Ordinarily I love to criticize, but the end of the year is my time to reflect on the best books I read during the year, and recommend them to all of you! I read a lot of great books in 2019, so it was a tough competition, but here are the best 10 books (out of 71 total that I finished) of the year.
Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary (review)
An informative, wide-ranging, and even exciting history, this is a fascinating primer on the history of the Muslim world. It answered questions I didn’t even know I had, making sense of history all while telling a compelling narrative.
Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero (review)
The best memoir I read in 2019, this is an intense story of a troubled family, in which the author peels back the layers of generational trauma in Mexico and the U.S. It is dark but brilliant.
Lost Connections by Johann Hari (review)
Possibly the most important book I read in 2019, this is the story of a journalist examining the science of depression, and realizing it doesn’t tell us what drug companies would have us believe. It provides a look at the real causes and solutions that’s relevant to anyone who wants to live a good life.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman(review)
An incredible work of journalistic nonfiction, the author uses the life of one family with a severely ill daughter to illuminate the culture clash between Hmong refugees and their American neighbors, particularly regarding medical treatment. A great book for anyone interested in cross-cultural misunderstanding and medicine, or the culture and recent history of the Hmong.
In the Country by Mia Alvar (review)
The best work of fiction I read in 2019, this is a fantastic short story collection, featuring Filipinos both at home and abroad. Great writing and great characters – this is one of those authors who can do in a short story what others require a novel to accomplish.
1491 by Charles C. Mann (review)
The most eye-opening book I read in 2019, this is a real history of the Americas before Columbus, stripping away myth and stereotype. A detailed account that will likely be new to most readers.
Among the Living and the Dead by Inara Verzemnieks(review)
The most poetic of my top books of 2019, this is a lovely multigenerational memoir of a family from Estonia – both those who fled as refugees, and those who stayed behind. It’s a thoughtful history of a place and its people as well as the author’s own journey of discovery.
Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai (review)
The best novel I read in 2019, this short book presents the emotionally layered and nuanced tale of four adult siblings and their difficult relationships.
Soldier Girls by Helen Thorpe (review)
A fascinating journalistic account of three women in the U.S. National Guard serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s an honest, warts-and-all look at real life in the military from three very different perspectives, written by an incisive researcher and compelling storyteller.
Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla (review)
A fascinating family memoir of an untouchable family in 20th century India, focusing on the author’s uncle, an activist, and mother, a struggling professor. A great look at real lives behind the stereotypes.
And some honorable mentions, because I read more excellent books this year than a top-10 list will allow:
Night at the Fiestas
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815
Happy reading to all in 2020!