My five favourite academic books that I actually read or finished in 2020 (one was published the year before) in no particular order:
1. A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism by Jairus Banaji
Just a great example of how to write clearly and succinctly, while also challenging some deeply held theoretical assumptions, and drawing on an enormous amount of research and reading.
2. Sensoria by McKenzie Wark.
Continuing the project she began in General Intellects, Wark gives us insightful and always idiosyncratic summaries of key contemporary thinkers. You will have your own views on who is included and who is not. Deal with it.
3. Too Smart by Jathan Sadowski.
This is a book I wish I had written. It’s a really sharp and wide-ranging critique of digital capitalism and the political economy of surveillance. It is also unusually well-written. Bastard.
4. Sinews of War and Trade by Laleh Khalili.
Infrastructure seems to be the current thing, and for once, this is as it should be. Khalili’s book is a brilliant exploration of the whole world of capitalist logistics and infrastructure centred on the Arabian peninsula.
5. Savage Ecology by Jairus Victor Grove.
This book, which came out in 2019, but which I only finished this year, is about almost everything, via the collision of war and ecology. Books like this are here to help us prevent the end of the world.
An honorable mention goes to a book by an academic but which isn’t an academic book as such: Stardust to Stardust by the late sociologist, Erik Olin Wright, which is a collection of his posts written as he was diagnosed with, faught, and then died from, cancer.