books - 2020

A list of books I read in 2020 - shorter than I would like but there’s nothing new about that.

There’s not a book here I wouldn’t recommend, though my particular favorites are Life on Air which is read by Attenborough himself and The Invention of Nature about Alexander von Humboldt.

At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell
The Strange Case of Rachel K by Rachel Kushner
The Chain by Ted Genoways
Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell
Pink Pigeons and Golden Bats by Gerald Durell

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
About Alexander Von Humboldt - my new hero. Climbed to the top of Mount Chimborazo in Venuzuela and noticed that the plants at high altitude had the same adaptations as the plants at higher latitudes. By looking at natures adaptations in this way, he kicked off the field of Ecology.
Relentlessly curious and prolific. A true inspiration.

Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller
Why Fish Don’t Exist is about David Starr Jordan, a scientist who collected, named, and organized thousands of different types of fish - an attempt by one man to tame the Chaos of Nature. His approach to taxonomy was hierarchical, nature being a ladder with a moral imperative attached to ascending the ladder - or sliding down it. It’s no surprise, then, that Jordan was a huge proponent of eugenics. The organization he started would go on to help legalize forced sterilization of what they termed the unfit of humanity. No surprise then, as Lulu points out in the book, that the one fish that Jordan chooses to name after himself is Agonomalus Jordani - agonomalus meaning without edges. No sides, for you get both.

Lulu worked on Radiolab and on Invisibilia - and the writing here has the same quality. It’s a book that leaps around; it’s about Jordan, about Lulu, about positive thinking, the repercussions of clinging to ideology.

A quote that she attributes to Yeats in the book sticks with me. “There is another world, but it is in this one”. And another by Charles Darwin - “There is grandeur in this view.”

Sum by David Eagleman
Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Lost City of Z (audiobook) by David Grann
White Darkness (audiobook) by David Grann
Life on Air (audiobook) by David Attenborough