My Favorite Reads of 2020

2020 being the year that it was, reading a good book was an escape from the ongoing pandemic. These are some of my favorite reads from this year.

Almost the Perfect Murder: The Killing of Elaine O’Hara, the Extraordinary Garda Investigation and the Trial That Stunned the Nation by Paul Williams
Billed as the definitive account of this horrific case, and written by Ireland’s premier crime journalist, this is a very interesting read. Obviously the subject matter make this tough in places, but Paul Williams does an excellent job of presenting the narrative of one of the most memorable crimes in recent Irish history.
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
A Christmas 2019 gift from my wife, this is the first hand account of Edward Snowden’s journey from a contractor working with US Intelligence Services to his current exile in Russia. Snowden gives a good background with regards his philosophies and ultimately why he did what he did, but in parts this reads as if he was some sort of hacker god who could do anything, when in reality he was a lowly contractor with access he perhaps didn’t need to fulfil his day-to-day role. Nonetheless a good read.
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5

Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 by Volker Ullrich
There are perhaps 4 or 5 definitive biographies of Hitler by respected academics (discounting the 10s of really bad ones). My favorite has been Ian Kershaw’s ‘Hitler’, published in two volumes that is standard reading for anyone interested in understanding Hitler. Volume 1 of German academic Volker Ullrich’s Hitler biography is equally as good as Kershaw’s in my opinion. It is a superb biography that gives a lot of insight into Hitler the man, and attempts to answer long standing questions around Hitler’s early and personal life, as well as dispelling long held myths about Hitler’s WW1 service. Volume 2, ‘Hitler: Volume II: Downfall 1939-45’ currently sits on my bookshelf and I am looking forward to reading this soon.
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5

Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew by Michael D. Leinbach
I am a space nut, and remember clearly the 2003 tragedy of the loss of the Columbia Shuttle on her return to Earth. There have been many books and documentaries on the subject since, but this one is unique. Leinbach was the Shuttle Launch Director at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, and in 2003 was tasked with leading the debris recovery and recovery of crew remains scattered across 1000s of kilometers of multiple US states. This is his first hand account of that operation, from the moment of Columbia’s disintegration, to the winding down of the recovery operation.
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5

Columbine by Dave Cullen
I had been wanting to read something about the Columbine shootings for some time. I had been thoroughly underwhelmed previously by Michael Moore’s documentary which I felt avoided portraying the facts in favor of focusing on theatrics like confronting Walmart and the NRA. Dave Cullen is an American journalist who covered the Columbine shootings from day 1, and this is his account of the shootings as well as the background on the shooters. The book is full of fascinating insights, and factual interviews with key people involved.
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5

A Dream of Death by Ralph Riegel
Published in July 2020, this is an account of the murder of French national Sophie Toscan du Plantier in West Cork in 1996, and the arrest of Ian Bailey for her murder. One of the most memorable crimes of the 1990s in Ireland, and a case which remains unsolved to this day, Riegel uses his journalistic skills to present an excellent narrative of the case, right up to Ian Bailey’s first extradition hearing.
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5

Meredith by John Kercher
John Kercher’s brilliantly written account of his daughter’s murder in Perugia, Italy in 2007, the case for which American student Amanda Knox and Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were tried, convicted, imprisoned and eventually acquitted for their involvement (Rudy Guede remains in prison for the murder). John Kercher wanted to focus on his daughter, the victim, and not Amanda Knox like so many other books on this case tend to do, and this book does exactly that.
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5

The Crimes of Josef Fritzl: Uncovering the Truth
Everyone has probably heard of the Fritzl case, but surprisingly there aren’t many books on it, likely due to the fact that the Austrian authorities aren’t the most forthcoming with information. This book, from the journalists who helped to break the story, is an excellent account of the Fritzl case, giving insights into Josef Fritzl’s life, both with his ‘upstairs’ family, with his secret family in the basement, and his business dealings outside. It is evident from reading this that there were many failings of the Austrian authorities, and also that Fritzl from a young age displayed characteristics that would later contribute to his crimes. This book is one I couldn’t put down.
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5

Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto
My favorite city in the world, which I usually visit at least twice a year, but not in 2020 due to the pandemic. Anyone who thinks Amsterdam is only good for sex tourism and coffeeshops is frankly, ignorant, and I’m willing to debate that with anyone. So I thought I should read a history of the city and maybe learn some things that would be useful the next time I get to visit. I am so glad to have picked Russell Shorto’s book. The history of Amsterdam from early times right up to the present day is presented in an excellent narrative, while discussing Amsterdam’s history of liberalism and the historical reasons for that. I learnt so much from this book, and have added a few areas to my list which I will visit when I’m next in Amsterdam (here’s hoping 2021).
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5