fascination with nature’s most mysterious creature

AmazonThe Book of Eels: Our enduring fascination with nature’s most mysterious creature

I read this book slowly and carefully, trying to figure out how the author made up a story about eels that was (mostly?) Also about his own reflections on life and family. The writing is detailed but not overly stuffy, scientific without being inaccessible.

7. The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Conspiracy to Kill the 16th President of America – and Why It Failed

AmazonThe Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Conspiracy to Kill the 16th President of America – and Why It Failed

Here is another book that I read too quickly that I want to read again. It has a fascinating style that feels more like a biographical movie. I imagined every scene in my head, including the way Lincoln rode the train to his inauguration, and even his strange speaking style.

8. Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of the 24-Hour News

AmazonUp All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of the 24-Hour News

I’m fully involved when it comes to explanatory books about success and the news industry. (A top pick from last year was a shift in journalism towards click-bait.) Up All Night is about the rise of CNN and its eclectic founder, all told with a funny and witty style throughout.

9. The Splendid and the Vile: A saga of Churchill, family and defiance during the lightning bolt

AmazonThe Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Lightning

If you’ve only read one book on my list, read this one. It’s such a compelling story of Churchill and the war, told with so much keen insight that you feel like you are riding the limo with him and watching the bombing from a first-person perspective.

10. God Walk: Move at the speed of your soul

AmazonGod Walk: move at the speed of your soul

There are so many deep insights into the spiritual journey of walking in this book that I have read this book twice and included quotations in a new book I am writing on Productivity on Purpose. You are never more productive than running at three miles an hour.

11. Master of One: Find and focus on the job you were made to do

AmazonMaster of One: Find and focus on the job you were made to do

This productivity book is another book with a strong spiritual component (which is my mood). It suggests that we’re too busy and confused to really balance out a million different things. It might be better to choose the important ones instead. The author is also very popular in the podcast field. Clear font for a clear head.