The Best of 50+ Books I Read in 2017

Catching up a bit, I recently shared a post on Medium about all the books I’ve read over the past year, and which stood out to me. The full roundup is included below, but if you care to read it on Medium, add a clap or two, and follow me that way, it’s always appreciated.

This year, as usual, I’ve spent time reading and listening to audiobooks to expand my view of the world as the main goal and then learn more about my craft (referring to it broadly as a mix of marketing, management, writing, public speaking, and strategy) as the secondary focus. I had more of a focus on catching up on classics, and a lot of those were about the African American experience. Wrapping up the year reading the print edition of Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene (handily one of the best works I read this year) was about as perfect a coda as I could muster.

Below are the vast majority of books I read this year; a few others are omitted because they’re not that good. It also neglects the large body of children’s literature I’ve consumed this year, but some highlights there — including some friends’ works — can be fodder for another post.

I’ve marked in bold some personal favorites, but I’d be hard-pressed to say some of those are that much better than others. All here are at least really good works for anyone who likes such a topic; a few will nearly universally appeal to anyone who enjoys reading. The highlights often struck a nerve for personal reasons, such as teaching me something I didn’t understand or appreciate; you might find some of those works dull or obvious if you’re better informed, or if you don’t care about the subject.

I welcome hearing about what you thoughts are about any on this list, as well as your own ideas for works I might enjoy in 2018 based on what’s featured here. Of course, please share any such lists of your own in the comments.

NON-FICTION

BUSINESS, TECHNOLOGY AND PSYCHOLOGY

The Content Trap by Bahramy Anand: countering convention wisdom about media companies’ business models, he offers some new paradigms for why content driven businesses succeed and fail

-Lend Me Your Ears by Max Atkinson: a book on speechwriting I highlighted profusely and will aim to apply immediately in 2018

-Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths: how algorithms pervade our lives — with enough ‘life hacks’ for how they can be applied

-The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli: if you love Kahneman and Tversky’s work, this is another recap of it, with many other such examples and some pithy, useful advice-Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: it is the best performance I’ve heard yet on an audiobook

-Madison Avenue Manslaughter by Michael Farmer: a scathing take on the ad industry with constructive criticism on how to fix it

-Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman: the first book that makes me want to move to Minnesota (a good read on technology and politics too, but it is particularly memorable as a love letter to the state)

High Output Management by Andy Grove: a treasure trove of business advice, concisely stated

-Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari: a frequently troubling take on humanity, with cheerful treatises on how free will is a myth and other things to keep you up at night

-The Innovators by Walter Isaacson: a jam-packed narrative most interesting (to me) when it covers the people I knew the least about

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: a masterwork of psychological and economic theory that anyone could find applications for in their professional and personal life

-Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku: an informed take on the transformative technologies coming in the next 100 years

The Inevitable: 12 Tech Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly: reading the book, much of it felt obvious, and yet I quoted this book perhaps more than any other in my talks this year

-The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis: It’s the short version of Kahneman’s book, with more color on Kahneman’s partnership with Amos Tversky and how it changed the world

-A User’s Guide to the Brain by Dr. John Paley: the most poignant moment here was advising clinicians to ask patients not how they feel but “how do you know the world?”

-Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: what search data tells us about what people really think regarding topics such as racism and sex

-Blockchain Revolution by Don and Alex Tapscott: if you have to read one book about the blockchain and its implications, this is a very good one

-Hit Makers by Derek Thompson: a fascinating look at why some things catch on, using some surprising research — like with baby names

-The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu: students and practitioners of advertising and media should read this for the history lesson alone

HISTORY, BIOGRAPHY/AUTOBIOGRAPHY

-Only Yesterday: An Informal HIstory of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen: a vibrant history of this decade written not long after its conclusion

-Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose: the Lewis and Clark expedition marks one of the singular feats of Western discovery, and this chronicle highlights just how strongly much of the fate of the nation’s expansion was determined by the kindness of several brave Native American women

-The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish HIstory 70–1492 by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein: mythbusting why Jews wound up in professions such as moneylending (eg how that was by their choice, and not forced upon them)

-The Warburgs by Ron Chernow: the “Hamilton” author’s take on a German-Jewish banking dynasty (mirroring in some ways his “House of Morgan’) gets most interesting when it addresses the challenges sparked during WWI of having dual- or triple-loyalties, such as the response of German American Jews who abhored the war but had family back home

-Gertrude Bell — Queen of the Desert by Georgina Howell: the so-called female Lawrence of Arabia need not stand in anyone’s shadow, his included

-It’s All Relative by AJ Jacobs: this take on genealogy is overly cute and often painfully so — he can’t not make a pun or some pop cultural reference — but it also offers some good fodder for genealogists and shares enough interesting perspectives

-The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought by Susan Jacoby: a biography of one of America’s most famous orators

-Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall: an odd mix of WWII history and nutrition advice that proved revealing on both counts

-Rogue Heroes by Ben McIntyre: my favorite WWII chronicler describes the formation of Britain’s SAS and how its ragtag bunch of misfits contributed to Allied victories

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: in describing his tragicomic upbringing, Noah delivers the best performance I’ve heard via Audible

-Citizens of London by Lynne Olson: an uplifting book about defeating Nazis for a change, and about how US involvement in WWII was hardly inevitable

-An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians by Fray Ramon Pane: the first book written on American soil in a European language, it may not be the best, but it’s a decent look at Native American society and mythology

-Bad Rabbi by Eddy Portnoy: the best book on 20th century Yiddish culture since Shakespeare on the American Yiddish Stage by Joel Berkowitz

-Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico by Hugh Thomas: a riveting history, and perfect for anyone visiting our neighbors to the south

-Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville: routinely prescient, it is also troubling to read, as he constantly praises American society (particularly Northerners) while glossing over how much of this land of equality was built upon and still powered by slavery

-East West Street by Philippe Sands: a family story dovetails with the birth of the terms “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” along with the debate about how to apply them when prosecuting Nazis

The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty: perfect for anyone interested in the South, geneaology, cooking, American history, or some of the most beautiful writing I’ve come across

-Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford: an exhaustive review of all the gifts — political, culinary, economic, and otherwise — we mostly don’t even know we reaped from Native Americans

-Tambora: The Eruption That Change the World by Gillen D’Arcy Wood: an 1815 Indonesian volcano eruption had profound consequences

PARENTING (a word hated by one of the authors here, but it still fits better than any other I can come up with right now)

-The Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis: how to provide the right kinds of scaffolding for children (great quote: “Learning and love are mutually reinforcing concepts”)

-The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik: a tender approach for parents today from someone who accepts the realities of it (and who hates the word “parenting”)

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen: a child-rearing approach that doesn’t shy from discipline but focuses on the long-term effects of it, and how to apply it while building up the child’s sense of self-respect

FICTION

NEW OR NEW-ISH

-American War: A Novel by Omar El Akkad: one of the more haunting works of fiction I’ve encountered in recent years, it looks back on the causes of the Second American Civil War starting in the 2070s

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander: From the moment it’s clear what’s making the noise in the attic, the tragedy unfolds in one of the funniest ways possible.

-Manna: Two Views of Humanity’s Future by Marhsall Brain: while a little too cute and light at times, it’s a pretty efficiently told thought experiment contrasting dystopia with utopia

-American Gods by Neil Gaiman: The cast recording on Audible is a terrific performance; mythology lovers will particularly embrace this one

-The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: the start of a sci-fi trilogy from China, the most fun of it is how an alien invasion story is told from a distinctly Chinese perspective

-Oslo by JT Rogers: I saw the play but was particularly moved by the script rather than the production, so I read it to catch every word

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth: way too prescient given the last presidential election, so I had to reread it and shudder all over again

-Two Years, Eight months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie: a so-so magical realism thought experiment from Rushdie would be anyone else’s best work

-Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: I can’t say I loved this as much as most others did, but still a vivid thriller about attempts to escape from slavery

-Undergrdound Airlines by Ben Winters: an alternative history where slavery remains legal in four states, and a bounty hunter goes after a runaway

CLASSIC (INCLUDING MODERN CLASSICS)

-And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: a perfect mystery, perfectly narrated by Dan Bartlett

Roots by Alex Haley: another gap filled in, and Kunta Kinte won’t leave me anytime soon

Uriel Acosta — In Three Acts by Karl Gutzkow: a pre-Spinozan Dutch Jewish apostate’s life is dramatized in this tragedy that shatters lives of the faitful and skeptical alike

Canto General by Pablo Neruda: this 400-page poem may have lambasted “New York” capitalism and extolled communist dictators, but the feat of telling South America’s history through such a vivid epic is hard to fathom even after reading every (translated) word

-Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems by Pablo Neruda: having crowdfunded this work from Copper Canyon press, it includes a number of unpublished works and incomplete drafts that give us a few more treats of the late poet’s ouevre

-Pancatantra (translated by Patrick Olivette): India’s Aesop-esque animal-starring folklore that also has constructs akin to 1001 Nights, it wasn’t quite as timeless for me but still fascinating at times

-Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: another I finally listened to, and worth it just for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance

The Color Purple by Alice Walker: I finally read it — well, listened to it, and all the better to hear it narrated by the author

So, what were your favorite reads? What else would you recommend?