The question is simple: what's the best book you read this year? It doesn't have to be one published in 2017, just one that you read for the first time and loved.
This is the third year I have reached out to people on my newsletter and Patreon page for annual book recommendations. And for the third year in a row you've been amazing, suggesting a diverse and provocative range of titles.
It makes so much more sense to me to bring the community together like this, than to just provide you with a narrow list of my own curated reads. Here are the lists for 2015 and 2016: already well over a hundred smart reads.
There are a lot more fiction recommendations this year than there have been previously, which is great! In 2018 I have decided to read almost exclusively fiction, so all these recommendations are perfectly timed.
Finally, as always, a big thank you to everyone on my newsletter and Patreon who took a few minutes to share your recommendations. It's great to bring this little internet community together, I want to do it more often in 2018!
To make it even easier to find recommendations, here's a table of contents. Apologies if any books have been misappropriated. Also, sorry there are no links to the books on Amazon - it would have taken me too long to find and add them!
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Recommended by Joel D Canfield and Rose M.
The denouement is the kind of deeply satisfying perfectly appropriate inevitable yet surprising ending that had me in tears as I tried to describe it to Best Beloved. (You asked for one sentence, which preposterously undersells this brilliant book.) -Joel
My book club read an interesting arc of books (Improbability of Love-about art dealing- Hare with the Golden Eyes-dense memoir, Golem and the Jinni-1900's NYC) culminating with A Gentleman in Moscow. Saturated with art, history, the endurance of human kindness over cruelty, humor and irony, A Gentleman in Moscow highlights Russian History through the Bolshevik revolution and into the 1950's. It's well written, easy to read, fun to listen to, swift paced with great characterizations. -Rose
In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
Recommended by Adam Westbrook
OK so this one is a bit of a cheat as it is not published until next May (although it's available on pre-order). Guy showed me his manuscript last year and it is honestly stunning: a fierce and vibrant portrait of five lives shaped by London which captures the essence of what it's like to grow up on a north London estate.
Year Zero by Rob Reid
Recommended by Gunnar Selm
Very interesting and funny setting. Funny and Light. I liked the very different and unusual approach to the sci-fi genre. The impact: it made me laugh.
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Recommended by Brendan Miggins
Never before had I read a book which had me weeping throughout the last hour of reading it... and I have no idea exactly why this book did. Maybe it was the setting in Italy in the mid 1980's (which is when I too lived in Italy)? Or that it's the coming of age story of a young gay man (my coming of age as a gay man happened much later under different circumstances)? Or that it's splendidly sensuous (and sensual) writing moves through time and memory, space and desire in a manner that's simply gorgeous. Or maybe it was the speech the Father gives near the end. Maybe it was all of those things. All I know is, in the end, this book just really "got me".
Dark Run (Keiko, #1) by Mike Brooks
Recommended by Jason Caryl
If you're in the mood for a quick page turner that will launch you into a sci-fi adventure, give this book a read. It reminded me a lot of the tv show Firefly and movies like The Fifth Element. It's a great escape from your day-to-day struggles.
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Recommended by Ceri
The book is written from multiple viewpoints, giving a unique insight into the motivations of each character. Stylistically, it was fantastic.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Recommended by Maggie Sulc
Science fiction catastrophe that reveals the amazing capabilities we have as a human race to survive and adapt.
Сумерки by Дмитрий Глуховский
Recommended by Alexei Dvorac
Original view on life and building blocks of our worlds.
Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture by Johan Huizinga
Recommended by Niki Shmikis
It is a fascinating anthropology book that investigates questions: “what is play?” and “what role does play have in human culture?” I discovered that play is intrinsic to humankind and that war, law, religion, the arts, poetry, philosophy - all contain elements of play that drive their production. I learned a ton of historical information and discovered a deeper understanding of play in human culture. It was not an easy read, but it was mind-blowing.
The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry
Recommended by Adam Westbrook
In a year where the extent to which "this is a man's world" has finally begun to be acknowledged, artist and transvestite Grayson Perry believes that masculinity is actually toxic for men as well. He argues that the stereotypes of masculinity forced on boys from a young age ("don't cry", "man up" etc) are the cause of a host of problems and that we need to redefine what it means to be a man. An important read for all dudes.
The Heroine's Journey by Maureen Murdock
Recommended by Nathalie Sejean
We're so used to the Hero's Journey, we forget it really only applies to half of the population. A must for women and men curious to read about this infamous other half and a great introduction to a whole new world of thoughts rarely talked about.
Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright
Recommended by Binh Ho
Exploration of how the mind works based on current understanding of neuroscience and how it validates many concepts of buddhist mediation
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Recommended by Brian Gachichio Karanja
First, it's a book recommended by Charlie Munger. So there's that. And that's a big deal. Second, the book looks at some of the key "weapons of influence", how they work, why they work so well, and how one can fight them off.
Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Recommended by JB
At first glance, the term "antifragile" seems both simple and strange - as a mindset, it has made me look at the world with different eyes, now suspicious of things labeled as "convenience" or "efficient", and now more curious of things labeled "chaotic" or "random." It's a dense book, one that cannot and should not be read in one sitting. Taleb has a great way of explaining things, coming back to points to restate or expand them, using examples that are easily relatable, and having a style that feels like you're both regulars at a cafe or bar, picking up your last conversation without pause or hurry.
The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Recommended by Mo
Kapuscinski recounts being present for critical times in African history during the 70s and 80s - when nations were throwing off the bonds of colonialism and becoming independent overnight. But what I love about Kapuscinski is his ability to level with the irony and depravity and also the humanity of a situation... he tells stories which focus on some of the most minute details in order to peel back the layers of what these turning points in history mean for the everyday person, as well as the foreign journalist covering the situation. Also, he's funny. Some of the essays involve crazy escapades through the jungle or to African island with despotic regimes being overthrown; others are pure meditation on life in Africa, say, from riding shotgun with a tired old truck driver in Mauritania, running out of gas/water, sitting in the dust, and seeing insane visions in a fit of dehydration. All is personal.
Surviving the Future by David Fleming
Recommended by Adam Westbrook
At the start of the year I went on an end-of-the-world binge and read Postcapitalism, The Sovereign Individual and Surviving The Future in rapid succession. I don't recommend this, as I spent the rest of the year in a funk, feeling depressed about the future. Fleming's book is the only one of the above which offers a positive - if radical - vision of what a post-capitalist society might look like.
The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro
Recommended by Binh Ho
Amazing biography of Lyndon Johnson, his childhood, background, psychological profile, natural drive and ability. Excellent research coupled with effective storytelling reveals Johnson to be quite a fascinating character.
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
Recommended by Paritosh
It's a fast-paced history book (so a bit of an oxymoron!) about how 'On the Nature of Things', one of the seminal texts discovered by book hunters that birthed the Renaissance, was discovered. I loved it because it again highlighted how truth and logic triumphs over religious discourse and suppression.
From the Ruins of Empire - (The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia) by Pankaj Mishra
Recommended by Ammar Rehmani
Well, our consuming culture is West-centric. This fact is also reflected in how we read and write our history. This book is what I categorize as 'history of ideas' genre. What happened when the british were 'crushing it' in India, the Ottomans were falling to their demis and Asia on a whole was staring at a dark period. Asian intellectuals realized that an Asian renaissance is needed to fight the 'enemies'. So we follow few remarkable men whose ideas will shape Asia (and the world). The journey of ideas flows across last two centuries, you will get to know the source of ideas behind the Chinese Communist Party to Al Qaeda, from Indian nationalism to the Muslim Brotherhood. I love the book because living in Asia, I got to know intellectuals that affected our region, I didn't know their story nor the story about their ideas before, so it was an eye-opener.
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
Recommended by Anon
Diamond's theory is awe inspiring in its scope and poses a serious challenge to the racist worldview most humans hold (unknowingly). It led me to reconsider the causes of so many societal norms that we take for granted and seriously question how we ended up where we are.
Destiny Disrupted by Tamin Ansery
Recommended by Sumowitch
It's a history of the world from an Islamic perspective. It's the most readable account of Islam I know of and helps to explain the ongoing conflicts related to the Islamic World and see the delusions about Islam many of us have in the West.
Sapiens: A history of mankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Recommended by Eileen Engel
This is one of the best books I've ever read because it does two things. One, it informs me about a wide variety of topics I am interested in, (It's subtitle is A History of Mankind). Also, it challenges me on a variety of subjects, for example the role of women. The first paragraph grabbed me so much I had friends who might like the book read it. They all got hooked. Sapiens made me rethink my view of where we came from and how we got here, and helps me understand, with awe, the many generations before recorded history.
Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Recommended by Hannah
Chef Gabrielle Hamilton has lived a fascinating and unconventional life. She tells her story, blending the stories of the food she prepares and eats. It is apparent that cooking and eating are an essential part of who she is, but so is telling stories.
Quiet, Please by Scott Douglas
Recommended by Yaman
First it is an interesting view about libraries and their impact on the local community, the book is written not as a memoir more as logbook and shows you the event as they happen rather than the nostalgic view later on. Most importantly is how the author finds information and link them with current events. Also he manage to make it funny often.
A quick note to say this next book has been recommended by its own author. I didn't make a rule against that and Kevin is open about it, so I'll let you decide for yourselves!
Tales Untold by Narcissismus Decimus Maximus
Recommended by Kevin Focke
Let me preface by saying that I wrote this book, but it is truthfully the best book I've read this year. It is hard for me to fathom a book that more adequately represents our modern times; Tales Untold is an ego-maniacal, dense polarizing book that vacillates in meaning and yet despite it all continues its unfettered search for Truth and progress.The book changed my life—and not because it sold well through incessant self-promotion. Snark. Rather it changed my life because it helped me navigate circumstances that previously led me astray and left me in dismay.
Science & Technology
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Recommended by Sondre T.
Surprisingly fascinating deep dive into the mistakes of city planning theory, and it's devastating consequences.
Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Recommended by Adam Westbrook
This book's been doing the rounds for a few years and was a surprise gift from my grandma. I guess she has me figured. It's a strange sensation to read a book and see yourself so accurately described in the pages. If you're an introvert, this is a must-read, if anything to remind you that you're not alone.
Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Recommended by Jonathan Barker
"Everybody Lies" uses big data, such as medical searches on Google and crime rates after weekend blockbusters... to reveal who we really are as a species. Questions like "What baseball team are you likely to cheer for?" and "Do violent films cause crime?" are explored in detail. The author was inspired by Freakonomics to become a data scientist. The book is not for the faint of heart.
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky
Recommended by Zac Scy
Every day we're confronted with situations that require some sort of action on our part. At times we show how loving, generous, and compassionate we can be. At other times we show the very darkest humanity has to offer. When we're asked about why we acted in a certain way we usually come up with some sort of plausible answer, but how confident can we be that this explanation is correct? Is our behavior more based on nature or nurture, psychology or biology, past or present? This book starts its journey at the point of when a behavior occurs and travels backward in minutes, hours, days, months, years, and generations to give us an expansive view of what influences our behaviors. Being human is a messy business and as such the question "Why do we do what we do?" needs a variety of fields to intersect and come together with each other if we truly want to find a broader understanding of ourselves and our behavior. While this book is mainly focused on the biological aspects of behavior it also incorporates a variety of disciplines under its umbrella. Thus it manages to beautifully illustrate how there's no "one right answer" to the question about human behavior that any particular discipline has the ability to provide alone.
Self-help & Creativity
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
Recommended by Gunnar Selm
I like the writing style and the down to earth view of things. It gave me reason to decide differently about things. Though it was not that book alone.
Unflattening by Nick Sousanis
Recommended by Adam Westbrook
Unflattening explores the relationship between words and pictures in comic form, which you can imagine is a big deal in my work as a visual storyteller. My copy is covered in observations and connections that come out through the pages. It's ultimately an argument for taking multiple perspectives. No surprise that shortly after reading this book, Parallax came together in my head.
The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity by Grant Snider
Recommended by Hugo
If you only read one comic this year, make it Shape of Ideas. It's a bundle of short comic book stories about... ideas. Some funny, some mind bending, some sweet like a poem, all of them nothing short of amazing.If your wondering what comics potential really is in storytelling this is definitely a book that keeps you coming back to over and over.
The Case for Working with Your Hands: Or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good by Matthew Crawford
Recommended by Andy Briscoe
A really interesting book that looks at how the type of employment has shifted over the last 50-60 years – from easy to measure tasks, such as producing a physical item in a factory, to the current working environments where it is hard to measure performance against what success looks like. This book totally changed how I approach my day to day process and made me look at how I should define and measure 'success' within my own job and life.
Zhuan Falun by Li Hongzhi
Recommended by Hau Nguyen
Zhuan Falun is the core comprehensive book about Falun Gong - and a best-selling book in China before it was banned. It takes up where 'Falun Gong' (an introductory book recommended for beginner of the practice) leaves off, exploring in detail many of the same subjects. Drawing on an ancient secret oral tradition, Li Hongzhi explores in depth the core concepts of Falun Gong---Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. This book is a collection of teachings which were formerly taught only in secret from master to disciple in China from antiquity. We are quite fortunate to have this material in written form in the West and it has been largely under-appreciated by occidental westerners.If the western reader can wade through the cultural idiosyncrasies, the reader will find a very rich array of important concepts of inestimable value to the spiritual seeker. If you are a true spiritual seeker, this may be the last book you will ever read on spirituality and metaphysics. Nothing else even comes remotely close. And, best of all, you will achieve what you came here for!"