2020 was a bad year for many things. But one of the silver linings was that there was a lot of time for reading. Here is a run down of what I read in 2020. It equates to about 20–30 minutes / 25 pages a day.
Thanks to Rebel Book Club for the accountability and inspiration as always!
RBC is kicking off a big year in January with The Art of Gathering with Priya Parker. Join in and accelerate your reading habits with us.
The scores are the personal impact and enjoyment I got out of each book specifically, not necessarily the topic or RBC conversations.
- Underland by Robert Macfarlane: I’ve not read non-fiction like Underland. But very simply, this book surprised me and surpassed my expectations. I found Macfarlane’s incredible exploration of what lies beneath our feet, emotional, mind-bending, frightening and enlightening. 9/10
- The Doorstep Mile by Alastair Humphreys (RBC Jan): A ‘marmite’ book for our members. It was either: “wow, that just what I needed, I’m off to do make things happen and this book has inspired and kicked me into action…” or “That didn’t work for me / nothing new / felt like a collection of blog posts…” In person at our meet-ups (remember those?), Al Humphreys, took on the challenging questions humbly and helpfully. My personal reflection is that although I know a lot of the lessons its always good to be reminded and putting them into action is worth re-reading a book like The Doorstep Mile when the time is right. 6/10
- Rise of the Ultra Runners by Adharand Finn: Having dabbled in the ultra running world I really enjoyed Finn’s immersive exploration of the rise of ultra runners and events. Highlights were the Comrades run in South Africa and UTMB. I’m signed up to another ultra as a result… 8/10
- Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson: A writing style I didn’t completely connect with and a strange dystopian tale, but often funny and sharp about the state of our world. 5/10
- Non-Bullshit Innovation by David Rowan: I enjoyed the case studies of people innovating with tech at scale as there’s always something to learn but found the flow of the book wasn’t that compelling and had to work hard to get to the end. 6/10
- Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas (RBC Feb): An intense, first-hand tour of the horror of the real world of fashion followed by a much more hopeful journey meeting the innovative and passionate leaders of the future of the industry. Really engaged our members and galvanised lots of action. Dana was wonderful on our first podcast episode too. 8/10
- The Salt Path by Raynor Win: An adventure story about resilience and hope, but not as you might expect. Living homeless on next to nothing (£48/week between 2) whilst camping wild and walking up & down the stunning South West Coast path would be hard enough let alone the life-threatening disease and physical pain. Great perspective, beauty and…..hope. 7/10
- The Serendipity Mindset by Dr. Christian Busch: I loved chatting with Christian at our RBC ‘Campfire’ where we discovered that a lot of us shared birthdays — putting the learning of the Serendipity Mindset into practise. An excellent guide to creating more luck in life by asking the right questions and triggering new opportunities. 8/10
- It Takes A Tribe by Will Dean: Powerful startup story, especially on branding and partnerships. Sad to see the demise of Tough Mudder recently. 7/10
- The Future You Choose by Cristiana Figureus & Tom Rivett-Carnac: Strong on shaping the reality of the climate crisis and future choices we have to make but not sure how far it will get out of the bubble it needs to reach. 7/10
- A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington: Explore everything as you never know what talents lie beneath! 8/10
- Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger: Disney CEO, Bob Iger, is excellent at crisis leadership & deal making in the world of big entertainment between Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucas Film… but showed, unsurprisingly, just how capitalist & white/male the industry still is. 8/10
- Rising of the Son by Giles Dawnay: We all know these core character ingredients: the ego-driven, emotionally-cold alpha Dad and the sensitive, creative, confused teenage son. Throw this relationship into a life-changing adventure story and you know its the slow-burn build is going to catch fire.The observational drop-ins from taxi drivers, village elders and hotel owners add colour and multiple angles to a fascinating perspective on a father-son relationship on a precipice. Highly recommended for escapism and self-reflection. 8/10
- Our House Is On Fire by Greta & Melana Thunberg: What an intense, incredible family. Great to hear the human story behind this remarkable young woman. 8/10
- Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbottom (RBC April): This book reminded me of the importance of learning from history to help navigate an uncertain future. It helped me understand some of the history of Soviet Russia & nuclear power. But above all, it is a giant case study in poor leadership (mainly due to the culture of the political system) leading to disaster and the heroic response of people to save lives on an unimaginable scale. A lot of conversation at the moment is, understandably, about looking forward. But this book (and brilliant TV series) might be one of the more powerful lessons in how — and how not — to prevent, prepare and respond to a crisis. 9/10
- Trailblazer by Marc Benioff: Like a Hollywood blockbuster… impressive, but lacks lasting punch. Having only experienced Salesforce through third-party CRMs, I can’t say its a brand I’ve ever been that excited about. But I was curious to hear the story and detail behind the bravado. Trailblazer is not a subtle, detailed guide to building an impact business. It is a loud, chest-thumping approach to growth and trying to change the world and with significant success. Each example, especially when tackling human rights, shows how Benioff has used his business success to try and fight for those less fortunate. But, as energised as I felt during parts of the book, I also found myself regularly wanting for a closer, more open look into the data and details behind the business and and impact work. At its best Trailblazer galvanises, but more often than not, it feels like it could have gone further with ‘this is how we did it/this is what the numbers look like’ rather than ‘this is what we should all be doing.’ Benioff often seems surprised at the scale of the problems in the world, despite many of his customers playing a part in them. He’s clearly strong at response, I wonder if, in time, he will look even more to the root of problems within his own ecosystem. 7/10
- The Awakened Ape by Jevan Pradas (RBC May): “The happiest people in the world don’t wear underwear.” A great opening line for any book. Although there was plenty of interest in the book’s spiritual themes and practical well-being applications (squatty potty’s and no shampoo living), the majority of our members found the book contentious in its language used to describe interactions with women, problematic undertones of ableism and shortsighted conclusions about the ‘ideal body shape’. Whilst we did our upmost to give Jevan the chance to respond to our concerns (he kindly responded to our questions and calls), we didn’t feel he was able to grasp or acknowledge the complexity and magnitude of the themes we had picked up on. Jevan’s response was essentially that ‘they were jokes’ about the men, not the women. Clearly, we didn’t get it but hope that our feedback (several hundred of us started the book) will be taken on for future edits/books by the author. 3/10
- Wilding by Isabella Tree: What an inspiring story and group of people. Imagine if we could rewild more farms. Feels like the business model for rewilding needs more innovation if its to scale. 8/10
19. The Power of Ritual by Casper ter Kuile: The ‘How We Gather’ project by the same author, profiling some of the most interesting ‘community’ case studies from the last 10 years, had a big impact on my so I was excited to read Casper’s book. The project is referenced often in the book in terms of how different orgs and communities use ritual to shape them. The majority of the book is really about you as an individual and how you can use ritual to connect better with yourself, others, nature and the transcendent realm. All really good reminders with some nice anecdotes and applications. But the excellent setup — the paradigm shift — and my hope to discover more orgs who had applied these kind of rituals left me wanting a little more. Casper is an excellent empathiser and communicator and I’m sure The Power of Ritual will be gratefully read by a lot of people. 7/10
20. Equal by Carrie Grace: Engrossing story of senior BBC journalist, Carrie Grace’s campaign to get equal (not more) pay. So many barriers. Educational, shocking and inspiring. 8/10
21. Humankind by Rutger Bregman: Best ‘human nature’ book since Sapiens; which Rutger critiques but as with all his stories and analysis he does so with charm and a compelling attention to the source detail. Uplifting, remarkable and a really strong pitch for humans. We need all the help we can get. 10/10
22. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (RBC June): A sweeping data-driven dive into the vast gender gaps that appear across our societies. From sanitation in India to the size of iPhones the depth and spread of this book is as impressive as it is shocking. Led to one of the most engaged and impactful month’s of reading we’ve ever had at RBC. 9/10
23. How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford: ‘When all you’ve ever known is privilege, equality feels like oppression.’ Excellent — and easy to digest — scientific summary on why the racist prejudices that surround skin, ancestry, strength and intelligence are false. 9/10
24. Rise Up by Stormzy & Jude Yawson (RBC July): Rise Up gives you the inside scoop of Stormzy’s journey to stardom from the streets of Croydon to headlining Glastonbury. It showed me the level of dedication and raw emotion that goes into passion projects like an album and how to build a movement around a disruptor brand like #Merky. 7/10
25. Gates of Bronze by Philip Holmes: A painful and powerful story of a man who uses the perspective of his wife’s tragic death to start a Nepalese children’s charity. There are times when you worry what might happen to this idealistic endeavour but Holmes and his brilliant team find a way to save hundreds of children from slavery and uncover frightening levels of corruption and abuse. Only a driven leader could make something like this happen. 7/10
26. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: Brilliant characterisation and interweaving stories with powerful insights into a myriad of social challenges for black women in modern Britain. 8/10
27. It’s About Damn Time by Arlan Hamilton: Powerful story and real hustle. Would love to have learnt more about the VC work itself. 7/10
28. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (RBC August): Stories are everything! Not as compelling as Sapiens but such an incredible synthesiser of big ideas about our fast changing world and where it might be heading. 8/10
29. Origins: How the earth shaped human history by Lewis Dartnell: We are the children of plate techtonics — ‘the entire history of civilization is just a flash in the intergalacial period — a transient spell of climatic stability. The earth shaped our history.’ … even though we’re shaping its present. Great read. 8/10
30. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Mate (RBC Sept): “Each carries within him/herself the ALL.” Joseph Campbell. …coming to the end of this remarkable book I can summarise in three parts: Part 1: Pain. Part 2: Compassion. Part 3: Awakening. Hard to read because of the reality of addiction it reveals but have been recommending it ever since. 9/10
31. No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings & Erin Meyer: If you have a Netflix budget this has some great culture lessons… high talent density, transparency, culture mapping — more insightful and enjoyable than I was expecting. 8/10
32. The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri (RBC Oct): The unfairness of the sliding doors of life and the remarkable resilience and humanity of those forced to leave home. Brilliant storyteller and loved chatting with Dina. 9/10
33. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak: An escape into a colourful, but often sad, world of Istanbul’s most vibrant characters. A book we read before meeting the author on Sky Arts Book Club! 8/10
34. This Is What America Looks Like by Ilhan Omar: One complained that the floor of the House “is now going to look like an Islamic Republic.” “Well sir,” I replied, “the floor of Congress is going to look like America.” — Feeling hopeful that with leaders like Ilhan, the USA is going places again. 8/10
35. Mindf*ck by Christopher Wylie (RBC Nov): Perfect title. This book reads like an uncomfortable but engrossing thriller that’s too close to reality. Had a great discussion with the producer of The Great Hack doc. Most popular book of the year at RBC. 🤯 9/10
36. The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz: From renting a friend to Tokyo pensioners choosing to shop-lift to find friendship in prison, Noreena is an expert guide on her round-the-world journey to understand why we’re living in the loneliest century of humanity’s existence. Thankfully she shows us how we can rebuild human connection. The most timely book of the year. Great to chat to Noreena at the RBC Campfire. 9/10
37. Tough Women: Jenny Tough (RBC Dec): Tough be name, tough by nature. I loved this diverse range of remarkable human stories of adventure, endurance and risk-taking. Perfect end of year read and escapism. “Don’t quit whilst crying.” 8/10
38. Greenlights by Matthew Mcaughney: The ideal book to end 2020 with. Warm, funny & enlightening. Great format for the hardback with scribbled diaries and loved the life-metaphor of chasing ‘greenlights’ like making our own luck one day at a time…. alright, alright, alright. 9/10
My Book of the Year: Humankind by Rutger Bregman
Why? When the world goes low, you go high. A compelling dose of why we should be hopeful about our species despite…everything. History shows we are on the whole, good. Optimism is our only rational choice for survival.
Thank you for reading my reviews. Please add any of yours or recommendations for future reads yourself.
Join us at Rebel Book Club in 2021 for 12 (not 38) more remarkable reads.