This article provides a short commentary on all the books that I read or audiobooks that I listened to in 2020. I aim to read at least 1 book each week. I am a little under that again this year. After hitting that target for a number of years I have struggled to reach it for the last 2 years. So getting back to reading 50 books per year will definitely be one of my targets for 2021.
1. Louis Theroux – Gotta Get Theroux This
I got this book as a gift in 2019 and it was an enjoyable read. I like all of the Louis Theroux documentaries, but I did not know that much about him personally. I was unaware that he worked with Michael Moore early in his career. I also found the sections on his strange relationship with Jimmy Saville to be very interesting.
2. Joel Makower – Strategies for a Green Economy
Joel Makower is a sustainability legend, so I was excited to read this book. As somebody who has been involved in corporate sustainability for as long as it has existed, I was interested to see what his perspective was on it.
The book was published in 2009 so it is by no means contemporary, but there is still lots of useful information in there. The historical scene setting, the corporate case studies and the information on persuasion were the sections that stood out for me.
If I was to be critical, the book was less of a page turner than I expected it to be. If you are looking for lucid prose, you will not find that here, but if you are looking for an interesting book on the opportunities and challenges that corporate sustainability presents, then I recommend reading this book.
3. HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across
The HBR guide series set the gold standard in easy to digest, highly targeted non-fiction writing. This book should be mandatory reading for all employees at all levels in all companies. This book provides lots of useful information for anyone working in an organisation who wants to be successful.
4. Richard Branson – Screw it Let’s Do it
Richard Branson has been in the news a lot in 2020 regarding Virgin Airlines and potential government support, but my listening to his audiobook in early 2020 did not have any connection to this publicity. I was looking for something interesting and business related, and this hit the spot. My only criticism is that there does not appear to be that much difference between all the Richard Branson books, in that he uses the same stories and gives the same advice in them all. It is good advice nonetheless.
5. Robert Cialdini – Pre-Suasion
I bought and read the paper copy of Pre-Suasion when it came out in 2016. In 2020 I was struggling to think of good new books to read, so I downloaded the audiobook version of Pre-Suasion. I thought both versions of the book were excellent. There are lots of psychological persuasion techniques that you would not have thought of, but may have been influenced by at some point. This was my first time listening to an audiobook version of a book that I had previously read and I found it to be a worthwhile experience.
6. Seth Godin – This is Marketing
This was another book that I read after it came out that I listened to in audiobook form in 2020. One of the first audiobooks that I listened to was by Seth Godin, he is a fantastic orator and I think more authors should make the effort to narrate their own audiobooks, if they can. Marketing can get a bad rap, but Seth Godin’s personal approach, where he breaks it down into people who are passionate about things, communicating that to other likeminded people makes it more accessible and noble.
7. McChesney, Huling & Covey – The 4 Disciplines of Execution
I had seen a lot of people on LinkedIn talking about how this book had helped them to become more effective, so I thought I would check it out. I have to say that I thought the book was excellent. There are loads of useful takeaways to help people and organisations become more effective. What I found useful was the information on pairing wildly important goals with intermediate leading and lagging measures, as otherwise big goals can seem out of reach and go unfulfilled.
8. Sandy Halliday – Sustainable Construction
I bought this book after I saw it on the Oxfam online bookstore. The edition I had was not the most up to date version, so more recent editions may well be more sophisticated. Overall, I would say that this is a good entry level text for sustainable construction aimed at university students. People working in the built environment who want to learn more about sustainable construction would also benefit from reading this book, but I have seen that recent editions are quite expensive and that might put some people off. If you are a sustainability professional looking for cutting edge insights into sustainable construction, this book will probably leave you unsatisfied, but it is a good text nonetheless.
9. Earth Pledge Foundation – Green Roofs
This is absolutely one of the best books that I read in 2020. There is loads of good advice and case studies from buildings that have implemented green roofs and loads of takeaway information to help you implement the ideas on your own projects. The graphics and pictures are also of an exceptional standard and overall, this book is packaged together to a very high standard. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote about it on my website, which you can find below. It comes highly recommended from me.
10. Hunter S Thompson – Generation of Swine
I like to make sure that I read at least 1Hunter S Thompson book each year. He was a prolific writer and has a huge back catalogue, which makes this easy to do after so many years. A lot of Hunter S Thompson books are compilations of articles or letters and so are not books that were written in one go. This is a compilation of his articles in the San Francisco Examiner in the 1980’s and even though it has been packaged together, made for a good read.
11. Richard Koch – The 80/20 principle
I bought this after seeing it recommended by Tim Ferriss the lifestyle and productivity guru from the United States. I bought the most up to date 20th anniversary edition. Overall, I found the book to be packed full of useful information on helping you to be more productive and achieve more by implementing the 80/20 principle. I had high expectations for the book and I would say they were surpassed, it is really well written, there are lots of stories in it and it imparts a lot of information that can help you in your life and career. It comes highly recommended from me.
12. Carmine Gallo – The Storytellers Secret
I like all of the books that Carmine Gallo has written, I have not read them in chronological order, but I thought this was another top effort. So many times, companies and individuals develop communications strategies that don’t work and they are unsure why not. In this book Carmine Gallo explains why successful communicators package together their ideas in a story, to make it relatable and memorable for their intended audience. I thought this book was really good and it comes highly recommended from me.
13. Tim Harford – Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy
I got this book as a gift a couple of years ago, and it sat on my shelf for a while before I read it. I did not have high expectations before reading it, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. There are lots of good short stories in here about the 50 things that Tim has identified as shaping the modern economy. Overall, this book is an enjoyable read.
14. John Elkington – Green Swans
As soon as I heard that John Elkington had a book coming out in 2020 I was excited to read it, as he is one of my favourite authors. I did my own book review of this, which you can read below.
I would say compared to his distinguished back catalogue, that this is not one of his finer works. But as an interesting book on corporate sustainability in 2020, it is certainly worth a read.
15. David Meerman Scott & Reiko Scott – Fanocracy
This was another book that I was very excited about when I heard it was being released in 2020. I like all of David Meerman Scott’s books and this one was no exception. I did my own book review, which you can find via the link below.
Overall, there is lots of good advice in this book, whether you are interested in social media marketing or not, it is all relevant and can help you with your life and career. It comes highly recommended from me.
16. David Cheshire – Building Revolutions
This was one of the best books that I read in 2020 and potentially one of the best books on sustainable buildings that I have ever read. I thought it was so good that I did a 3-part series on the principles outlined in the book, which you can find via the links below.
Employing circular economy principles within the built environment is not easy, and it is up there with carbon emissions in terms of being a tough, stubborn problem that is difficult to resolve.
Nonetheless David packs the book full of useful information and case studies that will help you to implement these ideas in your day job, if you work in the built environment.
17. Amory Lovins – Soft Energy Paths
I bought this book because I like Amory Lovins and I had read most of the other books in his back catalogue, so I thought I would check this offering out.
On reflection, buying an energy book that was first published in 1977 was a bit of a mistake, unless you are interested in the historical comparison of how people back then predicted the future would turn out Vs how it has turned out, there is probably no point in reading this as it is very out of date.
18. Reet Sen – Soft Skills for Young Pros
I remember having this in my Amazon wishlist for some time, but I always baulked at the cost as it was more than I would normally like to pay for a book. I saw that the price had come down considerably this year so I grabbed myself a copy. There is lots of helpful information in here based upon 45 successful case studies that the author has put together. Overall, I would highly recommend this book to any young professional.
19. Malcom Gladwell – Talking to Strangers
This is another example of why authors should narrate their own audiobooks. Malcom Gladwell is lucky in that he is a fantastic orator, but for me, it makes a big difference if an author narrates the audiobook themselves. I like all of the books that Malcom Galdwell has come out with and this one is no exception.
There are a lot of very in depth case studies in this book and it is probably something that is better read or listened to in one go, as otherwise you may loose track of where he is going. Overall, I thought it was very good.
20. Dr A. K. Pradeep – The Buying Brain
I bought the audiobook version of this as I saw it was recommended by Tony Robbins. Perhaps it was the audiobook version, perhaps it was my mood at the time of listening to this, but I will have to put this one down as one of the biggest disappointments of 2020. Psychology books are hard to do well, as they can easily verge into being too technical and not suitable for people who just want to learn psychological insights that will help them in the real world. Overall, I was quite disappointed by this offering.
21. General Tony Zinni & Tony Koltz – Before the First Shots Are Fired
I bought this as I saw it was recommended by former US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis. The book covers lots of interesting topics on foreign policy and defence. This should be mandatory reading for any politician working in these fields. It comes highly recommended from me.
22. Jean-Marie Dru – Disruption
I can’t remember how or why this book ended up in my wishlist, it was probably recommended in a book that I had read in previous years. Overall, I thought this book was quite forgettable and disappointing. It was originally published in 1996 and digital has changed the advertising industry so much since then, that much of the conclusions contained within the book are rendered irrelevant.
23. Christiana Figueres – The Future We Choose
I got this book as a gift towards the middle of the year and I found it to be a very enjoyable read. Christina Figueres has been a key player of global climate policy over recent years, so there is nobody better than her to provide a perspective on progress on tackling climate change. I was unaware that her father was a famous politician in Costa Rica. Overall if you are looking for an interesting and accessible read on climate change, I can definitely recommend this book.
24. Yudelson and Meyer – The World’s Greenest Buildings
This book was one of the best that I read in 2020. I liked it so much that it inspired a 10 part series, where I picked out one of my favourite buildings each week for 10 weeks. You can find the first part via the link below.
The book first came out in 2013 and a follow up edition would be most welcome. The book focuses on buildings with incredibly low primary energy use. So a second edition that weighed the trade-offs between operational and embodied carbon emissions would be fantastic.
Sadly, there were a lot of cutting-edge sustainable building techniques and technologies that were identified in 2013 that have yet to become commonplace. But hopefully by studying what good looks like, these can begin to become more widely adopted.
25. Ian Walker – Endless Perfect Circles
This is probably the book that I have read cover to cover the fastest. Ian is a top cyclist in a sport known as ultraendurance cycling. This involves cycling across continents in races either against the clock or against a small handful of riders. Many of the races have no checkpoints, apart from the start and finish lines. I found the book to be highly inspirational and if you are even vaguely interested in cycling, it comes highly recommended from me.
26. George Orwell – Animal Farm
I had read the Animal Farm book a few years back, but this year I saw the audiobook version on sale, so I bought it. I found the experience to be a good one. The production quality was very good, and I noticed things that I had previously looked over when reading the book.
27. Christopher Hitchens – Hitch 22
I am a big fan of Christopher Hitchens and I really enjoyed reading this book. As a memoir, there was lots of information about his early life and career that I learned about that was interesting. You can tell by reading that he has a brilliant mind. Whether you are a fan of his or not, I think everyone could learn something by reading this book.
28. Julian Caldecott – Water
I bought this book in a charity shop a number of years ago and it sat on my shelf for some time before I read it. There was lots of useful information in here about all the different types of water and different types of water security issues. I learned a lot from reading, so it comes recommended from me.
29. Fons Tompenaars & Charles Hampden-Turner – The Seven Cultures Of Capitalism
This was the book that I read this year that resulted in the biggest anti-climax. I had high expectations as I like to read about economics and different theories about why some countries are successful and others aren’t. But overall, I found the book to be quite hard to read and boring. This is combined with the fact that it is very long and not at all a page turner made for a very hard read.
30. Tim Ferriss – Tao of Seneca
This was a really good audiobook to listen to. I liked the previous Seneca book that I read based on the recommendation of Tim Ferriss, so when I saw that there was an audiobook version of The Tao of Seneca, I was immediately curious to listen to it. There is lots of good stoic advice for how to lead a better life, so it comes highly recommended from me.
31. Pat Williams – How to be Like Walt
This is absolutely one of the best books that I have ever read. Walt Disney led an amazing life and there is a lot that can be learned from studying him. The two things that I took away from the book was the fact that Walt Disney had an amazing imagination, but the reason he became a legend is because he turned those dreams into reality. Dreams without action does not lead to anything. The other thing I took away from the book was the idea he had of “plussing” where he always pushed his employees to create more and do more for their customers so that they got more than they expected to get for their money. This is a healthy philosophy to have in life. The book comes highly recommended from me.
32. General Stanley McChrystal – Team of Teams
I really enjoyed reading Stanley McChrystal’s book on leadership last year, so when I was stuck for something to read in 2020 I thought I would check out his previous book on teamwork. Reading this book made me realise how dangerous silo thinking is, but how easily it can creep into large organisations. He uses a lot of examples from his military career, but they are highly relevant for the current business environment. I liked this book a lot and it is highly recommended from me.
33. Jim Rohn – The Ultimate Jim Rohn Library
I had always liked Jim Rohn videos on YouTube, so I was excited to listen to this compilation audiobook of his best talks. The RRP on audible is an eye watering £56, but I imagine most people buy it with their monthly subscription token. In terms of positive things, there is loads of great life advice in here that you can listen to. In terms of the negatives, a lot of these talks are available for free online, but it is nice to have them in one place. The packaging together of the audiobook is of a very questionable quality, where they are trying to sell products on the side, which I think is unacceptable for a paid for product, I am surprised that is allowed on Audible. Overall, it was good to have all the talks in one place and it is a good compilation.
34. Tim Ferriss – Tools of Titans
This book is something of a mixed bag. There are sections that I think are very good and that I enjoy a lot and other sections that are not so good. Tim recommends that the book be skipped through, whereby you bypass whole chapters if you don’t think they are interesting. This is not the route I went down, so perhaps it is my fault. Overall, there is lots of helpful advice in here, it is super detailed as I would expect from Tim Ferriss and the sections that are good are very good.
35. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation – A New Dynamic
I bought this book because I saw that Amory Lovins was a contributing author and that it was about the circular economy. There are lots of shocking statistics on the wastefulness of the take, make, waste economy that we currently have and principles that if applied could create a more circular economy. I have only just finished reading this, so stay tuned for an article in early 2021.
What you need to know
This article provided a short commentary on all the books that I read in 2020.
Even though I read and listened to less books that I normally would in a calendar year, producing this is no small undertaking.
A lesson that I have learned is that you never know what to expect when you pick up a book and that you should never judge a book by its cover.
There are some books that I fully expected to enjoy that were disappointments and others that I had low expectations for that I really enjoyed.
I also enjoyed listening to audiobook versions of books that I has previously read and enjoyed, and this is something that I may do more of in 2021 If I find myself stuck for ideas.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What was your favourite book that you read in 2020?