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2020 Was An Excellent Year For Insightful Non-Fiction Books. Here Are My Top Picks

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For a year that was incredibly depressing month after month, and even from a political standpoint was emotionally draining no matter which side of the aisle you were on, the one minor positive is that many of us started reading more books. Many of the releases from this year struck a chord with me; I absolutely devoured every one of these.

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1. In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration

AmazonIn Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration

One of two books about walking in my list, this deeply scientific book written by an actual neuroscientist is filled with brilliant insights. I loved the section explaining how active mode and default mode works in our brains. The author has a flair and a wonderfully deep approach to science.

2. The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket

AmazonThe Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket

Your local grocery store is not quite what you think it is. The author reveals more than you would ever expect about how food is processed, delivered, and presented to us. It’s an excellent bookend to one of my favorite Freakonomics podcast episodes about supermarkets.

3. Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain

AmazonSeven and a Half Lessons About the Brain

I love everything about this book. The writing is crisp and intelligent. The examples of how the brain works grab your attention. (I never knew a glass of water takes 20 minutes to actually quench our thirst or that dopamine is prescient.) I learned dozens of new insights.

4.  Uncanny Valley: A Memoir

AmazonUncanny Valley: A Memoir

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I’m a big fan of memoirs that dish on the personal thoughts of the author. Uncanny Valley held my attention partly because of that but also due to the finely crafted narrative and witty writing style about working in the valley. I almost feel like we became friends after reading it.

5. The Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future

AmazonThe Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future

I read this book in one week, soaking up all of the expert reporting (#goals), the intricate storytelling, and even the humor along the way. An account of the CIA Directors over the last few decades is brimming with life and insight about the human condition.

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6. The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World

AmazonThe Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World

I read this book slowly and carefully, trying to figure out how the author crafted a story about eels that was also (mostly?) about his own reflections of life and family. The writing is detailed but not overly stuffy, scientific without being inaccessible.

7. The Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America’s 16th President—and Why It Failed

AmazonThe Lincoln Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill America’s 16th President–and Why It Failed

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Here’s another book I read too fast and plan to re-read. It has an absorbing style that feels more like a biographical movie. I pictured every scene in my head, including how Lincoln travelled by train to his inauguration and even his strange speaking style.

8. Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News

AmazonUp All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News

I’m all in when it comes to any explainer books about success and the news industry. (A top pick from last year was about a shift in journalism toward click bait.) Up All Night is about the rise of CNN and its eclectic founder, told with a funny and witty style throughout.

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9. The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

AmazonThe Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

If you only read one book on my list, check this one out. It is such a compelling story about Churchill and the war, told with so many keen insights you feel as though you are riding in the limo with him and watching the bombing runs from a first-person vantage point.

10. God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul

AmazonGod Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul

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There is so much deep insight in this book about the spiritual journey of walking that I have already read this book twice and included quotes in a new book I’m writing, about productivity with purpose. You are never more productive than when you walk at three-miles-per-hour.

11. Master of One: Find and Focus on the Work You were Created to Do

AmazonMaster of One: Find and Focus on the Work You Were Created to Do

Another book with a strong spiritual component (which is my vibe), this productivity book suggests we are too busy and rattled to really balance a million different things. It might be better to pick the important ones instead. The author is also very popular in the podcast realm. Clear writing for a clear head.

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