Bill Gates posts reviews of books he’s read every year (2017, 2016, 2015). His recommendations are solid, and I usually pick up at least 2 books from his list every year. Read on for my recommendations for 2017.
There are many, many types of books in the world, which makes good sense, because there are many, many types of people, and everybody wants to read something different.
The absolute best
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. This was the book that was easiest to read - it required zero effort. Noah is a remarkable performer on stage and TV and this book feels like a written performance. It was better, IMO, because Noah was able to explore more serious themes. Full review
The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. The authors ask a simple question - what does a ruler need to to do to stay in power? and use it to explain autocratic governments, how democrats try to emulate autocrats, why resources are sometimes a curse to a nation and the ruthless logic behind foreign aid. If you’ve ever asked the question why is my government like this?, you will likely find the answer in this book. I got into it because of CGP Grey’s amazing video and he does a better job of a full review than I could.
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. This series of 3 books was so good that it can hold its own with any of the all time greats - Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time and Game of Throne. It features a realistic depiction of kingdom administration (unlike LotR where the good king comes to power and everyone lives happily ever after), doesn’t drag (14 books of WoT before you get a payoff) and is actually finished (any updates George?). The magic system is well fleshed out, characters are easy to relate to, and the author ties up all loose ends. None of the characters swear for some reason but if you’re a fan of fantasy, this is required reading.
Pretty Damn Good
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, which led to me picking up this book. My expectations were not high, because my tastes are usually too low brow for award winning books, but this was incredible. Full review
And Then There Were None by Agatha Cristie. There are 10 people. One of them is a murderer. If you want a murder mystery, this is perfect. Full review
The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge. This is a detailed history of the wars fought for control of the Holy Land from the 12th to the 14th centuries. If you’re a fan of history pick this up. Full review
Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman. Perfect for those interested in physics or teaching because Prof Feynman is arguably the greatest teacher of physics ever. Full review
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Town life in 19th century Russia might sound boring, and at times, it is. But persevering with this book is worthwhile because there are few authors capable of writing such realistic characters. Full review
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Reading about the Holocaust is never easy, but we shouldn’t shy away from it. Full review
There were a few books I read but did not enjoy but I would recommend avoiding my reviews of these. I defer to fictional critic Anton Ego to explain why.
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.
I hope you pick up at least one of the books I liked. If you do, let me know! I’d love a chance to discuss these books with someone.