Best Reads of 2020

Jānis Lanka
5 min readDec 16, 2020

2020 has certainly made its mark on our generation, something that will soon be referenced in movies and pop culture. We’ll likely catch ourselves asking friends or strangers “Where were you during 2020,” and we will carry this significant year in our memories for decades to come. On a less dramatic note, however, this year exposed me to a few books that will stay in my memory and be part of my life for a while. While I didn’t hit my annual goal of reading 20 books, there were a few that stood out so much that it has been impossible to not talk about them with friends. So here are the top three books that I loved in 2020, and I highly recommend that you read them too.

Deadliest Enemy

by Michael T. Osterholm

“To understand the true biologic sense of the power of microbes, we must never forget that we are the ones trying to anticipate and respond to their evolution, not the other way around.”

I grabbed this book back in January after listening to an interview with Micheal Osterholm discussing a recent increase in certain infections before it was known as the “COVID-19.” He has extensive experience as an epidemiologist and has dealt with previous diseases and outbreaks like Zika, Ebola, etc. In this book, he explores the challenges of setting policies to prepare and respond to these issues while exploring how to fight bioterrorism, antimicrobial resistance, and several other frightening issues we might need to deal with at some point in the near future.

Since the book’s publication, we have seen tremendous developments in the detection of viruses and the development of cures. But on that same token, we have moved backward in terms of public awareness in how viruses are created and what we should do to prevent them. Unfortunately, news channels give podiums to individual opinions that breed fear rather than focusing on the science that would help everyone become smarter and safer on topics such as this. So I urge you to read this book to become familiar with why we had COVID-19 and why such things are inevitable in the future if we don’t change a few things about our world.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

by James Clear

“In the long-run, we become the product of the environment we live in.”

So many self-improvement books fall flat on their content and applicability, but this one took me by surprise. Maybe because the author writes in a very compelling way about various frameworks that would help one gain a new habit or lose one. Yes, these recommendations can certainly be simple — forming habits is through making them obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. But this book goes even deeper — making you realize that a change is quite often related to your identity, and that’s what shapes your habits.

One of the most powerful parts for me was to recognize the difference between being in Motion versus taking Action. The problem is that we get stuck in Motion because it “allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure.” And that spoke to me hard! My daily job is strategizing and planning, and while that might seem like progress, only Action truly counts. Overall, I enjoyed this book so much that I even organized an online book club facilitated by a professional coach helping everyone on the call recall the material as well as increase the comprehension through other people’s experiences.

Chasing the Scream: The Opposite of Addiction is Connection

by Johann Hari

“The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection. .. If you are alone, you cannot escape addiction. If you are loved, you have a chance. For a hundred years we have been singing war songs about addicts. All along, we should have been singing love songs to them.”

Having lived in Vancouver for the past 13 years and volunteered at a few local soup kitchens, I’ve seen a different story to the shiny city with high glass towers. I’ve seen those who are less fortunate, those who have been dealt a terrible hand from a very early age. And while it’s easy to recommend them to get sober and get a job, we want them to do that outside of our neighbourhoods and not with our tax money nor our help. We want to isolate and get rid of them from our view and somehow expect them to find a peaceful solution that will not impose anything on the wealthier neighbours.

At the age of 22, the author published a column where he mentioned his preference for party drugs and spoke that the legalization of drugs is inevitable and will ultimately save lives. Many years later, he faced a rather strong struggle with drug addiction himself, being surrounded by drug-addicted friends and close relatives as well as the pain accompanied by that. That’s when he had to wrestle with how he can get out of this, how he could battle his addiction. And in this battle, he started exploring the origins of this rather violent fight, the War on Drugs, and our default response to those who are addicted to drugs. To his surprise, the true origins of the War on Drugs are filled with regrettable mistakes backed by racism and ignorance.

This year will have its own books published on it; the year 2020 will be extensively analyzed not only from an evolutionary and biotechnology perspective but also through the lens of human behaviour through such a difficult time. I’m truly thankful for the books that I came across this year as they helped make much better sense of this year. The common thread among them is human nature and it’s fragility, and yet its strength. Our bodies are subjected to viruses, drugs, and even digital stimulants and manipulants. Yet we have to persist, we must find a way to cope in this fast, crazy world. I urge you to read these books, as they have changed a lot about how I go about my day.

Before I’m off to start reading the next set of 20 books for 2021, I first need to weed out the list on my Goodreads and start building a new one. If you have any recommendations on books that should be added to my new reading list, send those titles my way!

--

--

Jānis Lanka

Building a better internet, one digital brick at a time.