This year has been a strange year. It was a paradox of having more time at home and less time to read. But through it, I wove several titles into my reading schedule, whether audiobooks or paper books.

While I get value from all books in some way, specific titles shape thinking in unique ways. They point out better ways to lead, questions you never thought to ask, or provide insights into history’s greatest characters.

Here are my top five titles for 2020.

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath
I finished this book as the COVID-19 virus began ramping up in America. It was that juxtaposition of book and times that caught my attention most. Heath argues that most, if not all, problems can be prevented.

I wondered what would have happened if more preventative measures had occurred in December and January. How would the remainder of the year be different? Would we end 2020 with almost 350,000 deaths from this virus and an economy wheezing from its weight?

It begs a simple question. How do you measure the effects of prevention of things that never happen? It fascinated me.

The Great Influenza by John M. Barry
This was another “virus” book read during the time at home. When I read this book, my central question was, “why wasn’t this taught in school?” I am puzzled about how our educational system can cover arcane historical issues, yet miss something that affected every human in 2020.

It discusses the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. I found it paralleled my recent experience. The most enlightening part was the epilog, which Barry revised in 2005. He ticked off all the things needed to avoid a new pandemic. It showed how woefully unprepared and inept our government (all branches and levels) was when it entered this year.

Hopefully, we have learned a valuable lesson, but I am skeptical.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson.
I am a fan of Larson. His style is crisp, and information pours from each page.

This book tackled a time I have had an interest in since high school. Churchill is a unique figure. I know modern politicians would love to compare themselves to him, but they are self-deluded in doing so.

Churchill came to the prime minister’s role when the fate of Western Civilization hung in the balance. His rare gifts of oratory, realism, and optimism became the most potent weapon against the power-hungry Hitler who would do anything for power and control.

I especially liked the insights into the various people who came into Churchill’s orbits during that time.

How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower’s Biggest Decisions by Susan Eisenhower
This was a book I picked up by chance. Eisenhower was both general and president and was in office when I was born.

He faced a post-war America trying to rebuild. His presidency began while the Korean War slogged along. He had to deal with McCarthyism, the Cold War’s rise, and the dawn of the space race.

The book, written by Ike’s granddaughter, gave me a new appreciation for the kind of president he was. He accomplished much without the limelight.

I found it interesting how he handled the Germans when camps like Auschwitz were liberated. I also discovered how he handled difficulties in life as an inspiration.

A Christmas Carol, an Audible book by Charles Dickens, read by Tim Curry.
As the Christmas season arrives, I look for something seasonal. The classic tale of a miser changed was the perfect story.

I have known the plot and quintessential characters in Dickens’ novella. However, I never read it all the way through. I decided to do that through an audio rendition.

Tim Curry, an actor, known for works like Annie or Home Alone 2, did a superb job bringing the story to life. I found myself latched to the words Dickens wrote. I caught images I stepped over before.

It has become a work I will return to Christmas after Christmas.

And as Tiny Tim would say, God, bless us… everyone.

Have a Merry Christmas, despite the year we have had. And here is hoping for more good books in 2021.