The best books I read in 2016

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss

This was a great year for reading; helped by more free time than normal and a determination to learn as much as I can.  The best books I read this year, and what to expect if you read them, too:

  1. The Aeneid.  A myth about how Rome was founded, and an action-packed adventure that reads as if it could have happened yesterday.  This was easily the best book I read all year, and, for a while, made me want to only read things 1000+ years old.  Read this for inspiration, and to be reminded that civilisation has gone on for thousands and thousands of years, with the same people playing the same games.  
  2. The Sellout.  The Man Booker Prize winner for 2016 (and first American winner).  One of the funniest books I’ve ever read; Beatty is a poet, and this is both an exploration of race and a gorgeous celebration of the possibilities of language.  Read this to laugh, be embarrassed, and have your world view challenged.  
  3. Makers of Rome.  Plutarch’s Lives were once described as the “Bible for Heroes”; Penguin took nine of the biographies of Romans and turned them into a standalone book.  Read this to be reminded that the great names of history were human beings with their own problems, challenges and faults, and that we can all learn from how they dealt with the boulders placed in their paths.  
  4. Dune.  Read this as a sci-fi epic and think that it is a good book.  Read this as a parable of global politics and have the scales drop from your eyes.  
  5. Breakfast At Tiffanys.  Truman Capote wrote some of the most perfect stories to get lost in; A Christmas Memory will make you laugh and cry within two pages.  Read this to be entranced by language, and to enter otherwise closed, thoroughly romantic worlds.  
  6. How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.  The hype is justified.  Read this to enter the head of an old, formerly successful man, and to get a glimpse of the difficulties in other lands.  
  7. Power: why some people have it and others don’t.  Along with Chimpanzee Politics and Hillbilly Elegy, read this to better understand the success of Trump against all predictions and odds.  
  8. Chimpanzee Politics.  Newt Gingrich said he learned about how to get power in Congress by reading this book.  Read this to be amazed at how similar simians are to sapiens.  
  9. Black Swan.  My friend Sankalp recommended this; basically, we can’t predict anything, and we should stop trying.  (Nate Silver said that Hillary Clinton, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Cleveland Indians were all going to win this year; he’s among the best in the game.)  Read this, then regurgitate his arguments in awkward political conversations to seem smarter than everyone else without offering your own view.  
  10. Sapiens.  How we rose to the rule the world, and why we’re all going to die.  Read this to understand history and the future.  
  11. Hillbilly Elegy.  Recommended by Preston Farmer and James Doermann, both of whom I respect immensely.  An excellent look at the Scots-Irish of today, and why they act and vote against their own interests.  Read this to better understand a usually invisible group of Americans.  
  12. Ego is the Enemy.  Ryan Holiday’s books are all excellent introductions to stoicism; read this every year, just to remind yourself of its lessons.  
  13. Inside the Box.  I sat next to Alon Harriss, one of the instructors of this methodology, on a plane to Berlin; it’s an absolutely fascinating way to look at organized creativity (and you’ll find yourself playing games and making up new products constantly).  Read this to innovate.  
  14. The obstacle is the way.  Another Ryan Holiday masterpiece.  Read this to reframe obstacles for a better world view.  
  15. Moneyball.  Markets are inefficient and, often, really, really stupid.  Read this to laugh at how the world works.  
  16. Indian Summer.  Churchill may have rallied the civilized world during World War II, but he was otherwise a pretty disgusting human being.  And Gandhi may have been worse.    Read this to get a glimpse of the end of the Empire, and to see the human side of this important historical period.  
  17. Everyone Behaves Badly.  Hemingway just exposed their faults to posterity.  Read this if you love The Sun Also Rises and want to be reminded of Falstaff.  
  18. Moby Dick.  My friend Geoff’s favorite book; he told me that it needs to be read as if Ishmael is a gay hipster dabbling in whaling.  (Just try it.). Hemingway wrote one word and let the reader’s imagination fill in the extra 100; Melville uses 1,000 when one would do.  He manages to make it into a beautifully written, thoroughly enjoyable masterpiece.  Read this to laugh and learn.  
  19. The Reluctant Fundamentalist.  Spend three hours with a few mugs of tea and a comfortable chair, and see if you’re able to put it down.  Read this to challenge your own world views.  
  20. Watching the English.  An anthropologist looks at English people and describes them in hilarious, and often painfully accurate, detail.  This book comes up at least once a week for me.  Read it to better understand where in a pub you’re allowed to talk to strangers, what to ask for if you need to urinate, and how class still pervades everything from speech to transportation to leisure in the U.K.  

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