50 Books in 2018

I had the wonderful joy of reading or listening to 50 books in 2018. It was a really fun challenge, and I encountered more ideas in a single year than I have since at least college. It has inspired me to read more, write more, and think more — and these are all traits I plan on passing along to my sons, which drives me to continue these good habits.

Below is the list of books I read. I grouped them by ten as I read them, figuring I can sort of rank within that group, but ranking across all 50 would be terribly difficult (how to compare a fascinating science book on the brain to a gripping WWII story?). So, I’ve presented them in this order — and I have to add that the fourth 10 were all spectacular, whereas in the other tens there were maybe 2–3 that may not be worth reading. Overall I was pretty amazed at the quality of book suggestions I received, and am grateful to those who took time to give me their recommendations.

Happy Reading!

First 10:

Why We Get Fat (Gary Taubes) — controversial yet convincing explanation of why the “calories in = calories out” advice is wrong (true in physics, false in biology), and what actually causes us to gain weight

Blindness (Jose Saramago) — thrilling novel about a series of people who inexplicably go blind, and how they cope

The Chickenshit Club (Jessie Eisinger) — great investigative reporting on how the SEC prosecutes white-collar crimes, and why big charges against individuals and even corporations were non-existent after the financial crisis

Hillbilly Elegy (JD Vance) — relevant, modern memoir on the tale of two Americas, from Eastern Kentucky to Yale Law School

Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls) — fantastic story about a girl raised on the run in the west, who grows up to be a successful journalist in New York

Born a Crime (Trevor Noah) — entertaining, insightful, and frank memoir of growing up as a mixed-race child in South Africa when mixing races was a criminal offense

Love Warrior (Glennon Doyle Melton) — excellent memoir about falling in and out of love, learning about herself, and how women cope with the impossible standards of the world

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (Richard Feynman) — great series of writings and speeches from a Nobel Prize winner in theoretical physics who helped create the atomic bomb

Notes from Underground (Fyodor Dostoevsky) — interesting novel about an extremely insightful man who considers big questions in a small setting

The Blue Flower (Penelope Fitzgerald) — novel about a man falling for a teenager, and how that affects their families and community

Second 10:

Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson) — outstanding true story about working with death row inmates and helping change our penitentiary system

Rise of the Warrior Cop (Radley Balko) — amazing book about over-policing in society today; it’s bruising but tremendous

Between the World and Me (Ta-Nahisi Coates) — powerful, exceptionally well-written and engaging narrative about being black in America

The Trial (Franz Kafka) — fairly mediocre for about 180 pages, but then an outstanding eruption of insight about humanity

Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) — a fun, insightful, optimistic book about the conditions required for full immersion, and why this is joyful

61 Hours (Lee Child) — engaging Jack Reacher novel that’s insightful about some terrible things

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (Michael Lewis) — an engaging look into the world of high-frequency trading; shows how nanoseconds and hundredths of a penny can add up

It’s Better Than It Looks (Gregg Easterbrook) — a macro view of the world and the tremendous gains happening, contrasted with the American plateau

Move Fast and Break Things (Jonathan Taplin) — modern evaluation of how top tech companies are disrupting business, life, and government

Worth Dying For (Lee Child) — fun that it is set in Nebraska; otherwise a good but not outstanding story

Third 10:

Phantoms in the Brain (VS Ramachandran) — brilliant, delightful book on neuroscience, with a wonderful balance between science and interpretation

Becoming Nicole (Amy Ellis Nutt) — phenomenal tale of a transgender youth, interspersed with the science behind gender identity

Cat’s Crade (Kurt Vonnegut) — outstanding novel integrating religion, science, history, others; makes clear why Vonnegut is considered a master

Quiet (Susan Cain) — great book on introversion, how society is shaped to benefit extroverts, and good research on the two approaches

The Gift of Failure (Jessica Lahey) — a great parenting book that focuses on developing independent kids, not guiding their every decision

The Road (Cormac McCarthy) — heart-wrenching, extremely dark, post-apocalyptic story about a dad and his son struggling for survival

UnSelfie (Michele Borba) — great parenting book focused on building empathy in children, with neat anecdotes and useful scientific studies behind the story

World Without Mind (Franklin Foer) — bruising story about Amazon, Google, and Facebook monopolies and the harm they have caused, despite some good

The No Complaining Rule (Jon Gordon) — good, brief business fable about the power of positivity, with some discrete steps for implementation

Happy Money: The New Science of Smarter Spending (Elizabeth Cullen Dunn) — spend on experiences over things, be generous, and pay ahead of time; a quick read

Fourth 10:

Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly) — amazing based-on-a-true-story about three women in WWII and their courageous lives

Killers of the Flower Moon (David Grann) — exceptional novel on the Osage murders that essentially shaped today’s FBI

We Were Eight Years in Power (Ta-Nahisi Coates) — powerful, brutal, valuable review of Obama’s time through the lens of race and writing during his years in office

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) — classic novel warning about accepting big government and pleasure by trading away free will and agency

Queen Sugar (Natalie Baszile) — fascinating, outstanding novel about farming sugar cane in the deep south

A Grief Observed (CS Lewis) — heart-wrenching short book by an epic writer about grief immediately after his wife passed; perhaps best read in the depths of sadness

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz) — fun, ranging novel about the Dominican mindset and living in the US while retaining DR culture

The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah) — wonderful, inspiring novel about women in WWII who served and survived under brutal occupation

The Book of Joy (14th Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu) — delightful book by two brilliant men on joy and living in union with others

Futureface (Alex Wagner) — fascinating, fun story about heredity, finding oneself, and the lies we want to believe about genetic testing

Fifth 10:

Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown) — incredible, gripping true story about the eight-man crew team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin

The Sun Does Shine (Anthony Ray Hinton) — brutally honest, ultimately beautiful story of a man wrongly imprisoned on death row for 30 years

Stealing Fire (Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler) — surprisingly good book about altering the mind to propel human creativity and happiness

Candide (Voltaire) — classic novel about the nature of man and the conflict between philosophy and reality

Natural Causes (Barbara Ehrenreich) — really good book about aging, healthcare, cellular independence, and individual agency

Turn Right at Machu Picchu (Mark Adams) — fun, interesting book intertwining the discovery of Machu Picchu with his own travels there 100 years later

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr) — great book about a family and an investigator during WWII

Go Tell It on the Mountain (James Baldwin) — semi-autobiography that both questions and elevates the impact of faith and religion on a family

Anti-Fragile (Nassim Nicholas Taleb) — interesting book on the concept of antifragility, which not only survives stressors but strengthens through them

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Neil DeGrasse Tyson) — average book about astrophysics, some high-level interesting ideas and a good reminder of the vastness of our universe