It’s holiday time and that means three things: lists, lists, and more lists. Here, in alphabetical order by author, are the 10 most compelling books I read this year.
- The Light of the World: A Memoir
by Elizabeth Alexander
In 1996, Alexander, a well-known poet, met Ficre Ghebreyesus, a chef originally from Eritrea. Within a few weeks, they decided to get married. Within three years, they had two sons. Then in 2012, Ficre dropped dead of a heart attack. Alexander’s account of her grief is riveting. I read nearly the entire book in one sitting.
- Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Justice
by Adam Benforado
Law professor Benforado argues that our legal system is built on assumptions about human behavior that just aren’t true. Some examples: Eyewitness testimony is utterly unreliable, yet we use it to convict people. Human beings stink at detecting lies, yet jurors think they’re great at it. And, amazingly, false confessions are quite easy to produce. This book deserved way more attention than it received.
- Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both
by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer
This is a smart, practical book that lives up to its promise to help you become “a better friend and more formidable foe.”
- Fates and Furies
by Lauren Groff
Whenever a book gets as much acclaim as this one — glowing reviews, a National Book Award nomination, even a Presidential endorsement — I become a bit skeptical. But this fast-paced literary novel, which tells the story of a marriage from two contrasting perspectives, deserves every plaudit. It’s gobsmackingly good.
- How to Raise An Adult
by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Former Stanford Dean of Freshmen Lythcott-Haims aims her howitzer at helicopter parents — and teaches us how to trust our kids.
- The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong
by David Orr
You wouldn’t think a book-length dissection of Robert Frost’s “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” poem would be a great read. But Orr’s book is a gem — wise, funny, and insightful.
- Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life
by Tom Rath
This slim book packs a massive punch. Rath, who has a string of culture-shifting bestsellers, harvests a trove of science to explain the importance of pursuing meaning, improving your interactions, and taking common-sense steps to boost your energy.
- Infamy: The Shocking Story of Japanese American Internment in World War II
by Richard Reeves
Shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor 50 years ago, the U.S. government rounded up more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans and incarcerated them at “relocation centers.” This remains one of the most disgraceful episodes in American history. I read this back in April, but Reeves’s elegantly told tale has new relevance today as some of the very same xenophobia and racism rear their heads again.
- The Arab of the Future: 1978 to 1984
by Riad Sattouf
Young Riad has a French mother, a Syrian father, and a head of shockingly blond hair. In this graphic novel he tells the story of his early childhood. Fans of Persepolis will love this one.
- The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics
by Barton Swaim
A regular guy leaves academia to become a speechwriter for the Governor of South Carolina. Complications ensue. This chronicle — at once hilarious and sad — is the best book on politics I’ve read in years.