2020 forced all of us to review our habits to face new necessities. Personally, it has been the year of rediscovery (of myself). Indeed, it is from the point I finished high school that I have put aside big part of my most constructive interests, in attempt to exploit any moment to put in practice all I have learned to that point.
But my empirical journey through the University of Life, for fruitful it has been in the last 10 years, was like a soup where I blended many good ingredients, with a delicious scent, but without that fundamental spice, that salt that, in my opinion, is represented by the nourishment for my mind.
As much as I try to remember, before the last year I haven’t considered to read at least a book that would not be a fictional. Somehow, for over a decade my hunger for readings stopped bothering me – if we exclude countless hours I spent browsing on Wikipedia.
Maybe because the situation of emergency of this year conceded me much more stability than did not do the hectic hell of the daily routine of the last 7 years, something similar to: wake up – work-work-work – go sleep, mostly consumed in the attempt of developing a career which, at the end wouldn’t have made me happy; or maybe because I learned to manage my time better, and to give again priority to my curiosity as main source of energy that always pushed me in projects of any kind, in any field… In 2020 I rediscovered the potential of reading as form of learning, beside leisure; and that made me stumble upon a dozen of books incredibly rich and interesting.
Our age is that in which we feel the weight of information overload. The amount of data and related sources is growing exponentially; we struggle to catch up with the speed with which information is born and evolves. Our minds cannot support such volumes at such velocity, but if you think that it happens because you are limited – you’re wrong. There are many factors which have made us believe, at one point in our life, many wrong things about ourselves and our intelligence. Traditional education system, the trolling phenomena within social networks, the difficulties into make choices about what to do, think and believe first are among them. Just to highlight some, many believes that:
– as adults, they learn less thank children because their brain is much less “plastic”;
– a data chart = scientific fact, absolute truth OR concoction to manipulate;
– we have too much to do, to dedicate some quality time to some activity if it does not make us achieve something with light speed;
– meditation and feeling management aren’t for everybody, so if one is emotional will never change;
– some communication barriers are impossible to break.
I can dwell about those and more prejudices we have on ourselves for a while. I have personally lived many of those biases and luckily, I managed to change my mind. Often it is not motivation, genius or versatility alone what makes us grow, but knowing how to feed our mind with care.
In this article, I would like to share with you and illustrate those which are the best 5 books that I read in 2020. Making a selection was difficult because I have learned a lot from a myriad of sources only this year; however, I decided for those that aim to seriously help people think better of the world and themselves, and any of those readings consider different features of human mind which, if improved, can radically change your quality of life for the best.
#5 The Dictionary of Body Language – Joe Navarro
This book is a collection of non-verbal clues and expands the previous writing of the same author: What Every BODY is Saying. Using body parts as index, it describes in details the contextual meaning of non-verbal behavior and their correlations and cultural differences. Just to give an example, did you know that there are at least 4 ways to cross your arms on your chest, and not all of them are a protective gesture? I found this book easy to read and it is interesting to know how much a person can tell us without really saying anything; however, if you consider it as a manual, it is easier to understand if you read the previous work, and if you are adding to your readings a bit of self-experimentation: what I do is trying many gestures described in the book in front of the mirror, to see how they look like; I watch videos where other experts comment on them; ultimately, I create a mental map so that I do not need to search for their meaning in my memory once my observation occurs, making it an effective tool).
Joe Navarro is an ex-FBI agent which specialized in non-verbal communication and lie detection. As mentioned, What every BODY is saying (which I read in 2019) is a good pre-reading before moving to this one, just to get acquainted with the topic. Since then, many courses and instructors started covering such a topic, however Navarro’s findings are supported by scientific research and years of experience at once; and a big plus is that The Dictionary of Body Language is very well structured.
This book is on the list because non-verbal communication plays a huge role in the way we communicate with people and how we feel around them. Rather than encouraging you all to become human lie detectors, I invite to have a curiosity toward the topic to improve your situational awareness at work and in life: knowing if you are saying something that either appealing or bothering your interlocutor can be helpful to build empathy and have better social relationships.
#4 The Only Skills That Matters – Jonathan Levi
This is about the journey that the author started years ago, when moved, by extreme needs to keep the pace of his classmates, started to investigate about how to improve his learning process, succeeded and eventually started to divulge the system he uses to read faster, recall information better and achieve a deep understanding of any type of subject. From this work, I have learned that we enormously waste the potential of our brain because we do not come across the right tools to overcome our “slow thinking”. In my case, being curious brought me to this reading after jumping from books to blogs to podcasts. The learning points here can seem quite obvious and, sure, you need the proper training to see results in your learning curve: hence it is up to you whether to invest on yourself or not. But the main takeaway here is how it reconsiders the way adults learns, the psychology behind – and what amazes me is that other than learning, the same concepts apply also to how adults make choices for themselves.
Jonathan Levi is the creator of “Become a SuperLearner” one of the most popular courses on Udemy, which also has been translated onto a book. Jonathan’s job is to train people to master techniques such as speed-reading and encoding information through visualization – two skills which combined together can be very useful if you are a professional struggling with doing an MBA in parallel (or, if like me, you just have a need to devour lot of information to both satisfy your curiosity and master a current skillset with upgraded knowledge). You can learn a lot about his methodology on the Superhuman Academy website.
Ok, but what is the only skill that matters? For that, you should read the book and find it out! The reason I recommend this reading is because the way it tackles adult learning, taking as example some skills which our ancestors used to survive. Having time to learn, and the frustration to do not remember information are two of the main blockers that makes people giving up on new hobbies or areas of expertise. The main takeaway is to learn what is challenging for you and what is frustrating, but also to transform a learning in a tool to achieve a goal, rather than the goal itself. However, when it comes to memory improvement, I recommend you wait for the #2 in this list.
#3 Factfulness – Hans, Ola & Anna Rosling
In a sentence: Factfulness is a masterpiece of critical thinking. It is an extraordinary way to get past our most common biases towards the reality of the world and it teaches how to navigate the maelstrom of information and data. The authors describe, in 10 principles, what does mean “Factfulness” – a new word which in my interpretation stays as mindful and curious critical thinking. The book itself is a fight to misinformation takes real examples from over the past century and anecdotes from the author’s life to demonstrate how big is misconception of worldwide issues, such as richness distribution and poverty. The ultimate goal of the book is to encourage people to understand what is behind charts and how to read between the lines of media news.
Dr. Hans Rosling was a well-known public speaker about the role of data in understanding the world but, before that, he has contributed to humanity by studying and fighting outbreaks of Konzo and Ebola in Africa and being committed on the front of economical development and poverty. With his son and daughter, Ola and Anna, he founded the Gap Minder foundation, which uses an innovative approach to combat global ignorance about topics such as richness distribution, poverty, education level.
You can check out for free the outcomes of their research here on Dollar Street: photos as data to kill country stereotypes, and eventually you can contribute to their cause!
The utmost ignorance of the world and the role of confirmation biases in our life have pushed me to include this book in my list. The reading is at simple as the takeaways, although it takes courage and resilience to change habits for better: but seeing the world more clearly can help us making better decisions for us and for society as well. Furthermore, it can help you overcome your disdain for charts and number, if you suffer from it.
#2 The Victorious Mind – Anthony Metivier
The Victorious Mind is a semi-biographical book where the author explains how he encountered memory and mindfulness tools, and how they literally saved his life and helped him to become successful. Anthony Metivier explores many memory devices which have been in use for millennia and now, more than ever, prove to be useful in growing our skills and knowledge – and let them never leave us. What is interesting about this reading is that the memory techniques which are described are applicable also for meditation paths: if you ever heard and maybe used Memory Palaces, probably you didn’t know that could be used to raise your mindfulness and confidence together with meditative techniques.
Dr. Anthony Metivier dedicated his life to understand the role of memory into our existence, and eventually developed his own learning method – the Magnetic Memory Method, out of ancient and yet most effective learning devices. As the book explores also how the Magnetic Memory Method has been developed through the years, much more wisdom is shared by Anthony’s personal struggle with psychotropic drugs, bad psychotherapy, lack of focus, bipolar disorder and alcoholism.
This book covers so much beyond the sole memory training that deserved a higher place in the list. The fact that what is shared by Anthony in his book is so personal brings me to advice it not only to those who struggle with learning and remembering, but especially with those who usually feel stuck in their life due to personal issues and tragedy. If a simple device as a Memory Palace can be more beneficial to fight conditions such as depression, it is definitely worth a try. And as a plus, I am a user of the MMM and it really boosted my cognitive skills beyond all expectations.
#1 – Autodifesa di Caino (Self-Defence of Cain) – Andrea Camilleri
The book number one for this year could not be something less dear to me than what is, at the same time, a soliloquy and a dialogue. But the very curious fact about the book is that was supposed to be a speech on-air, which has been published this way following the author’s death on July 2019. To be honest, I have read this masterpiece this year for the second time, and although would be very difficult to find it in another language than Italian, I invite you to look for it. Translating the title has been hard for me, hence the meaning is that “Cain defends himself”. The biblical Cain, the first murderer according to the Bible, is the protagonist and the narrator of the events. As the title suggests, it is a self-defence against the accusation he has been living ever since the Bible has been written. The 72 pages sees the author identifying himself in Cain and relive biblical and apocryphal versions of his relationship with God and the brother Abel; but make no mistake, to be a spiritual journey, is all introspective.
Andrea Camilleri (to me, the Maestro) is famous out of Italy for the popularity of the Inspector Montalbano, his most popular creation in the world. His detective stories have been adapted into a live-action series, and the books translated in many languages, granting to the Maestro a huge relevance. Few however knows that his passion was to be engaged in historical and philosophical literature.
Autodifesa di Caino / Self-Defence of Cain is an invitation to see things from the perspective of the other person, even when all the odds are against him or at its favour. It highlights how news and media have an influence on the social consciousness, sometimes for millennia; and how so often we do not understand the reasons behind an act of love because of our lack of empathy, but mostly because we are not living that emotion.
If you enjoyed my selection of reading: I am glad I have provided you with some nice suggestions and I have started in you some sparkle triggering you to read something new.
Now, I am curious about your best reading. What have you read during 2020? Who is the author? Why would you suggest this book to other? I will be happy to see you sharing your choices in the comment section below: after all, I need new suggestions for the upcoming year 😉
The picture are used purely for illustrative purposes.
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