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The Best Nonfiction Books Published in 2020

So far, 2020 hasn’t exactly been a banner year but at least great nonfiction books just keep on coming. Here are a few of our favorites.
by Michael Benninger | Dec 15 2020

During the past several months, we’ve all watched as many industries have ground to a halt as the coronavirus has worked its way around the world. From sports and tourism to dining and entertainment, the pandemic has negatively affected many facets of modern society. Yet one industry that hasn’t been completely held up by the current health crisis is the business of book publishing, which has continued to release exciting new titles week after week. But with everything else going on in these crazy times, even the biggest of bibliophiles may have struggled to keep up with today’s bestsellers.

Now that most of the year is in the rearview mirror, we figured it’s a good time to bring readers up to speed with the latest books and authors making waves in the world of nonfiction. So if you’ve lost touch with today’s top titles, here are 27 books published in 2020 that we at Blinkist think are worth your time.

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener

Exposing the seamy underbelly of Silicon Valley, this memoir recounts Anna Wiener’s experience as an ambitious Millennial who abandoned a publishing career in New York City to pursue a lucrative life in San Francisco during the peak of the tech boom. Based on her time working at three startups over the course of four years, Uncanny Valley offers a warts-and-all look at Wiener’s life in the Bay Area, surrounded by egotistical tech bros backed by millions of dollars in funding. The book also explains how once Wiener witnessed the sinister side of tech, she began to view her own skills in a different light, allowing her to abandon her high-paying job and find more meaningful work.

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

Based on all of the ugliness in the news recently, it can seem like humans are innately uncooperative, antagonistic, and perhaps even evil. Yet what if that’s not actually the case? In Humankind, Rutger Bregman offers a fresh perspective on human history and argues that — despite today’s horrific headlines — evolution has actually hardwired us to be kind and trusting rather than dishonest and combative. According to Bregman, this view of our species isn’t fantastical, but rather it’s realistic and has enormous implications for our society. And the sooner we accept the fact that humans are inherently altruistic, the sooner we’ll be able to fundamentally transform society for the better.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy

Now that many of us are surrounded by screens from the moment we wake up till the time we fall asleep, we’re similarly surrounded by ceaseless distractions that have significantly shrunk our attention spans. In You’re Not Listening, Kate Murphy explains how listening has become a lost art, and in the rare instance that someone actually devotes their undivided attention to a person speaking, it can create an instant bond between two individuals. To prove her point, Murphy shares several anecdotes about the world’s leading listeners, and she also provides readers with helpful tips for getting more out of conversations by learning to listen to others more closely.

In the FLO: Unlock Your Hormonal Advantage and Revolutionize Your Life by Alissa Vitti

In the FLO details how women and trans men can tune into their hormonal health and work in sync with their cycles in order to live happier, more fulfilling lives while also achieving lasting success at work and in relationships. Author Alissa Vitti offers invaluable advice about how readers can make the most of their menstrual cycles by paying attention to their food, loves, and ovaries (FLO). She emphasizes the importance of planning schedules around the body’s fluctuations, and she further explains how being mindful about menstruation can alleviate stress, boost creativity, and even enhance sexual experiences.

Get a Life! Creating a Successful Work-Life Balance by Rick Hughes

As millions of people continue to work from home in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, striking a balance between our careers and our individual interests has become a considerable challenge for many of us. In Get a Life!, author Rick Hughes addresses this imbalance and helps readers learn to establish and maintain equilibrium between their personal and professional selves. He explains how we can achieve greater harmony between work and play by carefully making decisions that align with a well-rounded life. Hughes also highlights the steps we should take to establish healthy relationships and create more meaningful experiences at work. It all begins with finding time to nurture ourselves while also focusing on boundaries and efficiency.

Brain Wash: Detox Your Mind for Clearer Thinking, Deeper Relationships, and Lasting Happiness by David Perlmutter MD and Austin Perlmutter MD

Compared to earlier eras in human history, we now have an incredible amount of options and opportunities when it comes to how we lead our lives. Yet, at the same time, we’re experiencing more anxiety, depression, and isolation than ever before. In Brain Wash, Dr. David Perlmutter and his son Austin explain how modern society manipulates our minds and can lead us to make decisions that undermine our ability to experience happiness. To address this issue, the authors have developed a 10-day program to help readers break bad patterns and build healthier habits. They offer numerous tips for leading a more content life, and they demonstrate how it’s possible to reprogram our brains in order to achieve long-lasting happiness.

Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein

In this follow-up to The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, author and TV host Marie Kondo explains how her signature KonMari Method isn’t merely limited to organizing our closets and cupboards. Rather, the same approach can be applied to the spaces in which we work. In Joy at Work, Kondo outlines simple ways we can transform our desks, offices, and cubicles into joyful areas that can enhance our productivity. She also offers tactics to help readers organize their email inboxes and file storage services, and she provides advice on extending her approach to our calendars and daily schedules. By abiding by these practices, it can become easier to stay focused and achieve goals at work and in life.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

With a focus on how little we know about schizophrenia, Hidden Valley Road offers an in-depth look at the Galvin clan from Colorado Springs, considered by some to be the most mentally ill family in American history. Author Robert Kolker recounts the story, which revolves around Don Galvin and Mimi Blayney, who met in 1937 and stayed together until Don’s death in 2003. Between 1945 and 1965, the couple had 12 children, half of whom were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. And aside from experiencing parental neglect and violence at home, several of the children were also victims of sexual abuse — often perpetrated by their own siblings.

Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognize Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World by Layla Saad

Now more than ever, it’s imperative to understand that we live in a world defined by white supremacy — and whether we’re willing to admit it or not — many of us are part of the problem. In Me and White Supremacy, author Layla Saad sheds light on how all Caucasian people benefit from white privilege, and she explains how, when white people try to engage with people of color in a positive way, they often end up reinforcing racial stereotypes. If you want to deepen your understanding of the problems surrounding white supremacy while also learning how to become an ally of people of color, consider this book a powerful tool in the fight against racism.

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe

You Never Forget Your First offers an amusing look at America’s original commander-in-chief, dispelling many of the myths that surround the man and instead revealing the Founding Father’s many flaws. Author Alexis Coe exposes this lesser-seen portrait of the president, whose actual life was much more complex — and more scandalous — than what many of us were taught in school. From Washington’s disadvantaged childhood to his illustrious military career, Coe shows readers many sides of the glorified general, proving that the historical hero was just as human as the rest of us.

Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living by Glennon Doyle

In Untamed, a true tale of unexpected romance, author Glennon Doyle reveals how her efforts to become the ideal mother, wife, and Christian, took an abrupt turn when she fell head over heels in love with a woman. Doyle explains how she never questioned her aspirations prior to meeting the love of her life, but afterward, she was forced to reassess her beliefs and embrace her intuition. By finally learning to tune into her actual desires and live life on her own terms, Doyle was able to become her authentic self. Based on her experiences, she offers several strategies readers can use to embrace their own desires and lead fulfilling lives.

Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun

Although many of us are familiar with the concept of the male midlife crisis, American women — especially members of Generation X — are also likely to experience similar phases in their own lives. Why We Can’t Sleep explains that this is largely attributed to the fact that women who were born between 1965 and 1980 grew up believing that nothing could stop them from obtaining a successful career, having a healthy family, and leading an active social life. In reality, however, these women have faced enormous challenges, including a disastrous job market, persistent gender discrimination, and severe imbalances when it comes to caring for children and elderly parents. Author Ada Calhoun paints a picture of what midlife crises actually look like for Gen X women, and she outlines what kind of support can truly help.

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek H. Murthy MD

This year, perhaps more than any other, many of us have learned how painful it is to be truly alone. Shelter-in-place orders meant many people remained untouched for months in a way we’d never had to experience before. Together is a timely, powerful treatise on the high personal and societal cost of loneliness and how, as individuals and communities, we can create a world that foments connection rather than prevents it. As social animals, we need companionship, understanding and physical touch in order to feel and function at our best. Therefore, the problem of loneliness is one that can have a wide range of knock-on effects on our physical and mental health. By creating spaces for connection and community and finding ways to reach out to, and include, the most vulnerable people, we can pave the way to a much healthier, happier world.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Despite that many arguments that now question his legacy, there’s no denying that Winston Churchill is an icon of modern history. Having stepped into Number 10 Downing Street in May 1940, he helmed Britain through the darkest days of the Blitz and World War II to become one of the most internationally-recognizable prime ministers Britain has ever had. The Splendid and the Vile focuses on the turbulent first year of Churchill’s premiership, which saw the Third Reich cross the Maginot Line to invade France less than a week after he took office. Though Britain entered the war on the back foot, savvy military tactics and diplomacy coupled with powerful oratory helped Churchill to create grass roots support in Britain and appeal to the US to form an allyship that would eventually win the war.

Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts by Jennie Allen

The toxic thoughts that many of us give space to on a daily basis prevent us from living truly happy lives. In 2020, as most of us have been cooped up indoors or working from home, there has been little to distract us from faulty thought patterns that lead us to feeling worthless, unaccomplished or undeserving. Released in January this year, Jennie Allen’s Get Out of Your Head advocates for using faith in God to break free from negative thought spirals and find your way back to a happier path. Even for those who don’t subscribe to a religious faith, this title is full of useful advice about recognizing damaging thought spirals for what they are, exercising self-compassion, and allowing yourself to choose a different outlook. The author shares a story about her crisis of faith and finding her way back to God, but this book is a useful read even if the only crisis of faith you’re having is with your faith in yourself.

Fast. Feast. Repeat. by Gin Stephens

Is it just me or is everyone suddenly really into intermittent fasting? If you want to experiment with the trend, too, then Fast. Feast. Repeat. is your key to getting started. Author Gin Stephens explains how the timing of your meals actually have a profound effect on how you feel, weight management, and your overall health. According to Stephens, fasting helps people lose weight not just through calorie deprivation, but by allowing your hormones such as insulin to operate the way they’re supposed to. However, according to the author, the benefits of fasting go far beyond losing a few pounds. Fasting helps to tackle chronic inflammation which in turn can cause a range of life-threatening conditions. Convinced? Check out the Blinks to Fast. Feast. Repeat. for even more arguments about why intermittent fasting might be the most important lifestyle change you ever make.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Called “an instant American classic” by The New York Times, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson has been making a major splash since it was first published in early August. A number one bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club Pick, Caste was longlisted for the National Book Award. It takes a revealing look at the unspoken caste system that exists in American society, drawing harsh parallels with India and WWII-era Germany. Generations of in-built subjugation have resulted in ingrained attitudes, both consciously and subconsciously across American society. Wilkerson shows what is involved in creating and maintaining a caste system—and crucially, how it can be dismantled. Isabel Wilkerson won a Pulitzer Prize for her work at The New York Times and her previous release, The Warmth of Other Suns (2010) which casts light on America’s Great Migration, was also an award-winner.

Food Fix: How to Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities, and Our Planet—One Bite at a Time by Dr. Mark Hyman

If we really are what we eat, then we need to start paying attention to the food we put in our mouths and how it’s produced. This isn’t just about our own health and weight management—it goes so much further than the personal. In fact, many of the world’s most serious problems like chronic disease, inequality, and climate collapse are largely driven by the food industry—and the corrupt lobbies that drive food and agricultural policies. Dr. Mark Hyman’s Food Fix is an essential guide to food, the most essential tool we have for fighting back, healing the environment, supporting local and national economies, and taking political action. Not only will this book change how you feel about the food you put on your plate forever, it also offers solutions that will help us heal ourselves, and our worlds.

Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe by Brian Greene

Since human beings have been conscious of their own existence, we have tried to fathom the great unknowability of the universe and our place within it. Brian Greene’s Until the End of Time is a breathtaking exploration of the cosmos and our quest to find meaning in the vast expanse. If you’ve ever looked up at the night sky and wondered what it’s all about, or marvelled at the fact you’re here at all, then this book is an exquisite guide that takes us from the big bang through to the end of time, all the while examining the ways we draw meaning from our own confusing existence. If 2020 has left you feeling tired or exasperated, reading this book is a good way to re-instill some sense of wonder and awe and facilitates a renewed appreciation for the fact we exist to ask these questions in the first place.

Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization by Scott Barry Kaufman

You may be familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs which from the bottom up are as follows: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Now, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman explores Maslow’s unfinished theory of transcendence which he found referenced in an array of journals, lectures and essays. In this groundbreaking book, Kaufman picks up where Maslow left off, exploring the path to self-actualization, our most abstract need, and the meaning of transcendence, where self-actualization might mean approaching our needs as a foundational whole that enables you to grow. By understanding and trying to meet all our fundamental needs, we will then be better able to explore what gives us purpose, meaning and a sense of growth.

Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City by Fang Fang

Wuhan Diary is a first-person account by one of China’s most acclaimed writers of what it was like to be in Wuhan during the first COVID-19 outbreak. From January 25, 2020, when the Chinese government imposed a lockdown on Wuhan, until March 26th, Fang Fang shared more than 60 posts on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, about what was unfolding in the city. Though the Chinese government tried to censor Fang Fang, shutting her down online, publisher HarperCollins has now collected and translated her account of events into this fascinating blow-by-blow record of what happened in those early days of COVID-19 before anyone realized we were dealing with a global pandemic. You can explore this title in more detail on Blinkist Magazine.

Personality Isn’t Permanent: Break Free from Self-Limiting Beliefs and Rewrite Your Story by Benjamin Hardy

What’s your personality like? Do you feel like it’s fixed or something that grows and develops alongside you? In many cases, adhering to a strict personality type or to rigid beliefs about yourself fails to give you any useful information and in fact, can limit your development. Hardy believes that personality tests like the oft-used Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram are about as useful as horoscopes. This book will be useful to those who feel stuck in a rut or restricted by who they feel they are, and will allow readers to look beyond what they believe about themselves to move beyond the cage of personality. Growth requires not clinging too faithfully to any belief, and allowing for flexibility in who you are and who you will one day become.

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

Many people became familiar with Eddie S. Glaude Jr. for the first time after a 2019 clip of him speaking passionately on MSNBC began to recirculate this year after the November elections. The author and academic is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, where he is also the Chair of the Center for African American Studies and the Chair of the Department of African American Studies. In his 2020 release Begin Again, Glaude takes books that marked James Baldwin’s transformation into an overtly political writer, and reflects on what it can teach us about the crucible times we are now living through. Bearing witness to the difficult truths of race in America today, Begin Again is a crucial book which mixes biography and contemporary analysis to offer hope in the most difficult of times.

The New Corner Office: How the Most Successful People Work from Home by Laura Vanderkam

Always one to get her timing right, Laura Vanderkam’s latest book about success which focuses on remote work came out in July 2020. Author of previous Blinkist favorites, Off the Clock and I Know How She Does It, Vanderkam’s latest book brings over 18 years of experience to bear, combined with anecdotes and tips from successful people who’ve perfected their remote work routines. Forget everything you think you know about 8-hour work days and office routines — with remote work, you’re in charge of your own time. The New Corner Office is full of useful advice for breaking free of ingrained conditioning about what a good work day is and focuses on results rather than hours at the desk. As working norms are likely to change forever even once the pandemic is over, this book may be your secret weapon for making the most of being stuck inside.

Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee

Another book with a timely title, Celeste Headlee’s Do Nothing might feel like a mockery were it not so on-the-money. Released in March 2020, the award-winning journalist argues against the Silicon Valley-sanctioned trend of working furiously towards self-optimization, because the bar will keep forever rising out of our reach. Modern attitudes to work, life, and happiness are making us sick, sad, and leave us self-sabotaging without even realizing it. Headlee couldn’t have realized that this book would hit the shelves at a time when most of us were shepherded indoors for weeks on end, but maybe at the end of 2020, a year that forced us to stop and “do nothing” like the title recommends, it’s the perfect read to help us reassess how we want our lives to be as we move forward. I think it’s fair to say that we all need to give ourselves a break so why not start here?

Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

In 2020, we were all forced to think about the basic building blocks of our lives. When all the distractions were stripped away, were we really happy with our homes, our relationships, our jobs? Authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans—who also wrote 2016 bestseller, Designing Your Life–take a long hard look at the thing we spend about 120,000 hours of our lives doing: work. Designing Your Work Life uses the principles of design thinking to help us build towards better, more meaningful work lives in an increasingly unpredictable professional world. Figuring out what to do with your career is one of life’s most challenging questions, so use this book to empower yourself to find the right answers for you.

The 4 Day Week: How the Flexible Work Revolution Can Increase Productivity, Profitability and Well-being, and Create a Sustainable Future by Andrew Barnes

How different would your life be if you only worked 4 days a week for the same salary? This is exactly the question Andrew Barnes tried to answer when he conducted a 4-day week experiment in his own New Zealand-based business, Perpetual Guardian. Here, he shares the outcomes of this change—spoiler alert: it went well!—and explains how employers and managers can actually make their businesses thrive by encouraging their employees to be more flexible and yes, to work less! Supported by qualitative and quantitative data from the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology, this book is every boss’s guide to building futureproof businesses that prioritize people while never compromising on productivity. The current work week is built around out-of-date systems from the industrial revolution that don’t work for modern lives anymore. Don’t you want to be part of the future?

If you’re interested in learning more about any of these recently published books, Blinkist makes it easy to explore the key takeaways from each of these titles in as little as 15 minutes. So what are you waiting for?

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