Non-fiction and current affairs picks of 2020

By James Ball

By James Ball

A selection of the best books I've read through this year – most, but not all, published this year. And then a couple of my own books for good measure, too. (Books bought through this site generate a small commission for independent bookshops, and a small commission for me).

Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies

The Secret Barrister

£20.00 £18.60

It's been hard to move on Twitter in 2020 without seeing the poor Secret Barrister having to knock down some new legal myth relating to lockdown. This is their second book, focusing on media (sorry) and political myths around the law – angrier than the first, but just as readable.

How Spies Think: Ten Lessons in Intelligence

David Omand


How do spies assess threats and intelligence? For those of us who came of political age as the Iraq War of 2003 was enacted, the temptation is to say "badly". But this book from former GCHQ head David Omand is fascinating and candid, and has relevance for many of us well beyond the intelligence world.

Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science

Stuart Ritchie

£18.98 £17.65

This book sounds nerdy when you first hear about it, and rapidly becomes terrifying. It's really important more of us read this, and that someone starts to act on it.

Kleptopia: How Dirty Money is Conquering the World

Tom Burgis

£20.00 £18.60

Corruption and the people enabling it is too often the story behind the story of the world in 2020. This is an excellent attempt to frame that. We're trying to do similar over at TBIJ next year.

What's Your Type?: The Story of the Myers-Briggs, and How Personality Testing Took Over the World

Merve Emre

£9.99 £9.29

This book is a few years old, but given Myers-Briggs tests are inescapable online (and alarmingly, in some workplaces) this history of this totally unscientific test is absolutely fascinating and a great read.

Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber

Susan Fowler

£20.00 £18.60

You might remember Susan Fowler as the author of the 2017 blogpost: "Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber" – on the company's awful culture. It went viral for all the right and all the wrong reasons. This book is (largely) what happened next.

Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World

James Ball

£9.99 £9.29

This is the last book from me on the list, I promise. But I wrote this on misinformation and disinformation in 2017, and it's only got worse since – sorry.

A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner

Chris Atkins

£16.98 £15.79

Funny, grim and even occasionally poignant, but a terrible review for the prison system. If you'd been considering a stay there, I'd advise against…

The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy

Michael Lewis

£9.99 £9.29

If there's one book of the Trump era that deserves to be remembered, it's this one. Rather than the drama of the White House, this looks at the real damage done by incompetence and thousands of vacant roles. A must-read to avoid repeats.

Banking On It: How I Disrupted an Industry

Anne Boden

£20.00 £18.60

Anne Boden is Welsh, has an "ordinary" background, and is in her 50s. And so gets written up very differently than most dotcom founders – but is the founder and CEO of one of the UK's strongest challenger banks. And so this warts-and-all take on doing that is well worth a read.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Caroline Criado Perez

£9.99 £9.29

This book won all the awards in hardback, and came out in paperback in 2020. It's *wildly* worth your time and also Caroline would beat me up if I didn't include it.

The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World After An Apocalypse

Lewis Dartnell

£9.99 £9.29

It's undeniable that 2020 has had serious apocalyptic vibes. So this book on what you could and couldn't rebuild after a civilisation-ending event was oddly comforting, in a strange way. If you like a chirpier framing, there's also a similar illustrated book by Ryan North, which released in Autumn 2019 (WHAT DID HE KNOW?)

Picking any kind of list of books means missing loads of great titles out. I have absolutely certainly missed some excellent ones that I've loved this year. Sorry. But hope some of the above look worth your time.

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