2020 – What I’m Reading

This is a running list of books I’ve read in 2020 with the most recent first. Would love any recommendations you might have. First, here’s a link to our firm’s book club list (goes back to 2011): St. Louis Trust Book Club List

50. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. This classic work of gothic fiction was quite controversial when it was published in 1890 due to the depraved nature of the main character’s actions as well as homosexual undertones. This book is beautifully written and is an interesting, chilling story.

49. The City of Endless Night, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. This is the 18th book in the FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast series. These agent Pendergast books are my among my guilty pleasures — total page turners, great plots, easy-to-read, and totally fun. They follow the eccentric FBI agent as he investigates murders. This book has him investigating a series of related grewsome murders in NYC. Fun read!

48. The Moonflower Murders: A Novel, by Anthony Horowitz. This book is the sequel to the excellent Magpie Murders which I enjoyed immensely a few years ago. Like Magpie, Moonflower features a story within a story which is like getting two books in one! It’s a relatively long book at 608 pages, but the story flew by. The plot revolves around a brutal murder at a hotel in England eight years prior to the manager of the hotel disappearing. The owners of the hotel (and parents of the missing manager) think that the disappearance and murder might be linked and the answer might lie in a detective novel. Great book!

47. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab. This book was fantastic and long-ish at 448 pages. It is the story of Addie LaRue who makes a deal with the darkness: her soul in return for immortality and freedom. But it turns out that freedom comes with a price: she will be instantly forgotten by everyone she knows or meets as soon as she’s out of view. This fantastic novel winds through 300+ years of Addie’s life as a person with no roots and no lasting relationships. I loved it.

46. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. This book reminded me of DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). It provides tools for having tough conversations. The main point is that we should strive to engage in productive dialog which means fostering shared understanding. It’s a great book with valuable tools. I’ll probably read it again.

45. Dark Tomorrow, by Reece Hirsch. This was a fun thriller and book two in a series. It focuses on FBI agent Lisa Tanchik who is a cybercrime specialist. In this book the U.S. has been targeted by Russian hackers who have taken down the power grid across the entire East Coast. In some ways it was a scary book to read as the scenario presented is entirely possible. The author is a lawyer who specializes in cyber issues so he really knows his stuff.

44. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. I consider myself a big reader. Thus, I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first book by Dickens that I have read. Of course, it was fantastic. As you may be aware, it’s the story of Pip and his escape from a working class life to a life of learning and becoming a gentleman. There are lots of twists and turns along the way. The book provides a useful commentary on relationships, desire, money and happiness. At about 750 pages, it was a long read but worth it!

43. The Neon Bible, by John Kennedy Toole. The author committed suicide in 1973 at the age of 31 partially due to being despondent about having his book The Confederacy of Dunces rejected by a publisher. After his death, his mother was able to get his book published and he posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize. The Neon Bible was a manuscript she found after his death that he had written at age 16. It is a fabulous book. I cannot believe he was only 16 when he wrote it. The Neon Bible is about a boy named David who grows up in a small southern town. I’ll leave it at that. Great book.

42. Causation: A Very Short Introduction, by Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum. What does it mean for something to to be a cause? How causation is defined has been the subject of debate for over 2000 years, without a definite answer. This book hits on the major philosophical views of causation from Socrates and Aristotle, to David Hume, John Locke, to Wittgenstein. I found this to be very informative book that broadened my world view.

41. Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, by Adam Alter. Professor Alter is a psychologist and this book is about our subconscious and the various things that shape our behavior that we don’t realize. The author hits on many different fascinating subconscious triggers, including how our behavior changes when we are in a pink room.

40. The Last Monument: A Novel, by Michael Grumney. This is a fun read. A 60-year old letter sparks a search for treasure hidden from the Nazis in South America. The plot follows the grand-niece of a WWII “monuments man” and an NTSB investigator as they track down “the last monument.”

39. Leave the World Behind: A Novel, by Ramaan Alam. This book was a page turner even though not much happened. The plot is interesting: a family rents a house in rural Long Island for a vacation. A few days into the vacation the house’s owners show up, having fled NYC due to a blackout and strange events. The cell phones, TV and internet all stop working. The characters don’t know what happened and don’t know what to do. I loved it!

38. Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers, by John Kay and Mervyn King. This is a thought-provoking book by two major economists. It’s a long book — 528 pages — and I think they could have made their point in about 228 pages. Notwithstanding its wordiness, the book was quite interesting. The main point of the book is that we live in a world where much of the future is unknowable. They define this as radical uncertainty. They spend most of the book criticizing the various schools of economic thought as not considering the effects of radical uncertainty on decision-making and the world. All-in-all, a fascinating read even if it was long-winded.

37. Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution, by P.W. Singer and August Cole. This book was a fascinating look at the near future where cars drive themselves and everyone accesses the internet through vis-glasses. Facial recognition is ubiquitous and A.I.’s anticipate and manipulate human activity. The main story of the book is about an FBI agent who is provided with an A.I. robot as a partner for her to train. The book provides a fascinating look at a possible and likely near future.

36. Dune, by Frank Herbert. This is my favorite work of fiction. I’ve read it four times previously and this time I listened to the audiobook — also a great experience. Written in 1965, Dune is always listed at or near the top of the list of the greatest sci-fi books of all-time. It is about Paul Atreides, a ducal heir, and his family as they leave their lush planet of Calladan and relocate on the desert planet of Arrakas. On Arrakas Paul and his family are driven out of power by a rival royal house and then Paul becomes the leader of the desert people, the Freman. At almost 900 pages, it’s a long read.

35. Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday. This book was fantastic. The author is most famous for his books on Stoic philosophy such as The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy. The book is in two parts. The first part is about how to make work that lasts — work that will be a perennial seller. The second part is about how to go about marketing that work, especially in today’s environment of short attention spans and digital media.

34. Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, by David Goggins. I loved the book Living With A SEAL by Jesse Itzler. It turns out that David Goggins is the SEAL from that book! I loved Can’t Hurt Me. It tells the story of Goggins’s life — his troubled childhood, barely graduating from high school, ballooning up to 300 pounds, becoming a Navy SEAL and then an ultramarathoner. He also set the world record for pullups in a 24 hour period. I found the book inspiring and I think David Goggins is bad ass!

33. Borderless (An Analog Novel Book 2), By Eliot Peper. I really enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, Bandwidth, so I thought I’d try book 2. I liked this one as well. There’s an overlap of characters but the focus of the book is different than the first one. In Borderless, Diana, a former CIA agent and freelance spy unwittingly is hired to help takeover the firm Commonwealth. The book is set in the near future and Commonwealth controls “the feed” which is basically an advanced internet piped straight into your brain. Diana rebels against the plot to takeover Commonwealth. This book is a fun page-turner and I plan on reading the third book in the near future.

32. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. This was a book club selection for work. I think it will jump start a productive discussion about race at our mostly white company. A few main points I picked up from the book include: (a) defining racism in terms of power and institutions (similar to Ijeoma Olou in her excellent book) and (b) calling out white people for being so sensitive and making it about them whenever issues of racism arise.

31. Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean, by Josh Bernoff. I am writing a book about investment mental models and my fantastic book editor, Nancy Erickson, asked me to read this book. I’ve read over 10 books about writing a book and this one may be the most useful. It lays out the common ways we make our writing less persuasive and understandable and gives straightforward tips for making our writing better. Great book!

30. The Nix: A Novel, by Nathan Hill. Another long work of fiction – 598 pages. I really enjoyed this book. It traces the interlinked lives of Samuel, an unhappy, failed writer and unremarkable college professor, and his mother who deserted him when he was 11 years old. Samuel goes on a quest to understand his mother’s life and why she left. Great book.

29. A Little Life: A Novel, by Hanya Yanagihara. Wow. What to say about this book. It was short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2015. Many serious readers whom I respect insisted that I had to read this book. Because it is so intense, I kept putting it off. Also, given the themes in the book I also delayed reading until my children’s mental health was in a spot that the book didn’t scare me so much. It’s a long book at 710 pages but I tore through it in a matter of days. The book is about four friends from college through middle age. It mainly focuses on one of them, Jude St. Francis, who had a very rough upbringing. I’ll leave it at that. Amazing book!

28. Glamorama, by Bret Easton Ellis. American Psycho, also by Ellis, is one of my favorite all-time books. Glamorama is in the same vein: some overlap of characters and is a parody of the shallowness of those caught up in success. While American Psycho took on Wall Street of the1980s, Glamorama is about models and other famous people in the mid-1990s. Glamorama is a long (562 pages) and often brutal book. After the first hundred pages warm you up to the banality of being a model in NYC in the 90s, it moves into violence, terrorism, and sex. This is the second time I’ve read this book – the first being 10+ years ago. Bret Easton Ellis books aren’t for everyone, but if you like his style you’ll enjoy this one.

27. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, by Seth Godin. I read this book 10 years ago when it came out and it has a big effect on my views of the corporate world, how we’ve organized our firm, and how we manage our people. The main point of the book is that we shouldn’t just be cogs in a machine. Instead, each of us should work on becoming artists in our field and freely giving our art. Amazing book!

26. Axiom’s End: A Novel, by Lindsay Ellis. This book was dynamite. Great sci-fi read that tells the story of first contact by humans with an alien species. The main character, Cora, is a college drop-out but due to family circumstances ends up being contacted by an alien named Ampersand who uses her as his interpreter. If you like Sci-Fi, this should be on your reading list.

25. Ideas, Influence, and Income: Write a Book, Build Your Brand, and Lead Your Industry, by Tanya Hall. This book is about writing and publishing a non-fiction book. I thought it was pretty good, but it tried to cram too much into a single book and some of the chapters read somewhat like a laundry list. Worthwhile book nonetheless.

24. The Heap: A Novel, by Sean Adams. This was an interesting book based on a bizarre concept: it focuses on a few characters working as “dig hands” on “the heap” which are the remains of a collapsed 500-story building out in the desert that was a vertical city known as Los Verticalés. The dig hands dig for bodies and valuables that can be sold. Oh, and there’s also a cartel of evil voice actors. Interesting book and fun read. RECOMMENDED.

23. The Deep Blue Good-by: A Travis McGee Novel, by John D. MacDonald. I had never heard of John MacDonald until his work was recommended to me by a friend. Turns out that MacDonald was a prolific writer of pulp fiction and his books have sold over 70 million copies. His book The Executioners as turned into the movie Cape Fear. This book was the first of the Travis McGee series. Trav is a sort of Jack Reacher character – a tough guy who reluctantly helps people in need of a badass. Written in the early 1960s, this book was a fun portal into past times. Great character development and a page-turner of a story. I’ll be reading more John MacDonald.

22. Stop Stalling and Start Writing: Kick the Excuses and Jumpstart Your Nonfiction Book, by Nancy Erickson. I am going to write a book about investing mental models and have a read quite a few books over the past few years about writing. Nancy’s book really does a good job of highlighting some of the hurdles of writing and hitting the foundational issues surrounding writing prescriptive non-fiction. Very well written and informative, I got a lot out of this book. So much so that I’ve hired Nancy to assist me in writing my book.

`21. Billion Dollar Brand Club: How Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, and Other Disruptors Are Remaking What We Buy, by Lawrence Ingrassia. This was a book club selection for work. Billion Dollar Brand Club focuses on brands that have succeeded in the direct to consumer space, such as Casper, Harry’s and Warby Parker. It is an interesting look at how new delivery models can disrupt established businesses and industries. I found the book to be very interesting and extremely thought-provoking.

20. Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero, by Charles Makepeace Thackeray. First published in 1848, Vanity Fair is a classic Victorian-era novel. It follows the lives of Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley amid their friends and families during and after the Napoleonic Wars. It’s quite long, over 800 pages, but well worth the time and effort as the book is a delightful critique of those who seek material things and social status. I thought it was fantastic. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

19. The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time, By Jim McKelvey. I got a lot out of this book. The author is a co-founder of Square and in this book he details how entrepreneurs create “innovation stacks” which are a series of interlocking inventions or innovations that a new company puts together that solves a problem that nobody else is solving. RECOMMENDED.

18. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari. This book follows Prof. Harari’s fantastic book Sapiens. Whereas Sapiens was about the history of humanity, Homo Deus is about how humanity might progress in the future. I found this book to be a very thought-provoking inquiry into the future of religion, humanism, science, and data. RECOMMENDED.

17. Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life, by John Miller and Scott Page. Even though the authors wrote this book for non-expert readers, I still found it very detailed and complicated. It is a dive into complex adaptive systems and the challenges of modeling such systems. I learned a lot!

16. The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. A novel about a young woman in post-Depression era New York who suddenly finds herself thrust into high society.  On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when a handsome banker happens to sit down at the table next to her.  This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey not the upper echelons of New York society.

15. Ninth House, by Leigh Bardugo. This was a relatively long book at nearly 500 pages. It is a modern day fantasy novel set in New Haven, Connecticut and focus on Galaxy Stern, a Yale Freshman. Galaxy (who goes by Alex) can see “greys” which are ghosts. She is recruited to attend Yale to be a member of Lethe, the ninth secret society at Yale. Lethe is in charge of overseeing the other secret societies, such as Skull and Bones, and Scroll and Key. The main plot of the novel revolves around the murder of a girl and Alex’s uncovering of who might have killed her. Pretty good book.

14. Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, by Lulu Miller. This book was AMAZING! It is hard to summarize what exactly what it is about. It putatively is about David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist and first President of Stanford University. But, it is really about the meaning of life and persistence in the face of tragedy and the unknown. I adored this book so much I may buy copies for everyone I know. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

13. To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret, by Jedidiah Jenkins. This was the story of the author riding his bike with a friend from Portland, Oregon to Patagonia in the southern reaches of South America. While it is interesting to hear him relate his impressions of the culture and geography he travels through, what is even more interesting is his introspection throughout the trip. The author is gay and raised in a very religious Southern family. Along his journey, he battles with embracing who he is and reconciling it with his religion. RECOMMENDED.

12. The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell. The Bone Clocks is classic David Mitchell – long (640 pages), complex plot, great character development and spanning long periods of time (1984 – 2043). I enjoyed this book so much as the story flowed in, out and around of Holly Sykes’s life. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

11. Black Nowhere, by Reece Hirsh. I read this book in a single day. It is a cyber thriller following FBI Agent Lisa Tanchik as she investigates and takes down an online site for selling drugs on the dark web. It is well written and highly relevant to today’s cyber environment. Total page-turner. RECOMMENDED.

10. Middlemarch, By George Eliot. This book was fantastic! And at 840 pages, it was long! Written in 1872, it follows Dorothea Brooke and various other characters in the late 1820s and early 1830s Middlemarch – a village in England. It is beautifully written and I found myself re-reading various passages often. George Eliot is the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, one of the leading writers of the victorian era. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

9. The Family Fang: A Novel, by Kevin Wilson. This is the second book I’ve read by Kevin Wilson and I loved them both. This book follows Buster and Annie, children of famous, eclectic performance artists who believe that true art lies in experiences. Both Buster and Annie are damaged by their childhood focused on them being pawns of their parents creating performance art. Great character development and interesting story. RECOMMENDED.

8. Fascinate, Revised and Updated: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist, by Sally Hogshead. The author is a branding expert and in this book she lays out seven different types of brand messages and a process for improving brand message. A main point in the book is that brands should strive to fascinate their customers/clients. This was an interesting read and worthwhile for any business person who thinks about their brand.

7. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. I first read this book when it came out in 2012. Given the divided state of our nation I decided to read it again and I’m glad I did. The author is a leading moral psychologist and in this book addresses how and why rational, intelligent people can have such opposite views of the same issue. His main metaphor is of an elephant and rider. The elephant is our gut feelings and emotion. It is the elephant that decides what we believe. The rider is our rational thought and the rider exists to serve the elephant. Thus, our rational thought is devoted to defending and rationalizing what we believe, not deciding what to believe. This book is fantastic and should probably be required reading for all Americans. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

6. Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence, by Roger C. Schank. The author is a pioneer in Artificial Intelligence and a professor at Northwestern University. In his work on AI he has had to delve deeply into the question of “what is intelligence?” A big part of the answer is intelligence is the ability to effectively index, search for and retrieve stories. The ability to tell the right story at the right time and to respond to another’s story with a relevant story are key aspects of human intelligence. This was one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

5. Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir. This book is a solid work of fantasy about worlds that are dying governed by nine great houses. Gideon is the cavalier of the ninth house and sworn to serve and protect her house’s necromancer, Harrowhark Nonagesimus. The story is complicated by the fact that Gideon and Harrowhawk hate each other. Along with the other necromancers and cavaliers of the other houses, Gideon and Harrowhawk seek lyctorhood, a type of immortal power, in a huge, creepy mansion on the first world. I enjoyed this book immensely.

4. A Girl in a Band: A Memoir, by Kim Gordon. The author was a founder and member of the band Sonic Youth, which was one of the most influential alternative rock bands. The title is a reference to the most common question she was asked in interviews over the years: “what’s it like to be a girl in a band?” Her memoir provides a great history of punk, new wave and the development of alternative rock. It also provides a window into the art and music scene in NYC in the 1970s and 80s. I found it very interesting and a must-read for any fan of Sonic Youth.

3. The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by Matt Taibbi. The author is a long-time reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine who notably referred to Goldman Sachs as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” The Divide is a well-researched book that looks at how the legal system treats poor people differently than the rich. He focuses on various cases of obvious proven fraud in the financial system which has resulted in zero people being convicted of a crime and compares that with the various minor crimes the poor are convicted of. An interesting and eye-opening book.

2. What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture, by Ben Horowitz. The author is a co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, former tech firm CEO and author of another fantastic book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. In this book, Horowitz looks to examples outside of business about creating culture. These non-business examples include the Samauri’s credo of Bushido, the culture Ghengis Khan created that allowed him to conquer most of Asia and how a prison gang leader led his gang. His translation of these examples, as well as many others from business, to concrete, actionable corporate culture advice is very skillful. Great book with fantastic culture advice. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

1. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. This book focuses on a few characters before and after most of humanity is wiped out by a virus. While this sort of post-apocalyptic story has been done many times (e.g. The Stand by Stephen King, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Passage by Justin Cronin, etc.), Station Eleven stands on its own due to great character development and smoothly jumping from the characters pre-flu to their lives post-flu. Great read. RECOMMENDED.


Get in Touch

Want to book John at your next event? Or, do you have a question for him, a topic you'd like him to explore on his IFOD blog, or just want to say hey? Reach out here, he responds to all inquiries (although it might take some time—he gets a lot of fan mail).




Subscribe To The IFOD

Get the Interesting Fact of the Day delivered twice a week. Plus, sign up today and get Chapter 2 of John's book The Uncertainty Solution to not only Think Better, but Live Better. Don't miss a single post!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This