Once again, it’s time for the annual list of my favorite books of the year gone by.  As usual, the list consists of books that I read last year, not necessarily books that were published last year.  

With one exception, none of the works of fiction I read in 2023 really blew me away.  For me, great fiction is something that takes me to another place – not necessarily a “fun” place – from my daily grind, and while I have selected my five favorite works of fiction for 2023, only one grabbed me that way.  

Also, I’m adding a few additional categories, including Best Audiobooks, Worst Book of the Year, and Most Disappointing Book of the Year.

Here goes, then….


  • King, A Life, by Jonathan Eig: Biography strikes me as one of the most challenging things to write; so many biographies turn into hagiography or a total trashing of the subject.  In stark contrast, this biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. treats the subject as a man, with failings and strengths like all men.  IMHO, this is a must read for anyone interested in Dr. King and his work.
  • Citizens of London, by Lynne Olson: Ms. Olson’s works excel when she writes about a limited aspect of history; in fact, of the books of hers I’ve read thus far, the ones that don’t succeed try to paint a large canvas.  This book focuses on a few great men who found themselves in London as World War II got underway – Averell Harriman, Edward R. Murrow, and Ambassador John Gilbert Winant (and if you say “John Gilbert who?”, you’re not alone).  Of course, there are many other great men (and quite a few women) who play prominent roles in the events Ms. Olson writes about, but the focus is clearly on those three.  If you are interested in WWII, you should definitely pick this one up.
  • Two Roads Home, by Daniel Finkelstein: A fascinating and eminently readable book about how this British journalist’s parents met, their respective families’ experiences during WWII, and the coincidences that ensued.  
  • Trust the Plan, by Will Sommer: A slim but critical book about QAnon.  It is scary and weird and gripping from start to finish.
  • True Story, by Michael Finkel: Finkel has been much praised for his book The Art Thief, but for my money this one is much more interesting.  It concerns itself with a criminal who posed as the author, who himself was involved in a very well publicized journalism scandal, and their very odd relationship.  


  • North Woods, by Daniel Mason: This is the exception I referred to above.  It is a fictional biography of a house in Western Massachusetts over several generations.  First and foremost, Mason’s writing, particularly about the flora and fauna of the area, is splendid.  And while I didn’t find myself sitting at the edge of my seat to find out what happens, there is a story here and it’s very well done.  I’ll also add that I am not a fan of magical realism, but Mason pulls it off very well indeed.
  • The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, by James McBride: McBride also writes beautifully; in fact, there are some passages that I went back and read a few times for the sheer enjoyment of his prose.  The book was a bit too disjointed and too full of characters for my taste, but everything McBride writes is worth reading, and this is no exception.
  • The Gift of Rain, by Tan Twan Eng: Eng’s three novels all revolve around life in colonial, pre-WWII Malaya, but this one takes us through the war and the hero’s relationship with his sensei and the consequences of that relationship for his role in the war.  The book was a bit too focused on his training and meditation and all that for my taste, but was nonetheless fascinating.
  • The Oppermans, by Lion Feuchtwanger: This book, written in Germany in 1933, concerns itself with an upper class Jewish family that manages to blind itself to what is about to happen.  It is quietly chilling and very well done.
  • Babi Yar, by Anatoly Kusnetsov: The author described this book as a “documentary novel,” which suggests that it might belong in the non-fiction category, but since he called it a novel, I’m not inclined to disagree.  This book is also chilling, particularly when he refers to things like book banning and what it portended for the future in Ukraine in the 1930s.

Best Audiobooks

I’ve taken up listening to audiobooks, though I find I can only listen to works of non-fiction, because there are too many distractions to concentrate on the plot of a mystery or a novel.  My favorites were: 

  • What the Dead Know, written and narrated by Barbara Butcher
  • The Lion House, written by Christopher de Bellaigue and narrated (brilliantly, IMHO) by Barnaby Edwards
  • 1776, written and narrated by David McCullough

Worst Book

Age of Vice, by Deepti Kapoor: The first 100 pages were terrific, but everything after that was a mess.

Most Disappointing Book

The Covenant of Water, by Abraham Verghese: I loved Dr. Verghese’s other books, most particularly Cutting for Stone, but this one was screamingly in need of a good editor.  Characters and plot complications proliferate on every one of its 700+ pages, and the story struck me as pointless.