7 Books That Improved Life in 2020 (and Beyond)

Estimated read time: 8 minutes


Here are seven good books out of 20+ (also good) books I read this year — depending on how you count, some of these are trilogies / series.

Beyond the seven, I’ve organized the list in rough themes, some overlap of course.

Top 7

Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer.

Don’t go back to normal. Go to better. Reduce hurry. Ruthlessly. This book was easily my top book that I keep thinking about even though I began reading it right before lockdown, and it was a perfect companion.
Favorite quote: “Hurry is a sociopathic predator loose in our society.”


Master of One, Jordan Raynor.

This book covered a lot of familiar ground for me, but it was a good kick in the pants to get serious about mastery and stop being so darned scattered. Not only the why, but also very practical how-to. Raynor provides a kind of roadmap so you know where on the path you can pickup and move further into mastery.


The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch.

You have a few months to live. What is your message to the world, and more importantly, to your young children (who may not remember you)? Randy spent his last moments on earth mulling this over and shared what he learned living out his childhood dreams.
Favorite quote: “The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

Breath, James Nestor.

You — like me — probably think that you know how to breathe. Think again. I picked up this book thinking it might provide some helpful tips about breathing, but this could totally changed the way I breathe — especially during workouts and before sleep. Nestor digs through the counter intuitive science and millennia of lost ancient wisdom. (Learn the Navy Seals “Box Breath” technique they use during ops.)

The Dip, Seth Godin.

For any of you who are creators, entrepreneurs, or on a mission, you know about the Dip. It’s that place in the dark valley when you feel like giving up. This book provides a solid framework to navigate or even sometimes to quit the Dip.


Show Your Work, Austin Kleon.

I’m constantly second-guessing myself and even anxious about my emails and blog posts to you all. Well, artist-blogger Austin wrote a little pep talk for me. Perfect for my short attention span, finished it in half an hour and it shoots down my many excuses.



The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron.

I know. It sounds like pentagram, or something woo-woo. I thought so too. Amazing Grace and I have been in deep dive on enneagram. We’re shocked how little awareness we had of our own interior lives, let alone one another. This book provides a thorough overview of each type, providing tons of insight from childhood development to understanding how healthy you are.



Other Good Reads


Rocket Men, Robert Kurson.

Apollo 13 gets all the glory. But the story behind the Apollo 8 mission rocked my world. These astronauts made the first flight around the moon, in a mission that ripped up methodical plan in favor of a crazy 4-month sprint. Kurson is a masterful storyteller and I’m so glad I discovered him through Shadow Divers, the story of how some amateur divers discovered a lost WW2 U-Boat.


Development (Personal, Business, and otherwise)

Tribes, Seth Godin. 

Redux has always been about finding a Tribe. What I didn’t realize is that it requires someone to lead. I don’t consider myself a “leader” in the stereotypical figurehead, big headed way.
Favorite quote: “Leadership … is about creating change that you believe in.”


Achievement Habit, Bernard Roth.

Roth is one of the founders of the Stanford d.school — D for design. This book is dense with ideas and creative ways to deploy design thinking towards a bias for action. Roth draws from his experiments teaching and learning with his students, and personal anecdotes. Think of this as a one year course from design school condensed into a book.

Favorite quote: “Don’t get caught up in how you’re going to get it just right. That’s what causes people to shut down and never get started. Avoid the desire for perfection right out of the gate. Instead, tell yourself that you’re prototyping your screenplay or your dress. The final version can come later.”

How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb.

This book is a neuroscience and behavioral science deep dive into a wide range of topics that might crush your soul from day-to-day. Webb tackles everything from how to boost energy and brain function to bringing out the best in others.

Favorite quote: “You make the most of your brain’s talents if you adjust for the limitations of each system. That means creating the conditions for your deliberate system to function at its best, and recognizing when to slow down and come off autopilot.”

Free to Focus, Michael Hyatt.

Actionable as always with straight forward pointers to learn to chop things out and make sure each day is maximized. But more than that it’s a roadmap for how to move towards a more meaningful life — and more rest on top of it.

Favorite quote: “If you design your life so that you spend most of your time working on things you are passionate about and proficient at, the discipline to do those things comes easily.”



Everyone Always, Bob Goff.

Bob is a crazy man who brings balloons to war torn Syria and desperate children in Uganda, and then somehow gets world leaders to sit together and talk. He’s also full of stories about how true love changes the world.

Favorite quote: “I had flown two thousand feet over the highest mountaintops because I wanted to be safe; these (fighter) pilots flew through the valleys because they wanted to get better.”

Renovation of the Hearth, Dallas Willard.

This is a deep dive into what it means to follow Jesus and how character formation gets worked out. It’s pretty dense reading, but Willard fills the pages with tons of insightful gems.

Favorite quote: ““A carefully cultivated heart will, assisted by the grace of God, foresee, forestall, or transform most of the painful situations before which others stand like helpless children saying “Why?””



Forward Collection, N.K. Jemisin.

This is a collection of short stories where each one is based around a look at the future of technology. From quantum mechanics, to artificial intelligence. Each one is a mind warp and really fascinating to catch a glimpse of possible outcomes/consequences. Last I checked, it’s also free to borrow if you’re an Amazon Prime member.


Star Wars Trilogy, Timothy Zahn

I didn’t believe my nephew when he told me Disney ruined the Star Wars story line. He was right. This trilogy was originally part of the authorized cannon. But Disney disavowed them after they bought the franchise. These stories pick up five years after the first movies with the original crew: Han is married to Leia, Luke training Jedi, Chewbacca doing his thing. The main villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn is a much more nuanced character who is a ruthless and brilliant tactician that leads through attracting loyalty rather than outright Darth Vader style fear.

Favorite quote: “Concentration, focus, long-term thinking—those are the qualities that separate a warrior from a mere flailing fighter.”

Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I’d read The Hobbit three times and loved it, but always felt I didn’t have time to wade through Lord of the Rings. I’m still boggled by the intricacy of Tolkien’s world making.

Favorite quote: ‘The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman.

This anthology of short stories is a mind bending journey. It wouldn’t occur to me to call this horror exactly, not in the gruesome kind of bloodfest. But there’s much darkness, but not for darkness sake but for elucidating the human condition.

Favorite quote: “Where there’s a monster, there’s also a miracle.”


The Wholeness of Father Brown: The Complete Collection of Detective Mysteries, G.K. Chesterton.

Where Sherlock Holmes is about looking at evidence, Father Brown is about understanding the interior of the criminal’s minds. The priest-detective is afterall in the habit of hearing all sorts of confessions, so he has some insight into all kinds of evils humans are capable of. Sherlock is kind of flashy and prone to mood swings. Father Brown is even keeled, quiet, and unassuming. A very unlikely detective indeed.

Favorite quote: “You see, I had murdered them all myself…. I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully. I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”


Team Sport

I’ve also rediscovered that reading can be better as a team sport. Amazing Grace and I have read a few books together in the past.

However, during the lockdown, we’ve been intentional about reading some books at the same time.

This has been huge for a several reasons:

  1. We get to externally process the book and discuss stuff that stands out. Often the same points resonate, and that’s a great way to reinforce.
  2. Sometimes different things stick out to Amazing Grace, and that’s extra helpful because that adds depth to the experience.
  3. What if we’re not interested in the same stuff? That’s OK, take turns picking books. You’ll likely be surprised. There’s never any obligation to finish. No guilting or pressure.
  4. No more awkward silences at date night. Sometimes in the busyness of kids, work, and other daily grit, we might get disconnected from one another. And sometimes it might be difficult to actually find things to talk about besides the kids or work. Reading a book together provides a nourishing common ground and bridges the gap that can sometimes sneak into a marriage.
  5. Taken together, all these add up to a sense of nurturing one another and growth and progress in a marriage.


Thriving in Love and Money, Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn.

Finances can be such a touchy subject, and then especially sometimes a tripwire in marriages. This book is a culmination of years of extensive surveys to understand how best to communicate and strengthen marriages not in spite of but through better understanding one another’s’ values.


And if you’re not married, reading books together works just as well with a friend or two. A group of friends from our church group read Lord of the Rings together and it was illuminating to chat and even trade funny insights.

Family reading is fun and bonding as well. We read together a lot, starting with each morning and evening.

On weekend mornings we started reading novels together, and now it’s something special we all look forward to. We just finished:

Kingdom’s Dawn, Chuck Black. Knights, swords, quests, evil enemies, this book has it all. The story is well written, easy to read, and each chapter has a few discussion questions in the back to aid reflection, discussion and more critical thinking. Black is a former captain and Air Force F-16 fighter pilot and tactical combat communications engineer so he knows all about missions and adventure and weaves a wonderful story. Chuck is also a father of six kids, so he knows what it takes to capture attention. This series of six books grew out of his desire to share a parable that would captivate his kids. For those of you in The Way, the protagonist also serves as an allegory of Biblical narratives.

You , Me, We, Erin Jang.

This one’s not a conventional book. More of an invitation to creativity and bonding opportunity with your kid. Each book is actually two books. One for you, one for the little. You take turns filling out matching pages and then compare what you wrote/drew. Scout loves doing these together, and would have done the entire thing in one sitting. But I wanted to savor the excuse to just sit and have a good laugh with him.

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