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  • Here are the ten most impactful, most life-changing books I read in 2020, going from the least

  • impactful to the most.

  • Books which, if you read them, I think will have a similar effect on you.

  • I determined the impact of a book based on how much I thought about it on a daily basis.

  • Naturally, the more I thought about a book, the more life-changing I perceived it to be.

  • And I'm gonna cheat a little bit by occasionally placing a series of books as a single entry

  • on my list, and that's because I think it's important to read the entire series as a whole

  • to get the full impact.

  • So without further ado, let's get into it.

  • The tenth most impactful book I read in 2020 was The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo

  • Emerson.

  • Emerson was an influential American essayist, poet, philosopher, and lecturer, widely considered

  • the centre of the Transcendentalist movement, a movement that, to characterize it loosely,

  • believed in the power of the individual.

  • The Essential Writings are a collection of essay and poems that I would broadly classify

  • as philosophical.

  • My favourite essays are Self-Reliance, Nature, and The Poet,

  • which are, at the very least, about being great, learning to trust your own intuitions

  • and thoughts, the divinity of Nature and its relationship to the soul, and the role of

  • the artist in society.

  • But don't be scared off by the big themes, Emerson's essays are incredibly beautiful,

  • rewarding, and moving.

  • Just take a look at this quote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,

  • adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

  • With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.

  • He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.

  • Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard

  • words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.—'Ah, so you shall be misunderstood.'—Is

  • it so bad then to be misunderstood?

  • Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and

  • Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.

  • To be great is to be misunderstood.”

  • I'd recommend this book to anyone who has a taste for philosophy, theology, or the wisdom

  • of the classics, and I'd recommend starting with the essay Self-Reliance.

  • Here's a key takeaway from that essay.

  • Quote: “Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to

  • Moses, Plato and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not

  • what men, but what they thought.”

  • Translation: When we look at figures we admire, like Plato, what we admire about them is that

  • they put forth their own original ideas and thoughts.

  • We admire their ability to be brave, innovate, and speak their mindsinstead of following

  • the herd mentality.

  • And this is the key theme Emerson develops in Self-Reliance.

  • The ninth most impactful book I read, or rather reread, in 2020 was The Hero With A Thousand

  • Faces by Joseph Campbell.

  • Campbell was a mythologist, writer, and lecturer.

  • And throughout his life, he studied hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories and myths, and

  • he realized that heroic stories all follow a similar pattern which is known as the Monomyth

  • or The Hero's Journey.

  • The basic version of the Monomyth looks like this: a hero travels from the known world

  • of comfort into the uncomfortable, unknown world.

  • In the unknown world they overcome an obstacle, a dragon for example, and acquire a treasure,

  • like the holy grail, which they bring back to the known world and share with their tribe.

  • And people typically find the hero's journey compelling because it mirrors our own lives.

  • We enter the unknown when we go to a new school, a new job, or meet a new person for a date.

  • And we confront dragons in the form of our work, our bosses, the problems in our relationships,

  • so on and so forth.

  • And we obtain treasures too in the form of degrees, money, job promotions, new relationships,

  • and so on.

  • Here's one of my favourite quotes from the book that's really worth thinking about:

  • Mythology, in other words, is psychology misread as biography, hi story, and cosmology.”

  • I'd recommend this book to anyone who has a taste for psychology, mythology, someone

  • who's interested in thinkers like Nietzsche, Freud or Jung, anyone interested in story

  • structure, or someone who's interested in learning more about The Hero's Journey.

  • Here's one of my key takeaways from this piece: every treasure in life comes with a

  • dragon, and you have to be willing to face that dragon to get it.

  • The eight most impactful book I read in 2020 was The Origins and History of Consciousness

  • by Erich Neumann.

  • Erich Neumann was a psychologist, philosopher, writer, and student of Carl Jung.

  • In The Origins and History of Consciousness, he tries to show the stages that the individual

  • consciousness goes through as it matures using mythological language.

  • He covers many archetypal ideas such as the mother and father archetype, the hero archetype,

  • and the transformation myth.

  • Here's one of my favourite quotes from the book: “The more unconscious the whole of

  • a man's personality is and the more germinal his ego, the more his experience of the whole

  • will be projected upon the group

  • I'd recommend this book to anyone who was also interested in The Hero With A Thousand

  • Faces.

  • The seventh most impactful book I read in 2020 was Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard.

  • Kierkegaard was a well-known and respected philosopher, often referred to as the father

  • of existentialism.

  • In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard's central theme is faith.

  • He talks about how reason can get you to a certain stage in life, but only faith can

  • take you beyond that.

  • And he does through deconstructing and analyzing the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac.

  • Here's a quote I really like from the work: “Faith is the highest passion in a [person].

  • There are perhaps many in every generation who do not even reach it, but no one gets

  • further.”

  • I'd recommend this book to anyone who has a taste for philosophy, theology, faith, and

  • an atheist who's open to hearing a different perspective on faith than they might have

  • heard in the past.

  • Here's one of my key takeaways from this piece: Kierkegaard believes that faith is

  • something you actually have to earn through hard work, and that few people actually ever

  • arrive at it.

  • This is contrary to the popular belief which confuses faith with naïveté.

  • The sixth most impactful book I read this year is actually a series which I'm going

  • to call The Death of Socrates by Plato.

  • It's made up of four of his works: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo.

  • Plato is obviously one of the most well known philosophers, an icon, and one of the most

  • influential writers in all of history.

  • In The Death of Socrates, we witness the events before the trial of socrates, the actual trial,

  • his imprisonment, and then his death.

  • How much of it is fiction vs factual I can't really say, that's for scholars to debate

  • and decide.

  • But it's a fairly short and gripping set of reads on what I consider the foundational

  • story of Western philosophy and science.

  • It covers themes as diverse as good and evil, death, virtue, piety, justice, ignorance and

  • knowledge, wisdom, and reincarnation.

  • Here's one of my favourite quotes from the series that's really worth thinking about:

  • For the fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being a pretence

  • of knowing the unknown; and no one knows whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to

  • be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good.”

  • I'd recommend this series as the perfect starting point to anyone looking to dip their

  • feet into philosophy.

  • You have a trial, a potential prison break, and the death which makes for a really fun

  • and edifying read.

  • And the fact that it's all possibly based on real history is the cherry on top.

  • I can see myself rereading this series several times throughout my life.

  • Here's one of my key takeaways from this piece: sometimes doing the right thing looks

  • like the wrong thing to everyone else.

  • The fifth most impactful book I read in 2020 was A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man

  • by James Joyce.

  • Joyce was an Irish writer and teacher who is considered as one of the most influential

  • writers in the 20th Century.

  • Portrait is a fictional coming-of-age story about a young man becoming an artist.

  • Although it's fictional, there are lots of biographical elements in the story.

  • The main character, Stephen Dedalus, is somewhat modelled after James Joyce himself.

  • The book covers themes such as politics, religion, individualism and individuation, artistry,

  • and beauty.

  • Here's one of my favourite quotes from the book that's really worth thinking about:

  • “[The soul] has a slow and dark birth, more mysterious than the birth of the body.

  • When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back

  • from flight.

  • You talk to me of nationality, language, religion.

  • I shall try to fly by these nets.”

  • I'd recommend this book to artists of every kind, anyone who's interested in the development

  • of an artist, anyone who see's life itself as an artistic pursuit, anyone interested

  • in the classics, and finally, anyone interested in the philosophical idea of beauty.

  • One of my key takeaways from this book is that the artist is the creator of new perspectives.

  • The artist must fly past the nets of society and discover a new way for humanity to see

  • the world and progress forward.

  • The fourth most impactful book I read in 2020 was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

  • Antoine was a French writer and aviator, and his book The Little Prince is commonly listed

  • as one of the bestselling books of all time, with most lists agreeing that it has sold

  • over 100 million copies worldwide.

  • The Little Prince is a charming, timeless little tale about a tiny prince who travels

  • to several planets meeting various adults.

  • The book is essentially about all the ways in which we lose the wisdom of childhood.

  • The Little Prince meets several adults who value different things such as power, fame,

  • wealth, so on and so forth.

  • And by looking at the world through the eyes of The Little Prince, we see how ridiculous

  • it is to make these things our highest values, and how out of touch we can become with what

  • really matters as adults.

  • Here's one of my favourite quotes from the book that's really worth thinking about:

  • It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible

  • to the eye.”

  • I'd recommend this book to everyone.

  • It's a really short and rewarding read.

  • One of my key takeaways from this book is that it's easy to lose sight of what matters

  • in life, and there's a certain wisdom that we had as children that we need to recapture

  • or relearn as adults.

  • The third most impactful book I read in 2020 was Zero to One by Peter Thiel.

  • Thiel is a German-American entrepreneur mostly known as the co-founder of PayPal.

  • Zero to One is a business book that, on the surface, might seem like other business books,

  • but I think Thiel actually touches on deeply important themes.

  • The book revolves around the importance of innovation as opposed to imitation, and while

  • Thiel focuses on business, I think it applies to life in general.

  • He states that most inventions in life are just imitations of other inventions.

  • But what really moves the world forward is innovation, creating something new.

  • Here's one of my favourite quotes from the book that's really worth thinking about:

  • In the real world outside economic theory, every business is successful exactly to the

  • extent that it does something others cannot.”

  • I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in business and innovation.

  • One of my key takeaways from this book is that, to become an innovator, you often have

  • to go against popular beliefs.

  • Innovation lies outside the boundaries of popular belief, and so you often have to become

  • a contrarian, and naturally, because going against the group is so hard for humans, innovation

  • is a very difficult and painful process.

  • The second most impactful book I read in 2020 was another series called Incerto by Nassim

  • Taleb.

  • It's currently made up of five books called Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, The

  • Bed of Procrustes, Antifragile, and Skin in the Game.

  • Taleb is a Lebanese-American essayist, scholar, and former options trader.

  • Incerto is a collection of philosophical essays about making decisions in an uncertain world.

  • The central theme in Fooled by Randomness is the role luck plays in our lives.

  • The Black Swan is about the impact of highly improbable events such as new technologies

  • or worldwide catastrophes.

  • The Bed of Procrustes is a powerful collection of aphorisms and maxims that explores Taleb's

  • philosophy.

  • Antifragile builds on the idea Nassim put forward in The Black Swan and teaches us how

  • to thrive in a world of highly improbable events.

  • And finally, Skin in the Game builds on Taleb's previous ideas and explores their ethical

  • implications.

  • Here's one of my favourite quotes from the book that's really worth thinking about:

  • My idea of the modern Stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into

  • information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.”

  • Honestly, I recommend this series to everyone.

  • If you're going to read only one thing in the coming year, make it this series.

  • My key takeaway from this series is that unpredictable black swan events affect our lives more than

  • the things we can predict, and the best way to leverage these events in your favour is

  • to become antifragile.

  • And finally, the most impactful book I read in 2020 was The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor

  • Dostoevsky.

  • Dostoevsky is one of the greatest philosophers and novelists in the world, and his life is

  • sometimes more fascinating than his books.

  • He was once sentenced to be executed but freed at the last minute, he was imprisoned in Siberia

  • and made to do hard labour, he became a gambling addict, and much more which we don't have

  • the time to get into.

  • The Brothers Karamazov primarily follows three brothersDmitri, Ivan, and Alyoshathrough

  • a particularly eventful period of their lives.

  • The book deals with themes such as death, good and evil, the good life, love, and much

  • more.

  • Here's one of my favourite quotes from the book that's really worth thinking about:

  • Above all, don't lie to yourself.

  • The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot

  • distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself

  • and for others.

  • And having no respect he ceases to love.”

  • I'd also recommend this book to everyone but I'd add some caveats.

  • The Brothers K is a big commitment.

  • It could take anywhere from a month to a year to get through.

  • The themes are quite heavy and serious.

  • The sentences can be long and the text quite philosophically dense.

  • But if you're up for the challenge, if you're willing to really wrestle with the text, I'd

  • recommend this book above all else on this list, even if it ends up being the only book

  • you read in the year.