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The Best Books, Podcasts, Articles, and Videos of 2020

Every now and then, I send “The Curious Letter,” a short email with one book, one article, one podcast episode, and one video that I’ve enjoyed.

Thanks to travel restrictions, this year, I’ve read more books, articles, and papers, listened to more podcasts and audiobooks, and watched more videos than in any other year before that.

This post is a collection of the best three books, three podcast episodes, three articles, and three videos that I’d discovered in 2020, along with a few random things that made this year better.

I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.


📖 Top 3 Books of 2020

“The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel

This book’s premise is that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave.

A genius who loses control of their emotions can be a financial disaster, while ordinary people with no financial education can be wealthy if they have a handful of behavioral skills that have nothing to do with formal measures of intelligence.

It’s short—only 19 straight to the point chapters—but very enjoyable read with lots of stories and examples illustrating just how weird and complicated our relationships with money are, and practical advice on how to make it easier.

“Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey

Wildly entertaining, remarkably wise, and candid, this memoir brings you on a philosophical and inspiring journey of McConaughey’s life.

“Greenlights” tell us to continue along our path, not only in traffic but also in life. Sometimes we come to red and yellow lights, but through a combination of luck, skill, and different point of view, you can make them “greenlights.”

Using beautifully profound and engaging life stories, the author looks back over the first 50 years of his life and illustrates how some of his red lights turned green and how he has always kept his eyes open for the next green light.

As McConaughey says at the end of the book, “I hope it can be useful and lend a hand if you need it, that it might teach you something, inspire you, make you laugh, remind you, help you forget, and arm you with some life tools to better march forward as more of yourself.” – and I can confirm that it does all that and more.

Highly recommend listening to McConaughey himself telling this incredible story in the audiobook.

“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama

If you enjoy memoirs and biographies, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading this one.

It’s incredibly beautifully written—I’ve highlighted numerous passages and phrases simply because it’s rare to see such a masterful command of the language in modern non-fiction books nowadays. From his years living in Indonesia to a school in South Carolina, the author evokes the sense of place with a light but sure hand.

This first of two volumes starts early in his life, giving a glimpse of the family values that were instilled in him, charting his initial political campaigns, and providing a rare insight into the decision-making process that the 44th President of the United States, his team, and his family went through during his years in the White House.

The President himself narrates the audiobook, so I highly recommend it.

Honorable mentions:

  • “Hell Yeah or No” by Derek Sivers
    “Thoughts around what’s worth doing, fixing faulty thinking, and making things happen.” This is one of those extremely rare books with zero fluff and full of great points that you want to highlight entire chapters.
  • “The Almanack of Naval Ravikant” by Eric Jorgenson
    This short book has probably the highest highlights and notes to a number of pages ratio in my library. I’ll certainly be returning to the chapter on happiness until I’m ready to write my own.
  • The audio version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” narrated by Stephen Fry is absolutely phenomenal.

đŸ“» Top 3 Podcast Episodes of 2020

The Tim Ferris Show – My Healing Journey
(Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts)

I never feature The Tim Ferris Show in my newsletter, even though it is my all-time favorite podcast, simply because everyone listens to it anyway. This year, Tim has released so many truly great episodes (I’ve listed seven of them off the top of my mind while putting together this collection) that I had to include at least one in the top three.

While I immensely enjoyed Jim Collins‘ and Seth Godin‘s second appearances, was inspired by Dr. Martine Rothblatt, pleasantly surprised by Hugh Jackman and Matthew McConaughey, this episode is easily the most important one.

In this conversation with Debbie Millman, he describes the most life-shaping, the most difficult, and the most transformative journey of his 43 years on this planet.

It puts your own childhood traumas into perspective, helps to realize that there is light on the other side, and that deep, lasting change is possible. I believe that the next decade will finally be the decade when mental health gets the attention and openness it deserves, and this episode might be just the tipping point.

Lex Fridman Podcast – Dan Carlin: Hardcore History
(Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube)

I love it when my favorite podcasters appear as guests on some of my other favorite shows.

Dan Carlin (@HardcoreHistory) is a historian and political thinker, and I’ve enjoyed listening to his “Harcore History” podcast for years (the “Supernova in the East” series made it my top 3 list last year).

Lex Fridman (@lexfridman) is an AI researcher at MIT, a great thinker, and the previous guests of his podcast (formerly called the Artificial Intelligence podcast) included Elon Musk, Stephen Wolfram, Jack Dorsey, Ray Dalio, Eric Schmidt, and many more incredible human beings.

In this wide-ranging conversation, they discuss ideologies of the US, the Soviet Union, and China, who was the greatest leader in history, what role violence plays in human civilization, trying to answer the questions of whether we will always have war, what is the future of podcasting, and much more.

Invest Like the Best – Nick Kokonas – Know What You Are Selling
(Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts)

I think that Nick Kokonas is one of the most interesting people alive.

He is the co-founder of Alinea Group, including Alinea (named the Best Restaurant in America and Best Restaurant in The World), Next, Roister, and The Aviary NYC. He spent a decade as a derivatives trader, has co-written three books, and believes in radical transparency in markets and business.

There are so many gems in this episode that even if you’re not interested in restaurants, you’ll find lots of valuable business and life lessons.

You’ll learn why restaurants and even book publishers can be great businesses if you do them in the right way, why it’s so important to own something, the importance of taking the right risks, and much more.

Honorable mentions:

  • My First Million Podcast – even though it’s difficult to pinpoint a single episode, I’ve listened to almost every one of them this year. If you’re into business and ideas, you’ll like these casual discussions between Shaan and Sam about business opportunities.
  • Venture Stories – Building Mind-Controlled Bionic Arms with Tyler Hayes (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts). If this episode doesn’t inspire you to start working on something meaningful and fundamental, I don’t know what else might.
  • Business Wars Podcast (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts). This series goes into the stories of some of the greatest wars in business, such as Blockbuster vs. Netflix, Boeing vs. Airbus, and Sony vs. Nintendo — what drives these companies and their leaders, inventors, investors, and executives to new heights — or to ruin. I’ve learned countless lessons from listening to this podcast, and I highly recommend it.

📰 Top 3 Articles I’ve Read in 2020

Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz

“If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts.”

This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read.

The author argues that solitude is one of the most important necessities of true leadership.

He starts by explaining what leadership truly means, talks about bureaucracies, why there’s a crisis of leadership in America and what to do about that, how to learn to think for yourself, and why multitasking is a terrible thing. He then explains the true meaning of solitude and why there would be no America without it.

68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice by Kevin Kelly

The timeless wisdom of the founding editor of Wired magazine and author of the famous 1,000 True Fans theory in 68 bits that he has shared on his 68th birthday.

Some of my favorites:

“The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.”

“When someone is nasty, rude, hateful, or mean with you, pretend they have a disease. That makes it easier to have empathy toward them, which can soften the conflict.”

“Don’t be the best. Be the only.”

100 Things I Learned in 10 Years and 100 Reads of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations by Ryan Holiday

“Meditations” was one of the “quake books” for Ryan Holiday, just as it was for me back in 2015, shaking everything we thought we knew about the world.

In this article, Ryan reflects on what he has learned in ten years, with one of the greatest and most unique pieces of literature ever created.

Honorable mentions:


đŸ“ș Top 3 Videos I’ve Seen in 2020

Space: The Final Business Frontier

This mini-documentary is a part of a great series, “Gian Leap” produced by Bloomberg — the stories about entrepreneurs and visionaries taking that next Giant Leap and developing the entirely new industries in space.

It pairs well with the “Moon Shot” series, which explores some of the breakthroughs scientists are striving to achieve across multiple disciplines.

What Just Happened? by Casey Neistat

“So I woke up this morning, a 38-year-old guy, who is married and has three kids. When did that happen?”

In this important, and, as always, an incredibly high-quality video, Casey reminds us that time is not equal – the older you get, the faster it moves, and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might just miss it.

Richard Feynman: Fun to Imagine

Professor Richard Feynman is one of my biggest heroes. He was the greatest example of how someone can play the game of life and have fun while being one of the smartest and most accomplished people on the planet.

He was known as the ‘great explainer’ due to his ability to help non-scientists imagine something of the beauty and order of the universe as he saw it.

In this series, aired on BBC2 in July 1983, Feynman looks at the mysterious forces that make ordinary things happen and, in doing so, answers questions about why rubber bands are stretchy, why tennis balls can’t bounce forever and what you really see when you look in the mirror.

Honorable mentions:

  • You Will Never Do Anything Remarkable by exurb1a.
    “The greats didn’t know they were greats. They were just mortal humans who refused to bow to cynicism.”
    In this video, exurb1a talks about a few fascinating and remarkable people, including Sergei Korolev, who was grossly mistreated during his lifetime and largely still untalked of today, and Ignaz Semmelweis, who was an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures but was ridiculed by the medical community. He then explores what makes a great person of history and why you can definitely be one of them.
    “If one is cautious about pursuing an unusual path, it may help to remember that the cynics will be forgotten just as readily as your failures will be, too.”
  • The Future of Bioelectricity by Nasjaq
  • How Rockets Are Made — Rocket Factory Tour — United Launch Alliance

✹ Random things that made my year

  • TV: The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, Ted Lasso on Apple TV+, and Soul on Disney+ were the best things I’ve seen on TV this year.
  • Fitness: Rowing after the Hugh Jackman’s recommendation, Power Abs programs by Kari Pearce (Fittest American Woman ‘18 & ‘19), a modified hanging challenge, and the resistance bands training were the highlights of everything I’ve tried.
  • Health: I easily quit caffeine for a few months, learned that the weight loss on intermittent fasting comes more from muscle mass than fat mass, have finally done the Viome Health Intelligence test, dove into biotech and longevity in particular, and continued my multi-year streak of not catching the flu.
  • Travel: Even though there were fewer trips in 2020 than in any other year since 2012, I was lucky enough to explore a beautiful island of Sri Lanka with my family before the pandemic hit, spend my birthday in a gorgeous Casa de Calhariz estate (my new favorite place in Portugal), and get the taste of country living in the most picturesque suburb of Noordhoek in South Africa.
  • Products: My extremely tedious quest of finding the most comfortable pair of shoes is finally over, thanks to Atoms. And the most comfortable office chair award, as well as thanks from my back, go to AKRacing.
  • Learning: Decision by Design by Shane Parrish, The Biggest Ideas in the Universe by Caltech physicist Sean Carroll, and MITx: 16.00x Introduction to Aerospace Engineering were the most impactful courses I’ve taken this year.

That’s all for this year. You can find my collection of the best things from the previous year here: The Best Books, Podcasts, Articles, and Products Of 2019.

What were the best books, podcasts, articles, and videos that you discovered in 2020?

Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

If you enjoyed this post, consider joining “The Curious Letter” to occasionally get these types of recommendations directly in your inbox.

The Best Books, Podcasts, Articles, and Products Of 2019

Every Friday, I send a short email with a collection of the most fascinating finds from my week that includes books, podcasts, articles, videos, and more. I call it “The Curious Letter.”

Today is the last Friday of the year, and I’ve made a collection of the best three books, three podcasts, three articles, and three products that I discovered in 2019.

It was incredibly challenging to pick only three in each category, so I also added a few honorable mentions, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.

📖 Top 3 Books of 2019

1. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This fanfic by AI researcher and writer Eliezer Yudkowsky is the best book I’ve read this year, and it’s now in my top-30 books of all time.

It’s alternate-universe Harry Potter where Petunia has married an Oxford biochemistry professor, and young genius Harry grows up fascinated by science and science fiction. When he finds out that he is a wizard, he tries to apply scientific principles to his study of magic, with sometimes surprising results.

It’s not just a fanfiction, but also a platform where Yudkowsky bounces off complex ideas in a way that’s accessible and fun.

This book is brilliant and thought-provoking. You will laugh, you will want to cry, you will root for the characters. But more than anything, you will learn a lot.

As one of the reviewers said, “Anyone who is a Potter series fan and a rationalist, an economist, a libertarian, a devotee of reason and science, or just a nerd, will love this work,” and I couldn’t agree more.

I immensely enjoyed it in audio, but it’s also available in PDF, EPUB, and even as a podcast.

2. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

I thought a lot about whether should this book by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh or “Awareness: Conversations with the Masters” by Anthony de Mello take this spot.

Even though they are both masterpieces in their own right, “Peace Is Every Step” has had more impact on me this year.
It helped a great deal to go through a rough time, return to the fullness of the present moment, and gain back seemingly lost peace of mind.

It is a beautifully written book, a calming balm for the soul, and a rallying cry for compassion. If you’re looking for guidance in living a more mindful, peaceful life, and ready to see the world differently, read this.

3. Nonviolent Communication: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships

Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication helped me to reflect deeply on how I use communication in my everyday life. Its core ideas sound obvious yet hard to implement without very conscious effort.

Every time that we communicate with other people, we can either build a deeper connection, understanding, and compassion or simply ignore them and create further disconnection.

He argues that all frustration and anger are about unfulfilled needs; hence our communication should be about getting to the core of those needs. And even though it sounds simple and obvious, it turns out to be incredibly difficult, since we not only cannot properly communicate those needs but often we don’t even know what needs do we have.

This book may save the relationship you have, improve the future ones, and make your life much better as a result.


Honorable mentions:

  • Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall
  • Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To by David Sinclair
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David J. Epstein

 

đŸ“» Top 3 Podcasts of 2019

1. Naval Ravikant – How To Get Rich

That was the easiest pick of all because the sheer amount of wisdom packed into this episode is unmatchable by any other podcast known to me.

Even though it’s based on the tweet-storm from 2018, the podcast came out in 2019, and this updated version also includes all the Q&A episodes they did after the tweetstorm and 10 minutes of unreleased material on finding time to invest in yourself — at the end.

2. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – Supernova in the East (Part I, Part II, Part III)

Each episode of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is a masterpiece. He takes you deeper into the subject matter than you could’ve ever hoped for.
Dan’s meticulousness, attention to detail, and his way of diving into the episodes of history and re-contextualizing them in a way that modern listeners can relate to, make this a must-listen for history aficionados.

The “Supernova in the East” series tells the story of Imperial Japan’s side of World War II, it offers a different perspective on Japan’s role in the notorious events of the war, including the Rape of Nanjing and the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

3. The Tim Ferriss Show – Jim Collins – A Rare Interview with a Reclusive Polymath (#361)

Some of you may know that The Tim Ferriss Show is my favorite podcast. It was the first one I’ve subscribed to back in 2014, and I’ve listened to every single episode ever since.

This year, the most influential episode for me was Jim Collins’ interview.

They talk about tons of different fascinating concepts, including “who luck” – the luck of the right people that intersect your life plays in the journey, “the flywheel effect” – building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond (I even made the whiteboard notes about that and had it next to me during my three months in Mexico earlier this year), and many others.

3.1 The Portal – Tyler Cowen – The Revolution Will Not Be Marginalized

I’m going to cheat here by adding another podcast, but I have to include “The Portal” by Eric Weinstein.
It is one of my recent finds, and it has quickly become one of my favorite podcasts.

Every single episode is fascinating, thought-provoking, and makes you feel dumb as you appreciate the sheer scope of knowledge and intellect of Eric and his guests.

I’ve had to choose only one episode, and it’s a wide-ranging (it truly is) conversation between Eric Weinstein and Tyler Cowen – the economist, author of MarginalRevolution.com, and one of my favorite thinkers. It starts rather slow, but then the interview format turns into a brilliant conversation.


Honorable mentions:

 

📰 Top 3 Articles of 2019

1. The Story of Us – Wait But Why

Another easy pick for the top spot. Tim Urban’s Wait But Why is one of my favorite blogs, where each essay could easily be an excellent book on its own. His articles on procrastination, picking a life partner, AI, and, of course, the Elon Musk series, are absolutely brilliant, and my favorite reads on the internet.

“The Story of Us” series took him three years to write, currently has nine chapters, and appears to be his most ambitious project to date. He went deep into the “U.S. history, world history, evolutionary psychology, political theory, and neuroscience, through dozens of books, hundreds of datasets and articles, and into literally thousands of conversations” to write it, and I can certainly say the result was well worth it.

2. Rick and Morty and the Meaning of Life

“Knowing the truth, that nothing matters, can actually save you in those moments. Once you get through the terrifying threshold of accepting that, then every place is the center of the universe, and every moment is the most important moment, and everything is the meaning of life.” – Dan Harmon.

This essay by Daniel Jeffries goes insanely deep into the meaning of life through the lens of “Rick and Morty” (and yes, I obviously love that show) by asking the classical question that is at the heart of all the great stories throughout all time:

“Will you crumple in despair knowing the terrifying truth that life is totally meaningless, or will you saddle up the universe and strike out for a life of fun and adventure?”

P.S. You can start with this video by Will Schoder.

3. What the Hell is Going On? and Peter Thiel’s Religion by David Perell

These two long-form essays are remarkably well-written and present compelling arguments in a detailed way.

In “What the Hell is Going On?” David discusses how the shift from information scarcity to information abundance is reshaping commerce, education, and politics.

In the second essay, he is exploring the significance of religion through the lens of Peter Thiel – a person I’ve been particularly curious about this year. I’ve found an interesting introduction to Rene Girard and Mimetic Theory I wasn’t familiar with before, and lots of great points, such as:

“If you’re going to follow a role model, find one who you won’t compete with. Don’t look to your peers for answers. Find somebody in a different stage of life who you admire and respect. They should be somebody who defied the status quo and took an independent path.”

and

“When we pursue optionality, we avoid bold decisions. Like anything meaningful, venturing into the unknown is an act of faith. It demands responsibility. You‘ll have to take a stand, trust your decision, and ignore the taunts of outside dissent. But a life without conviction is a life controlled by the futile winds of fashion. Or worse, the hollow echoes of the crowd.”


Honorable mentions:

 

💎 The Best Products of 2019

1. Oura Ring

I’ve only got my hands on this ring this year, and I believe it’s the best and the most accurate consumer-level sleep tracker currently available on the market. It helped me immensely to understand better the importance of sleep and how my body works and reacts to certain activities so that I could have a better quality of life.

2. Waking Up app by Sam Harris (iOS, Android)

If you want to develop a real regular meditation practice or to level up your existing meditating experience, the guided 50-day course in this app is probably the best way to do so.

3. Notion

This year, I’ve finally organized all of my notes that were scattered between Apple Notes, Bear, and Google Docs, built an information-capturing system, and started building my second brain.

While there are dozens of apps you could do this in, after testing all of them, I’ve chosen Notion for its incredible flexibility, cross-device support, and powerful features.

What are the best books, podcasts, articles, and products that you discovered in 2019?
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

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