Reading lists

The books that shaped 2020

From stirring novels to tender biographies, thought-provoking journalism to the books that captured lockdown, these are the titles that best reflected this extraordinary year.

A flatlay of covers of books that shaped 2020, on a red background
The books that defined this year. Image: Alicia Fernandes / Penguin

So, 2020. It's been a year like any other, in that it's consisted of 365 days, four hemispheric seasons, some bank holidays and a heatwave. But that's about all it's shared with any of the others in living memory. Everything else about it, to clunk out what must by now be a frontrunner for Cliché of the Year, has been... “unprecedented”.

It's been a year defined by one thing, really: an invisible virus that shatters reality and kills people. Though, within the swirl of fear, desperation and grinding ennui that coronavirus brought with it, there have been a handful of other hot-button events that impacted this most discombobulating year.

So here, from prize winning novels to thought-provoking journalism, cookbooks to the year's best-sellers, are 15 of the best books that shaped, defined or reflected 2020.

'By June, in a bittersweet moment for the Eddo-Lodge, she became the first Black British author to top the UK book charts'

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)

In 2017, Reni Eddo-Lodge published a book that argued how she was fed up of engaging with “the vast majority” of white people about race because they “refuse to accept the legitimacy of structural racism and its symptoms”.

It sold consistently well in the years that followed. Then, on 25 May 2020, a Black man named George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police, sparking protests around the world.

Suddenly, Eddo-Lodge's book took flight once more, becoming one of the defining texts of the global outrage surrounding racism and white privilege sparked by the killing. Then in June, in a bittersweet moment for the Eddo-Lodge, she became the first Black British author to top the UK book charts.

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