This is the third, now sort-of triennial, edition of Books that Moved Me. This one includes the novels and non-fiction books that I’ve liked the most since I posted Books 2 in 2020. As in the past, I’ve read virtually all the books on this list based on recommendations I elicited from a handful of friends (most of whom don’t know each other) whose judgment I’ve come to trust–at least with respect to books. I decided to post this list now because lately there’s been a drought of recommendations from my formerly reliable friends. I seem to keep reading one unsatisfying book after another, so I decided to cast a broader net. Here’s my Books 3 List:
- The Sweetness of Water (Nathan Harris)–A first novel and perhaps my favorite on this list. I read it after my esteemed book advisors failed me and I was left to find a good book on my own. I took a chance because it happened to be on both Obama and Oprah’s 2021 lists.
- The Weight of Ink (Rachel Kadish)–Fascinating novel written centuries before our own pandemic.
- The Piano Tuner (Daniel Mason)–Published in 2002, but new to me and excellent; set in Cambodia.
- What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker (Damon Young)–Incisive and, in places, funny essays about a young American Black man’s experiences and his perspective on “white America.”
- Deacon King Kong (James McBride)–One of the rare books I listened to; a good way to go.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemmingway)–Reminded me how great a writer he was.
- Lincoln Highway (Amor Towles)–Liked it a lot, but not as much as A Gentleman in Moscow.
- The Flatshare (Beth O’Leary)–Just a light, funny, well-written romance. A pleasure to read.
- American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins)–Gripping (and, in my view, unjustly controversial) novel that gave me a new understanding of the experience of those traveling north to get to the U.S.
- The Children Act (Ian McEwan)–Published in 2014, but I just read it; I’m not a huge McEwan fan, but thought this was terrific.
- Beasts of a Little Land (Juhea Kim)–Sweeping historical novel set against the backdrop of Japan’s domination of Korea.
- The Color of Law (Richard Rothstein)–Critically important book showing how the federal and state governments baked systemic racism into our economy and society, and its lasting consequences.
- Tracks (Robyn Davidson)–One of two books on this list that you probably won’t find on another. A truly amazing story of a young woman’s solo journey with her camels across the Australian Outback.
- Invisible Child–Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City (Andrea Elliot)–An eye-opening story exposing how the child welfare system can devastate, rather than help, poor children and families, and the enduring strength of family bonds.
- Empire of Pain (Patrick Radden Keefe)–Following Dreamland, a searing account of the Sacklers’ criminal role in the opioid crisis.
- Caste (Beth Wilkerson)–Although skeptical at first, I was increasingly persuaded by her thesis comparing racism in America today to India’s caste system and Nazi Germany.
- Genghis Kahn and the Making of the Modern World (Jack Weatherford)–Who knew the Mongol Empire was so vast, and impressive? Not me.
- A Promised Land (Barack Obama)–I generally avoid reading politicians’ memoirs and was reluctant to read this one, but did so after several friends recommended it. I found it provided a remarkable window into what it’s like to be president; how complicated and unimaginably hard the job is for one who actually does it. Obama’s writing and narration also is terrific.
- The Body (Bill Bryson)–Simply fascinating.
- The Long Journey (George Charney)–You probably won’t want to read this, and it’s hard to get, BUT: for those who do, it’s a fascinating, self-critical memoir written by one of the leaders of the U.S. Communist Party. Charney was the best friend of my grandfather who volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War and was killed there in the futile effort to stem the tide of fascism.
- The Chancellor–The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel (Katie Marton)–The book is true to its title.
People responded to the Books I and Books II lists with some great recommendations. I’m hoping history will repeat itself, and if you have recommendations, please put them in the Comments so others can also get the benefit of them. In the meantime, I haven’t lost faith in my recommending friends. I’d be lost without them.