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The best books of 2020, according to Fortune staff

December 6, 2020, 1:00 PM UTC
Best Books 2020-Featured Image
Amid everything that happened this year, at least there were plenty of good books to read.
Courtesy of Hachette Books, Dutton Books, Ballantine Books, Harvard Business Review Press, Simon & Schuster

Amid everything that happened this year, at least there were plenty of good books to read.

Certainly, some publishing houses pushed off a few releases here and there to 2021. Regardless, there was no shortage of quality content, and book publishers and authors alike made strides in promoting their work via digital channels, perhaps attracting many more readers and communities they have not reached out to in the past.

Fiction and nonfiction, business and nonbusiness, here is a list of recommendations from the Fortune staff, hoping one (or more) of these titles can help you escape the chaos that was 2020.

Best Books 2020-foolish-endeavor
“A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor”
Courtesy of Dutton Books

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

Hank Green’s punchy follow-up to his debut novel An Absolutely Remarkable Thing centers on a low-odds attempt at saving humanity from extraterrestrial sabotage. Infused with social media–savvy prose and all the latest tech fads—from cryptocurrency to brain-computer interfaces—the story unfolds through retelling from the alternating points of view of an alien emissary’s closest friends. The book is as pleasant an escape as a breezy spring day in a virtual reality simulation. Besides, how many books can claim to feature portions of narrative from the perspective of an A.I.-equipped monkey possessed by a superpowerful consciousness from outer space? —Robert Hackett, senior writer

Best Books 2020-A-World-Without-Work
“A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond”
Courtesy of Metropolitan Books

A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind

For centuries, machines have replaced people at work, but people have found new jobs and the economy expanded. Economist Daniel Susskind argues that with artificial intelligence, this time could be different, drastically exacerbating wealth inequalities unless governments step in. —Aaron Pressman, senior writer

Best Books 2020-Blood-And-Oil
“Blood and Oil: Mohammed Bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power”
Courtesy of Hachette Books

Blood and Oil: Mohammed Bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power by Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck

Even knowing much of the MBS story—the partnership with SoftBank, the friendship with Jared Kushner, the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the hostage taking in the Riyadh Ritz—this high-drama look at the Game of Thrones antics of the Saudi court surprised me again and again. Its core readers will be followers of the worlds of oil and geopolitics (or anyone who was obsessed with the dysfunction and bluster of the WeWork saga). But it’s entertaining, grisly, horrifying, and fascinating enough to work as a broad-appeal page turner. —Katherine Dunn, associate editor

Best Books 2020-Caste
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”
Courtesy of Random House

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

The author of The Warmth of Other Suns walks the reader through all the ways in which U.S. social and justice systems are designed to keep white people as the dominant caste, perpetuating advantages built in since their arrival on American shores. The book is particularly useful for executives leading diversity and inclusion initiatives in understanding who and what impediments keep minorities, notably Black people, from rising. —Phil Wahba, senior writer

The perfect book for all of those who woke up suddenly after the George Floyd killing, and recognized that they didn’t understand the fundamental inequity built into American society. —Alan Murray, president

Best Books 2020-Deaths-of-Despair
“Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism”
Courtesy of Princeton University Press

Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton

The rage and distrust that are (still) eroding American politics are rooted in a broad collapse in the basics of a well-lived life: jobs, health, security. Anne Case and Angus Deaton give us reams of data that hit like a truck, showing that declining life expectancy, family dissolution, and suicide by means fast and slow have skyrocketed alongside income inequality. —David Z. Morris, tech writer

Best Books 2020-Eat-A-Peach
“Eat a Peach: A Memoir”
Courtesy of Clarkson Potter Publishers

Eat a Peach: A Memoir by David Chang, with Gabe Ulla

The multi-hyphenate David Chang forever changed the U.S. dining scene when he opened his Momofuku restaurant in Manhattan in 2004. Chang’s memoir takes you along on his journey from that tiny noodle bar to food empire and celebrity chefdom, capturing both a formative period in the evolution of U.S. dining as well as a window into what it takes to make it in the cutthroat restaurant world. Released in the middle of the pandemic, Eat a Peach provides new perspective on an industry decimated by COVID-19. But Chang also gives you an unvarnished view as he grapples with his Korean-American identity, anger issues, and mental health. It’s an intimate look that will resonate with foodies and non-foodies alike. —Beth Kowitt, senior writer

Best Books 2020-Healthy-Buildings
“Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity”
Courtesy of Harvard University Press

Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity by Joseph G. Allen and John D. Macomber

Among the most luckily timed book releases ever, this exposé of the widespread under-ventilation and pollution inside modern buildings arrived just as shared indoor space became truly deadly. Though there’s now light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, these insights and guidelines for improving indoor air quality should play a huge role in post-pandemic reforms. —David Z. Morris, tech writer

Best Books 2020-kings-of-crypto
“Kings of Crypto: One Startup’s Quest to Take Cryptocurrency Out of Silicon Valley and Onto Wall Street”
Courtesy of Harvard Business Review Press

Kings of Crypto: One Startup’s Quest to Take Cryptocurrency Out of Silicon Valley and Onto Wall Street by Jeff John Roberts

Kings of Crypto (by Fortune senior writer Jeff John Roberts) tells the story of a ragtag band of rebels who saw the future of finance before anyone else and who wrenched the revolution into their orbit. Reading this book is like sticking a stethoscoped ear to the vault containing the cryptocurrency industry’s origins. Click, click, click—and a wealth of secrets spills out. —Robert Hackett, senior writer

Best Books 2020-Open-Book
“Open Book”
Courtesy of Dey Street Books

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Celebrity memoirs aren’t always known for their candor. But Jessica Simpson this year delivered a remarkable entry into the canon with her aptly named Open Book. The insightful, vulnerable memoir relies on two decades of Simpson’s journal entries, covering everything from her years as a pop star to her career pivot to head a $1 billion clothing brand. —Emma Hinchliffe, associate editor

Best Books 2020-Shakespeare-in-a-Divided-America
“Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us about Our Past and Future”
Courtesy of Penguin Press

Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future by James Shapiro

Literature professor James Shapiro unearths little-known but remarkably rich material on Shakespeare’s reception in the United States—from the early 1800s to the present—to illustrate the ways in which Shakespeare has served as a sort of Rorschach test: Everyone, from Abraham Lincoln to John Wilkes Booth, sees what they want in the Bard. In the process they inadvertently reveal their inner selves and cleavages—racism, xenophobia, and class conflict—which remain all too familiar today. The stories are remarkable. —Erika Fry, senior writer

Business Books 2020-Art-of-Gathering
“The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters”
Courtesy of Riverhead Books

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

At this point in 2020, gathering with anyone outside your household (or for some of us, anyone at all) seems like a foreign concept. But author Priya Parker—also a strategic adviser who has worked on peace processes in the Middle East, southern Africa, and India—reminds us why meetings in real life are so important to both our work and personal lives. (It’s no wonder that Zoom, among other work-from-home stocks, took an immediate dive upon news of the Pfizer vaccine efficacy.) In The Art of Gathering (Riverhead Books), Parker clearly lays out what makes meetings work (and what doesn’t), offering guidance that will change every way you meet after the pandemic, from the boardroom to barbecues. —Rachel King, editor (Editor’s note: This title was first released in 2018, but released in paperback in April 2020.)

Best Books 2020-the-chiffon-trenches
“The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir”
Courtesy of Ballantine Books

The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir by André Leon Talley

If you’re coming for a sequel to The Devil Wears Prada that simultaneously functions as a tell-all about Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, you might actually be disappointed. André Leon Talley is rightfully the star of his own show in this incredibly vulnerable and acerbic memoir, recounting his childhood in the Jim Crow South to his Ivy League education to bouncing between the sidelines of catwalks in Paris and New York City while working at Women’s Wear Daily, W magazine, and, most famously, Vogue.

Talley repeatedly describes himself as the first most powerful Black man in fashion journalism, and it’s hard to dispute that early in his career. Talley is also brutally honest not just about race and the fashion industry, but also his struggles with comprehending his sexuality and a lifelong battle with eating disorders. (This memoir is also one that would make for an enjoyable listen as Talley brings all of his personality to the audiobook narration in a way that few authors can manage to do successfully.) —Rachel King, editor

Best Books 2020-The Glass Hotel
“The Glass Hotel”
Courtesy of Knopf

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Fans of Emily St. John Mandel’s last novel, 2014’s smash hit Station Eleven, have long been waiting for the Canadian author’s next work. But while Station Eleven’s post-pandemic plot might have seemed more fitting (if not downright eerie) for the miserable year that has been 2020, The Glass Hotel brings back dark memories of the the most recent recession of 2008 instead. Launching from the hotel bar (remember those?) of a quiet but upper-crust hotel in the calm mist of British Columbia—possibly as far removed (at least in mood and pace) from Manhattan as one can get—The Glass Hotel follows a cast of characters whose actions inevitably result in (sometimes dire, even lethal) consequences for people they know and people they don’t. —Rachel King, editor

Best Books 2020-The Hollow Places
“The Hollow Places”
Courtesy of Gallery/Saga Press

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Horror in the 21st century is profoundly influenced by a tradition of “weird fiction” dating back to the early 20th century, including Algernon Blackwood’s incredibly unnerving 1907 novella The Willows. In The Hollow Places (Gallery/Saga Press), T. Kingfisher filters Blackwood’s excessively agile trees and other weird fiction touchstones through a style that’s unusually straightforward for the genre, making for a read that’ll go down easy…then haunt you for months. —David Z. Morris, tech writer

Best Books 2020-The-Man-Who-Ran-Washington
“The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III”
Courtesy of Doubleday Books

The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

American political culture is broken, but it hasn’t always been that way. James Addison Baker was the consummate master at actually getting things done in Washington. We need him back. —Alan Murray, president

Best Books 2020-Mirror-and-the-Light
“The Mirror & The Light”
Courtesy of Henry Holt & Company

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

This is the third and final book in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall fiction trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, who rose from obscurity to become a chief adviser to King Henry VIII and one of the most powerful men in England. This doorstop of a novel (it’s approximately 800 pages long) is worth reading for Mantel’s beautifully crafted prose, but also for the insightful lessons her telling of Cromwell’s rise and fall offers about power’s corrupting influence, and the thin line between glory and infamy. —Jeremy Kahn, senior writer

Best Books 2020-The-Splendid-and-the-Vile
“The Splendid and the Vile”
Courtesy of Crown Publishing Group

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larsen

At a time when fact and fiction have lost all clear distinction, it’s a pleasure to read a nonfiction book by an author who still knows what it means to stick to the facts, yet can tell a story with all the drama and character and excitement of a first-rate novel. —Alan Murray, president

Best Books 2020-Fannie-Davis
“The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers”
Courtesy of Back Bay Books

The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers by Bridgett M. Davis

Fannie Davis possessed the kinds of skills that could have made her a top-notch executive: She was a savvy strategist, a meticulous planner, and a “people person” with the emotional intelligence to be stern or generous as the situation demanded. But as a black woman coming of age in the Jim Crow South and, later, in segregated Detroit, corporate avenues were closed to her—so she made her mark instead as a leading player in “the numbers,” the illegal, lottery-like gambling racket. In this memoir by Fannie’s daughter, novelist and filmmaker Bridgett Davis, Fannie emerges as a figure of incredible diligence and ingenuity—able to earn comfort and security for her family and become a financial pillar of her neighborhood, even while living under the threat of arrest and the shadows of the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s. —Matthew Heimer, senior editor

Best Books 2020-Too-Much-and-Never-Enough
“Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man”
Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump

No single book will ever be the definitive account of the Trump era, but this one—which barely mentions 21st-century politics—is as close as any. The firsthand account of rampant psychological and emotional abuse in the Trump clan doesn’t explain what’s happening in America, but it does explain, in a way that’s almost comforting, the manifest brokenness of the man who has become the avatar of that disquieting change. —David Z. Morris, tech writer

Best Books 2020-Want
“Want: A Novel”
Courtesy of Henry Holt & Company

Want by Lynn Steger Strong

Want is a work of fiction, but it read to me like an examination of millennial economic anxiety and the myth of having it all. Our protagonist, Elizabeth, has a Ph.D., two kids, and serious financial struggles. Watching her attempts to balance her life and her aspirations was both vivid and heartbreaking—and very real for many women of Elizabeth’s generation. —Beth Kowitt, senior writer

Best Books 2020-what-were-we-thinking
“What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era”
Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era by Carlos Lozada

Reading 150 books about the Trump presidency is a punishment I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But Carlos Lozada did just that—he’s the nonfiction book critic at the Washington Post, so at least he got paid for it—and his synthesis of those books is both an entertaining read and an urgent call to greater civic engagement. Lozada draws on authors from the left, right, and center as he creates a lucid, disturbing portrayal of the economic and cultural forces that Trump tapped into to fuel his political rise—forces that other leaders will probably continue to tap long after Trump has left office. —Matthew Heimer, senior editor