The Best of 2020: Top 5 Nonfiction

A totally nonscientific, off the cuff, Top 5 nonfiction books I read (not necessarily published in) in 2020

A Time to Build by Yuval Levin

Yuval Levin has become one of my favorite authors.  His books are both brilliant, illuminating and important. A Time to Build is no different. Here is what I wrote for Goodreads:

If you want to better understand where we are as a country and what we can do to change for the better, read this book. It is insightful, challenging, and yet ultimately hopeful.

tl/dr –> We need to commit to rebuilding institutions that are formative nor performative; that form us rather than giving us a platform to raise our profile and become a celebrity.

This is not a partisan message or book. Readers of all perspectives can and should read and think about the issues Levin raises.

I hope to post a longer, more thoughtful review here in the coming days. [fingers crossed]

Breaking Bread with the Dead by Alan Jacobs

Alan Jacobs is another author who has grown in my estimation as I have read more of his work.  One of my goals in 2020 was to read most of his books and I did (a couple of his early books are a bit pricey for me). His latest, Breaking Bread with the Dead, is another must-read I recommend constantly.

You can read my review over at the University Bookman

Jacobs argues neither for throwing out the past as hopelessly wrong nor for ignoring the serious issues with which readers must wrestle. The reader with personal density doesn’t have to abandon engaging ideas from the past because they may encounter racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, and other beliefs with which they strongly disagree. Instead, Jacobs’s strategy acknowledges that even the brilliant and insightful writers of the past were human beings with foibles and sins; with wrong beliefs that sit, often uncomfortably, beside their insights and talents.

Losing My Cool by Thomas Chatterton Williams

I believe I first encountered Thomas Chatterton Williams on Twitter of all places and decided to check out his work.  I read both Self-Portrait in Black and White and Losing My Cool and preferred the earlier book. But as is too often the case, I never put my thoughts down here.

For now, let me approvingly quote the publisher:

Written with remarkable candor and emotional depth, Losing My Coolportrays the allure and danger of hip-hop culture with the authority of a true fan who’s lived through it all, while demonstrating the saving grace of literature and the power of the bond between father and son.

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between by Hisham Mater

I believe I first stumbled on Hisham Mater at Barnes and Noble but ended up requesting The Return from the local library. And yes, I also failed to review or make notes about this book (seeing a pattern?). Cue, publisher blurb:

This book is a profoundly moving family memoir, a brilliant and affecting portrait of a country and a people on the cusp of immense change, and a disturbing and timeless depiction of the monstrous nature of absolute power.

Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

At least I have a Goodreads review of Thinking in Bets:

An insightful and useful book on decision making. Using poker/gambling as a lens, Duke walks you through how to deal with uncertainty and how to access what you know, and how certain you are, before making a decision. She stresses that creating a process for good decision making doesn’t guarantee perfect outcomes but rather gives you the best chance for success in the long run. Useful book for anyone who wants to make better decisions.

So there you have it.  Five books I really enjoyed and recommend from 2020.

What were your favorite reads in 2020?

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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