The books I read in 2020
At the end of each of the last few years, I’ve written a blog post listing the books that I’ve read or listened to over the year (see my 2019 and 2018 lists). I find it a useful way of reminding myself what I’ve read, and of recognising and recommending some really good books. Obviously I’ve got my own particular interests, so don’t feel worry if some of my choices aren’t to your taste.
Here is my list of books that I’ve read in 2020:
Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump and an epic trail of destruction, by David Enrich. Having worked at Deutsche Bank for 7 years, I found this book fascinating.
How to make the world add up, by Tim Harford. This book contains some really useful advice on making sense of statistics in the real world.
Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou. A fast paced expose of Silicon Valley startup Theranos. Really good.
One of Them: From Albert Square to Parliament Square, by Michael Cashman. I listened to the audiobook of this memoir — wonderfully narrated by the actor, activist and politician. Plenty of love, laughter and grief.
Radical Uncertainty, by John Kay and Mervyn King. I’m a huge fan of any book about different ways of thinking about uncertainty, and this book lived up to my hopes.
What we need to do now: For a zero-carbon future, by Chris Goodall. An easy to read review of the UK’s options when it comes to achieving net-zero. Well worth reading.
7 Powers: The foundations of business strategy, by Hamilton Helmer. This was short and had some useful ideas that made sense.
Shuggie Bain, by Donald Stuart. The winner of this year’s Booker Prize, a depressing but beautifully written novel about one boy’s childhood.
Escaping the build trap, by Melissa Perri. I read this in an attempt to understand the role of effective product management in companies, and found it really useful.
The Psychology of Money, by Morgan Housel. I liked this book’s analysis of some of the things that go wrong when beginners and experts make financial decisions — I’d recommend it, particularly for people new to financial planning.
Swimming in the dark, by Tomasz Jedrowski. A novel about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality amidst the political corruption of1980’s Poland.
Conceptualising Demand, by Rinkinen, Shrove and Marsden. Very academic, but also remarkably insightful on the challenges of understanding and influencing energy demand.
The art of fairness, by David Bodanis. I learned a lot from this collection of contrasting examples from history, though I felt it didn’t do as good a job of bringing it together to form actionable lessons as, say, Adam Grant’s ‘Give and Take’.
Beneath the Streets, by Adam McQueen. A crime/political thriller, set amid the Jeremy Thorpe scandal.
The Evening and the Morning, by Ken Follett. This historical novel, set around 1000AD, is the prequel to The Pillars of the Earth. I enjoyed it — don’t judge me!
Greed is Dead, by Paul Collier and John Kay. Reflections on contemporary politics. I found it insightful, but a bit dry.
Reimagining Capitalism, by Rebecca Henderson. This was quite a good book filled with good examples of capitalism improving the world without destroying shareholder value.
Deaths of Despair, by Anne Case and Angus Deaton. A depressing analysis of the crisis amongst white Americans without college degrees.
Running Lean, by Ash Maurya. I read this in preparation for a job interview, and found it useful for improving my understanding of the startup process.
Turn of the Screw and other stories, by Henry James. Lockdown stopped me attending Britten’s opera of Turn of the Screw, which I love. The book was a poor replacement.
Three languages of Politics, by Arnold Kling. This book diagnoses the political conflict between America’s progressives, conservatives and libertarians. It got me thinking.
Behind and beyond the meter. This is a collection of chapters on changing world of electricity supply. I found it interesting and useful, but probably not worth the price.
The Spy and the Traitor, by Ben Macintyre. I really enjoyed this true spy thriller about Oleg Gordievsky, who defected to the UK in 1985.
Deregulation, innovation and market liberalization, by L. Lynne Kiesling. Very much one for electricity market nerds, with a mostly US focus, but I did find it interesting, especially its reference to Austrian economics.
Under the influence, by Robert Frank. A good book on our susceptibility to peer pressure, and how that should be taken into account in policy design. My only criticism is that I had already read so much by Frank that I didn’t find anything in here new or controversial.
Friendly Fire, by Patrick Gale. I enjoyed this novel, set in an English public school, but then I enjoy most of Gale’s writing.
Originals, by Adam Grant. This book talks about ways to effectively challenge the status quo, with lots of good examples.
The subtle art of not giving a f*ck, by Mark Manson. It was recommended to me, but I didn’t find it useful or enjoyable.
Stylish academic writing, by Helen Sword. I thought this was effective at demonstrating how to write clearly and compellingly.
The triumph of injustice: how the rich dodge taxes and how to make them pay, by Emmanuel Saez. I learned a lot from this book, even if I didn’t agree with everything in it.
Machines like me, by Ian McKewan. An interesting novel, set in an alternative 1980’s in which Alan Turing is still alive and developing humanoid robots.
Range: Why generalists triumph in a specialist world, by David Epstein. I enjoyed this call to broaden one’s skills and experiences, filled with insightful examples.
First you write a sentence, by John Moran. This tried to be both an exemplar and guide to good writing, though if I’m honest I found it a bit too poetic.
Ask more: The Power of questions to open doors, uncover solutions and spark change, by Frank Sesno. A useful book filled with anecdotes and advice on asking effective questions.
The Creativity Code: Art and Innovation in the Age of AI, by Marcus Du Sautoy. I really enjoyed this reflection on what art and creativity are, and how far they can be automated.
Cost of Capital: Applications and Examples, by Pratt and Grabowski. I relied on this book for my PhD research, with the result that it is probably the most highlighted book I own.