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The Best Books I Read in 2023


I don’t read nearly as much as I used to.

I guess it happens as the kids grow up and have more stuff going on. Podcasts help I suppose.

But I did manage to finish some books this year. These were my favorites:

Non-Fiction

Thirteen: The Apollo Flight That Failed by Henry Cooper

Landing a man on the moon has to be our greatest accomplishment as a species. Bringing back three astronauts who were halfway to the moon and essentially stranded in space might be a close second.

I’m a sucker for NASA books. I loved Rocket Men and One Giant Leap as well. I was always a fan of the Tom Hanks movie but heard this book was worth a read…and it was.

It’s a miracle they were able to bring the astronauts home considering they experienced such a fluke accident with an oxygen tank so far from home.

My favorite finance anecdote from the book was captain Jack Swigert realized he forgot to file his 1969 tax return once they were a quarter of the way to the moon. Hopefully they gave him an extension.

60 Songs That Explain the 90s by Rob Harvilla

As a middle-aged man, I’m willing to admit this one was purely a nostalgia pick.

I don’t know if the 1990s was objectively the best music decade1, but it was my favorite music decade because I lived it. It’s when I was in middle school and high school. Music meant more back then because we didn’t have nearly as much to do entertainment-wise.

It’s a chaotic book (in a good way) jumping from story to story and song to song. The craziest 90s nugget for me was that Flea and Dave Navarro from the Red Hot Chili Peppers played guitar on Alanis Morisette’s first hit “You Outta Know.”2

The Good Life by Robert Waldinger and Marc Shultz

Happiness is an ever-elusive goal for so many people so I enjoy reading research on the topic.

This book summarizes the most comprehensive happiness study ever conducted. They followed people for decades, conducting interviews and surveys to determine what makes us happy.

They started with more than 700 people, which grew to more than 1,300 people (including the children of the original subjects).

The stuff most people care about — money, careers, fame, fortune, material possessions, etc. — had little to no impact on people’s happiness. By far the biggest determinant of a subject’s happiness was their relationships with other people — friends, family and co-workers.

The researchers found good relationships keep us happier and healthier and help us live longer.

This was my favorite juxtaposition from the book:

Eighty years later we now know that Henry and Leo are in the happy group. They grew into engaged, healthy men, with positive and realistic views of the world. We look at their files–at their lives–and within the normal flow of bad luck and tragedy and hard times, we see some lucky breaks. They fell in love, they adored their children, they found meaning in their communities. They led lives that were largely positive and that they felt grateful for having lived. John is in the unhappy group. He started life with privileges, including material wealth, and also caught some lucky breaks. He was a brilliant student, went to Harvard, and fulfilled his dream of becoming a successful lawyer. But his mother died when he was 16 and he was also bullied as a child for many years. Over time, he developed a wariness of people and habitually negative ways of coping with the world. He had difficulty connecting with others, and when he encountered challenges, his instinct was to withdraw from the people closest to him. He married twice, and never felt that he was truly loved.

Life is strange like that.

More on that story here.

American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin

All biographies are too long.

The authors simply cannot help themselves. They have all this information about their subject so they feel they have to share it. Call me crazy, but I could do without the back story of where someone’s great-great-grandfather was raised.

I wanted to read this book before I saw the movie.3

The stuff about the Manhattan Project in this book is phenomenal. It was a race against the Nazis to build a nuclear weapon. They built a new city in the middle of the desert. A bunch of scientists trying to change the world. The intelligence required. The moral dilemma that came with building something so destructive.

A wonderful book (even though you can probably skip the first 25% and the last 25%).

The American Dream is Not Dead by Michael Strain

Call me crazy, but I enjoy good economic news.

I love a good economic myth-busting and this one had a lot of that. There’s this idea that current generations are worse off than previous generations in terms of income and such.

Some facts and figures from the book I enjoyed:

  • Single and working mothers today spend more time with their children than stay-at-home married mothers did in 1965.
  • In 1974, it cost $1,442 (in 2011 dollars) to fly from New York to Los Angeles. By 2015, it cost less than $300.
  • Around three-quarters of Americans have higher (inflation-adjusted) family incomes than did their parents.
  • Eighty-six percent of Americans raised in the bottom 20 percent have higher family incomes than did their parents.

The book came out right before the pandemic so it would be interesting to see some of these stats updated.

Fiction

Judgment Prey by John Sandford

After something like 40 books I’m still entertained by Lucas Davenport and that f*ckin Flowers solving crimes.

A judge and his sons are murdered? The wife goes vigilante? A mysterious reason for the killings?

Sign me up.

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

This is one of the most unique novels I’ve read in years. It felt like a throwback to detective novel from another era.

A flawed private investigator. His drunk companion. A girl who’s been missing for decades. A twist ending. Smart, sometimes sleazy dialogue.

Like most novels, the build-up was better than the ending but I enjoyed this one. They don’t make them like this anymore.4

Storm Watch by CJ Box

I want to say this is the 23rd Joe Pickett book.

This is probably my favorite regular series. It’s like seeing old friends again once a year only those friends are a game warden in Wyoming, his wife and three daughters and best friend who is an outlaw falconer.

The TV series wasn’t bad but the books still deliver.5

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Amazon got me on this one. They just kept advertising it over and over and over on my Kindle.

And you know what? They were right.

Friends. Business. Success. Relationships. Love. Tragedy. Fame. I’m not a video game guy but even that stuff got me.

Really good book.

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

This one was a new take on time travel which is a concept that always works as far as I’m concerned.

What would you do if you could re-live high school with everything you know in middle age?

I loved the perspective in this story with all of the what-ifs and forks in the road explored.

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

This one felt like a 2020s new-age rom-com complete with dating apps and how the whole ghosting thing works.

I’m so glad I missed the online dating thing. I wasn’t built for it.

Kids Book

My Annoying, Irritating, Always-in-the-Way Shadow by Ryan Russell

This is such a cool book. I read it with my 6-year-old twins this week, and they both loved it. It’s a great concept and fun book to read together.

Further Reading:
The Best Books I Read in 2022

1Baby boomers would obviously counter with the 1960s. I say the 1990s were our 1960s.

2In my defense — we didn’t have Google or social media back then! Also, that song made for an excellent Curb Your Enthusiasm episode.

3The movie was based on this book.

4I read the follow-up book as well. Pretty good but not as good as the original.

5I wish this series would have gotten the HBO treatment but it was still entertaining.



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