Best (Not So International) Books of 2020

For a blog full of international (fiction) books , I realize that this post is very US centered as well as solely focused on non-fiction. 

I still decided to post it though, for two reasons. 

The first one being that a couple of the books fall in the category ‘Life is Stranger than Fiction’ and take you to different worlds and ancient times. 

The second one is that I spend quite a lot of time discussing books with friends (including these ones), which made me think that they could be of use to some people. 

Note that the list is not sorted in any particular order. 

1. The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt – Andrea Wulf

Von Humboldt, born in 1769, has an impressive CV. 

He discovered 2,000 new plants from the Amazon when only 6,000 plants were known, he met or had close relationships with Thomas Jefferson, Simon Bolivar, Johann Wolfgang Goethe and King Frederick William III of Prussia, and traveled to Ecuador, Cuba, Mexico, The US and Russia (remember this is the 18th century, there were no planes yet). 

This book takes you on all of Humboldt’s adventures, teaching you about history through the eyes of a remarkable  individual. 

This and some other books reminded me a lot of Sapiens. If you like these type of reads, check out the best books like Sapiens

2. Never Split the Difference – Chris Voss

Knowing how to negotiate is not a skill that comes easy to most people. 

Some individuals tend to be too aggressive (the ‘winners’ mentality) and others are two friendly, causing them to start the negotiation with their final offer, because they believe that’s the fairest outcome. 

Despite this book being one of the most famous books on negotiation skills, I was skeptical at first. I thought it would lack practical tips and be like any other self-help book, but it turns out to be quite the opposite. 

Never Split The Difference contains lots of practical tips, describes different personality types in negotiations, teaches you how to better prepare for meetings and shows that negotiations are conversations where two parties are looking to come to a mutual agreement (as opposed to one person trying to get the most out of the situation). 

3. Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker

Fascinating book about the importance of sleep by one of the world’s leading neuroscientists. 

The title may not sound that exciting, but I’ll guarantee you that the content will break some of your deeply rooted beliefs about sleep.

4. Hallo Witte Mensen – Anousha Nzume

Two things that 2020 will definitely be remembered for are Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter (BLM). The BLM discussion started in the US after the killing of George Floyd, but quickly spread to other countries. A first reaction for many people in the Netherlands may have been to say: “Yes, but that’s the US. It’s not like that here”. However, I think that response misses the point. There’s definitely (systematic) racism in the Netherlands and although its particular features may differ, it is important to recognize that racism exists to be able to solve the problem. For me, this book was a first step in that direction. I knew I probably had some (or a lot) of blind spots and this book opened my eyes to some of them. 

‘Hallo Witte Mensen’ was written by a Dutch woman with a Russian mother and Cameroonian father. Although it’s always difficult to fully understand someone’s feelings when you’re not in their shoes, the author’s personal story helps seeing these issues through her eyes. The book also uncovers many uncomfortable truths, but does so in a compassionate manner. The main eye opener for me was that white (Dutch) people often get defensive when being confronted with the injustice of racial matters. This inability to listen prevents constructive discussions, which is a much needed first step to be able solve this issue. This book is only available in Dutch unfortunately.

5. Models – Mark Manson

Modern dating is not always easy, especially during a time of constant lockdowns. 

This book is a very down to earth guide to dating, taking the first step, and building confidence by investing in yourself, brought to you by the guy who wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

6. The Almanack of Naval Ravikant – Eric Jorgenson

Naval Ravikant is a famous US based investor and tech entrepreneur. 

Just google the guy and you’ll find tons of information about him. Naval is also active on twitter and last year, one of his tweetstorms about getting rich got a lot of traction. 

Eric Jorgenson (the author) saw this tweet and decided to get to the bottom of every single line by researching anything Naval had ever said. The result is this book, combining all the tweets with their underlying info. 

The Almanack is divided in two sections: Wealth & Happiness. I personally found the first section the most interesting, because Naval obviously built a lot of wealth. 

The book can be found for free on Eric’s website.

7. Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice – Mark J. Plotkin

This is definitely one of  my favorite books from 2020. 

Mark Plotkin applied for a laboratorium job at Harvard, to find himself deep in the Amazon jungle only a few months later, and – I know it’s a cliché, but – the rest is history. 

Mark Plotkin is a leading ethnobotanist and expert on rainforest ecosystems and shares his life story through his stays with different Amazonian tribes. And although this description is a bit dry, there’s so much magic and mystery to be found in this book that it reads like fiction, even though it’s not. 

8. Oblivion: A Memoir (El olvido que seremos) – Hector Abad

A beautiful story about a relationship between a father and son during a violent period in Colombia’s history. 

Hector’s father, a university professor and prominent civil right activist won’t be silenced by anyone until he has to pay for it with his life. 

It took Hector Abad (his son) 20 years before he found the courage to write and publish this work.


I hoped you enjoyed these books and found something useful. 

If you want info like this on a regular basis, sign up for my newsletter!

If you’re more of a movie fan, check out my post on the 10 Best International Movies of 2020

Sign up for our newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cultural Reads

Sign up for books, movies & music tips from all around the world!