I read about 50-100 books a year. Below are the best I read in 2008. In an upcoming post I’ll show all the the books from my “best of” lists since 2004.
- The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies by Scott Page. A thorough exploration of an overused word: “diversity.”
- The Basic Writings of John Stuart Mill: On Liberty, the Subjection of Women and Utilitarianism. A few of Mill’s best essays in one book. A good place to start if you want to read Mill.
- In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War by Tobias Wolff. Every sentence is beautiful. No one does the memoir better than Wolff.
- Questions That Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants by Paul Cherry. Essential for anyone who sells by asking questions. Here are my detailed notes.
- Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America’s Soul by Michael Reid. Very detailed overview of the current state of Latin America (yes, all of Latin America) by the former Latin America editor of The Economist. Here are my notes.
- Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t by Stephen Prothero. First discover how little you know about religion, then learn. Very useful book.
- All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen. Tries to be hip and of the moment and, remarkably, succeeds. Showcases Gessen as one of his generation’s talents.
- Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. Eminently readable but richly layered and densely written. An excellent novel.
- Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck and his dog go on a road trip through America. Engaging and fun and insightful.
- The New Asian Hemisphere by Kishore Mahbubani. Awesome assessment of the state of Asia politically and economically with thoughts about the future that are already proving prescient. Here are my detailed notes.
- Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson. Hilarious set of essays on traveling. Like no other travel writing I’ve read. Here are my favorite excerpts.
- The Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan. One of the best political science books of the last few years.
- Lasso the Wind by Timothy Egan. Terrific storytelling by NYT journalist who’s lived in the West his whole life. Read it to appreciate the natural beauty of the West. Here are my favorite sentences.
- China: Fragile Superpower by Susan Shirk. Few books are at once as authoritative and clear/readable as this one on the very complex topic of China in the 21st century.
- American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph Ellis. Ellis is my go-to guy on Founding Father stuff. Here are my detailed notes from his latest book on the era of 1776.
- Libertarianism: A Primer by David Boaz. Want to understand what libertarianism’s all about? Start here.
- Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Beautiful novel set in Turkey. Pamuk is a Nobel prize winning writer for good reason.
- Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism by William Baumol et al. Convincing case about the different blends of capitalism, and a case for entrepreneurship. Here’s my long essay on it.
- How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen. A lovely collection of essays that focus mainly on issues of “self” and on the relevance of literature in society. Here are my favorite excerpts.
4 comments on “Best Books I Read in 2008”
I have seen posts on several blogs – Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss’ in particular – encouraging folks to highlight, scribble in the margins, take notes, etc. while they read, in order to become a better reader.
Your excerpts from Franzen probably answer this question, but do you usually use any sort of note-taking system to try and enhance what you take away from a book?
Ben, Do you use any speed reading techniques? Such as PhotoReading.
I’ve read about PhotoReading and other techniques but I don’t really employ any on a regular basis. If I need to read quickly I’ll focus on the first and last sentence of each paragraph and get good at skimming. But generally I read how anyone else reads.
Here’s my post “How to Think About Reading”
I write in almost all the books I read (or at least underline) and type up notes / excerpts for the ones I really like.