The First Book of the Year Is Always a Biography

For the past few years I have tried to start each New Year off by selecting a biography as the first book I read that particular year. I have no specific methodology as to why I choose the biographies I do, often it is from something tangential to the topic of the biography or just because I am interested in the topic in general. Here are some of my recent picks as well as my pick for 2020:

2016 - Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

I picked up this one largely because I was interested in Elon Musk and curious to learn more about him. This book was illuminating in regards to how much self-confidence Musk has in himself and how much he was willing to double down on himself and how frequently that was all he needed to move on to more stable ground.

2017 - Spread Spectrum

I was interested in reading more about Hedy Lamarr and this book seemed like a great place to start. It was self-published and quite bizarre at times but it did explain technical details quite well and was well-paced which more than made up for the author’s unconventional asides.

2018 - The Man Who Fed the World: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug and His Battle to End World Hunger

I was really interested in learning more about Borlaug and his contributions to agronomy but this particular biography was sloppy and rife with colloquialisms. Borlaug was a fascinating character who likely saved billions of people from starvation and demands a better biography than this one.

2019 - I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Nietzsche

I did not initially set out to read this book as my first book of the year. Unfortunately, the book I had planned on reading, In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise, was so bad that I bailed on it and read the Nietzsche biography instead. Prior to reading, I was aware of Nietzsche if only because of the famous “God is dead” quote and something vaguely related to Nazism. I was fascinated to learn more about him and how his writings were completely reappropriated after his death. This was one of the better books I read all year.

Finally, in 2020 the first book I am reading is Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. Each year I try to alternate between male and female biographies and after bailing on the biography of Margaret Wise last year, I felt it was time to read a female biography to start 2020. I am also quite interested in China and while I realize this book might be quite revisionist am curious to learn more about Cixi and her role in developing modern day China.