52 Books of 2020

Trying to escape local optima on a random walk through life. Home / RSS / Contact


In the beginning of 2020, I’ve set myself a challenge to read 52 books that year, one per week. While setting such an arbitrary goal isn’t anything good in and of itself, it certainly helped me stay on track with my reading habit. I think the books I’ve read are one of the influences that profoundly changed my thinking over the last year, so I consider this arbitrary challenge a huge success.

There were months, especially during the summer, in which I read mostly blog posts and other stuff online. For example, I only finished 1 book in May and August, each. But then I bounced back and finished 8 in September, 7 in October, 6 in November and 5 in December.

Some books I read for pure joy, others for their insights, still others for both.

I do take notes often; in order to read more carefully and to come back later and review them, but I also really like the perspective Emerson had:

I cannot remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten; but they have all helped to make me.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

But now, buckle up, here they come.

My Top 5 of 2020


Do not wish that all things will go well with you, but that you will go well with all things.

The Enchiridion or The Manual is one of my favorite books ever. It’s a foolproof and short introduction to Stoicism and I believe everybody should read it at least once. I’ve read two different translations in 2020.

Letters to a Young Contrarian

Recently, I’ve noticed that I oftentimes play the devil’s advocate in discussions, simply for the sake of provoking interesting – especially new and unconventional – thoughts. This book gave me some more perspective on how (and why) to play that role. I’ve also learned that I’ll definitely have to read more books by Hitchens.

Permutation City

A philosophical novel containing highly interesting thought experiments with implications on consciousness, artificial intelligence/life, simulations, immortality and adjacent topics. It was written in 1994 by a mathematician (which is very noticeable) and I found most projections to be very realistic. In the beginning, the story takes a few pages to really build up momentum, but this is rewarded by all the intriguing thoughts spun later on. I didn’t really like the last, action packed part though.

This book profoundly changed my views on consciousness/artificial intelligence and life/simulation theory and lead to a lot of highly interesting thoughts. I wouldn’t give 5 stars for the story alone, but certainly for all the thought-provoking implications.

It also sparked some interesting written thoughts and an even more interesting discussion on Hacker News.

When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel of Obsession

Likely one of the best novels I’ve ever read. The setting and scenery are just beautiful, the characters are deeply interesting, and undergo fascinating developments. When looking up the backgrounds on Wikipedia, I’ve found a lot of the stated facts to be based on truth, even the photograph of Nietzsche, Rée and Salomé! Also, the conversations (and emerging similarities) of Nietzsche and Breuer towards the end of the novel are just rich of great quotes and inspiring thoughts.

I’ve noticed one logical flaw while reading the book though:
In chapter 20, the character of Nietzsche assumes that a finite amount of what he calls “force” (I think he means something like matter in the universe), stretched out over an infinite amount of time must imply that every constellation of “force” has already occurred in the past and does so an infinite amount of times, which in turn has interesting implications on the psychological discussion that’s taking place in that chapter. The concept is called “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same”, and you can read more about it here and here. But the argumentation represented in the book is mathematically flawed. Now, whether the idea holds really just depends on its definition (isn’t that written always the case though?): If the sole argument is that there is a finite amount of states (i.e. possible worlds) and an infinite amount of those states must be picked, then that of course doesn’t imply that there are infinite occurrences of each state. However, if the premise is that every state has a non-zero probability to be picked and states are chosen at random, then Nietzsche’s implication holds.

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres and the Methods of Rationality

Huh?! A Harry Potter fan fiction series spanning 2000 pages?! I’ve never really been into the original Harry Potter series nor did I think I’d ever enjoy fan fictions, so why on earth should I read this monster?

Well, this book (the whole series really) was heavily recommended to me so many times since I started to learn more about Rationality, that I finally just had to try reading it myself.
And well, it turned out to be an awesome primer on Rationality, as well as a compelling and funny story! Don’t wait, just listen to the first chapters of the audiobook today; you can thank me (and those who recommended it to me) later.

5-Star Rating

The Manual

When you are feeling upset, angry, or sad, don’t blame another for your state of mind. Your condition is the result of your own opinions and interpretations.

This is the second translation of the Enchiridion I’ve read in 2020.

Der Richter und sein Henker

A friend gifted me this for Christmas 2019 and I just loved the insanely sneaky plot. One of the greatest crime novels I’ve read this far.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

This biography inspired me to work harder myself, and I also learned a lot about all the different things Musk already achieved or is still doing currently, that I didn’t know of. I also think it was the first audiobook I’ve really listened to, so it got me started on a great habit of listening to (some of) my books while preparing my meals.

Write Yourself a Scheme in 48 Hours

This was so much fun to follow along. I learned a lot about Haskell, Scheme and parsing along the way.

Wittgenstein: Philosophy in an Hour

Wittgenstein now decided to return to Norway and live in isolation for the next two years, ‘doing logic.’

Wittgenstein showed extreme passion and fanatic determination in his work ethic. He also seems a little crazy, but you know; that’s how I like ’em.
This books was very entertaining to read and a great primer in Wittgenstein’s life, philosophy and person.

Hell Yeah or No: what’s worth doing

I love Derek’s bite-sized wisdom and his unique perspective on things. He’s also a really nice person, always open for conversation.

Dantons Tod

I had to read this one for school before, but decided to reread it in 2020. It was an especially interesting read this time, having already analyzed parts of the story before and remembering all those interwoven details. Admirable use of stylistic devices that creates uncountable wonderfully quotable passages.

Inadequate Equilibria

A somewhat game-theoretic exploration into why some fields are saturated with good solutions and others are not. Highly interesting!

On the Shortness of Life

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres and the Professor’s Games

4-Star Rating


Gödel’s Proof

I’m fascinated by formal systems, especially by their power and boundaries. Quite theoretical at times, but who would’ve expected that?

Why We Sleep

This book really inspired me to think about my sleeping habits. Although it received some shockingly justified critique, I still think it helped me do better regarding my sleep.

Willensfreiheit und Determinismus

A great discourse into philosophy and some of the more fundamental questions about reality. While I can’t remember the exact differences between various positions presented, I do remember that it’s certainly an incredibly complex topic.

Tools of Titans

We all need fuel. Without the assistance, advice, and inspiration of others, the gears of our mind grind to a halt, and we’re stuck with nowhere to go.

Great compilation of tips and tricks from various people who are at the top of their fields. The interludes and questions/methods from Tim are also great nudges into the right direction.

Candide: oder der Optimismus

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres and the Shadows of Death

Die Pest

A highly interesting read, especially during Covid times.

Künstliche Intelligenz und der Sinn des Lebens

Kaffee und Zigaretten

Der kleine Hobbit

Der Großinquisitor

Der Tod in Venedig


QualityLand 2.0

Leben mit Drive

The Airbnb Story


Ich und Kaminski

3-Star Rating

Stoische Philosophie. Eine Einführung

I mostly enjoy the pragmatic approaches to life that Stoicism offers, but this book focused on the Stoic Logic and Physics, as well as more theoretical views on their Ethics. It did so in a great way, which perfectly framed the pragmatic “tips” I already like so much as the implications of those more fundamental thoughts and thus gave me a better basis for understanding.

The Dhammapada

Grundsätze des Kommunismus

Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Why I Am Not Going to Buy a computer

I got this one for just a pound while in London. An interesting early manifestation of the Slow movement.

How to Become a Straight-A Student

This book contains many tips on optimizing the struggle as a student, some of them common sense, others not. I’d recommend this to anyone that hasn’t really thought a lot about studying smart before.

I Think, Therefore I Am: All the Philosophy You Need to Know

Well, while this was a nice introduction, it most certainly wasn’t all one needs to know.

Der Prophet

The Happiness Equation

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Why Socialism?

Die Känguru-Apokryphen

This one was my least favorite of the whole series. Still funny, though.

100 Länder, 100 Frauen, 100 Räusche

Very light, but entertaining reading material and interesting insofar as it provides a quite alternative perspective on traveling (and most other stuff) than I currently hold.

2-Star Rating

Der kleine Taschenbuddhist

I’ve been interested in Buddhist practices for quite some time now and thus decided to read some more on the subject. With this little book, I hoped to get an easy and quick overview, but actually didn’t learn many new things at all.

Auslandssemester: Conquer the world the easy way!

Nice tips, but mostly just common sense.

1-Star Rating

The Little Prince

Loved by both children and adults alike.
Not by me.

I really didn’t enjoy this book, although I know that a lot of people do. The main point it makes just seems a little too trivial to me, but maybe I’m being too harsh here. Just didn’t catch me.

Want to leave a comment?

If you want to give me some feedback or share your opinion, please contact me via email.

© Niklas Bühler, 2021 RSS / Contact me