I did not set out to read 64 (and counting) books in 2020 but, like so much this year, it just sort of happened. I was pretty convinced that after 40 books last year I had peaked and I would never read more in a single year. Was I ever wrong! I read a ton of really fantastic books this year, the full list of which you can see on Goodreads, but I thought it would be interesting to pull out my top 10. That exercise proved to be really hard, even more so when I attempted to put them in order. Nonetheless, here they are!

#10. Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing by Jacob Goldstein

In another life I would have been an economist. I absolutely love the NPR podcasts Plant Money and The Indicator, so I was ecstatic when one of Planet Money’s hosts, Jacob Goldstein, wrote a book all about money. This is an interesting history of money in the world, the philosophy of it and some of the foundational economic theory behind it. If you’ve ever wondered why a dollar is a dollar, this is for you!

#9 Cheaper By the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

I loved this book in elementary school and I was tickled when it appeared on a reading list for my kids this year. I read this out loud to them every Saturday after breakfast. We laughed and cried together in this fun story about a very large family that takes place in the 1920’s. If you’ve never read this one, give it a try. It’s just good fun.

#8 Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham

Winston Churchill is a legend, known for his strong presence and impressive oratorical skills. If you’ve ever watched The Crown or the Darkest Hour you know how intriguing this character is. Meacham, the famed biographer of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, looks at Churchill’s more vulnerable side as he analyzes the relationship that formed between Churchill and FDR during World War II.

#7 Truman by David McCullough

Of all the presidential biographies I’ve read, my expectations for Truman were about as low as Franklin Pierce. Truman just seemed like an odd in-between president tucked between the liberal titan FDR and the Republican bulwark Eisenhower. The reality is Truman stands at a pivotal transition in US history, with the close of World War II and the dropping of the Atom Bomb as well as the start of the Korean and Cold Wars. Truman’s domestic policies were just as significant, too. McCullough is my favorite biographer and he does this man wonderful justice as he paints a compelling picture.

#6 Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

What’s not interesting about a global nuclear disaster? My curiosity in this title was sparked after watching HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries. The author knows his stuff and even though, at times, the technical detail was over my head, the chronicling of the catastrophe is well done and engaging. You can’t walk away from this one without shock and dismay over the USSR’s handling of this tragic event.

#5 Duty by Robert Gates

The Former Defense Secretary who served for both President George Bush and President Barack Obama recalls his time in the office. Along the way he gives you his take on the various folks he encounters, everyone from each President and Vice President to folks like General Stan McChrystal. Gates is a fascinating character who put country first and has some great reflections in this memoir.

#4 A Promised Land by Barak Obama

No matter what your political persuasion this is a really well written book. President Obama is rather critical of himself in his analysis and it’s an interesting take of recent history. I didn’t follow the news closely while he was in office so I found this to be enlightening and informative.

#3. Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet

Leadership books are essentially my Harlequin novels. This book came across my (virtual) desk and it is one of the best leadership books I’ve ever read. Marquet illustrates how leaders need to empower people rather than micromanage them through his command of a submarine, the Santa Fe, which he was put in charge of at the last minute. Ultimately the Santa Fe went from one of the worst ships in the Navy to the Best.

#2 Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

On Juneteenth Apple made a number of movies free, including Just Mercy. I wasn’t familiar with the movie but I like Michael B. Jordan. The book follows the legal work Bryan Stevenson does in Alabama for death row inmates. Like the movie it closely follows the case of Walter McMillian, who was wrongly convicted of murder. It’s often terrifying to read, but it was a good reminder of just how much inequity actually exists in our country.

#1 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Somehow I escaped school without ever reading this book. I was familiar with it, but had never actually taken the time. Part of my quest in 2020 was to read books I had missed out by graduating from High School early. After finishing Just Mercy it made sense to read this one. Everyone should read this book. It’s impossible to put down the story of Scout, Jim, and Atticus Finch as they confront racism in Monroeville, Alabama. Unfortunately, it felt incredibly relevant in 2020.

Honorable Mentions

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

This piece of fiction is based off of some historical events and explores the Jim Crow South in Florida. It’s a heart wrenching story with an unexpected twist at the end. This one won the Pulitzer this year and it was well deserved. Once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down.

The Luckiest Man: Life with John McCain by Mark Salter

I've always been fascinated by John McCain, the maverick of the Senate with a supposed independent streak and a heroic heritage of military service, including his capture in Vietnam. This book was written by his former Chief of Staff (through the 2008 presidential election) and is a close up analysis of the man. Salter doesn't hold any punches as he's both loving and critical of the famed senator. McCain is fascinating and this gave a deeper perspective on him than I've read before. If you have the chance to read this, follow it up with the HBO documentary on McCain entitled, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which is named after McCain's favorite book by Ernest Hemingway.

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