2020 Reading List

Building on my commitment to myself (starting last year) of reading one book a month from my reading list, I decided to up it to two in 2020. It’s lucky that I did because what else was there to do this year?

Here are the books that I’ve worked through this year, some planned, some unplanned, but all worthwhile…well most of them. Some weren’t great.

January

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Classic Gladwell. A book about how little things can make a big impact and what it takes for an idea to reach critical mass to become a significant movement.

The Dispossessed – Ursula K Le Guin

This is the first of a few books that I read this year which I have no idea how it made it on to my list. But it was there. So, being a slave to my list, I read it. It was an intriguing fiction novel about different planets and other space type things which are not normally interesting to me. However, it was worth the read.

February

The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek

I have heard Simon interviewed about this book a few times, and whilst the book doesn’t really provide much more than what he covers in the interviews, the concept is brilliant. The idea that, in business and other areas of life, we are not playing a game with set rules and timeframes. Nobody ends up being the ultimate winner. Sometimes we will win, sometimes we will lose, but shifting your mindset to understand that the you are not in competition with the person/business next to you. Instead, you are playing your own game.

Utopia for Realists – Rutger Brehman

The best first line of a book ever. “Let’s start with a little history lesson: In the past, everything was worse. For roughly 99% of the world’s history, 99% of humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid, sick, and ugly.”

Essentially the book is about a vision for a realistic utopia, with universal basic income, a shorter work week and open borders. A very interesting read.

March

Enlightenment Now – Steven Pinker

500 pages of why things in our world have never been better than they are now. Still much improvement necessary but a great perspective on history and humanity.

April

Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin

One of the many books about habits Gretchen talks about the pillars of habit and the four tendencies being an upholder, a questioner, an obliger and a rebel. Whilst not going deeply into the psychology of habits, Gretchen does appear to understand and explain some of the complexities of how we all create habits differently. This approach is different from what I’ve come across before where she unpacks some of the methods that we can use depending on what type of personality we have to help create habits and facilitate better habits

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield

Probably my favourite book this year. Chris Hadfield is an experienced astronaut having travelled to space 3 times in his career, this book outlines some of the practical things that he learned during that process. He is really funny too. Many times I would chuckle to something humorous in the book which piqued my wife’s interest and she in-turn, read it and loved it.

His ability to work the problem in front of him regardless of all other challenges he faced, is inspirational.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Another book that I have no idea how it ended up on the list, but, well, it was on the list. A fiction novel about the multiverse. Tripped me out a bit, but quite the entertaining read.

May

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

I think this is a book that I will read every year as there is just so much to it. It is the writings of Marcus Aurelius, the stoic philosopher and Emperor of Rome, as he wrestles with some of the most significant questions about life and meaning.

It has provided me with a quote that I am striving to live up to…

“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.”

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemmingway

Having never read anything from one of the greatest author’s ever, I thought I better do so. At first I struggled with the pointlessness of the story but recognising that it was first published in 1926, I was impressed by the ability of the author to tell an engaging story. Even if it didn’t seem to have a point.

Renovation of the Heart – Dallas Willard

On a suggestion from Donald Miller from Story Brand, a look at the state of our hearts. “We live from our depths – and we understand little of what is there”.

Predictable Irrational – Dan Ariely

Dan is in incredibly intelligent and thinks about the world in a very interesting way. The premise of this book is that we are not rational beings in the decisions that we make and whether we approach our lives but that irrationality is predictable dance studies really inside but the majority of them are done in university colleges in the US don’t have the reach or the breadth of the entire community as a whole. The sections on pricing and the psychology behind it is fascinating. The section money and deception is terrifying.

June

Give and Take – Adam Grant

The book of generosity. Adam lays out why those who are generous in the workplace become more successful than those who aren’t. Outside of the Bible, this is my bible. A true encouragement to not shy away from seeking the best for those that you work with and around as it will make you better at your job.

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Cal Newport outlines what he means by that phrase in deep work and then he outlines why we should all be looking to create more opportunities to do work in our lives especially in our work lives. The opposite of deep work being shallow work which is all the things that actually distract us in our work life or can be things which are just not helpful to us. the capacity for someone to create a great amount of work when they have access to the work is extraordinary and there is something that everybody can take out of this book even if they are not an intellectual store professor he does bring a specific view of a professor to this work and there is some things that will not translate into other areas of life especially when it comes to taking time off. There are times when it comes off arrogant but his insight is second to none.

July

The Bourne Initiative – Eric Van Lustbader

In light of not having a Jack Reacher novel to read (as I had finished all of them), I thought I would give another series a try. You will notice there is no other mention of the Bourne series in this list. There is a reason for that.

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Another favourite. James unpacks how little things that we do build up over time and can create a significant impact. We get to choose what daily things we do to either create a positive impact or a negative impact.

August

Hiking with Neitzsche – John Kraag

Having never read anything by Neitzsche this was a nice introduction to his philosophy and life journey. This book is about John Kraag’s two trips following in the footsteps of Neitzsche through the Swiss Alps, one he took as a teenager and one 17 years later as a married father of one. An amazing journey into the depths of despair and depression and seeking out meaning in meaninglessness.

Bruce Lee – Matthew Polly

Having never seen anything with Bruce Lee in it, or really understanding who he was, this story captured me. His intensity and influence across martial arts and the movie industry are overwhelming. Every familiar ‘tough guy/girl’ in movies today can be traced back to him. All of this at the same time as being caught between two cultures. Not accepted as fully Chinese and not embraced as an American, we are only left to imagine what else he could have brought had he not died so tragically.

September

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

On the back of my Neitzsche journey in August, more staring into the face of darkness and despair. Frankl writes about his time in Auschwitz from a psychological perspective. It was through this experience that he shaped the framework for his practice in psychology in the years to follow. He doesn’t go into great detail about the atrocities that occurred, but he does talk about the importance of finding a meaning and purpose that can keep you going in the most troubling of circumstances.

The Only Story – Julian Barnes

Random addition. Written from three time perspectives, it is a story of forbidden love but is unusual in the sense that it plays out the relationship to the end. The complexity of what a relationship between a teenage boy and a middle aged woman looks like ten years down the track, and then even further.

October

Fear & Trembling – Soren Kirkergaard

Kirkergaard is revered as a deeply influential thinker and so I have been attempting to get an understanding of that. I find him very challenging to read with moments of pure inspiration. This entire book describes the journey of Abraham on his way to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It is about faith, courage and whether or not Abraham was a sadistic murderer.

Thirst – Scott Harrison

The story of Charity: Water as written by its founder. His is an intriguing story and upbringing. From the darkness of running nightclubs in New York to digging wells in Africa, Scott is brilliantly honest about his journey, mistakes and all, in an attempt to bring clean water to the world.

November

The Happiest Man on Earth Eddie Jaku

Another inspirational book from World War 2, Eddie went through many concentration camps, including Auschwitz, as a Jew. His survival and life after has been a miracle. This is a really easy read, written very simply and does gloss over some of the finer details.

Jack Reacher – The Sentinel – Lee Child

The brand new release, timed well as it was about the 2020 election and how it could be hacked by Russia. I hate to say it but I was disappointed. I think Lee tried to shoehorn an idea into a story to fit the year. It lacked the normal Jack Reacher flair.

What’s Your Plan – Suzzanne Laidlaw

Written by an Opportunity International Australia Ambassador, Suzzanne shares her story and then couples her journey with business principals to help those starting out, or trying to get a hold of their business. Suzzanne’s story is one of the most unique, gut-wrenching and inspiring challenges that I have ever come across. And her heart is one of the largest ones that exist.

December

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

I did not know a thing about this before I read it. Everyone seems to know it and the answer to the question of ‘What is the meaning of life?’ being 42, but I had no clue what that was all about. For a sci-fi book that was written in the 1970’s, it is refreshingly creative and engaging. It was a wild ride, although I found the ending a little disappointing.

That’s it for another year – I would love to hear your suggestions for my list for 2021!

The Entrepreneurial Panic

If you have ever been overcome by the sheer weight of just trying to provide for your family, then you will understand it. The panic that comes when there is not enough to get you through. You can see the end of your financial runway and it is getting closer at a frightening speed.

Entrepreneurs feel this frequently. Many of us have felt it this year, even if we aren’t entrepreneurs, as the reality of financial insecurity hits and all of sudden we start to think of other ideas that could create some extra money. “What can we sell?”

There is a versatility that comes from this. A special ability to adapt and change as the world around you shifts.

I see this in the world’s poorest entrepreneurs. I have always said that if you can survive in a slum in Delhi, India, then you already have some incredible skills which give you an astute business mind. In fact, some of the savviest minds that I have come across are from small business owners in India and Indonesia. They have created something special, seemingly out of nothing, and are forging a path forward for their family – a path out of poverty and into a life that is not defined by trying to find their next meal, or to save enough money to buy medicine for their sick child.

If you place a global pandemic into the mix though, that is obviously going to create further challenges. And it has. The true impact will not be seen for a long time yet and it is so disheartening. But I am confident that these savvy minds will continue to find a way through, though they just need a small amount of help.

Make 2020 Great Again

Sure, you may have had some challenges this year. It may have been one of the most difficult, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t finish it in a way that makes it still one of the best.

It’s all about stress.

We have a negative relationship with stress but stress is neither good nor bad, it is what we do with it that gives it meaning. We can either experience it as distress or eustress.

Stress that creates distress, manifests in extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain – this is the stress that we try to avoid because it is uncomfortable. Examples of things that people often refer to as distress are things like a failing grade, or a family illness or a global pandemic.  

On the other hand, stress that creates eustress comes from seeing situations or experiences as a challenge to be met and an opportunity to grow. It is a positive response to the stressor. Often people give examples of this happening through travelling somewhere new, significant life changes like getting married or moving house, or learning something new like a language or an instrument.

The remarkable thing is that it is not the event that dictates whether we experience it as distress or eustress, but it is how the event is perceived. If an experience is seen as a threat, this it will create distress, if it is seen as a challenge then it will create eustress.

The key to making something eustressful, is finding a way to create meaning, hope and energy out of the challenge.

If you have had too many distressful experiences in 2020, let me help you create a eustressful one, through finding meaning, hope and energy through a generous act. This is one of the simplest and most effective way to create that positive experience that 2020 needs.

Make a donation to Opportunity International Australia, and help end poverty one family and one community at a time,

…or some other organisation that you like. It will make your 2020 great again.