Ten Best Books of 2020
My whimsical and idiosyncratic list of the books I loved this year.
Weird: A New Theory of Western Civilization: A Harvard professor asks if a marriage policy first pursued by the Catholic Church a millennium and a half ago explains what made the industrialized world so powerful—and so peculiar?
Editing Humanity: The Promise and the Reality of Gene Editing. One of the world's leading experts on genetics unravels one of the most important breakthroughs in modern science and medicine.
The Biggest Bluff: How a Writer With a Ph.D. in Psychology Became a Poker Champ. “It’s a sophisticated meditation on the relative importance of deep skill and dumb luck. And it’s a primer on how to pay attention, think objectively, and make better decisions.”-Dan Pink.
The Economics of Belonging: Martin Sandbu writes the excellent “Free Lunch” column in the Financial Times. With the rise of populism and illiberalism, economists are now belatedly discovering that place matters. Andres Rodriguez-Pose of the London School of Economics (LSE) called this “the revenge of places no one cares about”. Sandbu’s book is characteristically thoughtful with lots of practical examples of what can be done.
Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World: Zakaria presciently coined the phrase “illiberal democracy” in the 1990s. His new book helps readers to understand the nature of a post-pandemic world: the political, social, technological, and economic consequences that may take years to unfold.
The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World: The story of humanity is the story of textiles -- as old as civilization itself. Since the first thread was spun, the need for textiles has driven technology, business, politics, and culture.
Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town: “You simply cannot understand China without reading Barbara Demick on Tibet.” says Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition. Named one of the best books of 2020 by Parul Sehgal, The New York Times • The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • NPR • The Economist
The Ministry for the Future: A Novel: This is set in a near-future apocalypse where climate change will force humanity to rethink capitalism, borders, terrorism, and currency. Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the best science fiction writers alive, best known for his Mars trilogy. This book has been described by Ezar Kelin of Vox as “The most important book I’ve read this year. If I could get policymakers, and citizens, everywhere to read just one book this year, it would be Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future.”
Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China's Countryside: “Xiaowei Wang dissolves so many boundaries in Blockchain Chicken Farm: between high tech and low tech, digital and physical, center and periphery, real and fake, mundane and magical, past and future.” Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
Homeland Elegies: A Novel : by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ayad Akhtar. A New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year. A beautiful rumination on belonging and not belonging. NYT describes it as “With Wit and Anger, Ayad Akhtar Addresses What It Means to Be American”.