Look up the previous year’s list here.
Best Fiction Books
- Rudyard Kipling, Kim (re-read). Kim, one of Kipling’s masterpieces, is the story of Kimball O’Hara, the orphaned son of an officer in the Irish Regiment who spends his childhood as a vagabond in Lahore. The book is a carefully organized, powerful evocation of place and of a young man’s quest for identity.
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (re-read). The finest of all Conrad’s tales, Heart of Darkness is set in an atmosphere of mystery and menace, and tells of Marlow’s perilous journey up the Congo River to relieve his employer’s agent, the renowned and formidable Mr. Kurtz. What he sees on his journey, and his eventual encounter with Kurtz, horrify and perplex him, and call into question the very bases of civilization and human nature. Endlessly reinterpreted by critics and adapted for film, radio, and television, the story shows Conrad at his most intense and sophisticated.
- Robert Silverberg, Downward to the Earth. A SF classic from 1970. One man must make a journey across a once colonised alien planet. Abandoned by man when it was discovered that the species there were actually sentient, the planet is now a place of mystery. A mystery that obsesses the lone traveller Gundersen and takes him on a long trek to attempt to share the religious rebirthing of the aliens. A journey that offers redemption from guilt and sin. This is one of Robert Silverberg’s most intense novels and draws heavily on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (and the reason I re-read Conrad’s story). It puts the reader at the heart of the experience and forces them to ask what they would do in the circumstances.
- David Weber, Honor Harrington series starts with On Basilisk Station. Having made him look a fool, Honor Harrington has been exiled to Basilisk Station in disgrace and set up for ruin by a superior who hates her. Her demoralized crew blames her for their ship’s humiliating posting to an out-of-the-way picket station. The aborigines of the system’s only habitable planet are smoking homicide-inducing hallucinogens. Parliament isn’t sure it wants to keep the place; the major local industry is smuggling; the merchant cartels want her head; the star-conquering, so-called “Republic” of Haven is Up To Something; and Honor Harrington has a single, over-age light cruiser with an armament that doesn’t work to police the entire star system. But the people out to get her have made one mistake. They’ve made her mad. Another SF classic, a bit verbose sometimes but overall entertaining and well written.
- Roger MacBride Allen, Caliban. Before his death in 1992, Isaac Asimov conceived the next step in robot evolution: Caliban; Roger MacBride Allen wrote the books. Caliban is the first in the trilogy (the others are Inferno and Utopia). In a universe protected by the Three Laws of Robotics, humans are safe. Robots are bound by law to care for and to obey them. But when an experiment with a new type of robot goes awry, Caliban is created. He is without guilt or conscience–and he has no knowledge of or compassion for humanity.
- C. Robert Cargill, Day Zero. In this harrowing apocalyptic adventure C. Robert Cargill explores the fight for purpose and agency between humans and robots in a crumbling world. It was a day like any other. Except it was the last . . . It’s on this day that Pounce discovers that he is, in fact, disposable. Pounce, a styilsh “nannybot” fashioned in the shape of a plush anthropomorphic tiger, has just found a box in the attic. His box. The box he’d arrived in when he was purchased years earlier, and the box in which he’ll be discarded when his human charge, eight-year-old Ezra Reinhart, no longer needs a nanny. As Pounce ponders his suddenly uncertain future, the pieces are falling into place for a robot revolution that will eradicate humankind. Complement with A Sea of Rust set in the same world.
- Peter Heller, The Dog Stars. A dystopian tale of global disaster, survival, and belief. Hig, bereaved and traumatised after global disaster, has three things to live for – his dog Jasper, his aggressive but helpful neighbour, and his Cessna aeroplane. He’s just about surviving, so long as he only takes his beloved plane for short journeys, and saves his remaining fuel. But, just once, he picks up a message from another pilot, and eventually the temptation to find out who else is still alive becomes irresistible. So he takes his plane over the horizon, knowing that he won’t have enough fuel to get back. What follows is scarier and more life-affirming than he could have imagined. Complement it with Emily St John Mandel, Station Eleven and Cormac McCarthy, The Road.
- Stephen King, Mile 81. At Mile 81 on the Maine Turnpike is a boarded-up rest stop, a place where high school kids drink and get into the kind of trouble high school kids have always gotten into. It’s the place where Pete Simmons, armed only with the magnifying glass he got for his tenth birthday, finds a discarded bottle of vodka in the boarded up burger shack and drinks enough to pass out. Not much later, a mud-covered station wagon (which is strange because there hadn’t been any rain in New England for over a week) veers into the Mile 81 rest area, ignoring the sign that says “closed, no services.” The driver’s door opens but nobody gets out. By the time Pete Simmons wakes up from his vodka nap, there are half a dozen cars at the Mile 81 rest stop. But two kids and a horse are the only living things left…unless you maybe count the wagon.
- Dan Simmons, Summer of Night (book 1 in the Seasons of Horror series). A horror classic. It’s the summer of 1960 and in the small town of Elm Haven, Illinois, five twelve-year-old boys are forging the powerful bonds that a lifetime of change will not break. From sunset bike rides to shaded hiding places in the woods, the boys’ days are marked by all of the secrets and silences of an idyllic middle-childhood. But amid the sundrenched cornfields their loyalty will be pitilessly tested. When a long-silent bell peals in the middle of the night, the townsfolk know it marks the end of their carefree days. From the depths of the Old Central School, a hulking fortress tinged with the mahogany scent of coffins, an invisible evil is rising. Strange and horrifying events begin to overtake everyday life, spreading terror through the once idyllic town. Determined to exorcize this ancient plague, Mike, Duane, Dale, Harlen, and Kevin must wage a war of blood—against an arcane abomination who owns the night…
- Dan Simmons, Children of the Night (book 2 in the Seasons of Horror series) In a desolate orphanage in post-Communist Romania, a desperately ill infant is given the wrong blood transfusion—and flourishes rather than dies. For immunologist Kate Neuman, the infant’s immune system may hold the key to cure cancer and AIDS. Kate adopts the baby and takes him home to the States. But baby Joshua holds a link to an ancient clan and their legendary leader—Vlad Tsepes, the original Dracula – whose agents kidnap the child. Against impossible odds and vicious enemies– both human and vampire – Kate and her ally, Father Mike O’Rourke, steal into Romania to get her baby back. Book 3 in the series, A Winter Haunting, isn’t as strong as the first two.
- Dan Simmons, Carrion Comfort. 1) THE PAST… Caught behind the lines of Hitler’s Final Solution, Saul Laski is one of the multitudes destined to die in the notorious Chelmno extermination camp. Until he rises to meet his fate and finds himself face to face with an evil far older, and far greater, than the Nazi’s themselves… 2) THE PRESENT… Compelled by the encounter to survive at all costs, so begins a journey that for Saul will span decades and cross continents, plunging into the darkest corners of 20th century history to reveal a secret society of beings who may often exist behind the world’s most horrible and violent events. Saul’s quest is about to reach its elusive object, drawing hunter and hunted alike into a struggle that will plumb the depths of mankind’s attraction to violence, and determine the future of the world itself… Stephen King called Carrion Comfort “one of the three greatest horror novels of the 20th century” and he is right.
- Christopher Golden, Snowblind. Golden updates the ghost story for the modern age. The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards . . . but never one like this. Icy figures danced in the wind and gazed through children’s windows with soul-chilling eyes. People wandered into the whiteout and were never seen again. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same. Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. As old ghosts trickle back, this new storm will prove to be even more terrifying than the last. With richly textured characters, scarred and haunted by the ghosts of those they loved most, Snowblind is rooted deeply in classic storytelling. Christopher Golden has written a chilling masterpiece that is both his breakout book and a standout supernatural thriller.
- Shane Carrow, End Times series (six books). Across Australia’s vast deserts and snowy mountains, from zombie-choked cities to Outback strongholds, End Times is 1500+ pages of epic zombie apocalypse adventure. New Year’s Day: midsummer in Australia. On the west coast, twin brothers Aaron and Matt King have graduated high school and are savouring their last few months of summer holidays before adulthood – while on the other side of the country, something has fallen from the sky, heralding the dawn of a new age. As a terrifying plague spreads across Australia and the world, Aaron and Matt find themselves beset by anarchy and violence, fleeing the city, scrambling to survive. As the months go by, the twins grow from desperate refugees into hardened survivors – yet all the while they are haunted by cryptic dreams and an inexplicable urge to travel east, towards the source of the cataclysm, to uncover the secret behind the rise of the undead.
- Mira Grant, San Diego 2014. The prequell to The Newsflesh trilogy (another epic read). It was the summer of 2014, and the true horrors of the Rising were only just beginning to reveal themselves. Fans from all over the world gathered in San Diego, California for the annual comic book and media convention, planning to forget about the troubling rumors of new diseases and walking dead by immersing themselves in a familiar environment. Over the course of five grueling days and nights, it became clear that the news was very close to home . . . and that most of the people who picked up their badges would never make it out alive. Mira Grant is the open pseudonym of Seanan McGuire.
Best Non-Fiction Books
- Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book. Originally published in 1940, this book is a rare phenomenon, a living classic that introduces and elucidates the various levels of reading and how to achieve them—from elementary reading, through systematic skimming and inspectional reading, to speed reading. Readers will learn when and how to “judge a book by its cover,” and also how to X-ray it, read critically, and extract the author’s message from the text. Also included is instruction in the different techniques that work best for reading particular genres, such as practical books, imaginative literature, plays, poetry, history, science and mathematics, philosophy and social science works.
- Howard Gardner, The Discipled Mind. This brilliant theory of multiple intelligences reexamines the goals of education to support a more educated society for future generations. By exploring the theory of evolution, the music of Mozart, and the lessons of the Holocaust as a set of examples that illuminates the nature of truth, beauty, and morality, The Disciplined Mind envisions how younger generations will rise to the challenges of the future—while preserving the traditional goals of a “humane” education. Gardner’s ultimate goal is the creation of an educated generation that understands the physical, biological, and societal world in their own personal context as well as in a broader world view.
- Gary Hoover, The Lifetime Learner’s Guide to Reading and Learning. Book lover Gary Hoover lives in a 33-room building, of which 32 contain his 57,000-book personal library. Few people have “consumed” or learned from and remembered as many books. In this book, Gary Hoover lays out his method for capturing important ideas contained in books in 30 minutes (or less) without speed-reading. The book contains a multitude of tips about how to learn efficiently, how to find and buy books, and an annotated list of 160 books for expanding your knowledge – from history and geography to entrepreneurship and architecture. The book concludes with an extensive section on how to think creatively and see things that others do not, and how to separate the wheat from the chaff and see the forest beyond the trees.
- Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, Lives of the Stoics. For millennia, Stoicism has been the ancient philosophy that attracts those who seek greatness, from athletes to politicians and everyone in between. And no wonder: its embrace of self-mastery, virtue and indifference to that which we cannot control has much to offer those grappling with today’s chaotic world. But who were the Stoics? In this book, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman offer a fresh approach to understanding Stoicism through the lives of the people who practiced it – from Cicero to Zeno, Cato to Seneca, Diogenes to Marcus Aurelius. Through short biographies of all the famous, and lesser-known, Stoics, this book will show what it means to live stoically, and reveal the lessons to be learned from their struggles and successes. The result is a treasure trove of insights for anyone in search of living a good life.
- Massimo Pigliucci, How to Be A Stoic. A philosopher asks how ancient Stoicism can help us flourish today. Whenever we worry about what to eat, how to love, or simply how to be happy, we are worrying about how to lead a good life. No goal is more elusive. In How to Be a Stoic, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci offers Stoicism, the ancient philosophy that inspired the great emperor Marcus Aurelius, as the best way to attain it. Stoicism is a pragmatic philosophy that focuses our attention on what is possible and gives us perspective on what is unimportant. By understanding Stoicism, we can learn to answer crucial questions: Should we get married or divorced? How should we handle our money in a world nearly destroyed by a financial crisis? How can we survive great personal tragedy? Whoever we are, Stoicism has something for us–and How to Be a Stoic is the essential guide.
- Donald Robertson, Stoicism and the Art of Happiness. The Stoics lived a long time ago, but they had some startling insights into the human condition-insights which endure to this day; and they created a body of thought with an extraordinary goal-to provide a rational, healthy way of living in harmony with the nature of the universe and in respect of our relationships with each other. In many ways a precursor to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Stoicism provides an armamentarium of strategies and techniques for developing psychological resilience, while celebrating all in life which is beautiful and important. By learning what Stoicism is, you can revolutionize your life and learn how to seize the day, live happily and be a better person. Robertson, a a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist himself, shows how to use this ancient wisdom to make practical, positive changes in your life.
- Sharon Lebell, The Art of Living. “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.” The Stoic philosopher Epictetus was born on the eastern edges of the Roman Empire in A.D. 55, but The Art of Living is still perfectly suited for any contemporary self-help or recovery program. To prove the point, this modern interpretation by Sharon Lebell casts the teachings in up-to-date language, with phrases like “power broker” and “casual sex” popping up intermittently. But the core is still the same: Epictetus keeps the focus on progress over perfection, on accomplishing what can be accomplished and abandoning unproductive worry over what cannot.
- John E. Sarno, The Mindbody Prescription. Dr. Sarno reveals how many painful conditions-including most neck and back pain, migraine, repetitive stress injuries, whiplash, and tendonitises-are rooted in repressed emotions, and shows how they can be successfully treated without drugs, physical measures, or surgery.
- Studs Terkel, Working. Studs Terkel’s classic oral history Working is a compelling look at jobs and the people who do them. Consisting of over one hundred interviews with everyone from a gravedigger to a studio head, this book provides a “brilliant” and enduring portrait of people’s feelings about their working lives. Complement it with John Bowe, Gig, a wide-ranging survey of the American economy at the turn of the millennium.
- Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought. Even in our cynical age, the legendary story of jungle doctor Albert Schweitzer, self-sacrificingly devoted to the service of humanity, inspires. His classic autobiography, first published in 1933, speaks directly to modern readers in its searching appraisal of this “period of spiritual decline for mankind,” an age in which science, technology and power seem divorced from ethical standards. In earnest prose Schweitzer discusses his research into primitive Christianity and his search for the historical Jesus; his love of Bach, “poet and painter in sound”; his fancy for rebuilding old church organs. His philosophy, which he called “Reverence for Life,” blends mysticism and rationalism, with an impulse to release the “active ethic” he sees latent in Christianity. For Schweitzer, reverence for life was not a theory or a philosophy but a discovery—a recognition that the capacity to experience and act on a reverence for all life is a fundamental part of human nature, a characteristic that sets human beings apart from the rest of the natural world. Complement it with Reverence for Life. “Reverence for Life” was Schweitzer’s unifying term for a concept of ethics. He believed that such an ethic would reconcile the drives of altruism and egoism by requiring a respect for the lives of all other beings and by demanding the highest development of an individual’s resources.
- Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth. From 1942 Albert Speer was the second most powerful man in the Reich and Hitler’s right-hand man. Gitta Sereny, through twelve years of research and through many conversations with Speer, his friends and colleagues, reveals how Speer came to terms with his own acts and failures to act, his progress from moral extinction to moral self-education and the question of his real culpability in the Nazi crimes.
I’ve used the publishers’ book descriptions for all the books on the list this year.
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