Books of 2020

This certainly was a year like no other. With all its few ups and many downs, at least it got me back into reading. I was an extremely avid reader during my childhood, but in recent times I only finished a handful of books each year. Luckily, this has drastically changed in 2020 and it has enriched my life in every sense.

Altogether, I read 13,727 pages across 39 books.

23 of these were non-fiction, 16 fiction. The overwhelming majority of books were written in English (35), I only read four in German, my native language. I want to share some of my highlights from various categories that may help you decide which books to add to your reading list. At the end, you also find my complete list from this year with ratings (out of 10) for all books. If you are interested in my favourite scientific papers from this year you can find them here.

Some Highlights

Feminist Fiction: Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo 

This book shines through its unique voice and its perspective on a variety of people whose stories are cleverly intertwined. It is both extremely current and timeless and leaves you breathless as you plunge from one story into the next one.
Read this: to broaden your horizon.

Crime: Camino Island – John Grisham 

First and foremost John Grisham is known as a legal thriller author, but his detour to general crime has been very successful! Camino Island is a fast paced, easy going novel, ideal to dive in and spend some hours curled up on the couch under a thick throw!
Read this: if you want to escape to a seaside town and like a game of hide and seek.

Popular Science: You’re Not Listening – Kate Murphy

This is one of the books that could be summarised in a TED talk or an article. In typical American fashion one core idea is presented from a variety of viewpoints and embellished with examples and anecdotes. While the hard facts of this book might be summed up on a few pages, I nevertheless advocate to read this book as it forces you to spend time with its ideas and concepts and nudges you to reflect on your own habits. It takes you on a well laid out journey about a key human competence: listening.
Read this: if you think you are a bad listener – and even more so if you think you are a good listener!

Feminist Non-Fiction: The Guilty Feminist – Deborah Frances White 

Deborah Frances White is the creator of the amazing Guilty Feminist Podcast, “the podcast to discuss the big topics all 21st century feminists agree on, whilst confessing our “buts” – the insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that undermine our lofty principles.”. This sentiment is very much carried forward in the book! It is a great romp through everything that may concern women (and men!) around the topic of feminism. Frances White strikes the extraordinary balance of being both kind and informative, while always remaining funny!
Read this: if you have a vulva or (vaguely) know someone who has one.

The Very Best

Best Fiction: Middle England – Jonathan Coe

This book takes you on an extraordinary journey from a pre to a post-Brexit Britain. Coe excels at dissecting the topics from a variety of vantage points through the multiple characters he creates. Moreover, he paints a painstakingly accurate (and through that hilarious) picture of the United Kingdom. For example, his vivid three page long description of what a garden center is made me laugh out loud. 
Read this: if you ever happen to be stuck in a pandemic.

Best Non-Fiction: Machtmaschinen (“Power Machines”) – Thomas Ramge and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

While this work builds upon some of the ideas from an earlier book by these two authors called “Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data”, it works perfectly as a stand-alone book and, in my opinion, expresses their ideas even better and in a more refined way. Drawing their concepts from various disciplines the authors provide a multifaceted view of why data monopolies pose a threat to our democracy and society. It’s a short and catchy read that works for any (or no) level of prior knowledge. 
Read this: as soon as it is translated into English (probably April 2021)

Bonus: The books I did not finish

Too bad to finish: Sex Robots and Vegan Meat – Jenny Kleeman

I really do believe that the author had great intentions when she set out to investigate the prospects of life, death, food, and sex in the future. However, she obsessively focuses on obscure edge cases that don’t have any relevance for broader society (yet), and then complains just about that very fact. Her writing style is snarky and comes from a position of superiority that has no justification. Don’t bother with this. 
Read this: if you really don’t trust my judgement.

Too good to finish: Invisible Women – Caroline Criado-Perez

This book really has it all: a strong, feminist agenda backed by an abundance of scientific evidence, wrapped up in a captivating writing style. Criado-Perez highlights the structural bias caused by data that women live with everyday. Her diligent research made me so angry with everything that is wrong in our world that I could only read a few pages in one sitting to contain my rage.
Read this. Fullstop. Just go and read it!

My 2020 Reading List 

1Camino IslandJohn Grisham336FENG8
2Rogue LawyerJohn Grisham352FENG5
3The PartnerJohn Grisham412FENG7
4Finders KeepersStephen King434FENG7
5The FirmJohn Grisham544FENG6.5
611/22/63Stephen King850FENG7
7Knots and CrossesIain Rankin270FENG5.5
8Camino WindsJohn Grisham304FENG6.5
9The GuardiansJohn Grisham384FENG6
10The Hate U GiveAngie Thomas464NFENG7.5
11A time to killJohn Grisham752FENG6.5
12The Girl on the trainPaula Hawkins408FENG3
13Why I’m no longer talking to white people about raceReni Eddo-Lodge288NFENG7.5
14Women don’t owe you prettyFlorence Given220NFENG8
15The AssociateJohn Grisham370FENG6
16Normal PeopleSally Rooney266FENG3.5
17Middle EnglandJonathan Coe420FENG9
18More Than EnoughElaine Welteroth320NFENG7.5
19MetropolosPhilip Kerr391FENG6
20You’re Not ListeningKate Murphy220NFENG8.5
21Girl, Woman, OtherBernadine Evaristo452FENG8.5
22Personal MBAJosh Kaufman420NFENG7
23Future PoliticsJamie Susskind367NFENG8
24The Guilty FeministDeborah Frances White320NFENG8.5
25Why we sleepMatthew Walker339NFENG8
26Dirty MoneyMarina Adshade251NFENG7
27Atomic HabitsJames Clear369NFENG8.5
28Dear OxbridgeNele Pollatschek258NFGER7.5
29Reinventing capitalism in the age of big dataThomas Ramge and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger225NFENG8
30Sex at DawnCacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan315NFENG7.5
31Low BornKerry Hudson239NFENG7
32Generation HaramMelisa Erkurt188NFGER7
33Lean InSheryl Sandberg180NFENG7
34MachtmaschinenThomas Ramge and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger200NFGER8.5
35Uncanny ValleyAnna Wiener280NFENG6.5
36Starkes Weiches HerzMadleine Alizadeh296NFGER6
37Learning from the GermansSusan Neiman391NFENG5.5
38TescopolyAndrew Wimms336NFENG7
39How Spies ThinkDavid Oman296NFENG8
My books in order of completion.
Here is a picture from one of my favourite book stores in Edinburgh, Toppings & Company.