Halfway Through 2020 Book Recommendations

I wrote this post once already, and then a copy+paste error resulted in the loss of the entire post. So, here is round two, once I found the energy for a second time.

Obviously these past few months were tumultuous for all of us. The silver lining for me personally was the immense privilege to have time to dream, relax, garden, craft, spend time with family, and read. In addition to my usual books, the BLM movement opened my eyes and encouraged me to learn, listen, and read books from people of color. I’ve also realized that I’m a lot more affected by books now that I’m older. Sometimes after reading a book you’re changed. Who you are after learning or experiencing something is different than who you were before. In short, I’ve read a lot. So, time for another post about books! This time will cover books I’ve read in the first ~half of 2020, and I thought it would be fun to include a quick summary of my favorites rather than only a list.


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

I can honestly say that out of hundreds of books I’ve read in my adulthood - this is one of my top five favorites. It was one of those books that I would read late into the night and then wake Wes to tell him something cool that I learned. It describes the history of humankind starting from the evolution of various hominids and explores why it is that Homo sapiens became dominant. He then goes on to divide the history of Homo sapiens into four epochs, including how they led to where we are today: the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, the unification of mankind, and the Scientific Revolution. A cool read.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard about how much I love dinosaurs. Love as in: I-wanted-to-be-a-palentologist-but-then-grew-out-of-it,-but-not-completely kind of love. Brusatte, a young American paleontologist who has already discovered and named fifteen new species of dinosaurs, tells a more complete story of the dinosaurs than what we learned growing up. He brings our current understanding of science to a readable level, and illuminates the origins of dinosaurs and their spectacular period of life on Earth. He included some personal anecdotes of his world adventures, captivating my imagination and making it feel like an Indiana Jones-cross dinosaur thriller. 

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes 

Taubes’s book is about exactly what it sounds like - the science behind all of our questions around why humans are more or less fat. He debunks the “calories-in, calories-out” model that leads to anorexia and shame about food, in addition to answering some other thoughtful questions. What makes some people fat and others thin? What roles do our genes or exercise play in our health? What foods do the healthiest (not just thinnest) people eat? Does eating dietary fat cause high cholesterol or heart disease? (the answer is NO by the way!) This book essentially started our path to eating a lower carbohydrate diet, so clearly I was convinced and inspired to try something different.

Other books I loved:

  • The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (A story about Ebola)
  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Interesting book! I loved his style)
  • Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil (Canadian scientist, I learned quite a bit)
  • Stuff Matters: by Mark Miodownik (Book describing ten materials in our every day world and why they work the way they do)
  • The Body by Bill Bryson (Fascinating overview of how the body works, but my internal nerd wanted more detail)
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
  • The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry 
  • Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate by Vaclav Smil
  • Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham

Self-Improvement/Race Relations

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

I loved this book. One key point she makes, that I agree with completely, is that it’s exceptionally hard for us to talk about racism because our culture associates it with “bad people”. We get defensive if someone tells us our words were racist, because we immediately think of the KKK and “those” types of racists - and we never learn or grow. The author did an excellent job describing basic concepts like privilege and the difference between prejudice and racism. On a personal level, I realized how much I’ve benefited from appearing white even though I’m half Mexican, and internalizing how much that’s helped me is humbling. If you’re looking for a first book to pick up about race relations, this is a great one.

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

In a nutshell this is another one of those “personality tests” - BUT, BUT! I found that the four different “types” make a TON of sense. I am 10000% a “questioner” and it even explained some of my behavior even when I was a child (i.e. asking “Why?” for everything). It also helped me to understand some of my closer relationships, and taught me some useful tips to be more compassionate and responsive to their personalities. A fun read, and maybe you learn a little about yourself.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

This is a fictional story about a 16 year old growing up in two worlds - her fancy prep school and the poor neighborhood where she lives. It’s a story told from the point of view of a person of color, and again helped me to understand and put myself in someone else’s shoes. This story is heartbreakingly powerful and entertaining. I highly recommend it.

Other books I loved: 

  • Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg (Describes the loss of her husband and her journey finding peace and meaning. It’s well-written and reminded me to appreciate life)
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (I learned quite a bit from this book, but it is a very advanced book about antiracism and doesn’t spend time on the basics, I would recommend reading White Fragility and/or a few others before attempting this one!)
  • 10% Happier by Dan Harris (Describes a skeptic’s attempts at meditating and how it helped him. I’ve been using the Calm app quite a bit and this book convinced me taking time to relax in this way is certainly worth it.)
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Cool perspective written like a letter to the author’s son, and the challenges associated with being a black man in America.)
  • So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo (Solid 4/5 stars)
  • Fair Play:A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live) by Eve Rodsky (Tries to tackle the mental energy/house manager/housework divide between women and men by making it into a “game” with cards. Maybe we could implement this one day, but our routines are too nonstandard for the moment).
  • The Year of Less by Cait Flanders (Loved her story)
  • Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way by Tanja Hester 

I did not enjoy:

  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (I did not resonate with this book, it spent too much time describing her theory that inspiration is a flowy force that finds it way from person to person…. Perhaps I’m not artsy enough, but I tried.)
  • Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss (This book was dripping in machismo, barf!)
  • Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis (I’ve tried to like this author, but her message does not resonate with me and feels poorly written.)


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

This is one of those books that opened my eyes and changed me forever. If you have to pick only one book to read this year - read this one. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know who the author was when I picked up this book (metaphorically ‘picked up’, I get books on my Kindle but you know what I mean). Later I learned that Stevenson’s a big shot lawyer who won several huge cases in the Supreme Court for criminal justice reform and dedicated his life to the cause, but the book reads like someone who really cares about people and is clear, entertaining, and deeply poignant. The book takes you through a few cases in his career, the first being about a wrongfully convinced man facing the death penalty. It made it exceptionally clear to me that talented lawyers are necessary to our broken system. I’m not usually a crier, but how can you read about the racism that affected lives of real people, the grace they give even in trying circumstances, without being moved? Gah, such a good book I can’t stop thinking about it months later.

American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

Recommended by our friend Jenna, this books roughly describes the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. It follows the lives of one extraordinary wolf, O-six, but more broadly tells the story about the ongoing cultural clash in surrounding area - hunters who rely on elk and sport hunting, and those committed to restoring the natural habitat Yellowstone is meant to protect. Overall it reads like a novel and is entertaining in its tale of passion. Plus, the wolf stories are really cool.

The Yellow Envelope by Kim Din-an

This book changed the way I think about travel, in a positive way. It parallel’s our story in a broad sense - Kim and her husband quit their jobs to travel the world, but their friend gave them a fascinating gift. A “yellow envelope” filled with money, with three rules: 1) don’t overthink it, 2) share your experiences and 3) don’t feel pressurized to give it all away. Learning to appreciate the lives of people around the world and learn from them. It tugged on my heart and honestly grieve all over again for the trip that we would be on right now if not for SARS-CoV-2. 

Other books I loved:

  • Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow
  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
  • Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Rocco's Keto Comfort Food Diet by Rocco DiSpirito
  • What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
  • Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou


American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

This is a fictional story that follows a Mexican woman and her son through her attempts to flee a drug cartel. The people she meets along the way and the places where she can find peace. It’s a story that helps to cultivate compassion - what would it be like to be in someone else’s shoes. Which is something a lot of us need right now.

Other books I loved:

  • The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
  • The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
  • Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
  • Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (All Souls Trilogy, Book 2)
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zoos
  • The Beach by Alex Garland
  • Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
  • Starsight by Brandon Sanderson
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • Wonder by R. J. Palacio
  • Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz
  • Alpha by Jasinda Wilder
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  • All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
  • The Reckoning by John Grisham

I did not enjoy:

  • Wanderlust by Roni Loren
  • Molly's Game by Molly Bloom

Currently reading:

  • A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
  • Reactions by Theodore Gray
  • Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates
  • Aerial Geology by Mary Caperton Morton
  • The Last Man Who Knew Everything by David N. Schwartz

Let me know if you have any questions about any of the books here, and leave a note in the comments if you have any recommendations for books! Have any books opened your eyes recently?

How we read: