What I read in 2020

Last year, 2020 was many things. Historians, authors, and journalists will have lots to explore within the depths of 2020. Yet, with no where to go, it was easy to find time to read in 2020.

Compared with 2019, I read fewer books in 2020, 52 vs. 36. Yet this was my target from the start of the year. In years past, I would rush through books, getting a sense of accomplishment siimply from completing the book. This year’s focus more than ever was to focus on grasping the concepts in the book and considering how I was going to improve from them.

My goal was to read a balance of books. I aimed for four areas of reading: Fun, Technical, Leadership, and Self-Help books. My target was for Fun to take up half of the total, with Technical being a quarter, and Leadership and Self-Help rounding out the rest. In the end, Leadership accounted for 7 of the 36 (instead of 4) and Technical was only 5 of 36. In hindsight, this makes sense as leadership and influence have been my target growth areas for some time.

The following is a summary of a selection of the books I read last year. Instead of listing all books, this list is targeted at the most impactful books or series of books I read.

2018 Book List
2019 Part 1
2019 Part 2

The Expanse Series (Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate, Cibola Burn, Nemesis Game, and The Churn)

I’m a huge fan of the TV show “The Expanse. In need of some escape from a pandemic, I decided to read a book about… a pandemic (it made more sense at the time). These books cover the first 5 seasons of the show. Starting out, the series splits the narrative between two viewpoints in Leviathan Wakes (James Holden and Detective Miller), then expands to four or more throughout the rest of the series. This can be a bit jarring as a reader, but keeps the suspense going for a TV show.

The Churn is a novella, set before any of the books, but with a large tie-in with Nemesis Game.

The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking

Dale Carnegie has timeless knowledge to share. After reading his acclaimed book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, I knew this book would have great, practical advice. If you have to present to audiences often and want to improve, this is a great book to study. I suggest adding this to your library as a referece book, because you’ll find yourself returning to it time and again.

Attention Management

Time management skills are critical to success, but recent trends are pointing that what we really need i the modern workd is to better manage our attention. Using our natural rhythms to do work at optimal and staying focused, we can get more done than simply ‘managing our time’. This book provides a good introduction to the concept and some practical advice.

A Year of Living Mindfully

Designed with one section/activity for each week of the year, I started this in 2019 and finished in 2020. There was no better year to focus on mindfulness than 2020! This book contained numerous practices and guidance on being mindful. With 2020 behind us, mindfulness is still an important skilset. If you want to learn more and are willing to put about 15 to 30 minutes towards it a week, this would be a great resource for you.

Atomic Habits

We’va all heard stories of ‘overnight’ successes, people who seemingly in one day achieved success. What we don’t see is all the hard work that went in, the tiny habits that led to the success. This book undercovers the science around habits and gives a framework for establishing new habits: make it visible, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. If you want to establish better habits for yourself, this book can help you get there.

The Compound Effect

I read this shortly after Atomic Habits, and the two books overlap in content quite considerably. While Atomic Habits focuses on the science, The Compound Effect focusses more on being successful and the compounding impact good habits can have over a long period of time. If you want to really learn about habits, read both of these books. If you want to know more about success, check this book out.

Maxwell Daily Reader

John Macwell is a prolific author in the leadership space. This boook contains a page for each day of the year that teaches a different leadership lesson eac day, pulling excerpts from his many books, like the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. This was such a good read that I decided to read through it again this year.

Humble Inquiry

How often do we ask questions from a place of humility, a place where re recognize we are dependent upon the other person to provide the answer? The author outlines what it means to engage in humble inquiry, why it is important for team work and psychological safety for leaders to ask questions in this way, and also whiy it is so difficult in Western culture to adobt this mindset.

Speed of Trust

Trust is crucial to teamwork and to leadership. With trust, we can get many things done quickly. Without trust, things take much longer to accomplish.

Written by the son of the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective Poeple, Speed of Trust provides a framework for building trust, starting with our personal charecter and our track record of results and then expands into our behavior with others. Much like 7 Habits, this book is foundational to leadership and has been included in many leadership classes.

The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell

Leaders often find themselves as story tellers, inspiring and influencing their team. This book outlines ten different types of stories that leaders will find themselves telling to inspire their teams. The book gives an example of each type of story and breaks down the elements of each type so that you can craft your own story for the ten situations provided.

More Effective Agile

As an agilist, I spend a fair amount of time reading articles in my field. In the tech industry, books become stale quickly. Published in 2019 by software engineer and thought leader Steve McConnell, this book takes a hard look at agile in organizations and offers advice at how to structure an agile organization to be more effective. Steve McConnell is also the author of Code Complete, one of my favorite books on software craftsmanship.

More Effective Agile is not meant as an introduction into agile softare deveopment. In this book you will find tips for a practical, analytical approach to agile software development. Check this out if you want practical advice on advancing an agile organization.

Succeeding with Agile

Another book on Agile, I started this lengthy tome many years ago (more than I’d like to admit). The first part of the book gives an introductory overview of Scrum, but like with More Effective Agile, I would consider this an intermediate book on the subject. Succeeding with Agile covers a large gamut of agile topics like how to lead a team, build a backog, do estimation, and work with a large number of teams.

Measure What Matters

Not an agile book per se, Measure What Matters introduces the topic of Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs. Used by Intel, Google, and many other companies, OKRs are an alternative to the cascading goal cycle that many companies have fallen into. Paired with an agile transformation, I see OKRs as a way for an organzation to set goals (both business and improvement goals) in an agile fashion.

The Unicorn Project

Years ago, I read the Phoenix Project, which in the form of a fable, outlines the case for DevOps in modern Software Development. Set in a fictionaly company, the Phoenix Project follows a leader in the production engineering organization. The Unicorn Project, written a few years later, is set in the same fictional company at the same time, but this time we follow a software developer as she joins a new team, witnesses the struggles the run into while trying to get things done and work together to build a cross-functional team that delivers results for the company.

Thinking in Bets

Written by a professional poker player, Thinking in Bets explores the idea of betting and the idea if we treated our thoughts as if we were to place a bet on it. If we did, we’d likely do more research if our confidence was low. Further, we might consider our confidence to our thoughts to aid in quick decision making, both for ourself as well as others.


Written by the authors behind Crucial Conversations (plus one newcomer), Influencer breaks down the nature of influence into discrete areas, using a matrix of motivation and ability on one axis and personal, social, and structural areas on the other. Thus, to achieve influence on a change, we must ensure that individuals, groups, and the environment all provide the proper motivation to make a change and that each enable the ability to do so.

When we look at habits, we encounter similar challenges implementing a change. Are we personally able and motivated to make a change? Does our environment setup to make the new habit easy to do and help us be motivated to make the change? When thinking of influence, the science of habits plays a crucial part, as when we try to change others, we are asking that we change other people’s habits.

Why Buddhism is True

As a recent student of mediation, a number of mediation resources are inspired by Buddhism. In learning more about meditation and mindfulness, I’ve also learned more about Buddhism. This book, written by a professor, is not a religous book, but instead takes a scientific lens to the core, secular tenants of Buddhism. In the course of the book, the author argues that there is scientific research to support these ideas.

I find it fascinating when we find that ‘ancient wisdom’ has some grounding in reality. It reminds me that humans hundreds and thousands of years ago had minds just as capable as ours, they just had less access to knowledge of others before them. As we continue to build upon the knowledge of each other, just think what we can achieve.

Radical Candor

Written by a software executive, Radical Candor offers guidance on how to give feedback to others. Radical Candor occurs at the junction of caring personally about someone and challenging them directly. If we lack one element or the other, we are not radically candid.

While the book makes some good points, in practice it can easily be used by naturally aggressive people to encourage them to continue to be aggressive. The back half of the book is aimed more at managers, making the book less useful as a general leadership book.