2020 Reading List

David Tran
4 min readJan 1, 2021


I read 32 books this year, which is the most I’ve read in a year as an adult-there was one summer in middle school where I think I read every Hardy Boys book available at the Oakland Public Library and made a good dent on the sci-fi section as well. In recent years, I struggled and sputtered when I picked up a book that was very educational or insightful, but just felt like a slog to read. Some friends gave excellent advice in this thread and now I don’t feel bad about abandoning books or pausing/putting down a book if another, more interesting book catches and holds my attention. Reading whichever book seems most interesting to me at the current moment in time has made reading much more enjoyable.

I read the majority of my books this year as audiobooks while running or walking. I LOVE audiobooks narrated by the author, especially Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and Angela Duckworth’s Grit. There’s something about hearing the author’s voice inflectios and emotions that makes the book THAT much more powerful for me. If you have any great recommendations for other audiobooks narrated by the author, I’m all ears!

The books that most affected my thinking were Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want To Talk About Race, M. Mitchell Waldrop’s Complexity, and the trifecta of Angela Duckworth’s Grit, Robert Greene’s Mastery, and David Epstein’s Range.

Among many other teachings in Oluo’s book, I learned Kimberlé Crenshaw’s term “intersectionality” for talking about the different levels of discrimination and privilege that any individual faces based on the different facets of their identity: race, gender, sex, religion, disability, etc. I’m still parsing through some of the language in Complexity, so I’ll get back to you when I’ve figured it out- ha! It was definitely quite a dense read and I put it down and picked it up after reading several other books, but hearing about the intersection of economics, biology, mathematics and computer science was fascinating. I listened to Grit, Mastery, and Range one right after the other and saw similar patterns of connecting the dots at the intersections of seemingly disparate skills. I specifically love Duckworth’s formulation that:

Talent x Effort = Skill


Skill x Effort = Achievement

After doing some math, we can see that that:

Achievement = Talent x Effort²

I also have tried to make a point to keep track of where I found out about a book or who recommended it to me. Apologies if I misattributed or misremembered any recs! For 2021, I’d love to read 33 books, and in particular more great audiobooks (especially narrated by the author) and both fiction and nonfiction by BIPOC authors, so please do send me recs! 🙏

Note that I’ve included some Amazon Affiliate links for books, but when possible, I highly recommended making use of your local library, especially for digital loans via OverDrive/Libby (they even let you checkout audiobooks) and your local bookstores. Green Apple Books in San Francisco will let you order online for pickup or shipping.

  1. The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates (Yoshi Goto’s app Book Tribes)
  2. Living with a SEAL: 31 Days with the Touhgest Man on the Planet by Jesse Itzler (Yoshi Goto)
  3. Stardust by Neil Gaiman (Browsed the library in Libby)
  4. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly (This tweet from Tracy Chou)
  5. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng (Yoshi Goto)
  6. Letting Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory by Denna Kastor (Avesh Singh, Andrew Ng)
  7. Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson (Loved the Isaacson Jobs book)
  8. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (A lot of people — can’t remember who specifically)
  9. Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (Sidney Le)
  10. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (A since-deleted? tweet from Susan Fowler)
  11. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Companyby Robert Iger (Ricky Yean, Jason Chen)
  12. Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano (David Roche)
  13. Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop (Bill Gurley on Twenty Minute VC)
  14. Know My Name by Chanel Miller (Willy Chu, Tracy Chou)
  15. How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton M. Christensen (RIP. Innovator’s Dilemma was one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read, so decided to pick this up)
  16. Running Home by Katie Arnold (Allison Barr Allen)
  17. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (Had been wanting to read, got a copy after seeing a post from Molly Seidel on Instagram lol)
  18. Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games by Lopez Lomong (Jake Ols)
  19. So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (Was on almost every anti-racist recommended reading list)
  20. Untamed by Glennon Doyle (Sara Broyles)
  21. I Love Yous Are For White People by Lac Su (Sidney Le)
  22. The Happy Runner: Love the Process, Get Faster, Run Longer by Megan and David Roche (re-read)
  23. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown (Amanda Ables)
  24. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Amanda Ables)
  25. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (Willy Chu, Yoshi Goto)
  26. Mastery by Robert Greene (Ricky Yean)
  27. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein (This tweet from Bill Gurley)
  28. Designing Your Life: Build a Life That Works For You by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (Nishant Jacob)
  29. Dream Big: Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You’re Going to Do About It by Bob Goff (Amanda Ables)
  30. Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day By Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky (Yoshi Goto)
  31. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (Browsed the library in Libby)
  32. No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram by Sarah Frier (Can’t remember, might have seen it from Sarah Frier herself on Twitter?)

Originally published at https://www.davidtran.me on January 1, 2021.



David Tran

Building the best place to get work done at flow.club. I write about software, startups & running at davidtran.me and occasionally publish here.