10 Fascinating Books To Read When You Have Lots of Free Time

Tom Stevenson


Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

With half of the world’s population under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of us have more time than we know what to do with.

Social distancing has meant many of us can no longer head into the offices we used to work in and must instead work from the comfort of our homes. Unfortunately, many people have lost their jobs during these uncertain times and have no idea if they will get them back once this is all over.

This uncertainty is unsettling and worrying. It’s easy to think the worst in a situation such as this. However, this crisis also offers an opportunity for us all, even to those who have lost their jobs.

Your time has been freed up and one of the best ways to utilise it is to read books. In 1946, Malcolm Little was sentenced to ten years in prison for a series of misdemeanours.

While in prison, he met John Bembry, a self-educated man, who inspired Malcolm to make the most of his time in prison. During his time in prison, Malcolm developed a voracious appetite for reading, so much so, that he needed glasses after straining his eyes from reading so many books!

Upon his release from prison in 1952, he became known to the world as Malcolm X. A tireless human rights activist who campaigned for civil rights for people of all races in the United States.

We will not be confined to our houses for the six years Malcolm spent inside a prison, but this virus will affect our way of life for at least a year, if not longer. In a situation such as this, you have a choice been alive time and dead time.

Either you can spend your time wisely such as Malcolm, or you can waste it in several ways. Reading is a vital activity that offers us a glimpse into the knowledge and lives of a variety of figures both imagined and from the past.

We cannot change what has happened, we're all at the mercy of events greater than any of us. But, we do get to choose how we respond. Taking the time to read a few books is as good a way as any to respond to these unusual times we find ourselves in.

The Black Swan

The Black Swan is one of the best books I have read in recent years. It’s not often that a book fundamentally changes the way you think about the world, but this one did.

Written by Nassim Taleb, the book looks at how highly improbable events can have a big impact on the world. Black Swan events are described as those that come as a major surprise and are often rationalised with the benefit of hindsight.

It opened my eyes to the effect of Black Swan events and how they impact the world. 9/11 is one such example. Before the incident, the door to the cockpits of aeroplanes was not locked. Had a regulation been introduced before the event that introduced locks, there likely would have been a backlash from those who argued it was too much red tape.

However, after the event has taken place, no one has any arguments and the measure is considered common sense. We can’t predict when these events will happen, but we can put measures in place to protect ourselves against them.

The Black Swan will show you how to implement these measures into your life to mitigate such events impacting you.

Utopia For Realists

Utopia For Realists is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. It’s written by Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, who rose to fame during the 2018 Davos summit when he said rich people should be taxed more.

The book revolves around three core ideas: a universal basic income for everyone no questions asked, open borders worldwide with free movement of citizens and a working week of fifteen hours.

These may seem like fanciful ideas, especially given the Coronavirus pandemic, but they are important to consider. The virus has shown has how fragile jobs can be. Without a security net, people can easily slip into poverty.

Open borders seems a long way away given the lockdown most of us find ourselves in, but the economic arguments for opening borders are strong. While a shorter working week could be possible following the virus as we may realise that endless productivity is not productive.

Coronavirus will change the world in ways we cannot be sure of yet. This book provides a vision of a future that could be achieved if we dare to fight for it. If you’re looking for a ray of optimism in these dark times, reading Utopia For Realists will help you find it.

Pale Rider

Given that we are currently living in a pandemic, reading a book about the 1918 Spanish flu which killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people worldwide may not seem like the best idea.

But, it gives you a fascinating insight into what happened in the past and how we can use this to prepare for what we will face. The Spanish flu was a dangerous virus. It was more lethal than the Coronavirus and devastated countries across the globe.

Pale Rider looks at this in detail. It’s fascinating to see how the virus spread around the globe and how it impacted people from different backgrounds in society.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is how the Spanish flu changed the world. It was one of the reasons why universal healthcare became popular and helped to solidify the need for governments to take an active stance on improving sanitation and looking after the wellbeing of citizens.

The Uninhabitable Earth

The Uninhabitable Earth is a fascinating if terrifying, book to read. It focuses on how climate change will impact the world and how even 2 degrees of warming by 2100 will be catastrophic for a large portion of humanity.

The risks associated with climate change are hard to compute as the effects will not be evident until it’s too late. This is one of the reasons why attempts to stop emissions have been unsuccessful. Unfortunately, humans are terrible at dealing with long-term risk as opposed to those in the short term.

If we don’t act on climate change the effects will be unimaginable. The best-case scenario of two degrees is bad enough, but should warming of three or four degrees occur, the economic damage from this will total $100 trillion per year by 2100. That’s more than the total GDP of all nations today.

This is an uplifting read. If you already have climate anxiety it may be best to skip this one. For anyone that wants to learn more about climate change and its potential impacts, however, it’s an essential read and one that will leave you in awe at what we may unwittingly unleash on the world if we don’t act.

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment is one of my favourite novels. Written by the brilliant Fyodor Dostoyevsky, it’s a brilliant look at how delusions of grandeur can lead people to make horrific decisions.

The main character, Rasilinikov sees himself as a latter-day Napoleon. A man whom the normal rules of society don’t apply to. This belief has profound consequences as the novel progresses, which shows the fallacy of holding such views.

This is much more novel than a novel, it’s also a philosophical look at life and how the definitions of good and evil are often too simplistic for our complicated world.

Crime and Punishment shows us is that the world is much more nuanced than we think. Beliefs that we hold dear are not always true, while people can always be redeemed if we do not tar them with simplistic labels.

The Lessons of History

The Lessons of History is one of the most interesting books I have read in recent times. It’s only a short book, at just over 100 pages, but packs a lot of fantastic information inside those pages.

The book looks at various trends across history and draws conclusions from them. This is a different way of looking at history, but a useful one. Instead of focusing on one event, focusing on how various event have played out throughout history, you gain a greater understanding of the past which can better prepare you for the future.

This is probably the key message of the book. No matter which way you look at it, the past informs the present. Every aspect of human life is affected by what has gone before.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and if you want a look at how history impacts us al, this is a book you have to read!

Fluent Forever

One of the most common goals among many of us is to learn another language. However, if you don’t speak another language and haven’t gone through the process of learning one, it can be hard to know where to start.

I was in this situation when I moved to Barcelona in 2015. I barely spoke any Spanish and had no idea how to improve my level so I could communicate with people.

I bought Fluent Forever, in the hope that it would accelerate my learning and I wasn’t disappointed. The book won’t make you fluent overnight, but it gives you the tools and processes needed to become fluent in a language.

One of the core principles in the book is to utilise images to learn and remember various words and phrases. Associating a word such as gato, Spanish for cat with an image of a fluffy black cat, means you’re more likely to remember the word in the future.

If you want to learn a language during your spare time, I can’t recommend this book enough. You will understand what it takes to become fluent and have a better understanding of how to get there.


Andre Agassi is one of the most fascinating sports personalities of recent times. Not only was he a fantastic player, but he was an interesting individual too.

His autobiography looks at his life and career and reveals a soul more tortured and conflicted than was obvious through the medium of television. An interesting revelation is that he didn’t like tennis. Something you would never know from the commitment shown during his matches.

I’m a big fan of autobiographies as they offer a window into the lives of the famous. Sports stars are a particular fascination as they are unique people who simultaneously believe in their abilities and are wracked with self-doubt.

Open is one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read. It pulls no punches and he is not afraid to talk about the darkest moments of his life. It also emphasises that those who are rich and famous are as infallible as the rest of us.

Letters From A Stoic

Seneca is one of my favourite philosophers. He comes from the Stoic branch of philosophy, which makes his insights applicable to daily life.

Letters From A Stoic is a fantastic book that everyone should read at least once in their lives. The letters were correspondences between him and his friend Lucilius.

Written two thousand years ago, they contain many insights that are as relevant today as they were when Seneca first wrote them. Knowledge is timeless. What has happened has happened before. Most of the problems we face today, our ancestors faced thousands of years ago today.

Stoicism is becoming more and more popular and if you’re looking for a book to introduce you to the philosophy, Letters From A Stoic is one of, if not the, best.

The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain is a fantastic novel, written by my favourite novelist, Michael Crichton. The story is based around an outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism in New Mexico.

In light of the Coronavirus outbreak, it’s a highly relevant novel to read. While we are not dealing with a virus from outer space, we are still dealing with a deadly virus.

The novel looks at what happens when we try to contain an invisible threat and the measures that are best to counter such a threat. It’s a lesser-known book, but that shouldn’t put you off. Crichton is a master at developing a storyline and reading the book will make you thankful it’s a fictional story and not reality!

It does take a while to get going, but once it does, it’s an exhilarating read that you’ll find hard to put down!

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