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Article  •  1 February 2021


The six books that changed my life in 2020

Dot Tonkin recommends you move these to the top of your TBR stack.

Confession: I am addicted to self-improvement/health/science books. Working for a publisher gives me an unlimited supply of these and I read dozens every year. So which ones are the best? The six below get my vote, give them a go if you want a new you for the new year.


1. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

This book changed my view of the world, and the role we, as Homo Sapiens, play in it. Much more than just a history, it is a meditation on what it means to be human and a reminder that corporations, money and religion are all constructs of our imagination. Pure brain food.


2. Breath by James Nestor

I have raved about this book to so many of my friends they are sick of it, except the ones who have actually read it and who are now doing the same to their friends. It then seems ironic that reading Breath resulted in me shutting my mouth, for breathing at least. Yes, the main tenet is that we need to go back to breathing through our noses. The evidence is compelling and the result, for me at least, was reduced asthma and a better night’s sleep. Love it.


3. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Similar in style to Breath, this is an equally engrossing deep dive into the science of sleeping. If there’s one thing (other than breathing through your nose) you can do to improve your health this year, it’s to get a good night’s sleep. It resets the body and brain, fights infection and benefits every single organ. There are practical tips at the end that are super easy to do and best of all: you can put them into action immediately.


4. Atomic Habits by James Clear

The perfect book to read after you’ve finished the above and want to change some habits, like going to bed earlier. It’s all about changing behaviour. To make a good habit, make it obvious, easy and rewarding. To break a bad habit, well, you’ll have to read the book. (In case you’re wondering, I have this book to thank for exercising in the morning: I did it by putting out my gym gear every night before I went to bed.)


5. The Resilience Project by Hugh Van Cuylenburg

I admit I came to this book because other people were raving about it. And deservedly so. The subtitle of the book: Finding Happiness through Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness says it all, however it was the gratitude section that impacted me the most, especially the story about the playground equipment in a Himalayan school. Shifting to a grateful mindset really did make me happier, I recommend it!


6. Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

The title might suggest that this is for managers or leaders, but its precepts apply to many situations. The one that stayed with me was this: Extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others. There are still times when I haven’t done that, but now I’m aware when it’s happening. Am I a better person? I hope so! That question aside, this book brilliantly explores what it means to be brave, empathetic, and vulnerable. Enjoy!


About the author: Dot Tonkin is the Marketing and Publicity Director, Young Readers, at Penguin Random House Australia. None of the books mentioned above are within her remit to promote, she genuinely likes reading them. She claims that her engineering, science and journalism degrees mean she is more than qualified to comment on them but in reality, we can’t get her to shut up about them so we thought we’d put her to good use by writing this blog.

Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari

What makes us brilliant? What makes us deadly? What makes us Sapiens? This bestselling history of our species challenges everything we know about being human.

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