These are the 40 books we found represent the year best in one way or another. They help us make sense of the challenges 2020 has presented us with, understand the depths of the existing cracks it has exposed in our society, and offer solutions to solve the many truly monumental challenges we face—together.
2020 has been a year we will all remember, even if most of us would prefer to forget it.
One shining light throughout it all has been the quality of the year’s books, which have been just as unforgettable as the year itself. So many of them, even though they were written before the pandemic struck, have helped us make sense of what has transpired since it did—helping us understand how we got here, where here really is, who we really are, and how we can move forward together on the other side.
It has been a hard year for most of us personally, and for our businesses. The pandemic has made us less safe and secure, less resilient and less prosperous. But so—we have learned—does monopoly, political instability, income inequality, police brutality, racism, misogyny, discrimination based on religion and sexual orientation, and business models based on surveillance instead of service. Even before COVID-19, they all were contributing to make us less safe and secure, less resilient and less prosperous as a society.
We all yearn for a return to normal, to business as usual, but we also know now more than ever that what we considered “normal” wasn’t working for everyone. It was broken systemically, breaking us apart socially, and breaking us down individually. It is time to upend business as usual and find a new way forward.
We believe in books, and in their power to help us do so, to help us (and future generations) make sense of these unprecedented times, to help us proceed with courage and empathy, to rebuild not just the economy, but the very foundations of a more just economy. We believe in the independent businesses and businesspeople going to work every day to do that work, to rebuild, revive, and renew our communities and promise.
One other thing we’ve learned this year is that page-turning is much better than doom-scrolling—for both our understanding and our anxiety levels—so let’s get to it. These are the 40 books we found represent the year best in one way or another. They help us make sense of the challenges 2020 has presented us with, understand the depths of the existing cracks it has exposed in our society, and offer solutions to solve the many truly monumental challenges we face—together.
Image by Gabbi Cisneros.
LEADERSHIP & STRATEGY
- Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World by Jacqueline Novogratz, Henry Holt and Company
- Mission Metamorphosis: Leadership for a Humane World by Robin R. Ganzert, PhD, Fast Company Press
- Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future by Margaret Heffernan, Avid Reader Press
- Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath, Avid Reader Press
- When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America's Obsession with Economic Efficiency by Roger L. Martin, Harvard Business Review Press
MANAGEMENT & WORKPLACE CULTURE
- After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back by Juliet B. Schor, University of California Press
- Better Business: How the B Corp Movement is Remaking Capitalism by Christopher Marquis, Yale University Press
- Inclusive Conversations: Fostering Equity, Empathy, and Belonging across Differences by Mary-Frances Winters, Berrett-Koehler Publishers
- The Leader's Guide to Unconscious Bias: How To Reframe Bias, Cultivate Connection, and Create High-Performing Teams by Pamela Fuller & Mark Murphy with Anne Chow, Simon & Schuster
- Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader's Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You by Frances Frei & Anne Morriss, Harvard Business Review Press
MARKETING & SALES
- Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans by David Meerman Scott & Reiko Scott, Portfolio
- Frictionless: Why the Future of Everything Will Be Fast, Fluid, and Made Just for You by Christiane Lemieux with Duff McDonald, Harper Business
- Killer Visual Strategies: Engage Any Audience, Improve Comprehension, and Get Amazing Results Using Visual Communication by Amy Balliett, Wiley
- Obsessed: Building a Brand People Love from Day One by Emily Heyward, Portfolio
- Selling Naked: A Revolutionary Approach to Launching Your Brand Online by Jesse Horwitz, Currency
INNOVATION & CREATIVITY
- The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work by Natalie Nixon, Berrett-Koehler Publishers
- The Creator Mindset: 92 Tools to Unlock the Secrets to Innovation, Growth, and Sustainability by Nir Bashan, McGraw-Hill
- How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs by Guy Raz, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Launching While Female: Smashing the System That Holds Women Entrepreneurs Back by Susanne Althoff, Beacon Press
- The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin, Portfolio
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT & HUMAN BEHAVIOR
- Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman, Simon & Schuster
- Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age by Bruce Feiler, Penguin Press
- Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad, Sourcebooks
- Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek H. Murthy, MD, Harper Wave
- Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, Riverhead Books
CURRENT EVENTS & PUBLIC AFFAIRS
- Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy by Margaret Sullivan, Columbia Global Reports
- Head, Hand, Heart: Why Intelligence Is Over-Rewarded, Manual Workers Matter, and Caregivers Deserve More Respect by David Goodhart, Free Press
- Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power by David Dayen, The New Press
- The Tangled Web We Weave: Inside The Shadow System That Shapes the Internet by James Ball, Melville House
- The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again by Robert D. Putnam with Shaylyn Romney Garrett, Simon & Schuster
NARRATIVE & BIOGRAPHY
- The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask, St. Martin’s Press
- Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City by Wes Moore with Erica L. Green, One World
- Girl Decoded: A Scientist's Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology by Rana el Kaliouby with Carol Colman, Currency
- Once a Warrior: How One Veteran Found a New Mission Closer to Home by Jake Wood, Sentinel
- The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, One World
BIG IDEAS & NEW PERSPECTIVES
- Accountable: The Rise of Citizen Capitalism by Michael O'Leary & Warren Valdmanis, Harper Business
- The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy by Stephanie Kelton, PublicAffairs
- The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Women's Empowerment by Linda Scott, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health—and How We Must Adapt by Sinan Aral, Currency
- Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire by Rebecca Henderson, PublicAffairs
Thanks to all the authors who wrote these books (and so many other books it pained us greatly to leave off the list), and to all those working at every imprint in every publishing house—now often in your home or in a warehouse that looks vastly different than it did at this time last year. We appreciate all you do to keep putting more books and ideas into the world.