The Best of Brain Pickings 2020

A glance over the shoulder of time to reveal the patterns, themes, and ideas that steady us and shelter us in the tempest of life.

Like every year, this annual glance over the shoulder of time is a composite of the essays that most resonated with readers and those I most enjoyed writing, the overlap being always significant but always the Venn diagram of a partial eclipse rather than a perfect totality.

Even more so than other years, in this particularly trying year, it has been curious to observe the patterns that emerge across those ideas, themes, and regions of being that most sustain us in times of crisis: love, trees, poetry, creativity, the stubborn insistence on life in the face of loss, the constancy of nature’s consolations, the revivifying passion to go on making, go on loving, go on living.

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Essential Life-Learnings from 14 Years of Brain Pickings

Read it here.

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Antidotes to Fear of Death: Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads Astronomer and Poet Rebecca Elson’s Stunning Cosmic Salve for Our Creaturely Tremblings of Heart

Read it here.

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Yes to Life, in Spite of Everything: Viktor Frankl’s Lost Lectures on Moving Beyond Optimism and Pessimism to Find the Deepest Source of Meaning

Read it here.

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Seasons in a Pandemic: Mary Shelley on What Makes Life Worth Living and Nature’s Beauty as a Lifeline to Regaining Sanity

Read it here.

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Creativity in the Time of COVID: Zadie Smith on Writing, Love, and What Echoes Through the Hallway of Time Suddenly Emptied of Habit

Read it here.

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I Long to Read More in the Book of You: Moomins Creator Tove Jansson’s Tender and Passionate Letters to the Love of Her Life

Read it here.

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Bloom: A Touching Animated Short Film about Depression and What It Takes to Recover the Light of Being

Read it here.

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The Cosmic Miracle of Trees: Astronaut Leland Melvin Reads Pablo Neruda’s Love Letter to Earth’s Forests

Read it here.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Solitude: Newton, the Plague, and How Quarantine Fomented the Greatest Leap in Science

Read it here.

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Nick Cave on Living with Loss and the Central Paradox of Grief as a Portal to Aliveness

Read it here.

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Walt Whitman on What Makes a Great Person and What Wisdom Really Means

Read it here.

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Singularity: Marie Howe’s Ode to Stephen Hawking, Our Cosmic Belonging, and the Meaning of Home, in a Stunning Animated Short Film

Read it here.

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The Radical Act of Letting Things Hurt: How (Not) to Help a Friend in Sorrow

Read it here.

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Octavia Butler on How (Not) to Choose Our Leaders

Read it here.

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The Spirit of the Woods: Poet and Painter Rebecca Hey’s Gorgeous 19th-Century Illustrations for the World’s First Encyclopedia of Trees

Read it here.

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What It Takes to Grow Up, What It Means to Have Grown

Read it here.

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The Osbick Bird: Edward Gorey’s Tender and Surprising Vintage Illustrated Allegory About the Meaning of True Love

Read it here.

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A Lifeline for the Hour of Despair: James Baldwin on 4AM, the Fulcrum of Love, and Life as a Moral Obligation to the Universe

Read it here.

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How an Artist is Like a Tree: Paul Klee on Creativity

Read it here.

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How to Live and How to Die

Read it here.

Complement with the year’s most nourishing books.