My Favourite Books of 2020

In a turbulent, uncertain year filled with terrible news all around, books have been a great source of comfort for me. They were the escape from the reality of lockdowns and persistent pandemic news cycle. 

Readers of this blog know that I lean mostly towards non-fiction and this has been the case with 2020 as well. One habit that I picked up in 2020 is to not feel guilty to quit a book midway if I didn’t find it interesting. There are so many good books out there that the opportunity cost of reading a terrible book is far higher than the actual cost of the book. (Not applicable to UPSC books that aspirants have to read 🙂)

The following are my favourite reads of 2020. I loved these books for their writing, wit and insight. 

Good books of 2020

10. Food Rules — Michael Pollan

The book that had the biggest impact on my eating habits. Food science is one of the most controversial and complicated branches of science. But for many of us who just want to eat healthy, complicated jargon such as Keto, Trans-Fat, Paleo, gluten-free and so on is just off-putting. The book makes the case that food advice need not be complicated. In fact, the author summarises the whole book in a short phrase of 7 words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Another rule that has stayed with me: If the food comes wrapped in a package with list of words that you don’t understand, or it makes health claims like ‘zero-fat’, ‘zero-sugar’, ‘lite’ and so on, most likely it’s bad for you. I lost the count of number of times this rule helped me decide what to avoid in my diet. The book is a series of such simple instructions to help you make informed decisions on what to consume. You will love it for its brevity and simplicity.

“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Imagine your great-grandmother at your side as you roll down the aisles of the supermarket. There are now thousands of foodish products in the supermarket that our ancestors simply wouldn’t recognize as food. The reasons to avoid eating such complicated food products are many, and go beyond the various chemical additives and corn and soy derivatives they contain, or the plastics in which they are typically packaged, some of which are probably toxic. Today foods are processed in ways specifically designed to get us to buy and eat more by pushing our “evolutionary buttons—our inborn preferences for sweetness and fat and salt. These tastes are difficult to find in nature but cheap and easy for the food scientist to deploy, with the result that food processing induces us to consume much more of these rarities than is good for us. The great-grandma rule will help keep most of these items out of your cart.”

9. Of Counsel — Arvind Subramanian 

I loved this book both for Subramanian’s writing style and the interesting insights that he shares on the Indian economy. It’s less of a memoir and more of an intellectual discussion on the pressing economic issues facing the country. Nevertheless, it gives a glimpse on the workings of the Finance Ministry, how policies are made, negotiated and implemented. It’s one thing to propose a policy for your PhD and entirely another proposing it to a politician and getting it ratified through a democratic set-up. The protests we are witnessing against the farm laws is a case in point to show how bitter, difficult and rancorous policy making really is. Read it to get an insider perspective.

Indian development experience, certainly in the last thirty to thirty-five years, has been driven by services, and that’s special. We have specialized in IT-related services that are highly skill-intensive, and even Korea and Taiwan today—at much higher levels of income—have not done this. The other way of understanding this precocious model is that in some ways, India is trying to grow and develop not by worshipping or deifying its comparative advantage but by defying it. We have a lot of unskilled labour but we are not using it; we are using much more of our skilled labour.

8. Americana — Bhu Srinivasan

I picked up this book during the American Presidential elections to get an understanding of the country and how it came to be what it is today. Unlike traditional history books which are organised chronologically, this book takes the reader through the American capitalism by talking about specific economic goods. From cotton to canals, automobiles to mobile phones, Vanderbilt to Bill Gates, the book is a masterful storytelling of  American economic history from its foundations to the current day. And from that history of innovation and industry, there is a lot India could learn.  

“Without Venture Capital, the Silicon Valley of the US wouldn’t exist. Just as ventures to the New World needed more than ships and sailors, the financing mechanism of start-ups is central to their formation. As most new businesses fail, saying start-ups have a very high rate of failure is by itself not particularly revelatory. But a start-up is not a small business. A start-up is designed from the beginning to either become very big or completely fail—the modern-day equivalent of an uncertain, cross-ocean voyage to the New World as opposed to, say, a predictable, moderately profitable seventeenth-century trading voyage from London to Amsterdam. Stakeholders in a start-up are more interested in increasing the potential magnitude of a spectacular outcome than in bettering the probability of modest returns. Thus, the financial ecosystem’s willingness to accept a high risk of capital loss made venture capital accessible to outliers and eccentrics.”

7. Bad Money — Vivek Kaul

On a dreary and dense topic like banking and credit, Vivek Kaul manages to write an engaging book that touches on a diverse set of topics: history of Indian banking, the political-business nexus, the economic reforms, its aftermath and the like. It’s part history and part economy— all told in simple language without jargon. The book really drives home the importance of competent, independent regulation and what happens when oversight fails. 

“… the ideal debt to equity ratio (i.e., the ratio of the money borrowed by the promoter to the promoter’s money invested in the business) should not be over 2:1. This means that for every one rupee that a promoter puts into the business, he shouldn’t borrow more than two rupees. The promoter putting money into the business is important because it ensures some ‘skin in the game’ from his end … In some cases, the promoters barely had any equity in the project. Let’s consider a project, X, in which the promoter was supposed to invest his fair share. He does that. The trouble was that the money he put into project X as equity was money borrowed from another bank for another project, Y. The banks financing projects X and Y did not know about this and the promoter ended up putting very little of his own money into the project. Hence, if any of these projects got delayed or lost money in any other way….the banks were on the line almost immediately.”

6. The Body — Bill Bryson

Expansive, thoughtful and entertaining. Bryson infuses science writing with his traditional humour making it such fun to read. The book made me realise how much I take my body and health for granted. With interesting stories and startling statistics, this book made me marvel at the incredible evolutionary machine we all have.  The chapters on brain, breath, sleep, and disease are fascinating. In the year that global health was at its most precarious, I found this book to be a wonderful reminder to cherish health as the most incredible gift we have been endowed with. 

“The body is often likened to a machine, but it is so much more than that. It works twenty-four hours a day for decades without (for the most part) needing regular servicing or the installation of spare parts, runs on water and a few organic compounds, is soft and rather lovely, is accommodatingly mobile and pliant, reproduces itself with enthusiasm, makes jokes, feels affection, appreciates a red sunset and a cooling breeze. How many machines do you know that can do any of that? There is no question about it. You are truly a wonder. But then so, it must be said, is an earthworm. And how do we celebrate the glory of our existence? Well, for most of us by eating maximally and exercising minimally. Think of all the junk you throw down your throat and how much of your life is spent sprawled in a near-vegetative state in front of a glowing screen. Yet in some kind and miraculous way our bodies look after us, extract nutrients from the miscellaneous foodstuffs we push into our faces, and somehow hold us together, generally at a pretty high level, for decades. Suicide by lifestyle takes ages.”

5. The Psychology of Money — Morgan Housel

Far from the realm of theory and equations, real world economic decisions are human decisions and humans are flawed. We have been hardwired for many evolutionary bugs— biases, fears, and emotional decision making that impacts how we save, invest and spend our money.  Housel’s argument is simple: unlike any other industry, the world of finance and money has more to do with human behaviour than with economic laws. He talks about 20 important lessons that financial history has taught us on wealth, greed and happiness. It’s a breezy read for even for those without any back ground in finance. It also makes us aware of our emotions so that we can take informed financial decisions. 

“You might think you want an expensive car, a fancy watch, and a huge house. But I’m telling you, you don’t. What you want is respect and admiration from other people, and you think having expensive stuff will bring it. It almost never does—especially from the people you want to respect and admire you.”

4. Lying — Sam Harris 

Short, compelling and profound. The following lines from the opening chapter really hit me.

“Few of us are murderers or thieves, but we have all been liars. And many of us will be unable to get safely into our beds tonight without having told several lies over the course of the day.”  

We all tell lies to varying degrees. Perhaps it can be about giving a false reason for coming late to a meeting, or a false praise you shower on someone so as just to not offend them. The book is about the convenient, little lies we tell everyday: to our siblings, our friends, our spouses, and our parents.  Sam Harris argues that lies— even the innocuous, subtle ones— erode trust and harms our relationships. There is a far more fulfilling, richer life we can all lead if only we commit ourselves to complete honesty even at the expense of occasional short-term discomfort. 

The book can be read in one day, but its arguments stay with you for a long, long time. 

3. Indian Summer — Alex von Tunzelmann

Absolute thriller of a book. This is the most interesting book I’ve read on the subject of partition and Indian independence. The amount of detail with which the author describes important personalities and events is stunning. 

Reading it made me wonder how much of our history is shaped by a handful of actors. We tend to attribute grand motives and inevitable forces as reasons behind historical events, but in equal measure, history is nothing but a tale heavily influenced by rare co-incidences, quirks and flaws of a few individuals. This book is a refreshing take on the end of British empire in India. 

“In the beginning, there were two nations. One was vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.” 

2. Range — David Epstein

I love books that make provocative arguments and challenge commonly held opinions. Take the notion that to become good at something one should pursue it early to get the beginner’s advantage. We routinely give up on taking new projects, learning new things because we feel we are too late. The book argues that it is nonsense.  Studies have shown that learning to practise a skill early doesn’t necessarily confer a person an advantage over others who might have started late. In fact, it’s the other way. Surveying a wide range of skills before going deep into one is a very good way to excel at something. 

Another core idea from the book is about the necessity for more Rangers – generalists with diverse set of skills. Specialisation is good when you are solving narrow problems. But the world is a complex, ‘wicked environment’ and it needs a combination of diverse skills to thrive in it. I came away convinced that the IAS should remain a generalist service. 

I had underlined almost every alternate paragraph from the book because it had so many fantastic insights. An essential read for everyone. 

“In a wicked world, relying upon experience from a single domain is not only limiting, it can be disastrous.”

1. Make it Stick — Peter Brown

If there is one book I wish I had read earlier, it’s this. This is a book every skilled professional— teacher, consultant, doctor, student, programmer, lawyer, engineer, academic, scientist, researcher, bureaucrat— should read because it teaches a core meta skill: how to learn effectively. Learning is at the core of every profession, yet it’s astonishing that no one ever teaches us how to learn. This book draws from scores of scientific studies and gives actionable advice on how to learn, memorise and comprehend concepts effectively.

Some captivating ideas I came across from reading it: we learn better when we mix subjects together, and memorise longer when we let some forgetfulness set in before revising a topic. We learn best not by stuffing things into mind through repeated, rote revisions, but by forcing your brain to express the concept out loud. These are counter-intuitive, but scientifically proven tactics. The book will will transform the way you learn and the way you teach others.   

“Many teachers believe that if they can make learning easier and faster, the learning will be better. Much research turns this belief on its head: when learning is harder, it’s stronger and lasts longer. It’s widely believed by teachers, trainers, and coaches that the most effective way to master a new skill is to give it dogged, single-minded focus, practicing over and over until you’ve got it down. Our faith in this runs deep, because most of us see fast gains during the learning phase of massed practice. What’s apparent from the research is that gains achieved during massed practice are transitory and melt away quickly.” 

That’s my list for 2020. What are your favourite reads of 2020? 

PS: The paperback version of my book Fundamentals of Essay and Answer Writing is now available on Amazon. It is your one-stop guide for writing great essays and answers in UPSC Mains. 

Get your copy at:

86 thoughts on “My Favourite Books of 2020

  1. Ayush

    My favorite is think and Grow rich and ikigai .

    Will try to read them sir too.

      1. Anonymous

        As a man thinket, novel is the best,



  2. Navneet Kaur

    Thankyou for the recommendations Sir. Will definitely read these. My favourites of 2020 – A thousand splendid suns ( Khaled Hosseini) & Eat that frog ( Brian Tracy).
    Currently reading the book written by you. 😊

  3. Anonymous

    Thankyou for the recommendations sir! The most gripping read of the year for me has been -Thinking fast and slow.

  4. Anonymous

    This gives me a good inspiration to study more Book’s

  5. Kajal swain

    It’s so helpful sir.. Thank you for sharing those books..

  6. Anonymous

    I will also be there at your place securing nice rank in UPSC and serve my country.

    1. Farooz

      I will For sure 👍 💯

  7. Suraj

    Thanks sir keep sharing , I really liked this article
    My favourite was Humankind:A Hopeful History by Rutgen Bregmen

  8. Anonymous

    My favorite book of 2020 was Experiments with truth (autobiography of mahatma Gandhi) and Inner engineering by sadguru

    1. Anonymous

      Same here

  9. Anonymous


  10. Anonymous

    Hi sir!!
    my favorite book in 2020 was “FUNDAMENTALS FOR ESSAY AND ANSWER WRITING”. It helps me a lot. Because of it i would able to score 100+ in my very first essay.

    i will go for “Make it stick” by peter brown.

    Thank you so much for suggesting us.

    1. Anonymous

      correction: i was able to

  11. Murali Bugata

    Hii Sir.. Thank you for sharing the 2020 books list, been waiting for this post since your last post on books list.

    Here is my 2020 fav books:

    1) The 5 AM Club – Robin Sharma
    2) Deep Work- Cal Newport
    3) Unlimited Memory- Kevin Horsley
    4) Strength Training – Rujuta Diwekar

    1. Anonymous

      Thankyou Sir !
      My Favourite 2020 Books are-
      1.Sapians And Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.


        I JUST STARTED THIS ONE……..FABULOUS BOOK.SO INTRESTING…..#recommended by Barak Obama and Bill Gates

  12. Anonymous

    Who is Kalam ? A good human being by R . Ramanathan.

  13. Anonymous

    Hello Sir! Thank you for sharing this list of books. I’m hoping to read ‘Make it stick’ by Peter Brown.
    My favourite book in 2020 has been Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

  14. Renuka.M.H

    Dear sir,
    You are changing lives, just by sharing your favorite books.😊🙏🙏
    Keep thriving sir.

  15. Tejasri Reddy Kadari

    Hello Sir,

    Your books suggestions are always pointers for me to pick my next one. Gratitude towards the work you do.
    My favourites from 2020 and 2019 combined are
    1. The practising mind: Thomas M Sterner. Helped me to realize when I am really into the process of doing and than purposeless chatter in my head
    He also brought out a technique called Do, Observe, Correct to build habits and also how to improve myslef without bringing worry into the picture
    2. Tiny habits: B J Fogg. Helped me decode why I behave the way I behave.
    3. Sam Harris: Waking Up
    4. India Unbound: Guru Charan Das
    5. Introduction to Hindu Dharma: Micheal Oren Fitzgerald
    6. Mindfulness in plain English.- Bhante Gunaratana
    7. Book by J Krishnamurthi- The first and last freedom. – So many hard-hitting questions to self and to become aware of my conditioning to a little extent. I hope I did some progress.
    8. I’m Ok, you’re Ok- Thomas A Harris
    9. Atomic Habits: James Clear
    10. Power of Now- Eckhart Tolle
    11. Deep Work; Carl New Port
    12. Every man’s war: captain Raghu raman


    1. Murali Bugata

      Thank you for sharing your books list Tejasri, I added some of your books in my wishlist.

    2. Anonymous

      Sir, it is clear that you are inclined towards non-fiction, but in telugu literature, there is a book “Veyipadagalu”, a life time classic. Great people like PV Narasimha Rao had shown interest in this book and converted it into different language. I wish you read this book.

  16. Nitin

    Atomic habits

  17. santhini paul

    Congrats over your new collection sir.
    But sir i would like to know- How do you select what to read?

  18. Anonymous

    Thank you dear sir for shearing,
    My Favourite Book of 2020 was “Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari

  19. Anonymous

    Thankyou sir

  20. Amritha S S

    Thankyou sir for your time.

    My favourite book of 2020 –

    Think Like A Monk – Jay Shetty

  21. puresoulsandhyarawatsandy

    Have read ikigai the japanese secret to a long and happy life
    Its very good book and about the living of life in a better way
    Refer this book sir it may enlighten you in some way

  22. Ritika Tiwari

    Happy new year sir.
    Here’s my book list of 2020 that you might have read😅
    1. 7 habits of highly effective People.
    2. Power of subconscious mind.
    3. I am another you.

  23. ecesnsnitw

    Sir, I think you might have read this book, and if not – I recommend you to read it – Its a very fine book – Actually I got it as a gift and liked the book very much

    Book : David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

  24. CuriousSoul

    Anudeep Sir,

    Here are some of my favourite reads from an otherwise lousy year

    A Free Man by Aman Sethi
    Heretic: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    The Plague: Albert Camus
    Educated by Tara Westover
    Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains by Nicholas Carr

    Hope you have a nice year ahead 🙂

  25. Anonymous

    One of those books almost got named after my favorite porn star!!!

  26. Anonymous

    Thank you sir for sharing your fav books !

  27. Anonymous

    Thank you sir for this,
    and You are my INSPIRATION sir.

  28. Anonymous

    thank you for sharing this

  29. Anonymous

    1. Indian Summer(audiobook) – Alex von Tunzelmann

    2. Three Body Problem Series(audiobooks) – Liu Cixin
    Its a science fiction series. I would suggest to not read the Goodreads description as it gives away major spoiler for first half of the 1st book. I read it and I spent half of the book waiting for the moment.
    Whenever I found some parts to be slow and stopped listening for a week or two and then started again.

    3. Stories of your life(audiobook) – Ted Chiang

    4.Heart and Brain – Nick Seluk
    It’s a small graphic book. I read/see 2-3 pgs whenever I feel down. You can read kindle preview to get a taste.

    5. Dreams from my father(Audiobook) – Barack Obama

      1. Anonymous

        I find audiobooks most useful for novels. They make them more entertaining as then your only task is to imagine the world of the novel.

        For serious books that needs attention
        I don’t remember most of the things from audiobooks but retain some broad ideas and theme. Its difficult to stop and think on a line or take a note or go back in audiobook as that breaks the flow. I feel that I can understand the concepts while listening to them but retention is low. E.g. I listened to first 2 chapters of the selfish gene and was able to understand them but I did not realize their true meaning until I read them. So I prefer to read books which I would like to understand better and retain longer.

        To get a taste of the book
        Audiobook can help to get a taste of the book when you don’t have time for physical reading. E.g. I did it with Indian Summer(as it was so story like it became infotainment and I kept on listening). I may have never read the physical copy of it but now as I am introduced to the book, I am more likely to read it.

        Self help Books/Books with less ideas
        I don’t read self help books but when I used to listen them a few years back I noticed that they had very little information. And found more than half of the content in a book could be skipped. As, its difficult to skip in audiobook so its time saving to read them.

        So overall, I listen to audiobooks only when I can’t read the physical copy(e.g. while travelling). And then also stick to those books in which I don’t have to pay too much attention and don’t mind forgetting much of the details or just to get a taste of the book(to decide whether to read the physical copy or not).

  30. pro bihari

    In 2020 i haven’t completed any Book. i was started with Think and grow rich but are pending to complete. but most of the time i prefer to know the summary instead of reading which is my bad habbit. in this year i’ll try to read to read your book list. thanks for sharing sir.

  31. Anonymous

    It was a pleasure to read one of your post after a long time. Also it would be nice if you can restart your weekly letters to subscribers. But given your work requirements it’s clear that you are busy.Though 2020 was an year of uncertainty your letters always brought a smile and hope for the next week.
    You clearly state in blog that you love non-fiction but it was sad not to find any detective stories especially of Agatha Christie or writers like her.Although it’s personal choice why you don’t like fiction.

  32. Prince Kadyan

    How do you choose your books, Anudeep? I mean how do you pick amidst the deluge!

    1. Anudeep Durishetty Post author

      Randomly, based on my interest in that moment. Nothing planned about it at all.

      1. Sarang

        Sir, i am waiting for your article on how to meditate or atleast some tips on sources or how to begin🙂? Your writing resonated with me. Thank you sir..

  33. Jayanth

    Sir, it’s nice to hear from you again. I’ve gone through your favourite books list of 2020. I liked all the books. But first I want to start with ‘make it stick’. These self help books really do magic in our life.

    Similarly, I would like to suggest you to try few online courses from mindvalley website on super-brain and super-reading by Jim Kwik. You may like it as well sir.

    Hoping to hear from you often.

      1. Siva

        Fountain head Novel and Atlas shrugged Novel by Aynrand capitalist philosophy sir

  34. anonymous

    Thank you sir . Great recommendations 🙌

  35. Anonymous

    Thank you sir for sharing this collection.Though was sorely inconsistent but managed to read few.
    1. I am Malala.
    2. Rich Dad Poor Dad
    3. The monk who sold his Ferrari
    4. Who will cry when you die.
    5. Gospel of Yudas.
    6. The Girl on the Train.
    7. Siddharth by Herman Hesse
    8. 12 commandments of being a women.

  36. Swishy Hooy

    Of these , I read Range in the april of 2020 .. On a very tnese day , when i was taking a thing quite seriously . Certainly a great read that day , just made me stress free..
    Well as few are suggesting , I also , taking liberty , would suggest , Princes of Yen , to your and the readers

  37. Anonymous

    Dear Anudeep Sir, I remember you suggesting one book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind in some video. And there was one more book that you suggested, could you please share the name again, it was a bit unclear there for me.

  38. Anonymous

    sir is it a problem if i have a tatoo (easily hidden even in t-shirt) in screening after exam selection – i asked every where, mailed may but no results , do you have any idea about it , since you have been through the process? please help? though i do have plans of getting it removed after main-2021??

  39. mohit singh tanwar

    sir is it a problem if i have a tatoo (easily hidden even in t-shirt) in screening after exam selection – i asked every where, mailed may but no results , do you have any idea about it , since you have been through the process? please help? though i do have plans of getting it removed after main-2021??

  40. Binita Panda

    Thank you so much for your booklist, Sir.

    Why don’t you post a list of your favourite fiction too?

  41. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing,
    Huge respect n gratitude

  42. Mallik

    Gone With the Wind -Margaret M
    The Emperor of all Maladies – Siddhartha M
    Magic of reality – Richard Dawkins
    Thinking Fast And Slow – Daniel Kahneman
    Chimp Paradox – Steve Peters.
    these are some important books I read last year..
    thanks for inspiring ..

  43. Namrata

    Unshakeable by Tony robbins has some insights too sir ❤

    1. Anonymous

      Em pani leda

  44. Dechamma

    Hi sir.Where are you currently posted?

  45. Anonymous

    Ikigai book sir

  46. Ab

    Sir one doubt which service to chose out of IAS and IFS if one is equally inclined to both which one to chose
    And although money is not the prime motive for upsc but is the salary sufficient to lead a comfortable life

  47. Wizard94

    Read Indian summer from your list ,thanks for sharing it… Argumentative Indian & Deep Work my recommendation for you!

  48. Anonymous

    Who will cry when you die
    Is also a wonderful book 📖

  49. Ajeeta

    Sir, Make it stick, is the wonder I needed. Thank you so much for suggesting this wonderful book !

  50. Srinivas

    Congratulations on becoming IAS topper. I am a doctor. I too once wanted to become an IAS officer, but destiny willed otherwise. In one of your interviews you said that you do meditation. I am following you now. I will visit this blog regularly. It’s really nice.

  51. Santhosh

    Anudeep Sir, Do you have account on goodreads?

    1. Anonymous

      No i don’t have .

  52. Anonymous

    Love you Anu

  53. Anonymous

    Love you love you love you


    Sir I am upsc aspirants girl I am financially weak background upsc aspirant Sir I want financial help for upsc study.

  55. Anonymous

    Sir do you remember all books which you read
    If yes then how
    And if no then what’s the benefit of reading that book .

  56. Anonymous

    Sir this year’s book recommendations please 😞


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