In 2020, I read 40 books, including many practical self-improvement books. I read widely and enjoy science fiction, fantasy, young adult, and popular fiction, but it’s the practical books that end up having the biggest impact on my life. These are the books that changed my paradigm this year.
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Atomic Habits by James Clear
This is an incredibly well-written and practical book about how to make new habits and how to break bad ones. I was impressed with the author's explanation of the research on habits, and how he used that research as a springboard to ways you can apply it to your own life. Each chapter ends with a quick summary of the important points, and throughout the book, he clearly states the keywords, phrases and ideas you need to understand the concepts. I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone who is interested in improving their life because it's such a clear, easy read.
The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll
This is a great introduction to the bullet journal method — a system of note taking and self-reflection that allows you to keep your thoughts in one place and reflect on your interests and priorities. Although I have a task manager (Asana), I'd often look at my crazy long Asana list and feel overwhelmed. Starting to bullet journal has given me a sense of perspective and control and helps me prioritize my days better. I even started writing poetry in my bullet journal, which was a surprise for me and not at all what I expected to happen when I started out. The book is a great guide for getting started, though a bit too much on the self-help side for me. Personally, I could have done without some of the visioning exercises, but they could be helpful for the right person.
E-Myth Mastery by Michael E. Gerber
I've never come across a book that has such detailed explanations and guides for how to run a business and how to be an entrepreneur. While some of the content can be clinical in its approach to teaching about entrepreneurship, there are valuable lessons contained in its pages. The book includes a framing story about a woman named Sarah, the owner of All About Pies, who you go along the journey with, but it felt forced and had awkward dialogue. Luckily, the rest of the content made up for the framing device. Also, published in 2004, the book is a bit out of date when it comes to Internet marketing (it was published before social media even existed!) but the underlying lessons are timeless.
The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
Nearly every day for a year, I picked up The Daily Stoic in the morning and read the entry (or a few entries if I fell behind). It was a great way to start the day; a reminder about what's really important. I like the philosophy of stoicism but have a hard time reading the philosophers because of the stilted language. Ryan Holiday gives you both the wisdom and a plain-language explanation that puts the philosophy into a modern context.
How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren
This book is a practical guide to how to read non-fiction books and classics analytically. It is for advanced readers, or for readers who want to become advanced in the art of reading. Most readers probably stop at a superficial read of a book — you read it once through, maybe twice, and that is the end of that. This is a guide to take you beyond the superficial read. I was stuck at the superficial level, and I wasn't challenging myself. That's why I was taking on reading challenges like reading 52 books in a year. But this book made me realize there are other ways to challenge myself that will likely be more satisfying, like spending more time with one book, analyzing it, deeply understanding its messages, and appreciating it as the work of art that it is. Or reading difficult books, including classics like the Iliad and Shakespeare. Reading is a huge part of my everyday life, and this book has completely changed the way I think about reading, and will likely have an impact on the books I choose to read for the rest of my life.
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