Books of 2020 (non-fiction)

December 2020

2020 was a good year, at least in terms of books read. And I don’t think that the global pandemic had that much to do with it. I’ve read over 50 books, which is probably a record (it is at least since 2016 when I started to keep a list of the books I read). But I haven’t written many reviews. In this blogpost I’ll go over the non-fiction works that I’ve read, chronologically, and write some of my thoughts about them.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? - Caitlin Dought

Fun and gruesome. Ideal for children or as bathroom literature.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari

Overblown. It’s a crystalized liberal worldview, meant for self-assured, self-proclaimed progressives to read and agree with. There’s a baffling lack of nuance or anything remotely thought-provoking.

In Praise of Shadows** - Junichirō Tanizaki

Amusing essays on the importance of light or, more importantly, the lack thereof. And about the superiority of Japanese, rustic outdoor toilets.

War! What Is It Good For? - Ian Morris

Yet another all-encompassing history of humanity, but this time much more limited in scope, revoling around one hypothesis: war has, in the long term, made our societies more peaceful. In contrast with Harari, Morris’ story is much more empirical (except for the boring evolutionary chapter) and thus convincing.

The Bullet Journal Method - Ryder Carroll

Lots of interesting tips about how to organize your own notebook. I’ve found it really helps me be more productive, if I can just hang on. Oh, and my journal is always an ugly but functional ugly mess, in contrast to the fancy images you see online.

The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

A classic I’ve reread. Important but actually the least interesting marxist text I read this year.

Taal voor de leuk - Paulien Cornelisse

Short and amusing reflections on the Dutch language. Nothing special.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics - Carlo Rovelli

Layman’s introduction to physics. Does what it says on the cover.

De meeste mensen deugen - Rutger Bregman

The surprise of the year. I expected something similar to Harari but I was pleasantly surprised. Only the language and rigor left something to be desired, but that’s something I can hardly hold against it.

Pandemic! - Slavoj Žižek

A little pamphlet that came out in April, only after the WHO declared covid-19 a pandemic. In it Žižek tries to make sense of what is happening. Definitely need to be re-read in the future to see how it holds up.

Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason - David Harvey

In depth analysis of Marx’ Capital and the relevancy for todays economy. Tough nut, but worthwhile.

China: A History - John Keay

Since I was planning on travelling to China at the end of the year, I figured I should start digging into the history of the country. It’s vast, not just geographically but historically. I still have difficulty wrapping my head around it, but this book helped at least to get some of the large lines into my head.

The State and Revolution - Vladimir Lenin

A great book it turns out, about the role of the State in both bourgeois and revolutionary society, about the meaning of democracy in Lenin’s ideas and about ‘the withering away’ of the State. And still relevant today.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge

My ‘that one book I read because of the Black Lives Matter protests’. It was pretty good, and written from a British perspective, which is a little closer to home as a European than the American situation. Good and fast read.

Sad by Design - Geert Lovink

My dose of post-modernism. There was a lot of difficult to understand - if any meaning was actually present - filler, but there were also many good criticisms and propositions. I’d say a 5050 split, which is amazing for this kind of literature.

Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now - Jaron Lanier

Nothing new here, but maybe a nice read for those who are new to social media criticism. The nice thing is where he acknowledges he and his Silicon Valley collegues have made some huge mistakes in the early days.

Ze zijn ons vergeten - Peter Mertens

Book on the current corona-crisis by the chairman of the Belgian Workers’ Party. Good and accessible, as it should be.

The German Ideology - Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

Early work where Marx & Engels are exploring their ideas on history, dialectical materialism and (very early) communism. While some of it seems evident for us now, those ideas were pretty new and radical.

The Linux Command Line - William E. Shotts Jr.

Practical book on how to work with the command line in Linux, quite straightforward. Even though the book is almost ten years old, the beauty of bash is that it’s very stable and has proven its use for decades.

Four Futures - Peter Frase

An expansion on his article in Jacobin Magazine that I enjoyed. The book itself is an interesting mix of speculative futurism and leftist thinking, but I preffered it in its more condensed article format.

Belgische republikeinen - Els Witte

Quite a tough read, but very enlightening. Since I’m a republican myself (in the sense that I’m for a republic, as opposed to a monarchy) it’s extremely fascinating to read about the early years of my own country and how these radical thoughts formed the spark that made it possible. Also the later developments, building coalitions and movements with the working classes and the influence of early socialism is something that rarely gets much attention, while the genealogy of these is actually extremely important in understanding (and furthering) these causes.

Blackshirts and Reds - Michael Parenti

Interesting defense of orthodox marxism and communism. The role it played in the fight against fascism and how many of the critiques leveled against it, even from other leftists, are falling into the trap of anti-marxist propaganda. While there are moments it veers a little too much into the direction of possible soviet apologism, it’s a good counterforce against typical anticommunist propaganda.


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