Trying something new tonight with Substack’s discussion thread option. I’d love to hear about your favorite book of the year (regardless of when it was published). Drop one or five titles in the comments, and see (hopefully) a boatload of other reader’s picks for great books!
I love this question. These titles come out on top for me:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison. Surprisingly apt to a time when we are all quarantined against our will. A case study in true moral courage and Christian witness.
Michael Sandel, The Tyranny of Merit. Excellent exegesis of why demagogic populism has swept the nation - his premise is that the myth of "meritocracy" is at the root of our widespread alienation. I've referred to this book in conversation more than any other I've read this year.
Barack Obama, A Promised Land. A reminder of what it was like to have a president with empathy, discernment, and grace - in short, someone who gave a sh*t about other people. Also works as a study in why activism and politics need each other to succeed. People who are mad that Obama did this or didn't do that while president should read it, as he explains himself and the constraints of the office exceptionally well.
Honorable mention: A Gentleman in Moscow, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, A Separate Peace, A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear
A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles
The Read and the Blue - Steve Kornacki
Sherlock Holmes. All of it!
The Count of Monte Cristo
My tastes are more to classics. Would like to see a few more classics from you. Going to try to join you in W&P!
NLT Bible. The NLT is great for long-reading and and understanding what you read. I did 2-4 OT chapters, 1 NT, and 1 Ps. or Prov. a day. BEST THING I EVER DID. Eye opening. Next year going to take a step further and do NIV!
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It was difficult to finish because I wanted to strap on my running shoes and hit the pavement every time I sat down to read it. A wonderful, very readable book about running which is enjoyable even if you are not a runner.
I'm going to go with Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Rare is a book that is hard to put down yet feels like a great work of literature. Superfun and deep, I want more :-)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy was my favorite this year. I also really liked the first two volumes of Robert Caro’s LBJ bio and The Body by Bill Bryson. A good US history book I read this year is American Nations by Colin Woodard.
Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L'Amour
In the Heart of the Sea by Philbrick
Man's Search for Meaning by Frankl
The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
Hope is the Thing with Feathers: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Educated by Tara Westover
Those are some of my favorites reads this year... It's pretty hard to pick an absolute favorite though. Heck... Even just narrowing it down to these was hard.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Was one of the best books I've ever read.
Lots of non-fiction picks on my end:
* Hampton Sides' On Desperate Ground (a recommendation of yours) was fantastic both in terms of readability and also educating me on a Korean War campaign that I knew very little about.
* Bad Blood by John Carreyrou was stunning as an exposé in how a lack of accountability and a culture of secrecy in a startup can quickly balloon into the scam of the decade.
* Masters of the Air by Donald Miller was a comprehensive overview of the Eighth Air Force in the Second World War, covering both the very personal experiences of the American bomber crews as well as the broader strategy of the bombing war over Europe until 1945.
* Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark -- starting with a 70-80 page overview of the Serbian monarchy, this book is a wonderfully deep, detail-oriented view of the different political actors and context around the start of the First World War. It is lengthy but you will learn so much from it.
On the fiction front, I continued through Abir Mukherjee's Sam Wyndham books (Death in the East and Smoke and Ashes), which is a crime series set in India during the British Raj. Highly recommended for those that enjoy reading at the intersection of history & crime fiction.
I got into Tolstoy this year too, though all of it being his post-conversion work. Many of the short stories are very good, but his “A Confession” and his “My Religion” really got hold of me. I immediately read “Confession” again and filled my Commonplace Book with notes from both. He was a fascinated and brilliant man.
I finally finished the Wheel of Time series. I made it halfway through in high school, then picked it up again last year. It's definitely a commitment, but it's a good story.
I also loved "Anxious People" by Fredrik Bachman just as much as I loved "A Man Called Ove"
Range by David Epstein! There's not one path to the top and it pays to have a breadth of experience.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Scandalous Witness: A Little Political Manifesto for Christians by Lee Camp
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
Endurance: Shackleton’s voyage, open by Andre Agassi, recursion by Blake crouch, and The suspect by Kent Alexander about the Atlanta Olympic bombing.
Since I read some really great books this year, which was made easier by the pandemic and lockdowns, here are my top 5, in no order:
1. Flowers for Algernon
2. The Hobbit
3. Lonesome Dove
4. Gentleman in Moscow
5. All the Light We Cannot See
Tough for me to choose one, but I think it would be All The Light We Cannot See. Just a beautifully written book and a true joy to read.
Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler - I have wanted to read this for a while and took the time this year, it helped enrich my further reading later in the year.
The Illiad - First time reading it
Spiritual Leadership - by J. Oswald Sanders - I am finishing up my principal certification and my brother got this for me when I said I was looking for leadership books.
The Black Prism by Brent Weeks - I love the world building in this.
1. War and Peace - Tolstoy. Such amazing depth to the characters who each undergo life changing revelations throughout the novel which Tolstoy is so great at describing. Really impactful.
2. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen. My first time reading Austen and I was surprised to find I really enjoyed it. Elizabeth is such a fantastic and likable character.
3. Summer Lightning - PG Wodehouse. Hilarious if you like the type humor.
1. My Struggle (6 volumes!) by Karl Ove Knausgård. The Proust of our times! Anything from him is fantastic.
2. What Were We Thinking? By Carlos Lazada. Out of all the books out there about Trump replaces all of them! A seminal read with a great annotated bibliography.
3. Mythology by Edith Hamilton. Read this years ago and is truly a timeless classic. The 75th anniversary edition has beautiful artwork too!
Got to go with Devolution, by Max Brooks. Great survival story. Very smart author.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
The Road... Wow. That book.. so ugly yet beautiful. The characters anonymous yet so relatable. An amazing book.
Morris' Rise of TR was a great read as well. Very engaging. I'm looking forward to the next two volumes.
The Count of Monte Cristo for sure. Took a while, but hands down the best "story" I've ever read. The plot is airtight, and dips and weaves through plots and subplots, with what I found to be an extremely satisfying ending. Will read again one day.
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Not my usual kind of book but it was so incredibly well written and I was sad when it was done.
Churchill: Walking with Destiny. Awesome in the truest sense of the word.
The Sirens of Titan: I read a bunch of Vonnegut many years ago and didn’t care for him, but this time through my older, wiser, more cynical self loved him deeply.
Caste: changed how I see the world forever
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, the Horse: incredibly sweet. I cry every time I read it to my kids or myself
Grant by Chernow. A powerful and well-written book about an incredible man. When I'm in the Oval Office one day his picture will be with me! 😂
Definitely Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour.
Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa
Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander
The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy
The Whiskey Rebels
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck/Everything is F*cked
East of Eden - Steinbeck, A Year In The Maine Woods - Henrich, and Walking: by Kagge.
I gotta say, Recursion was by far my favorite non-fiction of the year. For me, some markers of a really good fiction are how much I look forward to reading it and how much I think about it after I'm done. Recursion pretty much maxed out both of those.
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I've read all her books and this was my favorite. Read this twice, once quick, then a slow reread over about 6 months. The material on shame is some of the best I've come across. Very empowering book.
The splendid and the Vile (all his books are great) by Erik Larson
This house of sky by Ivan Doig
Ghost fleet by PW Singer
Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly
Dangerous River by RM Patterson
Call Sign Chaos - Jim Mattis - a leader on and off the battlefield
Words that Work - Frank Luntz - fascinating book on the use of diction in public
Paris 1919 - Margaret MacMillan - provides a deep understanding of the current geopolitical landscape
Materhorn by Karl Marlantes
Stoner by John Williams
A few from this year (in no particular order):
- SERPENT ON THE ROCK, by Kurt Eichenwald. It seems like it'd be super-dry to read about securities fraud from the 1980s (and securities regulation is my dry business!), but this book does a great job of making an extremely dry subject fascinating.
- THE DEVIL & SHERLOCK HOLMES, by David Grann. Grann's just such a good writer and this is a collection of some of his New Yorker pieces.
- THE SPY AND THE TRAITOR, by Ben Macintyre. What can I say? This true story of a Russian double agent was riveting.
- DEAD WAKE, by Erik Larson. This one was a fascinating zoom-in on the incident itself; haunting in a lot of ways.
- MISERY, by Stephen King. I made it a vague goal a few years ago to read one King book every fall, and this happened this year's. (Last year's was THE STAND, so that turned out to be prescient for this year...)
It’s a toss up between “the parade” by Dave Evers and “The Wall” by John Lanchester. The former has a quick pace with a gut punch ending that will leave you breathless. While the latter is a slow burn that will leave you questioning what we’re all doing with our lives.
I finally read Alexander Hamilton by Chernow, and it was remarkable.
Empire of the Summer Moon was great by SC Gwynne as well.
Night Boat To Tangier- Kevin Barry
Blacktop Wasteland- S.A. Cosby
The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team- Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
“Super Pumped” by Mike Isaac about the rise and fall of Uber. It’s always astounding to get an inside look at how how dysfunctional and toxic a workplace can really be, especially when the money flow like water. It seems like a movie until you remember it’s real
Power Broker by Robert Caro, No Ordinary Time by Dorris Kearns Goodwin, Titan by Ron Chernow and FDR by Jean Edward Smith
I really enjoyed Principles by Ray Dalio! Lots of helpful mental models.
Chasing the Scream - Johann Hari. Make you rethink drugs, abuse and drug war policy.
Also, Collapse by Jared Diamond is how societies collapse.
Two paradigm shifting books for me.
A Promised Land by Barak Obama. I think I (re)read Say Nothing at the beginning of this year. Both were tops for me this past year.
As a high school principal, I’ve been making a commitment to mixing YA literature with my own as a means of connecting with classes.
- The Arc of a Scythe series by Neil Shusterman (Scythe, The Thunderhead, & The Toll) (YA)
- Turtles All the Way Done (YA)
- Killers of the Flower Moon
Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway. I have been getting into hunting over the last few years, and I found it very entertaining and encouraging to read Hemingway complain about the feelings of hopelessness he got sitting in a blind with no game in sight. Remembered now as a legendary hunter, he actually becomes very relatable to a newb like me as those common fears and doubt and frustration and envy run through his mind.
Unfortunately, mental health problems kicked in during quarantine this year and it resulted in me not reading as much as I had planned initially. However, I would undoubtedly say Siddartha by Hermann Hesse was my favourite. Very well written and quite illuminating, it gave me a sense of calming beauty in every paragraph, every sentence, every word. It's quite a short read, definitely worth the few hours.
I read quite few different topics, mostly at the beginning of the year. I had bought them actually before the pandemic kicked, but got reading them during the pandemic, suddenly I had the time to read them! It was a quit a different experience, having, well, as much time as I needed, regular day to day was hectic, but then everything had slowed down. So here it is:
How The World Works - Noam Chomsky.
The Art of Thinking Clearly - Rolf Dobelli.
Utopia for Realists - Rutger Bregman.
Everything Is Fucked - Mark Manson.
-I had already read already his first one The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, a few years back.
Like I said quite a few different topics and themes, no novels yet, I have a few waiting, but not yet.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer. A really great look at Native American history and experience in America from the perspective of a Native American. Would HIGHLY recommend.
The Stormlight Archive Series by Brandon Sanderson. Epic high fantasy series. The world building Sanderson does is unbelievable. The way the plot moves is awesome. I am not a huge fan of fantasy novels but I read nearly 4,000 pages in these three books in about 6 weeks. SO good!
Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L'Amor. L'Amor id far better known for his Western writing, which I have long enjoyed. This book is a memoir that follows his life by the books he read. I know that sounds weird but it is a deeply compelling read, especially for people who love to read.
Th Red and the Blue by Steve Kornacki. If you have ever looked at the current American political landscape and thought, "What the heck is happening?!?!" then this book is for you. Kornacki racks our current political discord back to Gingrich and Clinton and their political careers that began in the 1970's. As someone who was a kid during the Gingrich/Clinton heyday of the 90's, this book was really informative and fleshed out a ton of details that I simply didn't know because I was too young at the time.
There are more but I'll keep it to that :D
Last Kings of Shanghai
Lawrence in Arabia
I really enjoyed:
THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy
JOHNNY TREMAIN by Esther Forbes
THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne