Best reads of 2020

2020. Of all the years I’ve been alive, this has been one of them. For a year of near constant lows at least there were some interesting things to read. Predictably, a lot of them are about politics but there’s still a range of things in there. It’s also quite US-centric and I want to diversify my focus in the upcoming year. Unfortunately, there were a lot of statistics, metascience, and philosophy of science papers I wanted to read but didn’t. I’ll hopefully catch up with them in 2021.  But since this year has carried on right where we left off, we’ll see how it goes. At least the absolute madness is consistent.

Culture

The Town That Went Feral by Patrick Blanchfield. An exploration of what happened when a town fully embraced libertarian ideals.

My Pronouns Are Not In My Bio by Christy DeGallerie. Why someone might not put their pronouns in their social media bios.

A Deeply Provincial View of Free Speech by Hannah Giorgis. A critical analysis of the letter signed by many public figures around free speech and open debate.

Hip-Hop Won’t Stop Protecting Alleged Abusers by Hannah Giorgis. How successful artists with a history of abusing women are protected in the rap game[note]This was released two weeks prior to the story of Megan Thee Stallion and Tory Lanez breaking.[/note].

English is not normal by John McWhorter. A comparison of English to other languages and how weird it is.

In America’s oil country, men losing their jobs are suffering in silence by Daniel Peña. As we (rightfully) transition away from fossil fuels, workers are left behind and suffer the consequences.

Twitter thread critically analysing the word Cancel Culture by Jonah S. Rubin. A cultural anthropologist deconstructs the ideas around the word ‘culture’ in ‘Cancel Culture’.

Blaming 2020 for our misery obscures the reasons why this year was wretched by Lea Ypi. A reminder not to fall into the mental habit (which I did) of referring to 2020 like it was some conscious entity causing our problems.

Fiction

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. A strange book but once you get into it, you’re absolutely hooked.

America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. A moving and gripping exploration of a Phillipino family’s lives in the Phillipines and California.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. One of the best books I’ve read in years.

History

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala. What it’s like growing up poor and black in the U.K.[note]If you haven’t heard Akala’s Fire In The Booth pt. 1 where he talks about his past, you need to listen to it.[/note]

The True-Life Horror That Inspired Moby-Dick by Gilbert King. A recounting of the ill-fated journey of the Essex and it’s crew.

Nature
This year wasn’t unprecedented. If anything, it set the precedent by Waleed Aly. How the devastating natural disasters are a predictable (and predicted but ignored) consequence of human behaviour.

Dear David Attenborough, beautiful Netflix documentary. But your ‘solutions’ destroy nature even more by Thomas Oudman. A Dutch ecologist explains why the Netherlands should not be held up as a paragon of environmentally friendly food production.

‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19? by John Vidal. A summary of how the actions of humans have lead to an increase in the number and deadliness of diseases.
Politics

How ‘Never Trumpers’ Crashed The Democratic Party by Perry Bacon Jnr. Analysis of the out-sized impact Republicans who left the GOP because of Trump have had on the Democrats and the political landscape.

No easy answers: why left-wing economics is not the answer to right-wing populism by Zack Beauchamp. A critical analysis of the charge that left-wing populism is the answer to right-wing populism.

What the police really believe by . A summary of research about how the police view their jobs and place in society.

Waste, Negligence and Cronyism: Inside Britain’s Pandemic Spending by Jane Bradley, Selam Gebrekidan, and Allison McCann. Analysis of how contracts in response to COVID-19 were given out in Britain.

Nonwhite Voters Are Not Immune To The Appeal Of Right-Wing Populism by Murtaza Hussain. An exploration of why Trump increased his share of the black and Latino vote.

The Tedium of Trump by Quinta Jurecic. What the never ending line of scandals Trump created means for how we understand him and how they should be reported on.

There are no good choices by Ezra Klein. How America’s fixation with individualism leaves them unable to deal with large-scale threats.

Is it Race or Class? Darrick Hamilton Showed Bernie the Answer by Kara Voght. A summary of Darrick Hamilton’s research into the importance of class and race when understanding society.

Science

Twitter thread on how to fund science without the traditional model by Michael Eisen. On the difficulties of financing scientific research outside of the current (broken) system.

Editorial: Antidepressant Prescriptions in Children and Adolescents by Michael P. Hengartner. A range of research exploring the prevalance and evidence-base for giving children and adolescents antidepressants.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect Is Probably Not Real by Johnathan Jarry. Another foundational idea in psychology is seriously challenged.

The battle over dyslexia by Sirin Kale. The best summary of the debate around dyslexia I have read yet.

The COVID-19 response illustrates that traditional academic reward structures and metrics do not reflect crucial contributions to modern science by Adam J. Kucharski, Sebastian Funk, and Rosalind M. Eggo. How the scientific response reveals we don’t value the most meaningful contributions within science.

Twitter thread on the problems with using tribalism as an explanation for modern difficulties by Jeff Lees. Why invoking tribalism to explain what is happening is the wrong level of analysis and doesn’t answer the more important questions.

Technology

Our health is all we have. But now Google wants it too by Phillip Inman. How COVID-19 risks increasing the amount of power large companies have with regards to our health-care.

The Loss Of Public Goods To Big Tech by Safiya Noble. A critical look at large tech companies roles in the COVID-19 response and how we need a paradigm shift to deal with our global problems.

In an Oligarchy, Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship by River Page. As hilarious as I found Trump losing his Twitter account, this succinctly points out what the consequences of our current political system mean for this.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff. This book changed how I approach technology and my digital privacy forever.

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