The Best Things I Read in 2020

By Nat Eliason in Learning

Published or Updated on Jan 04, 2020

Well 2020 was certainly a crazy year. Despite the quarantining, I didn’t read as many books as I usually do. Too focused on work and other things maybe. 

But! I did read a collection of incredible things throughout the year, which I featured in my newsletter The Monday Medley

If you want great recommendations like these every week, definitely sign up if you haven’t already. 

Alright, let’s dive in.

My Best Articles

My Last Day at Growth Machine 

I spent most of the year working on setting up Growth Machine to run without me, so being able to hand the reins off to our new CEO Nora and take a step back was a huge moment of pride for me this year. 

This is the story of growing the company, challenges along the way, and how I set it up to run without me. 

Personal Leverage: How to Truly 10x Your Productivity 

This piece distills a process and principle that I've been thinking about in some form for years now. 

The Personal Leverage Loop is one of the most important processes to understand for growing any kind of business or entrepreneurial project. The more you can master it, and the faster you can move through it, the greater your success will be. 

How to Start a Blog that Changes Your Life"

This is the article I wish I'd had when starting my blog. 

I dispensed with the fluffy “how to buy hosting” advice since that’s not particularly helpful, and instead focused on what’s made this blog such a huge force for changing my life over the past 6 years. I hope you find it useful. 

Oatly: The New Coke

This is certainly one of the more incendiary and popular things I've written. 

It was fun to see how much play and interest this piece got, there are a couple things in it I should tweak if I rework it but I trust you to read the criticisms of it and decide for yourself what’s true. 

30 Year Thinking

Who are your 30 year friends? What are your 30 year skills? All good questions to ask going into the new year and as you decide what to focus on. 

The World of Health

Psychedelics as Anti-Inflammatory Agents 

Psychedelics may have some novel means of reducing inflammation, which would explain some of their evolutionary value (beyond the psychological benefits). 

One of my resolutions for 2021 is actually to do more psychedelics (in a reflective setting, not party setting) since the more I learn about them, the more benefit they appear to have for our bodies and minds. 

The Salt Scam 

For anyone still avoiding having salt in their diet or picking "low sodium" options, this is your article. The push for low sodium everything is almost as bad as the push for low fat everything. 

I’ve noticed feeling more energetic and overall better since I started salting my water more. 

The World of Myths

In Praise of the Gods (My #1 read this year)

A phenomenal article on the ancient wisdom we can find in religion as an increasingly secular society. 

I’d say the more you feel unreligious or atheistic you feel, the more you should read this article. 

“Rational insight is a powerful tool, and one of our worst excesses. When it becomes the only tool it brings about a mixture of certainty and naivety that makes minds brittle.”

The Tyranny of Ideas

We're all just fleshy idea vessels, replicating the memes thrust upon us. If you’re not careful, your audience or customers can begin to define your identity for you. 

The solution? Try to resist definition, try to continue to surprise your audience so they do not expect anything in particular beyond quality. 

The World of Work

Half-Assing it with Everything You've Got 

A fun and insightful look at how hard you should actually try on things, and why "try hards" and "slackers" both get it wrong. 

I think I always intuitively understood the “half assing it” philosophy in school, and it served me extremely well. I did the bare minimum to do just well enough on all the areas I didn’t care about, so I could focus on video games, and eventually, entrepreneurship. 

The Trouble with Optionality 

A fantastic article on the importance of committing to things instead of just "collecting options." 

I think this is one of those articles that everyone should read in their college career especially, since that’s where I’ve seen that mentality do the most harm. 

11 Reasons to Not Become Famous 

This was a rough and useful perspective on fame and audience building that really made me rethink prioritizing audience building and "being an influencer." It also made me take some lifestyle and security things a little more seriously. 

Climbing the Wrong Hill

Don't commit yourself too early to a "hill" to climb. Take some time exploring so you don't end up stuck on a local maxima. Great analogy from computer science for life, and why a bit of randomness always helps. 

Signaling as a Service

A must read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship. It really helps understand why some products do so well, and how you can bake core human desires into the things you’re building. 

Bullshit Jobs 

If you're doing one, maybe it's time to look for something new in 2020. And a surprising number of us are absolutely doing bullshit jobs. 

The World of Books

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

I liked this book so much I did a YouTube video on it and Neil and I did a podcast episode about it. Highly recommend it.

Never Split the Difference 

Also makes the cut as a must-read book from this year, and is the best book I've read on Negotiation.

Salt Fat Acid Heat 

This was a game-changing read this year on how to be a better cook.

The World of Society

The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millenial 

I re-read it this year and it's as great as ever. 

The line "Premium Mediocre is food that Instagrams better than it tastes" describes so many fake-good things in our lives now. It’s hard not to go to certain places or try certain things and not invoke this metaphor in your head after you’ve read the piece. 

Alcohol As a Social Technology to Check the Trustworthiness of Others

Why do we like getting drunk with people so much? It might be a semi-evolved method of quickly establishing trustworthiness. This is such an interesting perspective on social drinking that I really hadn’t heard before. 

Better Babblers 

As computers get more adept at pretending to understand something by "speaking the language," we'll have to get more and more skilled at discerning real understanding from babbling. And more importantly: we should try to reduce our own inclination to babble.

On Cultures that Build

Why don't we build the way we used to? What went wrong in society that killed our independent building spirit? And how do we escape the “appeal to management”? 

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop

This made the rounds during all the BLM protests, and has an interesting take on the "all cops are bastards" idea. A little extreme perhaps, but interesting nonetheless. 

The Use and Abuse of Witchdoctors for Life

Just because we can't explain the magic doesn't mean there isn't some kind of magic. I love the analogy of “gri-gri” and how we should think about things we don’t understand. 

The World of Business

Coinbase is a Mission Focused Company

This was some of the best business writing I've seen this year and was a bold move I suspect many companies will follow, either explicitly or behind the scenes. 

My favorite line from it that I keep coming back to: "We have people with many different backgrounds and viewpoints at Coinbase, and even if we all agree that something is a problem, we may not agree on how to actually go solve it."

Geeks, MOPs, and Sociopaths in Subculture Evolution

I loved this description of the different types of people who emerge from new subcultures, and even thinking about where you fall in the triad. Jobs for example would be the sociopath to Woz's Geekiness.

What Matters More than Your Talents 

Insights from Jeff Bezos on the important distinction between "gifts" and "choices." Gifts are easy to use and take advantage of. Choices are harder. 

Proof of X 

I love the idea of finding a way to "Strava-ify" other good habits and activities. I’d be so happy if someone made one for cooking. This is also closely related to the “signalling as a service” article linked above. 

The Rise of TikTok and Understanding its Parent Company ByteDance 

An in-depth look at the history of TikTok if you're as interested in it as I am. It’s a truly fascinating platform from the perspective of politics, technology, marketing, and more. 

V-Shaped Recovery for Me, L-Shaped Recovery for Thee

Why some companies are so better able to respond to the COVID recession than others. Interested re-reading this now given what we've seen play out since it was published.

The World of Life

Life is Short 

A sobering take from Paul Graham on just how short life is, and how intentionally we need to prune the bullshit to live the life we want. This is definitely one of those articles worth regularly re-reading. 

Ideas that Changed My Life 

An excellent round up of life-changing ideas from Morgan Housel. I wish more people published the ideas that have changed their lives, maybe I should. 

The Greatest Privilege We Hardly Talk About: Beauty

Racism, sexism, and other -isms certainly impact life outcomes, but wait till you see the stats on beauty. Very interesting take that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. 

You May Want to Marry My Husband and My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me

Read these if you wanna cry a little bit. 

The Modern Trap of Feeling Obligated to Turn Hobbies into Hustles

I realized this year that I really don’t have any hobbies that aren’t in some way “productive.” Is that bad? Not sure. 

How Will You Measure Your Life? 

An introspection inducing read from Clayton Christensen on how to think about what's really important.

The World of Media

Why the Media is So Polarized -- And How it Polarizes Us 

A great writeup from Ezra Klein on how the media has gotten more and more polarized and what that's done to our brains.

The Garden of Forking Memes: How Digital Media Distorts Our Sense of Time

I'd never considered this before but it's absolutely fascinating: the media we consume and what we focus on dramatically shifts our sense of time, along with our interpretation of so many narratives.

Bari Weiss NYT Resignation Letter 

This year we started to see a number of prominent centrist journalists resign from their newspapers or magazines in response to the growing polarization and decreasing quality of formerly respected institutions. Weiss's resignation letter was one of the most vocal examples.

A Tale of Two Talebs 

What a crazy piece about the "two Talebs," worth a read if you're a big fan of Taleb's books like I am.

Jump 

The pace at which information can spread now can do great good, but also great harm. "The question is not if a real war, in the physical world, can be started in this environment. We all know it can. Without some dramatic course correction, the question is only when."

The World of COVID

Obviously given everything that happened this year, I read a lot of COVID related articles. Here were my favorites.

Effects of Calcifediol Treatment and Best Available Therapy...

Fascinating study on the efficacy of administering very high dose Vitamin D to COVID patients. I’m extremely curious about how important Vitamin D levels are for COVID outcomes. It would certainly help explain why certain areas of the world, particularly Africa, have had dramatically better outcomes than others. 

Analysis of Vitamin D Level Among Asymptomatic and Critically Ill COVID-19 Patients... 

Just another study on how common vitamin D deficiency is among COVID patients.

This Overlooked Variable is the Key to the Pandemic

I didn't know about "k" and how it relates to "R0" until reading this piece, and it presents a lot of data I hadn't seen elsewhere on what makes COVID so odd compared to other viruses. 

It also helps give some insight into why the spread is so odd, and how we might be able to adjust behavior to protect ourselves from it. 

'I Was too Fat.' Boris Johnson Says Brits Must Lose Weight to Fight COVID-19

Imagine the outrage that would happen if a US politician said this, despite it being 100% true. We know how important other health factors have been for COVID mortality and survivability, so why doesn’t it get talked about more? 

Coronavirus Update: From an Unknown Unknown to a Known Unknown

This was great insight into why the market rallied so much during COVID. It’s a good explanation of the importance of fear and psychology in financial markets, and how even if we’re in a bad situation, simply understanding how bad it is makes a big difference. 

Footnotes

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