Book List for 2020

Recently Read Books in 2020

I love reading and I read a book about every 2 weeks.  Here is my recommended book list for 2020 along with a little review and my take of the book.  There are also links to Amazon to make ordering the book easier in case you want a copy too.

I tend to binge read certain topics so you will usually see a theme in the book selection.  Some of these are eBooks, Audio, and physical books depending on the book.

Great at Work

How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More

By: Morten Hansen
Audiobook Finished on 1/13/2020

The simple summary of this book is “work less, then obsess.”  This is a very common approach to many hep books of the day but few really spell out in detail how to accomplish this simple idea and back it all up with studies and facts.

Picking a few priorities is only half the equation. The other half is the harsh requirement that you must obsess over your chosen area of focus to excel.  In order to truly obsess, you must be passionate about the few priorities you choose to work on.  This is often much harder in life with corporate leaders often focusing workers on needs that are less then passionate to most. 

Match your passion with the right work and it is much easier to perform and achieve.  Work is a micro, not a macro, endeavor so focus on the details of work when deciding.

The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up

The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

By Marie Kondo
Audiobook Finished on 2/13/2020

A great summary of the book is actually a quote from Marie Kondo herself.  “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

Another famous idea from her book is a simple question to ask about your possessions.  “Does this item spark joy?”   “Now imagine yourself living in a space that contains only things that spark joy. Isn’t this the lifestyle you dream of?”  Most people, including myself, would say Yes.

The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up takes you through the process of simplifying, organizing and storing your belongings step by step, to make your home a place of peace and clarity.  Her approach has been proven with decades of practice and experience as she consults and teaches others how to live a life of joy and peace.

Some of her ideas and approaches seem radical  to some, but when you consider the promised gains minimalism provides, it is really worth the effort to try it and see if this type of living is right for you.

I love that the central theme surrounding her tidying philosophy is gratitude and respect for all of her possessions and material objects. By doing so, and surrounding yourself with things that spark joy, you create a life and environments in which you can thrive. It also helps you identify what you value and helps you figure out who you are.

Take Control of Your Life

How to Silence Fear and Win the Mental Game

By: Mel Robbins
Audiobook Finished on 4/27/2020

Interesting book in typical Mel Robbins style, and in my opinion, actually works.  Mel has a way to completely over simplify complicated life hacks and this book is no different.  I have tried this approach and it has worked for me, and may work for you too.

In “Take Control of Your Life”, Mel tackles how fear often prevents most people from taking action.  Her approach is to simply know what is happening in your body just before fear sets in.  These triggers, once you can recognize them, can be controlled and stopped before they even start.  This is her key for overcoming fear and anxiety and moving forward when you would normally be too scared to do so.

From a young age, many of us were taught to look on the bright side. But according to Mel, staying positive might make controlling your triggers harder.  It is important to face your fear and understand the cause, instead of pushing them aside and looking instead on something positive.  Being positive is always good, but not when it is disguising fear.

In this book, Mel engages six fear-avoidant friends in deep, honest, and difficult discussions, and has pretty good takeaways of each coaching sessions.

Without Saying a Word

By: Kasia Wezowski, Patryk Wezowski
Audiobook finished 5/1/20

This ebook was a good practical guide of effectively reading body language. With several real-life examples and summaries at the end of each chapter, reviewing the items discussed.  It really guides you through how to best interpret other’s gestures, movements, facial expressions and tics.

This is invaluable in practically any scenario in which you might find yourself. Both the book and the audiobook come with printouts of the body language recaps, as well as a few examples to test yourself on your newly gained skills. I found this to be a very helpful book and wish I could study and practice it in more detail.

Prediction Machines

The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence

By: Ajay Agrawal , Joshua Gans , Avi Goldfarb
Audiobook Finished on 5/6/2020

The core of general AI rests in its ability to predict. Decision making at any level requires some form of prediction, thus making AI useful to organizations.  Predictions are learned by past examples so historical examples are easy for AI to predict, but anything new is not.

The book is divided into 5 parts; Predictions, Decision Making, Tools, Strategy, and Society, and is viewed from an economics point of view.  This is key since it would be viewed from businesses in this way too.  The more economic value it brings to a company, the more it will be developed and expanded into society.

I plan to read this book again as I thought its unique approach to AI is spot on and needs a deeper dive.  I recommend it to anyone interested in this topic as a realistic view into this technology.

Power Moves

Lessons from Davos

By: Adam Grant
Audiobook Finished on 5/18/2020

Another very good book by Adam Grant (a psychologist and professor of organizational psychology at the Wharton School).  He is also the author of Originals which I read last year.  I love his logical approach to his topics.

“Power Moves” is a mix of the author’s own speculation and the opinions and ideas of the people he interviewed in Davos.  This is a conference of world leaders and other very powerful people in the world today.

Adam Grant premise is that power has changes from what it once was.  Power used to be hierarchical, but now power is all about ideas and your network. If leaders ignore this new power landscape, they will lose their power.   Today power is more fragile then it use to be because power has many different forms then in the past.  My favorite new form of power today is the power of networks and ideas.

According to Adam, power is the capacity to effect other people.  Power can be gained in two ways, dominance or respect. You can be either a giver, or a taker and still be powerful. There are situations in which statistically one type of leader is more effective than the other, but it is usually better for givers and takers to work together. It is easier to effect change and get more done.

The Hobbit

By: J. R. R. Tolkien
Narrated by: Rob Inglis
eBook Finished 5/31/2020

Everyone knows the books “The Hobbit” and the follow-up Lord of the Rings story so there is little value in another summary.  I just will say the book is incredible (this is my second read having first read it in high school).  The audible version with all the different voices and singing make it very entertaining and something I just couldn’t put down.

Rather then doing a summary, I will focus on my take away notes and how I will use this book to improve my life.

The world we live in is not very different then the world of middle earth.  Everyone values power, land, most of all, money.  The story is simply all about the adventures of someone (Bilbo in this case) who is not motivated by any of those things but is rather motivated by friendship and adventures.  His core values of friendship, family, comfort, good food, and routine are the things that make most people happy.  So why aren’t more people focused on these things instead of power and money?

This book reminds us all that happiness is in everyone’s grasp if you look inside yourself and focus on the things that make you happy instead of the things other people seem to value.  Tony Robbins often talks about this and needs to be a focus in all our lives.

Of course, I recommend this book over the movies and very happy I spent the few hours reading this classic.  I am again reminded of what my values really are and where I should spend my time; with familyfriends, and adventures!

The Science of Mindfulness

A Research-Based Path to Well-Being
By: Ronald Siegel , The Great Courses
Narrated by: Ronald Siegel
Series: The Great Courses: Better Living
eBook Finished 7/15/2020

I truly enjoyed this book and learned a whole lot about mindfulness that I didn’t know before. This would be my 3rd book on the subject and without a doubt the most complete of anything else I have read.

I loved the stories and the way the information was presented. The chapters are different lectures and are very informative and entertaining. I would always listen to them while cooking diner or driving this defeats the purpose of mindfulness, but great non the less.

This book/course contains 24 fascinating lectures of The Science of Mindfulness. Professor Siegel, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, reveals the science behind mindfulness in compelling detail and demonstrates its application to a wide range of issues – psychological, social, and medical.

It covers neurobiology underlying ancient practices that are now profoundly influencing the contemporary world. I also learned many practical ways to use mindfulness techniques in my life.

The 4-Hour Workweek

by Timothy Ferriss
Audiobook Finished 8/14/2020

This step-by-step guide to luxury lifestyle design teaches: how Tim went from $40,000 per year and 80 hours per week to $40,000 per month and 4 hours per week;

  • how to outsource your life to overseas virtual assistants for $5 per hour and do whatever you want
  • how blue-chip escape artists travel the world without quitting their jobs
  • eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist
  • how to trade a long-haul career for short work bursts and frequent “mini-retirements.”

My Take:  This is a very interesting book but do not be fooled by the catchy title.  His ideas are core for any entrepreneur and his get going approach is admirable.  If the title is taken literately, then it would seem to be just a scam.  If read for its interesting ideas on business and life, then it is totally worth the read.  Core ideas I will take away are:

  • Starting a business doesn’t need to be hard, just take the first step.
  • Living your life is critical in your life purpose.  Find balance and commit to it.
  • Apply the 80/20 rule where you can so you can apply your time where it matters.
  • Be effective, not efficient, not busy.
  • “Doing something unimportant well does not make it important”
  • Charge a premium, have fewer clients, apply the 80/20 rule here.
  • Validate a business idea before jumping in with time and money.
  • It’s easier to achieve something great than something that’s just “good”

This was a reread for me for the revised edition which I recommend.  The revised edition has a lot of updated information and examples on how other people applied the principles to their lives and the results which I loved.  Still a highly recommended book.

The More of Less

By Joshua Becker
Audible Finished 9/10/20

It doesn’t get any better then this.  I started this book not expecting much, but very surprised with how well it was written, and no other book has taught me more about minimalism then this one.  It will be the only one I recommend on the subject going forward.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is;  “Owning less is great, wanting less is better”.  I believe the book makes this argument better then all other books on the subject and is the core of what is wrong with the world today.  The world is taught to want more and more when really all we need is more time to do what is important to us.

I was so impressed, I plan to read his other books on the subject and will go into it with much higher expectations.  Give it a try and see if you agree.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Book One in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

By J.R.R Tolkien
Audiobook Finished 10/17/20

Great audio book and was presented very well.  I know the physical book is a bit of a challenge to get through due to the different fantasy languages but I didn’t have that issue with the audiobook version.

I am glad I did pick up the audio version because I learned about so many other things that were not in the movies.  For example, the books can go into what a character is thinking but that cannot be done correctly in a movie.

There were also lots of side stories that made me appreciate the novel much more.  I can’t go into all of them but it definitely made it more enjoyable. 

The Art of Living

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Audible Finished 11/6/20

The art of happiness is the art of living deeply in the present moment.  If I could just read one book for the rest of my life, I think it will be this one.  It is truly the manual of how to live your life.

The key to the art of living is Mindfulness.  “Happiness is not something that arrives in a package in the mail. Happiness does not fall out of the sky. Happiness is something we generate with mindfulness.”

As we learn to handle our suffering, we are learning to generate moments of nirvana.

One of my favorite quotes, “Time is not money. Time is life, and time is love.”

  • Book Chapters:
    • Chapter 1- Emptiness:  The Wonder of Interbeing
    • Chapter 2- Signlessness:  A Cloud Never Dies
    • Chapter 3- Aimlessness:  Resting in God
    • Chapter 4- Impermanence: Now is the Time
    • Chapter 5- Non-Craving:  You Have Enough
    • Chapter 6- Letting Go: Transformation and Healing
    • Chapter 7- Nirvana is Now
  • The objective of the book (as I understand it today) is to realize that we can create a heaven on earth, achieve a state of nirvana and be happy – on our own.  Thich Nhat Hanh explores seven key meditations
  • Three Doors of Liberation, recognized in every Buddhist school:
    • Emptiness or No self. Since nothing has a separate self, everything is connected. To describe this, Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term “interbeing.” When we realize we are connected with all things, we have perfect communication with them and live with joy and ease.
    • Signlessness. The form or outer appearance of things—their “sign”—can deceive us. A cloud looks like a cloud, but then it’s rain, and after that it’s in the plants the rain watered. The form changes, but nothing is ever lost. When we realize signlessness—when we are no longer attached to temporary forms—we transcend birth and death and enjoy the wonderful, ever-changing journey
    • Aimlessness. Thich Nhat Hanh always says that we are endlessly running—after love, wealth, happiness, enlightenment, whatever. Aimlessness means you have no goal, no object of pursuit. Then you realize you have everything you needed all along. Zen master Rinzai’s term for this is the “businessless person.” She who has no personal business to conduct in samsara is called a buddha.
  • Four other concentrations are found in the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing:
    • Impermanence-“Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible. Life itself is possible. If a grain of corn is not impermanent, it can never be transformed into a stalk of corn. If the stalk were not impermanent, it could never provide us with the ear of corn we eat.”
    • non-craving-“What most people call power Buddhists call cravings. The five cravings are for wealth, fame, sex, fancy food, and lots of sleep. In Buddhism, we speak of the five true powers, five kinds of energy. The five powers are faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and insight. The five powers are the foundation of real happiness; they are based on concrete practices”
    • letting go-“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
    • Nirvana-Nirvana means extinction, the extinction of all notions and concepts, including the concepts of birth, death, being, nonbeing, coming, and going. Nirvana is the ultimate dimension of life, a state of coolness, peace, and joy. It is not a state to be attained after death. You can touch nirvana right now by breathing, walking, and drinking your tea in mindfulness.
  • He also talks about our 8 bodies. We are much more than our bodies — we are life without boundaries
    • the human body – it carries within it “the stars, the moon, the universe, and the presence of all our ancestors”.
    • the Buddha body – “our capacity to be awake and fully present, to be understanding, compassionate, and loving).
    • the spiritual practice body – “all of the spiritual practices and insights that have brought me healing”.
    • the community body – “a source of support and a place of refuge”.
    • the body outside the body – “the ways our practices and actions are non-local and used by others”.
    • the continuation body – our words and actions that influence the world and have a long-lasting impact upon others.
    • the cosmic body – “We are inside the earth, and the earth is inside us.” and “In every moment of our life the cosmos is going through us, renewing us, and we are returning ourselves to the cosmos.”.
    • the ultimate body – beyond appearances and signs, the true nature of the cosmos, which cannot be described in notions, words, or signs.

The Industries of the Future

Author Alec Ross
Audiobook Finished 12/15/20

Very informative book and a good read.  As an engineer, I understand and agree with Ross and have shared this information with my children. 

The book explores several industries including

  • Robotics
  • Genetics
  • Coding
  • Big Data

Ross explores how advances in robotics and life sciences will change the way we live—robots, artificial intelligence and machine learning will have impact on our lives.  He believes that breakthroughs in mathematical modeling and cloud robotics (machine learning and Artificial Intelligence) will allow robotics to far extend past their current roles and become a critical part of our society.

Also in the book, Ross talks about dramatic advances in life sciences (genetics) and how it will increase our life expectancy—but not all will benefit from such changes.   In the book Ross describes how genome code is already being used to fix humans from curing cancer to hacking the brain to growing organs. He also describes the difference between the United States investment in genome research with that of China.

Ross spends time exploring “Code” and how the codification of money and also weapons (computer security) will both benefit and potentially disrupt our international economies.   The hack of SolarWinds and its pentation of so many companies and government agencies is proof this is a reality today and its importance for tomorrow.

Lastly, big data is the innovation that ties everything together.  Ross also looks at how data will be “the raw material of the information age.”  The mining of this data will cause huge issues that are yet to be discovered and the outcome will not improve the quality of life for us.

This was both something I always knew but at the same time a real eye opener.  The details and though that Ross uses to support each idea creates trust in these predictions and allows his readers to adjust goals and expectations to fit into the near and far futures.

The Christmas Hirelings

Author Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Audiobook Finished 12/20/20

At the end of each year, I try and focus on fun books, and this one surely fits the bill.  A very fun book to read that I couldn’t put down.  I sat in my study next to my virtual fireplace while reading under a heavy blanket.  Below is the excerpt from Amazon.

Richard Armitage modernizes a classic hidden gem of Christmas Past… Sir John Penlyon is planning to spend Christmas at his estate with his niece and his friend Danby, the closest thing he has to family since disowning his daughter years ago. (She eloped with the parson, who was, of course, penniless.)

Danby suggests that at Christmastime the estate needs the presence of small children, and offers to find some – the “hirelings” – despite Sir John’s skepticism. Three children duly arrive, and the youngest, precocious four year-old Moppet, quickly endears herself to Sir John. The season takes flight with merriment, warmth, and even affection, until Moppet – as young children are wont to do in Victorian holiday tales – falls deathly ill.

The book highlights the importance of family, friends, and how Christmas can remind us to focus on what really matters.

How Chefs Holiday

Author Dana Cowin
Audiobook Finished 12/22/20

As I get ready to prepare our family Christmas dinner, I thought this book would get me mentally prepared, and boy did it.  I always thought about cooking as just a chore but these great chefs taught me that it is also something you can put your heart and soul into and make your family time really memorable.  Below is the excerpt from Amazon.

Once autumn hits, the holiday season has begun! And nothing embodies holiday spirit more than family traditions and recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Maybe it’s sharing stories at the dinner table, having a laugh on the front porch, or just relaxing with loved ones—everyone has their own ritual.

Join Dana Cowin, author and former Editor-in-Chief of Food & Wine, as she chats with some of today’s most popular chefs and food personalities. Together they pass along their own holiday traditions and stories, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Dana and company also discuss how these experiences impact their current holiday traditions and menus.

Cowin takes advantage of her career-spanning relationships with these top chefs to have them share:

  • Unique ways to celebrate Thanksgiving with Padma Lakshmi
  • The Swedish Christmas with Marcus Samuelsson
  • The “hard knocks of the holidays” with Kwame Onwuachi
  • A holiday catastrophe with Carla Hall
  • The importance of gratitude with Mike Solomonov
  • The Anti-Christmas with Alex Guarnaschelli.

Have a Nice Day

Author Billy Crystal
Audiobook Finished 12/23/20

In typical Billy Crystal fashion, I laughed and truly enjoyed this performance with this incredible cast.  Just a few hours but reminded me that every second is truly valuable and we should never miss the important things as we get caught up in our lives.  A great reminder to be more mindful of who we are and to capture the precious little things in life.  The below excerpt is from Amazon.

Have a Nice Day features a live multi-cast script reading captured over two evenings in October of 2018 at Audible’s Minetta Lane Theatre in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

Tony and Emmy Award-winner Billy Crystal leads an all-star cast including Oscar winner Kevin Kline (President David Murray) and four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening (First Lady Katherine Murray) in a performance of this hilarious and poignant story about a man desperately scrambling to put his affairs in order: to save his presidency, his marriage, his relationship with his daughter – and possibly his life.

President David Murray starts the day in crisis. He’s lost control of Congress, has to decide whether to run for a second term, and his wife and teenage daughter are barely talking to him. What’s more, the Angel of Death has sent a rather inept “repo man” who is at the foot of his bed, giving him only one more day to live.

Cast members include Justin Bartha, Irene Bedard, Annette Bening, Chris Cafero, Dick Cavett, Auli’i Cravalho, Billy Crystal, Rachel Dratch, Darrell Hammond, Christopher Jackson, Robert King, Kevin Kline, and Robin Thede.

Call of the Wild

By Jack London
Audiobook Finished 12/31

The story is about a dog named Buck that goes from a tame life with human masters to living in the harsh Alaska frontier with a wild wolf pack.  This is a great book and the 3rd time I have read it over the years, and each time is teaches me something different.

Each day he learned more about his new life.  How to sleep in the snow, how to relate to the other dogs, and his new relationship with his human masters.  Lastly, he learned the cost of failure was death, and was resolved never to fall.  He also learned the value of loyalty, love, and freedom.

We all have a calling in life, but we let life take us along the path of least resistance while we look for comfort and ease.  This laziness is not who we really are (or not who I really am) and is a discomfort we experience in our souls, just like Buck.

I spent my life on auto pilot and trying to make my family life as comfortable as possible, but once that comfort was put in jeopardy, I realized what I was meant to do and who I really was.  I was not meant to live in a corporate life doing the same thing every day, with little impact to the world.  The comforts I surrounded myself with were not really comforts at all, but were tinny stresses in my life that when added together created huge problems.  I always wanted to make a difference, even if that difference will only effect me, and its time for a change.

The journey of Buck from the quite life to who he was meant to be was hard and full of pain and suffering.  It’s a journey that only the strong and determined can survive.  But this is how life is designed, and how it is for some, and how it should be for me.