Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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 minds—instead 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 brothers—Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha—through 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.