2019 was a banner reading year for me. I had set a goal of reading* 100 books and I finished the year having read 101. Here’s a link to a list of the 101: 2019 Books Read.
I don’t think I’ll set a goal of 100 books again. While I really enjoy reading, the pace I had to keep up felt frantic at times. Also, while I definitely read some long books (e.g. The Goldfinch at 778 pages, Scale at 496 pages, Death’s End at 605 pages, Leonardo da Vinci at 625 pages, and Hyperion also at 496 pages), I was cognizant of book-length and didn’t tackle some other long ones that would throw off my pace like Middlemarch and the new one by Neal Stephenson. I think my reading theme for 2020 will be to read long books.
Here is my list of favorite Fiction and Non-Fiction books I read in 2019 (the numbers were the order in which I read them during the year). Some were published in 2019, but many were not. The first, as well as the final book I read during the year, made my list of favorites.
8. Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies, by Geoffrey West. Sometimes you read a book that makes you think “wow” or “holy cow” and you can sense the explosion of dopamine in your brain as you learn new and amazing things. Such books are few and far between, and Scale is one of those books for me. Geoffrey West is a particle physicist and formerly head of high-energy physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory and then served as president of the Santa Fe Institute. He has spent decades, along with other researchers, researching the laws of scale of organisms, cities, and companies. It is an area that was scantly researched prior to Dr. West. Scale is a fascinating tour of the power laws relating to the laws of growth. Amazing. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
16. The Misbehavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Financial Turbulence, by Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard Hudson. Benoit Mandelbrot was the founder of Fractal Geometry. In this fascinating book he details how/why the standard mathematical model of the stock market is flawed and how fractal mathematics provides a much better model. I think this is a must-read for any financial professional. An important book. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
45. The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts. Written in 1951, this book was way ahead of its time. It’s a stunning work of modern philosophy, focusing on living in the present, the differences (or lack thereof) between our minds and brains (or “I” and “me”) and the role of religion, faith and belief in life. I highlighted so much of this book and I’ll let it sit and then read it again. Amazing HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
64. So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. Ms. Oluo is a black woman and her book on race provided a very valuable, and often uncomfortable, perspective on race in America. Her discussions of white privilege, white supremacy and our culture of oppression really hit me hard. It is really easy for me to just continue on in life in my upper-middle-class white male bubble. Reading about a different perspective and how I am contributing to America’s structural race problems was disturbing. At times, I felt defensive and argumentative, but if I stopped and really focused on the author’s point of view I could understand her perspective. I think this is an important book for white people to read. Ms. Oluo really does a great job of explaining the structural issues in our society with respect to race and privilege. RECOMMENDED.
101. Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine, by Thomas Hager. This book was a fascinating look at the science (and luck) of how drugs are developed. It deep dives into ten drugs (or ten classes of drugs), including Opium, Opioids, Anti-Psychotics, birth control pills, erectile dysfunction pills, statins, antibiotics, and vaccines. This book tells the story of some of the most important drugs we’ve discovered. It paints big pharma as neither good nor bad but does expose some of its underbelly. It’s a very well-written and fast-moving book. I learned a ton. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Why reading fiction is great: Fiction or Non-Fiction: Which is Better?
1.My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh. I really enjoyed this book. The narrator (we never learn her name) seems to have it all: she’s gorgeous and thin, a recent Columbia grad and is financially secure from an inheritance. However, things are not always as they appear. She only has one friend who she finds irritating. Her parents are dead. She has no motivation and is in a dark hole spiritually. She decides to take a year off and mainly sleep. Her sleeping is assisted by an amazing assortment of psychological drugs she gets from what might be the worst psychiatrist in all of literature. I found it very well written, with great character development and highly engaging. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Five Stars.
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Written in 1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude often ranks high in lists of the best novels of all-time. This was my first time reading it and I loved it. It tells the story of seven generations of the Buendía family in the fictitious town of Macondo, Columbia. Over the course of the book, generations of Buendia’s are born, marry, age and die. A theme that emerges is how history has a pattern and somewhat repeats over time. While a long book (over 400 pages), it is an engaging read. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
7. Circe, by Madeline Miller. This book is about the goddess Circe, Titan daughter of Helios. She is also a witch. She was famous for being Odysseus’s lover and for turning sailors into pigs. Circe is the narrator of the book and provides a very interesting perspective of living through centuries as a goddess as mortals come and go and as the various other gods interact and fight. It is beautifully written, a page-turner and all-around great book. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
66. The Power of One – A Novel, by Bryce Courtenay. This novel centers on a boy called Peekay from childhood through high school as he grows up in South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s. He has a tough childhood but also finds some great friendships and mentors. He develops a goal to be the welterweight champion of the world. This was an amazing and inspiring novel and is one of the better works of fiction I’ve read. It is definitely going on my list of all-time favorite books. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
71. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. This very long book (just under 800 pages) follows Theo Decker from adolescence through his late twenties and in some respects is a coming of age story. His story is intertwined with that of a painting, The Goldfinch, by Fabritius. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014 and is beautifully written and the story is fantastic. The character development is great as well – you really get a feel for Theo, his best friend Boris and others. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
*These books include ones I listened to on Audible. My daughters, who are both big readers, don’t think that audiobooks count. Of course, they’ve never listened to an audiobook. IFOD on this: Are Audiobooks Cheating?