What I’ve Read in 2020

2020 is coming to an end, and as I write this, I discern if it may be trivial and tone-deaf to talk about my annual reading experience these days. A year marked by struggle, loss, and despair for millions, dominated by health, economic and political crisis, and where we were all forced to cope and to adapt, makes me reflect on many issues in the public debate more relevant than a personal track record.

Yet for me, reading is my meditation, my time to learn, feel, contrast, empathize, adjust, and to think and craft a point of view about the challenges we face, as a global village, as siblings, from pandemics to the erosion of trust and fundamental values I’ve grown to believe as universal: freedom, democracy, truth; about the Mexican current affairs, which keep me awake at night and have made me go back to review my economics formation; about my business decisions and daily quest to become a better investor, teacher, father, husband, son, human being.

Sharing my reading selection and habits aims to be a small contribution towards igniting a broader dialogue. If I can inspire a reader to open a book and start a conversation; if this post can spark some curiosity, have a few joining the “one book per week” challenge, and make us realize that we share more questions that we tend to admit, across geographies and time, I will continue doing so for many years. And if 2020 asks for a reflection, it is that humanity is so rich in ideas, ingenuity, creativity, diversity, grit, and width of ideas, that there is no challenge, however somber, that will stop us, collectively, from pursuing a better world.

I started the year with a good reading pace, with many long flights to cram some long books, and with an intense running training program that added a few audiobooks. When the COVID-19 lockdown started, I thought I would find plenty of time to really go over my goal. It ended up being the complete opposite; a year of emotional ups and downs, of a workload that demanded most of my weekends, of a mountain-bike accident that halted my training time, of no more time in planes or hotels, and of an internal voice that constantly pushed me towards action and guilt for being in a couch reading when so many people were suffering.

Yet the public commitment to this personal goal helped, and for the fourth year in a row, I read more than 52 books. You can see what I read here.

During 2020 I’ve read 32 non-fiction and 20 fiction books (exactly the same ideal ratio as the last two years, and I don’t do it on purpose!). I’ve read 41 books in English and only 7 in Spanish (all of them fiction) and a disappointing 25% by women authors, despite starting the year conscious of reaching 50%. I’ve read books on history (3), politics (3), economics (6), biographies(3), business (3), startups (3)… I read stories situated in Turkey, Japan, Russia, Iran, Nigeria, Palestine, and Chile. This year I’ve read authors from 17 different countries — 29 from the USA, 4 from the UK, 4 from Mexico, 2 from Ireland, and one each from Chile, South Africa, Colombia, Turkey, Roumania, Nigeria, Japan, Lebanon, Poland, France, India, Iran, and Serbia. This is my reading pace for the last three years:

Each of these books was enjoyed and associated with a moment, places, and experiences, and again, each taught me something. I only finish a book (and count them) when they are meaningful in this regard. Yet here is a selection of the top 10 books from my list:

Business and Startups

1- Entrepreneurship Leadership — by Joel Peterson| From a Stanford GSB professor that had a huge influence on me, it delivers a no-BS map for the kind of leaders we aim to back.

2- Radical Uncertainty — by John Kay and Mervyn King| Decision-making beyond the numbers, or how to set limits to a probabilistic approach to uncertainty, and understand how to operate in a world of unknown unknowns.

3- Loonshots — by Safi Bahcall| Entertaining, insightful, and applicable, helps us remember how big ideas change the world, as we now witness with record-time vaccines.

Non-Fiction

1- The Price of Peace — by Zachary Carter| a detailed biography of John Maynard Keynes and his time, and indispensable recount of Keynesianism that left me wondering how solid evidence is not enough to finish a decades-long debate.

2- Morality — by Jonathan Sacks| An erudite reflection of the world’s current moral crisis from a leading rabbi (who passed away shortly after I read it), centered on explaining the elevation of individual interest over the common good, and how to revert it.

3- Black Wave — by Kim Ghattas| A dynamic, fast-paced review of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, constructed around the events of 1979 and how they evolved into today’s Middle East instability.

Fiction

1- A Gentleman in Moscow — by Amor Towles| My favorite novel this year, moving, detailed; Count Alexander Rostov is the most enduring central character from literature in ages.

2- Salvar el Fuego — by Guillermo Arriaga| “Este país se divide en dos: los que tienen miedo y los que tienen rabia”. The energy and painful reality in this book explains its well deserved #1 bestseller status in Mexico.

3- Apeirogon — by Colum McCann| I am a big fan of McCann because he dares to do new things. This chronicle of two families in the Israel — Palestine conflict made me cry, something I confess I rarely do while reading.

4- La Hija Única— by Guadalupe Nettel| In tone with this very emotional year, another book that makes you cry, with a unique voice, simple, yet devastating. I can’t wait to read more from Nettel.

I still have three books to go through before New Year. I’m halfway through Barak Obama’s “A Promised Land”. Then I’ll read “The Revolt of the Public” from Martin Gurri, and “Invent & Wander”, the Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos. Busy two weeks ahead.

My reading choices are very personal, as I always say. I do not pretend to be an expert, nor that you will agree with my choices. But if I can inspire a little or help create a new habit or discover new ideas, I’d love to hear more from you. More importantly, I yearn for a 2021 when we can meet, share a mezcal, and talk. Good readings are meanless without good conversations. Let them come!

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Fernando Lelo Larrea

Venture Capital Investor. Entrepreneurship. Economics. Seeking Innovation & Impact.