I read many books this year. They served as solace when I was feeling blue. Here are my top ten, in no order:
The Submission, Amy Waldman
A jury selects an anonymous winner for a 9/11 memorial competition. It turns out that the winner’s name is Mohammed Khan. In the ensuing drama, you won’t forget for a moment that Waldman is a former NYT reporter who has honed the craft of writing on a daily basis.
Naming Nature, Carol Kaesuk Yoon
You can name the make, model, and year of every car you see on the road. But you can’t tell a sparrow from a swallow. Kaesuk deconstructs the reasons why.
Reading in the Brain, Stanislas Dehaene
Scientific and profound at the same time, Dehaene takes the time to describe the cognitive act of reading from the ground up, skipping no detail and assuming nothing.
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
I stalled on page 200 until my book club shamed me into finishing. I will never regret it. You’ve got to be obsessed with novels and narrative to love this book, but if that’s you — get thee to the bookstore.
The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddartha Mukherjee
A book that brings you back to the crucial moments before scientific breakthroughs occur, highlighting the experimental and hapharzard nature of progress.
The Tiger’s Wife, Téa Obreht
A thinly-veiled Yugoslavia serves as the setting for a highly unusual book that actually succeeds in taking a tiger’s point of view.
A Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson
Utterly convincing because his range is so vast and his synthesis so daring. Johnson demonstrates how the same principles that give rise to innovation among molecules and ecosystems also give rise to innovation among people.
The Mind’s Eye, Oliver Sacks
A comprehensive portrait of what it means to see, including many revealing tidbits about Sacks himself.
Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
Fine, I drank the kool-aid. But you know what? I make better decisions now, and I make them faster.
Portraits of the Mind, Carl Schoonover
Visually stunning, but don’t forget to read the excellent text. The way we think about the mind has been highly influenced, and occasionally quite limited, by the specific techniques that we have to visualize its inner structures.