2020: Year in Reading

As with so many other things in the year of the plague, it was not a good year for reading. I read only 19 books in 2020, down from 50-53 in 2019, 45 the year in 2018, and 50 in 2017. There were three main factors:

  • When teaching went online, I stopped commuting 90 minutes a day, which I used to listen to audible.
  • I started using more of my (limited) free time to read papers for New Things Under the Sun.
  • I think the pandemic frazzled me a bit. It was hard to stick with long books. I started and stopped a lot more books than usual.

Regardless, here’s my take on this year’s reading, separated into conceptual non-fiction and narratives.

Conceptual Non-Fiction

  1. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein: A great overview of the systemic problems bedeviling American politics. Warning: understanding will not make you feel better about the situation.
  2. Fully Grown by Dietrich Vollrath: An important rebuttal to the rising consensus that we are living amid a great stagnation of technological innovation. I wrote much more about this book here.
  3. The Great Reversal by Thomas Philippon: A good summary of the evidence that the problem of market power in the USA is on the rise.
  4. Why Not Socialism by G.A. Cohen: Argues that socialism, as a method of allocating resources in society, is desirable; though we may lack the social technology to make it work in a desirable fashion at present.
  5. The People’s Republic of Wal-Mart by Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski: A good complement to Why Not Socialism, this is all about whether we, in fact, already have the social technology to implement a desirable form of socialism. Good food for thought, but I’m skeptical we can do any better (at present) than robust welfare state capitalism.
  6. Digital Renaissance by Joel Waldfogel: A nice companion to Fully Grown, in that it contains an argument that the nature of cultural production may have changed, but probably for the better on the whole.
  7. Big Business by Tyler Cowen: The case that worries about market power in the USA are overblown. I didn’t think it grappled nearly enough with counterfactuals.


  1. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin: “Nobody goes hungry while another eats.” My second read of this. Also fits in well with “Why Not Socialism” and “People’s Republic of Wal-Mart.”
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien: Another re-read. Always wonderful.
  3. A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge: Another re-read. My all time favorite sci-fi book.
  4. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien: Another re-read.
  5. Slade House by David Mitchell: Fantastic horror story ambience.
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: It’s really long; some parts I would probably skim if I re-read, but other parts made me cry.
  7. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: This book keeps going up in my estimation. I think this is my third time reading this?
  8. Silas Marner by George Eliot: A great short Christmas tale.
  9. Exhalation by Ted Chiang: Much of this was fantastic, but I didn’t care for the long central story on the lives of digital objects.
  10. Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: Great to be in this world, but at the end you’re kind of left thinking “what actually happened?”
  11. A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazney: Super fun Halloween pastiche that I will probably revisit again.
  12. SevenEves by Neal Stephenson: Memorably grim, but the last third didn’t work great for me.

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