Before we start thinking about our favorite books we’ve read this year (so far), we thought we’d take a look back at our favorite books we read in 2013.
There is nothing quite as delightful as vanishing into Jane Austen’s world. Better yet if you read with a cup of tea. Persuasion was Austen’s final completed novel. A bit more biting and scathing, perhaps, than her earlier works, it features Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth as star-crossed lovers who hurt each other a great deal before eventually realizing they were meant to be together.
“She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! alas! she must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.” —Jane Austen
This captivating page-turner about the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden is one of the most gripping books I’ve ever read. Written by journalist Peter Bergen, the book takes you inside various intelligence agencies, the White House Situation Room, and military bases, and along the dusty streets of Pakistan.
This is the first book of a military science fiction series set in earth’s future. In this series, mankind has mastered spaceflight but is imperiled by an invasive alien species. In preparation for an anticipated invasion, young humans (including Ender) are trained in warfare and Ender’s tactical genius is revealed.
“I will remember this, thought Ender, when I am defeated. To keep dignity, and give honor where it’s due, so that defeat is not disgrace. And I hope I don’t have to do it often.” —Orson Scott Card
This book is a blend of self-help, business, and psychology, but is written in a narrative style that makes one keep turning the pages. It’s a book about the psychology of influence and explores the many ways you can get people to say ‘yes.’ Learn, for example, about the scarcity principle, and how raising a price can result in more sales. This book is a game-changer for anyone interested in learning how to maximize your influence in business… or in life.
Unsurprisingly given the author, this book is a delightful, fun, lighthearted read perfect for vacations. Although it is perhaps best if you refrain from reading it in public, as the loud laughing that will undoubtedly ensue could make others want to steal your book. A little more surprising, perhaps, is that it is also a thoughtful read and unveils a fascinating world behind the scenes of television.
“While people around me start to relax, I keep my eyes on the sea, waiting to be rocketed into it on a wave of fire. I’ll be ready for it to happen and that way it won’t happen. It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life.” —Tina Fey
Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. This brilliant book begins with the 15th century discovery of an Ancient Roman manuscript in a monastery in Germany. The manuscript was the last remaining copy of the poet Lucretius’s “On the Nature of Things.” It was devoured by philosophers and scholars, and inspired many of the great ideas that spurred the renaissance and scientific revolution. The book takes us back and forth in time, from Ancient Rome to the Renaissance and shows us how ideas can change the course of history.
“Poggio may not have had time, in the gathering darkness of the monastic library, and under the wary eyes of the abbot or his librarian, to do more than read the opening lines. But he would have seen immediately that Lucretius’ Latin verses were astonishingly beautiful. Ordering his scribe to make a copy, he hurried to liberate it from the monastery. What is not clear is whether he had any intimation at all that he was releasing a book that would help in time to dismantle his entire world.” —Stephen Greenblatt
7. The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, by David E. Hoffman
Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. An excellent history of the Cold War, this book traces the history of the Arms Race from the American and Soviet perspectives and brings to life individual scientists responsible for and trapped in a political battlefield. What is especially rewarding about this book is the focus on Soviet scientists—their lives, training, and work—which is so often minimized in Cold War histories. The history of Soviet biological weapons research was particularly fascinating as it opened a window to a world about which we knew very little.
The incredible story of the young women from all across the country and of all backgrounds and levels of education who went to work at the US National Laboratory at Oak Ridge, Tennessee during the Second World War and unwittingly helped build the Atom Bomb. The women worked as cooks, secretaries, nurses, and scientists. They lived in dorms, apartment, and segregated abodes. They made friends and fell in love, but couldn’t talk to anyone they met about their work. Based on interviews with many of the surviving women, this book recounts the history of Oak Ridge and captivates the imagination with tales of what it was like to live and work in a town that didn’t exist.
This latest book from bestselling science and nature writer David Quammen is a part-history, part-science, part-travelogue, and part-mystery of infectious diseases. Most chapters describe specific viruses, some better known or more widespread than others. These include Hendra, influenza, Ebola, Marburg, SARS, and Nipah. In each chapter, he follows a range of scientists—veterinarians, ecologists, virologists, and physicians—as they examine and trace these diseases and the viruses that cause them from species to species with the ultimate goal of tracking them to their “host” species. His own adventures following scientists into the field speckle the book with self-deprecating asides, lightening an otherwise alarming read.
“To reside undetected within a reservoir host is probably easiest wherever biological diversity is high and the ecosystem is relatively undisturbed. The converse is also true: Ecological disturbance causes diseases to emerge. Shake a tree, and things fall out.”—David Quammen
This book explores Jobs’s obsession with simplicity, the characteristic that separates Apple from other companies. The author, Ken Segall worked closely with Jobs at NeXT and Apple and helped launch such iconic campaigns as “Think Different.” He was also responsible for naming the iMac. Organized around 10 ‘elements’ of simplicity, this book is Segall’s insider’s view of Jobs’s quest for simple design.
“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs
Nate Silver’s bestselling book is a grand tour through the world of statistics, big data, forecasting, and predictions. If you’re a fan of his blog, then you may have read bits and pieces of some of the chapters already, but the overall effect of the book is fantastic. We thought the chapters on chess and weather forecasting were particularly interesting.
In an alternate version of our world, the intellectuals enter convents (a la monks) to keep intellectual pursuits alive while the rest of society is crumbling. It’s constantly entertaining as it switches between deep philosophical discussions ranging from Occam’s Razor to the many-worlds theory, and the interplay between the “mathic” (i.e., intellectual) world and secular worlds.
“Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways.”—Neal Stephenson
This book took us to a part of the world we knew nothing about: Russia’s Far East. The clash of man and nature is riveting, chilling, and gripping. And the landscape in which it occurs is beautiful, mysterious, and dangerous.