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30 Great Books I Read in 2020

We spent a lot of time inside last year. No one needs a reminder of the reason. The list below are the books I read this year in alphabectical order — also, some that I had the chance to re-read.


Here’s to hoping you find something of value and interest in this list below. Stop squandering your brain power and attention on devices and platforms that give nothing and only take.



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21 Lessons for the 21st Century — by Yuval Noah Harari

A wonderful collection of essays placed into a book by Yuval Noah Harari on some of the biggest issues humanity faces. However, the latter half of the book is where Yuval’s ideas really shine. So what is the antidote to chaos? Meditation. One of Yuval’s biggest ideas in the book is that if we can come to terms, understand and accept our own suffering, through meditation, our world would be a different place. This I have to agree with through my own experience.


A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy — by William B. Irvine

He writes like an academic, so it can get dry and repetitive, but as a guide book it really is one of the best reads on Stoic philosophy in the context of modern life and how we can all reduce our own suffering.


Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All — by Michael Shellenberger

It’s easy to pick on extreme environmental groups, which Shellenberer does. However, the main message of the book remains clear — things aren’t as bad as they seem all the time. Yes, there is work to be done, but it won’t be done by fighting each other and dividing people further with messages of fear. Here Shellenberger, overall, presents a message of hope. This might be hard reading for most “traditional” environmentalists and green supporters because it will challenge every established political identity you’ve created for yourself.


Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones — by James Clear

If you’ve got bad habits and want to break them, but also encourage good ones, you should probably read this.


Brave New World — by Aldous Huxley

I first read this in high-school in English class. I never quite understood the significance to it back then. I decided to read it again and it is as pertinent as ever in the 21st century, if not, more than what Huxley originally imagined.


Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening — by Stephen Batchelor

A short, but wonderful book on precisely what the title states. There’s a lot Buddhism has to offer in alleviating suffering of our own minds, but also giving us the tools to understand that suffering without having to buy into the religious side of things.


Confession of a Buddhist Atheist — by Stephen Batchelor

Stephen Bachelor retraces his steps from a lost hippie into Buddhism in India, his fights against its religious indoctrination, and ultimately realising how much value there is through some of the practices of Buddhism without the baggage that religion attaches to it.


Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind — by Annika Harris

What is consciousness and how does it arise? Do we have free will? Why does consciousness exist? We don’t really have an definitive answers to those questions yet. But Harris does a masterful job of explaining it all in plain English, and is under 130 pages.


Factfullness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think — by Hans Rosling

An important book about dispelling commonly held ideas about the world that should have been left back in the 1960’s but are still prevalent today. Things are actually getting better.


Freedom from the Known — by Jiddu Krishnamurti

Love. Real love. That’s what will save us. One of my favourite collections of Krishnamutri’s writing on how to live a good life and let go of so much of the baggage that creates untold suffering in all of us.


god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything— by Christopher Hitchens

“I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion,” said Hitchens during a speech where he discussed the defence of freedom of speech. god Is Not Great is an all-out assault on religious doctrines and dogma across the world. This book, as when I first read it all those years ago, is as relevant today as ever.


Happy: why more or less everything is fine — by Derren Brown

Derren Brown is known for his master magician skills, but his book on Happiness and his own experiences with Stoic philosophy and how that’s guided him through life is one of the best books I read all year.


Making Sense: Conversations on Consciousness, Morality, and the Future of Humanity — by Sam Harris

A set of some of the most intriguing conversations, refined, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to over the years taken from Harris’ Making Sense podcast.


No Self, No Problem: How Neuropsychology Is Catching Up to Buddhism — by Chris Niebauer

There are striking parallels between modern psychology, neuroscience, and the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, and other schools of Eastern thought. This was met with a cold shoulder by all Niebauer’s professors twenty years ago. Today, however, there’s no denying that these links are real. What have we been missing all these years?


On Having No Head — Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious — by Douglas Harding

Harding had a pretty interesting idea when he realised his “headlessness”. Not literally in the sense of not having a head, but ultimately realising that where his head is meant to be is just space for the world. It was an awakening of sorts where Harding felt one with everything. Sounds confusing? It kind of is. I’ll probably have to revisit this book in a year because while it was confused reading it the first time around I know there is immense value in it. How do I know this? Well, I tried some of his techniques during meditation and through direct experience can attest to something…


One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir — by Henry Shukman

A journey of healing. That’s the message I got from Shukman’s beautifully written book about his journey through his own struggles of childhood trauma, identity, parenthood and life in general. But one thing that weaved through it all was Shukman’s discovery of Zen and how the practice, but also the philosophy played a big part in accepting his and life’s imperfections.


Permanent Record — by Edward Snowden

The auto-biography of the man with quite possibly the biggest balls of the 21st century and the story behind his decision to expose the systems of mass surveillance on us all. I’ll never forget the day in 2013 when the news broke. Snowden’s political philosophy and his actions will go down in history as some of the most influential. One of the best book I’ve read this year.


Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that explain everything about the World — by Tim Marshall

A wonderful account of how so much of the world, its politics and ideas are shaped by the very real physical boundaries.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know — by Malcom Gladwell

A joy to read, Talking to Strangers brings up some concerning facts about how we humans interact with one another and a blind to so many concerning things that are happening right in front of our eyes.


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma — by Bessel A. van der Kolk

Trauma affects us all and it can come in so many different forms that hold so much control of us. There are some heavy stories in this book, but ultimately there is a way to accept and heal and live without the weight of things that we didn’t choose to happen to us.


The Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell — by Aldous Huxley

Huxley’s spiritual quest aided by psychedelics. What a journey.


The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self — by Thomas Metzinger

This book completely changed my understanding of how I understood our brains and mind to be. Metzinger’s commentary on research and his own ideas are truly fascinating and give you a lot to consider about the fact that we know so little about ourselves.


The Perennial Philosophy — by Aldous Huxley

One of Huxley’s famous works on religious mysticism and the commonalities and linkages between all of them.


The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here — by Hope Jahren

Hope is an incredible communicator of science and data. So many books and authors on similar topics just can’t do it. They give us pages upon pages of dry statistics, but Hope Jahren does a masterful job of giving us a personalized story with a worrying undertow. However, despite the worrisome data and problems presented, she masterfully finishes the story off with some of the most inspiring words I’ve read in years on big issues such as climate change and consumption.


The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History — by Don Oberdorfer

One of the most interesting books on Korean political post-Korean War history written in English. We were very close to World War III a couple of times…

The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future — by Andrew Yang

Automation will be the end of just about every industry we know. Yang’s call for a radical change in how we view the future is important and also give a lot of evidence to the idea that Universal Basic Income will be crucial in coming years.


The Way of the Zen — by Alan Watts

A beautiful introduction to Zen for anyone curious about the history, practice and philosophy behind it. I came away from the book realising how practical Zen is, rather than the common misconception of it being mystical and incomprehensible. Muddied water will always clear once left still, I like to think of that as an analogy to our minds and chaos across the world


Morality — by Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens, in my opinion, was one of the most influential people of the 21st century. Reading his writing, listening to him speak and watching him debate are still, even 10 years after his passing, still a joy to watch. He was one of a kind and the world is lesser without him. This writing on his very own morality in the final days of his life demonstrate the man’s intellectual wit and courage even when his body turned against him. I first read this in 2011, but thought it was high-time to give it another read.


Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion — by Sam Harris

I first read this in 2016. I thought, oh yeah nice ideas, meditation sounds good. I didn’t begin to practice until 2018, but in those intervening two years I pondered it a lot. I largely have this book to thank and it has had a profound impact on my life ever since in the most positive sense. There is so much to be found from a life of honest introspection and the benefits of that are clarity, freedom, love and ultimately peace. I re-read it this year.


What are you doing with your life? — by Jiddu Krishnamutri

One of the world’s great philosophical teachers, Krishnamurti, offers his inspiring wisdom on many of life’s hurdles.

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© 2021 Ashley Crowther | @ashleycrowtherorg | hello@ashleycrowther.org