The 5 Best Books I Read in 2020

One of the unique features of this year was the extended periods of time alone because of COVID-19. While it was de-stabilizing at times, I would consider it to be one of the years in which I learned the most, not only from the circumstances, but also because I was able to read many more books than I normally would. In 2019, I didn’t read much, and 2020 was the year where I remembered just how much I treasure it.

Enclosed in this post are the five best books that I read this year. They are in no particular order and I highly recommend them to anyone.

Walpola Rahula – What the Buddha Taught

I’ve been an on-and-off practitioner of mindfulness meditation for a few years, but was only able to make it a consistent habit last year. I saw such incredible benefit from it that I wanted to dive deeper into Buddhism in 2020. Rahula’s “What the Buddha Taught” was the first book I read with that aim and remains my favorite. It is is concisely written and vastly illuminating. I particularly enjoyed the author’s extensive commentary on dukkha as an un-translatable word rather than simply substitute it for “suffering” as other texts tend to do.

Key Takeaways and Quotes

  • “Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic… It tells you exactly and objectively what you are and what the world around you is, and shows you the way to perfect freedom, peace, tranquility, and happiness.”
  • “‘I’ is a false idea, a mental formation… There is no unmoving mover behind the movement. It is only movement… There is no thinker behind the thought. Thought itself is the thinker.”
  • Dukkha arises from any craving, any desire. Because everything is impermanent, any attachment leads to dukkha.
  • Nirvana, total freedom, seeing the Truth can be realized in this lifetime by way of The Middle Path. One who has attained Nirvana is free of attachment, of the illusion of self, of all conditioning. He is completely present always.
  • If you want to understand your mind, sit down and observe it.

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

For maybe the first time ever, a significant number of people I know all read the same book at the same time. That book was Eric Jorgenson’s “The Almanack of Naval Ravikant” and it did not disappoint–in fact, it exceeded all expectations. It truly lives up to its subtitle “A guide to wealth and happiness”.

You can read it for free online: https://www.navalmanack.com/

Key Takeaways and Quotes

  • “Leverage is a force multiplier for your judgment.”
  • “Capital and labor are permissioned leverage. Everyone is chasing capital, but someone has to give it to you. Everyone is trying to lead, but someone has to follow you.”
  • “Code and media are permissionless leverage. They’re the leverage behind the newly rich. You can create software and media that works for you while you sleep.”
  • “Escape competition through authenticity. Basically, when you’re competing with people, it’s because you’re copying them. It’s because you’re trying to do the same thing. But every human is different. Don’t copy. [78] If you are fundamentally building and marketing something that is an extension of who you are, no one can compete with you on that.”
  • “You are waiting for your moment when something emerges in the world, they need a skill set, and you’re uniquely qualified. You build your brand in the meantime on Twitter, on YouTube, and by giving away free work. You make a name for yourself, and you take some risk in the process. When it is time to move on the opportunity, you can do so with leverage—the maximum leverage possible. [1]”
  • “The direction you’re heading in matters more than how fast you move, especially with leverage. Picking the direction you’re heading in for every decision is far, far more important than how much force you apply. Just pick the right direction to start walking in, and start walking. [1]”
  • “The fundamental delusion: There is something out there that will make me happy and fulfilled forever.”
  • “Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.”
  • “Whenever the word “should” creeps up in your mind, it’s guilt or social programming. Doing something because you “should” basically means you don’t actually want to do it. It’s just making you miserable, so I’m trying to eliminate as many “shoulds” from my life as possible. [1]”

Kapil Gupta – Atmamun

Kapil Gupta is one of Naval’s highest recommended authors and “Atmamun” is his first book.

The subtitle made me a bit skeptical going into it, but once I started reading, it became clear that there is deep truth in this text. I have not understood everything here and I suspect it will be quite a while and many re-reads before that happens.

Key Takeaways and Quotes

  • “For the vast majority of us, the mind is indeed our enemy. For it has controlled our lives. The only way to make it a friend, or even a servant, begins with understanding its ways. This is the first step on the path to free ourselves from it.”
  • “If your pursuits and exploits in life have meaning to you, you will be burdened by expectation. You will feel the weight of striving. You will feel the pain of hope. You will be exposed to turmoil and disappointment and hardship along the entire journey… When something has meaning, it becomes work. When something is meaningless, it becomes play.”
  • “The man who is Attached to the idea of achieving spirituality is equally doomed. Attachment is poison. Attachment is the source of all misery. Attachment to money, fame, ego, success, spirituality. Even attachment to family and friends. Attachment is the antithesis of life. Attachment is the great death. A death greater than death itself.”
  • “Do not jump on the bandwagon of ready-made solutions. For they will only take you further from the truth. And they will keep you entrenched in misery and bondage forever. If you are truly sincere about achieving Freedom and Bliss, you will look directly at that which is preventing you from realizing them. Ask yourself, what precisely is preventing you from having Freedom TODAY!”
  • “The question is NOT ‘How do I solve my problems?’ The question is ‘Why do I have problems in the first place?'”
  • “Happiness and misery are two sides of the very same coin. To seek one is to seek the other. The only way out is bliss. Bliss is beyond both happiness and sadness. For it is not dependent upon a fortuitous event or an enjoyable circumstance. It is a byproduct of wisdom. The wisdom that comes from seeing things the way they truly are.”
  • All conflict is self-conflict.

Will & Ariel Durant – The Lessons of History

I’ve had this on my bookshelf for a few years now sitting unread despite how short it is. What a mistake!

In terms of insights per page, this is one of the most dense books I’ve ever read. Will and Ariel Durant condense their 11-volume magnum opus into just 10 lessons spread over less than 100 pages. In addition, the style of writing is incredibly beautiful, something to aspire to have done.

Key Takeaways and Quotes

  • For every situation we presently face, there is a similar one that has already occurred many times over in history
  • Nearly everything is a cycle–dictatorship vs democracy, loose vs tight morals, religion vs paganism, war and peace, wealth inequality.
  • “No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.”

Aubrey Marcus – Own the Day, Own Your Life

I’ve been a huge fan of both Aubrey Marcus and his company Onnit, for a long time. His book, “Own the Day, Own Your Life” only reinforced that fandom. It’s hilariously written and incredibly useful. I consider myself someone who has done an above-average amount of life routine optimization, but Aubrey takes things to the next level.

Key Takeaways and Quotes

  • First thing upon waking: water, sunlight, and movement (not coffee!)
  • Wim Hof breathing + cold exposure (it sucks but you feel really good afterwards)
  • Mix coffee with MCT oil to slow absorption of caffeine
  • Take true breaks during the workday to walk, stretch, and unfocus your eyes
  • Use binaural beats at the theta frequency to enhance power-naps
  • Perfect workout: 15m mobility, 10m cardio, 8m muscular endurance, 5m strength, 3m power
  • Consistent pre-bed routine: close open loops, journal, relaxing activity, self-care
  • Measure sleep amount by number of cycles per week: aim for 35.

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