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As 2020 comes to a close, finally, I asked our team to collect some of the best books we read this year. We did the same last year, though I focused more explicitly on work-related books. For 2020, I wanted to open it up to anything that helped our team process the various crises of the year – or even just escape to alternate reality for a while. It’s been that type of year. Enjoy.
The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future (Gretchen Bakke) – I started reading this to gain context on a client project, but I quickly became enthralled by the history and complexity of our electric grid, often called ‘”the largest machine in the world.” Beyond highlighting the remarkable feat of engineering, this book offers a fascinating look at the grid in a pivotal moment, as it transitions from large, stable power plants (fossil fuels & nuclear) to smaller, more distributed, variable power plants (renewables). It was also mentioned on Bill Gate’s Favorite Books of 2016. -Al
Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won – In Scorecasting, economist Tobias Moskowitz and Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim take a look at and disproves many of the truisms in sports, like “home team advantage” and others. It’s a really interesting look at the different things that shape how sports are played and what external factors contribute to who wins and who loses. -Derek
SWELL: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening (Liz Clark) – I haven’t finished reading this, yet. I started it while at the beach this past summer and haven’t gotten back to it since I left that more appropriate setting. I don’t relate at all to the captain’s confidence around water, but I was whisked away by her passion for adventure and independence. This is probably the book I need right now—the fearless action to push back against what she sees wrong in her world made me feel hopeful and inspired while I was reading. Now if the dumpster fire that has been 2020 would die down a bit so I could look away and get back to things like this. -Spencer
David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Malcolm Gladwell) – This book has been on my bookshelf staring daggers at me for seven years. For whatever reason 2020 was the year that I finally decided to dust it off and immerse myself in one of Gladwell’s greatest works. In David & Goliath, Gladwell examines overcrowded classrooms, the Troubles of Northern Ireland, and the minds of both cancer researchers and dyslexic lawyers. Through all these vignettes, Gladwell weaves a story of how suffering and adversity can lead to humanity’s greatest accomplishments and beauty. – Brian Bassett
All Systems Red (Martha Wells) – This is a great start to a sci-fi series about a cyborg security robot who has secretly disabled his governor software and has to hide that fact while still serving as the muscle for a science exploration on an alien world. – Derek
The Three-Body Problem (written by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu) – This is the first installment of a Chinese science fiction trilogy. The story was very much unlike any other alien-y, space-y, sci-fi story that I’ve ever read, and I’d recommend it for that reason alone. The novel has won many awards, but has received mixed reviews among US readers. Fair warning—if you’re a PhD physicist you might have to suspend your disbelief more than others, but other than that, I found the story to be quite thought-provoking. Also it’s being adapted into a Netflix original. – Nick
The End of Policing (Alex S. Vitale) – The problem is not over policing, it is policing itself. Why we need to defund the police and how we get there. I like many others have had their eyes opened a lot more this year about the role police play in our society. This book gives a detailed history of policing, from its start in the South as slave patrols and in the north as a way to keep working class people held down.
The book does a wonderful job of both laying out the issues that come with policing as it is today as well as giving constructive alternatives. – Derek
Kings of the Wyld (Nicholas Eames) – Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help — the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.
It’s time to get the band back together. – Derek
The Princess Bride (William Goldman) – Alone with four small children all day, two of which are in virtual classes that need to be managed, while also working a full time(ish) job, I haven’t found the time to read much of anything for myself this year. But it’s exactly because of how busy I am and how much we’re all getting on each other’s nerves that I’ve been trying to continue our tradition of a nice long read-aloud at bedtime. It’s a treat for them and relaxing for me (assuming I can stay awake).
This isn’t the first time we’ve read this book together but it’s one of our favorites. Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles… As great as the movie is, if you’ve never read the book it’s adapted from you’re missing out. And it really gains something from being read out loud – it’s easy to understand why they framed the movie that way. Bonus points if you do all the voices! – Mike
Educated: A Memoir (Tara Westover) – This is a pretty harrowing look at the childhood and life of Tara Westover who was born into a family of survivalists in Idaho. It’s a fairly bleak look into the lives of Tara and her experiences trying to break out of the cycle of isolation and paranoia that had consumed her family. – Derek
Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (
Richard Rothstein) – The Color of Law does an incredibly thorough job of laying out how not only is the segregation of America a product of numerous societal forces over the last several hundred years, but also how numerous local, state, and federal policies and laws were put into place to ensure that many areas of the country stayed segregated. One example that Rothstein delves into thoroughly is that the FHA refused to insure mortgages that were in or near Black communities through a process called redlining. Because they were denied the ability to buy into communities in the suburbs and other more affluent areas, they missed out on the huge increases in housing prices that are the source of much of older American’s wealth today. Rothstein’s book paints a picture of how modern day suburban America came to be, and at the same time struggles with the fact that there are no easy solutions to the problem. – Justin
Our backlog of reading in 2021 is growing by the day, but we’re always happy to talk books. Please share any recommendations or books you’re looking forward to reading.
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