Best Books of 2020

Jeez, I didn’t do a “State of the Dread” for this month AND NO ONE NOTICED. That’s blogging for you.

Anyway, 10 books made the list this year, and only two were fiction. Two of the nonfiction were biographies about the Civil War, focusing on generals on different sides. Quite fascinating. Here’s the list.

1: HILLBILLY ELEGY by JD Vance

Originally a recommendation from the Andrew Luck Book Club, I picked this one up from the library audio app and gave it a listen whilst hauling acid in January. It’s a jarring insight into the life of J.D. Vance, a guy who’s only a year or two younger than me, who grew up in hick country back in the Midwest.

He would go on to serve in the Marines and get a law degree at an Ivy League school. This book had particular significance for me because one side of my family comes from the exact location and demographic that he describes, and it helped me to understand that side of the family a lot better.

I covered it in episode 103 of the BTBC.

2: STILLNESS IS THE KEY by Ryan Holiday

Stillness is the Key — Calm Blog

I’ve become a big fan of Ryan Holiday’s work since discovering THE DAILY STOIC in 2016, and it’s been a delight to get into his backlist. The audio for this one also came from my local library.

Holiday dives into the lives of successful people and examines how stillness, calmness, and the ability to self-analyze without explosive emotional responses is the best way to accomplish great things in life. The section on Tiger Woods alone was mind-blowing to me, and a very good cautionary tale.

In addition to SITK, I purchased a paperback of PERENNIAL SELLER by him, and was likewise impressed, but I didn’t want to saturate the best-of-year list with more than one title from the same author.

Covered on episode 106 of BTBC.

3: DINOTOPIA by James Gurney

Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time by Gurney, James | eBay

INCREDIBLE ARTWORK, HOLY CRAP!

That’s all I want to say about it. This is a visual book and must be experienced with your eyes.

Covered on ep 107 of the BTBC.

4: THE DINOSAUR ARTIST by Paige Williams

The Dinosaur Artist : Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth¿s Ultimate Trophy by Paige ...

Another nonfic audiobook that I listened to whilst hauling acid in the post-C*vid lockdown of the spring, out in the Nevada wilderness. I wrote about it here.

Also covered it on ep 111 of the BTBC.

5: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Far too many multi-year sequels or prequels or tie-ins have been disappointing of late. Many times it’s the author trying to retcon Current Year sociopolitics into a popular world of Yesteryear as an apology to the Woke Mob.

Fortunately Collins isn’t all about that, she actually gives a damn about characters and story in their true sense. The 64-year prequel to THE HUNGER GAMES was incredible and beautiful and moving, everything I’ve come to expect from her stories in this vein.

Schaara and I covered it on this special episode of the BTBC.

6: WHY WE DRIVE by Matthew Crawford

Why We Drive Audiobook by Matthew B. Crawford - 9780063015685 | Rakuten Kobo United States

Crawford has made my best-of-year lists before, and with this book he was like “I’LL ****IN’ DO IT AGAIN!”

You want to know why I love to drive, and why I’m against robot cars and Big Tech? Jump in.

Covered on ep 113 of the BTBC.

7: A HOBBIT, A WARDROBE, AND A GREAT WAR by Joseph Loconte

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You probably knew that Tolkien and Lewis fought in the trenches of WW1 together, and later penned two of the biggest fantasy series of the 20th Century.

You need to read the story behind the story, especially of Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, and the role that Tolkien played in that journey.

Somehow I didn’t cover this one on the podcast, I must have finished BTBC before finishing this one.

8: WINTERDANCE by Gary Paulsen

Quick Book Reviews: "Winterdance" by Gary Paulsen - The Race Against Nature

It’s hard for Paulsen not to make my best-of lists, especially with his personal memoirs. In this case, his adventures running the Iditarod are mind-numbing, and the things he learned (both technically and spiritually) just blew me away. The man is harder than I’ll ever be.

This book covers his first attempt at it. He ran it twice before medical issues sidelined him for the rest of his life, and he talks about all that in the epilogue.

9: REBEL YELL by S.C. Gwynne

Rebel Yell Audiobook by S. C. Gwynne, Cotter Smith | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster ...

Funnily enough, I was only listening to this one as research for a character in a future DreadVerse story. And he’s not going to be a huge character necessarily, just an antagonist in a one-off story featuring Atlas and Razor.

However, Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was such a fascinating figure that I found myself excited to turn this book on every time I was at work. Gwynne is now on my list of biographical authors that I want to read more of.

Stonewall Jackson, despite fighting for what was ultimately the wrong side of a moral conflict, was himself an incredible man. My personal takeaway after reading of his grit, his drive, and his exploits, was that it was necessary for him to die in order for the North to win the war. He was just too formidable.

Even as impressive as Robert E. Lee was in terms of his military command, Jackson was the more daunting foe for the Union to face. At least that’s my opinion after reading REBEL YELL.

Bonus: for a really cool audio recreation of what the rebel yell sounded like, take a few minutes to listen to this video.

10: GRANT by Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow - Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures

This marks the second Chernow bio I read in 2020, the first being TITAN, about John Rockefeller. I had also listened to a couple of audio-bios about different founding fathers (like Aaron Burr) and decided to put together a list of books to read about early US Presidents.

Grant wasn’t technically “early”, but having read Chernow’s books on Hamilton and Rockefeller, and having just read REBEL YELL, I decided to bump GRANT to the head of the list.

At the time of this writing I am only halfway through the book. While I will finish it this year, I’m confident that it will make the list, given Chernow’s adept writing and handling of his subject. He’s fair and genuine, going so far as to accurately recount Grant’s poverty, his poor judgment with the character of other men, and his alcoholism, contrasted alongside his impressive military successes.

Grant wasn’t a superman in the same way that George Washington was (and Chernow also has a book about him), he was more of an everyman who turned out to be the right guy at the right time.

I mean, this dude had a dozen failed business ventures and was SELLING FIREWOOD ON THE STREETS OF SAINT LOUIS, then went on to win the Civil War and become President twice. Beat that.

That’s it for this year, a few honorable mentions include:

LATE BLOOMERS by Karlgaard

THE WASHINGTON HYPOTHESIS (and its companions about Lincoln and the Pilgrims) by Timothy Ballard

MECHA SAMURAI EMPIRE by Peter Tieryas

SILVER STATE CRYPTIDS by David Weatherly

MINE WERE OF TROUBLE by Peter Kemp

and I AM DEBORAH SAMPSON by Patricia Clapp.

Hope you all had a great year reading, see you in 2021.