Each January, I depart from my admittedly nerdy focus on SEC and governance matters to communicate with you on one of my other admittedly nerdy pursuits – reading – by providing a list of my 10 favorite books of the prior year, five works of fiction and five of non-fiction. As always, the list is comprised of books I read during the year gone by, rather than books published during the year.
By way of an overview, much of the fiction I read last year was just so-so, and while I really liked the works of fiction listed below, it was an easier choice than has been the case for the last couple of years (e.g., The Underground Railroad or A Gentleman in Moscow). In the non-fiction category, I seem to have focused on biographies and memoirs even more than last year, as four of my five non-fiction works were in this category.
- Bad Blood by John Carreyrou: This is the one “non-memoir” in my top five non-fiction winners. It is an utterly amazing true story about Theranos, the allegedly revolutionary blood diagnostic company that turned out to be an utter and complete fraud. It actually is a book about corporate governance – the bad kind – and is a page-turner if ever there was one. I may actually re-read it when it comes out in paperback, if the author updates the tale (as he should) to report on the indictment of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder, following publication of the book.
- A Mind Unraveled by Kurt Eichenwald: For my money, Eichenwald is one of the best business reporters/writers we have; for example, his book on Enron (Conspiracy of Fools) should be required reading for all lawyers and accountants. However, he’s written a memoir about his battle with epilepsy – and with the medical community and others relating to his condition – that is mind-boggling, upsetting and passionate.
- Lioness by Francine Klagsbrun: A monumental book about a monumental woman, Golda Meir. I read its 900+ pages as if it was a thriller (and I suppose in a way it was). Biography can easily turn into a screed or a hagiography, but Klagsbrun has written a warts-and-all book that honors the art.
- The Price of Fame by Sylvia Jukes Morris: This is the second part of a two-volume biography of Clare Boothe Luce, who was a playwright, US Senator, wife of the founder of Time Incorporated, and one of the first people to take LSD (yes, you read that right). Another fine biography.
- The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes: Rhodes was a speechwriter for President Obama, and his memoir of that period is remarkably free of ego but full of passion. A fine work.
- Transcription by Kate Atkinson: I simply cannot ever read enough about London in WWII, and Atkinson does it brilliantly; witty, funny, a tad scary and just a great read.
- The Witch Elm by Tana French: I’m not really a devotee of mysteries, but French is to Dublin what Steig Larsson was to Stockholm.She provides as complete a picture of everyone impacted by a crime as any author, and while her books are dense, they are wonderful. This one is no exception.
- A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen: IMHO, this book was unfairly overlooked when the 10 Best and Most Notable lists were created. It’s a bittersweet, gentle and funny book about a more or less ne’er-do-well academic who goes from his home in the US to take care of his failing grandmother in Moscow. It’s simply lovely and beautifully written.
- The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: Makkai’s book was named one of the 10 Best by the New York Times, and it was deserving of that recognition. It’s a novel about the gay community in Chicago around the time that the AIDS epidemic was gathering steam, along with a related story that take place 30 years later. The two tales converge in a very moving way.
- The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove: I read the occasional work of science fiction (fantasy less and less over the years), which seems to include “alternative” or “speculative” fiction. The premise of this book is that the Confederacy manages to get its hands on 20thCentury automatic weapons through time-traveling Afrikaaners and thus wins the Civil War. Turtledove is apparently a highly recognized practitioner of this art form, and while the book spent too much time for my taste giving battle details, it’s a fascinating approach.
Well, there it is. See you next year!