Favorite Books of 2020

Going to keep it brief this year.

Out of the Gobi by Weijian Shan

Extraordinary book that recounts Shan’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution — particularly the six years he spent doing hard labor in a re-education camp — and the transformative impact that the normalization of U.S.-China relations and Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms had on China generally, and on Shan in particular.

I interviewed Shan for the Portico Podcast. You can learn more about the episode at this link.

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Kleptopia by Tom Burgis

Kleptocracy is an existential threat to democratic institutions and governance, as well as the rule of law, globally. Tom’s book joins Misha Glenny’s McMafia and Oliver Bullough’s Moneyland as essential reading.

I interviewed Tom for the Portico Podcast as well. You can learn more about the episode at this link.

IndieBound Amazon Library

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Essential. Absolutely blistering.

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The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg

I had been reluctant to read this given the number of people who’ve recommended it, but the first 50 pages brought order to several of the thoughts I’ve had and written about over the years (e.g., here and here).

Some of the book is sophomoric nonsense. Quoting John fucking Calhoun on the fairness of taxes is absurd. But there’s good food for thought on the implications of the Information Age.

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The Cloven Viscount by Italo Calvino

Delightful and imaginative.

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The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

One of the best novels I’ve ever read. Unlike any other book.

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Trade Wars Are Class Wars by Matthew Klein and Michael Pettis

Compelling argument that inequality within countries leads to trade wars. Unlikely to change in the near term as elites in surplus and deficit countries share vested interest in status quo.

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Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu

Three Body Problem is overrated, but I liked it enough to continue the series. Dark Forest was much better, and I was eager to see how it would end. Death’s End was legit awesome.

Felt like quitting at multiple points in each of these books, but the value is greater than the sum of the parts. Kind of blew me away, and it made me appreciate humanity for a minute.

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Enemy of All Mankind by Steven Johnson

Such a fun read.

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