2023 was an odd reading year. Subject preoccupations biased me towards nonfiction books but I have to say that my fiction slate, while full of fine books, in the end offered few masterpieces. Not so the seven nonfiction books in the list. For once, I can’t really guarantee you, dear reader, ten must-reads, because you might well find my preoccupations irrelevant, but anyone adventurous will surely be rewarded after dipping into some of these ten.
The links below provide my reviews.
Jeff Goodell is the best climate change journalist/writer bar none. Heat: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet (10/10) covers what a heating world will do to us humans at the most elemental level: we’ll need to deal with hotter, much hotter, days and nights. A must-read.
Mick Herron’s The Secret Hours (10/10) takes a sideways step from his amazing Slow Horses/Jackson Lamb spy thriller series but I think it ascends even higher in the pantheon of this genre. Sublime.
Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon (10/10) is probably the most controversial of Michael Lewis’s many triumphant nonfiction books. I see it as a benchmark example of investigative writing.
Crook Manifesto (9/10) by Colson Whitehead—a follow-up to Harlem Shuffle, from a couple of years ago, this is both an engaging crime caper novel and deep, atmospheric historical fiction.
Return to Valetto (9/10) is Dominic Smith’s pinnacle novel so far, a beguiling, moving family saga set in Italy.
The Passion of Private White (9/10) is Don Watson’s moving and rigorous history of a heroic modern anthropologist in Arnhem Land.
The Earth Transformed: An Untold History by Peter Frankopan (9/10)—kaleidoscopic, scholarly, and almost lyrical in expression, this history of Earth and its human denizens, told with a climate change lens, will be read for decades.
You don’t need to be engrossed with marine matters to become riveted by Helen Czerski’s brilliantly structured and styled Blue Machine: How the Ocean Shapes Our World.
Lev Parikian is so upbeat, so informative! Taking Flight: The Evolutionary Story of Life on the Wing (9/10) is the only book on bird flight that gripped me from start to finish. I learned so much.
Brain surgeon Henry Marsh’s And Finally: Matters of Life Death (9/10) sees the stylish medical memoirist grapple with his own mortality.