2020 – Best Reads & Listens

For the past several Decembers, I’ve been sharing a list of my favorite books from the year. This year I added some of my top podcast episodes as well. If you’re interested in my favorites from prior years, check out 2019, 2018201720162015 and 2014.

I read very little fiction, and I love reading about people, history and books that describe how things work. I’ve broken this list into Business/Technology, How Things Work, and Biographies/ History.

Business/ Technology:

  • The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton. This is a really important book that makes the argument for MMT – Modern Monetary Theory. I’ve always believed (and still do, even after reading this book) that federal budget deficits matter. But, Kelton, one of the key economists espousing MMT, makes a compelling case for federal deficit spending as a healthy element of the economy.
  • Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright & Bradley Hope. This is an in depth recount of the financial theft and largesse of Jho Low, a Malaysian who stole over $1B from 1MDB, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth vehicle. The level of fraud and missed opportunities by authorities to catch his many schemes is breathtaking, and the havoc he and his supporters caused is profoundly sad.

How Things Work:

  • The Sports Gene by David Epstein. This is Epstein’s precursor to one of my favorites from 2019, Range, which is an insanely good read. The Sports Gene is also very interesting. Epstein relentlessly searches for theories to explain why Kenyans are the best distance runners, why Jamaicans are great sprinters and why 10,000 hours doesn’t explain greatness. Although inconclusive, the book is fascinating.
  • Blowout by Rachel Maddow. In typical Maddow fashion, this is a tremendously well researched and far reaching expose of the fossil fuel industry. From frackers in Oklahoma to deep sea Siberian drilling, this book is truly amazing – I learned a ton.
  • The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. I’m just finishing this book and its a great read. Starting with limited poker experience, Konnikova takes us on her own exploration of the world of poker, with its blend of quantitative and qualitative aspects and mix of skill and luck of the cards. Very enjoyable – a fun holiday read.

Biographies/ History:

  • Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis. This is a great series of historically accurate episodes in the lives of Burr, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, Washington and Adams that helps paint a much richer of picture of the early years of the US and the lives of these founding fathers. Great stuff.
  • Educated by Tara Westover. This is the most intense read of this year’s list. Westover’s personal journey from as an abused child in a rural, off-grid existence to a self-aware, highly educated adult is both gut-wrenching and triumphant. If you read one book on this list and you have a strong stomach, Educated is for you.

Bonus Podcast Episodes:

  • Invest Like the Best – Interview with Michelle Zatlyn. Another Patrick O’Shaughnessy masterful conversation, this time with Michelle Zatlyn, the COO and co-founder of Cloudflare. Michelle is amazing (you can also find my podcast episode with her here) and Patrick does a great job unlocking a bunch of things Michelle and Cloudflare have done exceptionally well.
  • Founder Real Talk – Interview with Susan St. Ledger. Ok, I love all my guests on the Founder Real Talk podcast, but Susan is just so amazing. There is so much to learn from her – from how to hire well, to embracing career pivots with a growth mindset, to finding mentors and sponsors in your career. A MUST listen!