I promise not to start this retrospective post about the events that unfolded in 2020. Everyone from newscasters to your Uncle at Christmas has mentioned it was a year of ‘unbelievable’ and ‘unprecedented’ world events, but I managed to distract myself from all that and get stuck into some great books. Here are a few of my favourites from the year.
Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space by Jan Gehl
I think every designer should read Jan Gehl’s treatise on human-centric urban planning and architecture. The book addresses how we’ve designed urban centres to accommodate cars more than people and suggests ways to make cities more beautiful and urban life more accessible.
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s brilliant short novel is about the gradual death of a high court judge who has regretfully sacrificed a life with true friends and family to focus on his high status career, shallow relationships, and materialism. Although it’s a grim story, it’s an excellent meditation on the inevitability of death and what makes a meaningful life.
Secret Lives of Great Artists by Elizabeth Lunday
This playful book is part of a series of ‘secret life’ biographies, detailing quirky stories and bizarre facts about famous artists from Michelangelo to Caraviaggio. It was a fun, easy digital book for me to read while commuting on the tram—and it’s packed full of nice illustrations.
Free Will by Sam Harris
I’ve listened to Sam Harris’ podcasts on and off for a few years now, but this was the first book of his I’d read. Although he’s dealing with the densely philosophical, mind-bending subject of what exactly is ‘free will’, Harris writes in a straightforward, conversational style. This quote from one of the last pages really summarises the outcomes of reading this book, “the illusion of free will is itself an illusion”.
The Art of Happiness by Epicurus
After delving into Stoicism a few years ago, I tried to broaden my understanding of antiquity philosophy by reading this compilation of Epicurus’ works. Epicureanism is a school of philosophy which has been very mischaracterised throughout history and fundamentally suggests simple living, moderation, and independence are the highest virtues. I’m basically a convert to the philosophy now—you can call me an Epicurean.
Have you read or want to read any of these books? Let’s be friends on GoodReads.