“Read any good books lately?” That used to be a common conversation starter among adults of all ages and walks of life. Yet, despite exponential growth in overall publishing and expanded access via the web, reading in general seems to be on the decline.
Ironically, one of the primary causes of this selective illiteracy may be the Internet, itself. Living life with a smartphone permanently attached to one’s palm has proven overwhelming for many, and constant bombardment by hundreds of random posts has significantly diminished our attention span.
As cultural guru, Seth Godin, recently pointed out, best-selling books of the 1950s were often over 500 pages and readers couldn’t get enough. By contrast, some of last year’s best sellers were actually coloring books for adults.
Even so, even in this age of instant entertainment, there’s still something to be said for unplugging a while (at least figuratively) and losing oneself in the words of a master.
With that in mind, here are twelve of the best books I’ve read over the last twelve months, along with publisher’s summaries; enough to keep you busy and curious for the rest of this year (if you don’t rush).
Have one to add to this list? Please share it with the rest of us in the Comments section.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Ruth Jefferson is a delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a checkup on a newborn, only to be told that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. But the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene? With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families. Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of all those involved. Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, it is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories; a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration.
Thank You for Being Late by Tom Friedman
We all sense it―something big is going on. Our lives are being transformed in so many realms all at once―and it is dizzying. In a work unlike anything he has attempted before, Thomas L. Friedman exposes the tectonic movements that are reshaping the world today and explains how to get the most out of them and cushion their worst impacts.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world. Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more. It is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together.
Snowball in a Blizzard by Steven Hatch
There’s a running joke among radiologists: finding a tumor in a mammogram is akin to finding a snowball in a blizzard. A bit of medical gallows humor, this simile illustrates the difficulties of finding signals (the snowball) against a background of noise (the blizzard). Both humbling and empowering, Snowball in a Blizzard lays bare the inescapable murkiness that permeates the theory and practice of modern medicine to show how, by recognizing rather than denying that uncertainty, we can all make better health decisions.
The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer
The author of The Untethered Soul tells the extraordinary story of what happened when, after a deep spiritual awakening, he decided to let go of his personal preferences and simply let life call the shots. As Singer takes you on this great experiment and journey into life’s perfection, the events that transpire will both challenge your deepest assumptions about life and inspire you to look at your own life in a radically different way.
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out, her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life.
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Dr. Brené Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage. Daring Greatly is a practice and a powerful new vision for letting ourselves be seen.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant
Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent. The payoff is a set of groundbreaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo.
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
Amos Tversky was a brilliant, self-confident warrior and extrovert, the center of rapt attention in any room. Daniel Kahneman, a fugitive from the Nazis in his childhood, was an introvert whose questing self-doubt was the seedbed of his ideas. They became one of the greatest partnerships in the history of science, working together so closely that they couldn’t remember whose brain originated which ideas, or who should claim credit. In the process, they may well have changed mankind’s view of its own mind.
American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin
The saga of Patty Hearst highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. Based on more than a hundred interviews and thousands of previously secret documents, Toobin portrays the lunacy of the half-baked radicals of the SLA and the toxic mix of sex, politics, and violence that swept up Patty Hearst. American Heiress examines the life of a young woman who suffered an unimaginable trauma and then made the stunning decision to join her captors’ crusade. Or did she?