Best Books I Read in 2020

Best Books I Read in 2020

In 2020, society experienced a lot of change in a short amount of time. A combination of the Coronavirus, political unrest and social issues caused many of us to rethink our perception of reality. Most of the books I read in 2020 were related to understanding how to act in a fast-changing world and understanding how other humans act in such situations.

The first half are the best books I read in the second half of 2020. The second half are the best books I read in 2020 and can be found in Best Books I read During Quarantine.

These notes are incomplete but I have some of the rough notes saved on my github at and other notes saved on my personal note taking app (I use simplenote which I recommend if you’re looking for a simple note taking app). If you want more detailed notes for a book there message me on twitter or Instagram.

A Promised Land by Barrack Obama (Amazon)

This book was a memoir of Obama’s time in office. I’m currently about a third of the way through the book at the time of writing. At first I’, usually reluctant to read books by super famous people because they tend to be filled with platitudes as they are too invested in crafting public perception to speak candidly and say much that is interesting. However, in this book Obama was fairly self-aware and honest about the good, the bad and the tradeoffs he had to make in his political career.

I feel like there was still a bit of poetic language which I am not a fan of.

But overall, a lot of great insights and takeaways.

  1. If you are ambitious and you’re trying to find a balance between your selfish goals and selfless goals that benefit humanity. Tie your selfish ambitions towards something that also benefits humanity. He references Martin Luther King’s Drum Major Instinct Speech which you can check out for more on that.
  2. When trying to build something that requires other people to buy in to your vision, start bottom up not top-down. Don’t spend hours trying to convince the big dogs that you are correct. Instead leverage the internet to find all the little folks that align with your vision. This can be applied to anything ranging from startups to political movements to social movements etc.
  3. When society is undergoing rapid change and an uncertain future and people feel like they are being left behind or they can’t see how the future will benefit them, they tend to cling to traditional symbols that they are familiar with to find comfort. Acknowledge the benefits of the historical traditions but show people why the future will be better and how it will benefit them. [page 144]

Everybody Lies (Amazon)

  1. Polls don’t work. Social media data and analytics are more reliable than polls. At least for anything mildly controversial. Because of social desirability bias, if there is 2 options and one of them is “bad” people will like. Don’t ask people if they will vote. Not voting is “bad” so people will lie. Instead see how many people Googled “How do I register to voite?” to track voter turnout.
  2. For some people, technology is their new religion. People don’t just ask Google questions like “what time does the grocery store close”, increasingly more people are asking Google questions like: “what is the meaning of life” and “what is my purpose?” or “how can I be a better persion”
  3. The last chapters are dedicated to the ethical implications. Do organizations have a right to judge fitness for criteria based on abstracti but statistically predictive information?[261]. Study using data from a peer to peer lending site found that some certain ethnicities or religion are more likely to default on a loan. Sometimes by as much as 2.2 times. Should this data be excluded?

Interesting questions. Came for the statistics, stayed for the phiolosphy. Get Big Fast (Amazon*)

*The irony of linking to Amazon to buy a book about the dominance of Amazon is palpable. (Am I even using the word palpable in the right context? ??‍♂️)

  1. The biggest takeaway I got from this book is more of a reminder, but an important reminder: The importance of being disciplined, focused and thinking long-term:

“He’s got the disciplined to be focused long term, and the discipline to say to himself, the employees, and the shareholders, ‘if you’re looking for quick returns, don’t look here. We’re trying to do something extraordinary and we’re investing for the future…[Bezos is] the most single-mindedly focused person I’e ever met. I worry about what he’s going to be like when he’s 50. [230] [tk add book quote]

  • Especially ironic because you the reverse has happened Bezos is like Lebron and wine, they are both getting better with age.
  1. Be customer driven not competitor driven. There’s a quote from the book about how the only reason Barnes and Noble entered the book game is because of Amazon. Interestingly this is also a good lesson for life. Figure out what you’re optimizing your life for and double, triple, quadrubple down on that. Don’t worry about what your classmates from school are doing. 90% of the battles you face in life are with yourself.
  2. First, get the unit economics right. Then, double, tripe, quadruple down on scaling. A lot of people say that Amazon is not profitable but actually they were very disciplined about being gross margin profitable s early on. Then once they validated their business model and unit economics, they threw every dollar of excess cash into growing the business.

Deep Learning For Life Sciences (Amazon)

  1. The fundamental nature of Life Sciences and Medicine has changed from chemistry and biology to data and statistics. Increasingly more and more innovations are coming from analyzing large datasets using machine learning models to get insights from that results and using a bit of biology and chemistry intuition to guide those insights.
  2. Software Engineers and Data scientists are the new doctors and pharmacists. As more innovations are being moved from the lab to the cloud. The core skill rrequired will shift from a deep learning of anatomy and chemistry to data and algorithms. See Vinod Khosla’s Dr. Algorithm essay for more on this.
  3. This book also has a lot of coding samples and snippets which I really appreciate. If you decide to read this book, I strongly recommend you actually follow along and do the coding exercises and put them on your github. You can see their official repo at deepchem/DeepLearningLifeSciences and you can see some of mine at ademidun/deep-learning-life-sciences-code


I went on a lot of walks this year so I started listening to Audiobooks. I went from 40% in favor to like 60% in favor. I find that I like conversational stuff when going on walks and if I want the information to really sink in, audiobooks are not that good for information retention. But there were some good ones.

Ted Talks by Chris Anderson (Amazon)

  1. When giving a presentation, focus on being interesting and surprising. (see Paul Graham’s essays on General and Surprising and Writing Usefully)
  2. Be concise
  3. This book is also how I learned about Lawrence Lessig’s 2013 Ted Talk about Lesterland. Which inspired me to put together a document with some ideas I had for criminal justice reform

The Loudest Voice in the Room (Amazon)

Didn’t have time to write down takeaways from this but it’s in my note-taking app. If anyone is curious, message me and I will increase the priority of this and add the takeaways to this blog post.