Best of the 50 Book Challenge

(7 Posts)
Absy Fri 07-Mar-14 11:30:31

I've seen a lot of books recommended on the threads, but am too lazy too busy to trawl through and find all the recommendations, so thought I'd start a thread where people can put their favourites from this year (and last year) so they're all conveniently in one place.

For me, the best of 2013 were:
- Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer - a novel about the daughter of a South African anti-apartheid activist who dies in prison, and it is set in the 1970s and charts what her life is like after his death. It's about living in the shadow of your parents and so on - really good
- The man without a face: the unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin. EXCELLENT book about the mysterious rise of Putin from faceless KGB agent to Russian PM
- Nothing to Envy: about the lives of ordinary people in North Korea
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: about a family (largely from the autistic son's perspective) who loses someone during 9/11.
- Let the Great World Spin by Column MacCann - really beautiful book (though sad), about a number of different stories that all overlap, centred on a day in the 1970s when a man walked on a high wire between the twin towers (my description is crap, but the book was good)
- the Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: kind of a love triangle story. Really good.

And 2014 so far:
- Unnatural Selection by Mira Hvistendhal: about how there are around 160 million girls missing (as in, they should have been born but weren't), why this happened and what the consequences are for a gender-imbalanced society
- MacMafia by Misha Glenny: geek heaven for me. It's all about international crime and is awesome (e.g. the emergence of criminal gangs during the break up of Yugoslavia, drug crime in South Africa and so on).

Apparentlychilled Fri 07-Mar-14 18:16:15

Was Gone Girl from last year or 2012? It was a mystery about a missing woman and though not my usual genre, I loved it.

Southeastdweller Fri 07-Mar-14 22:02:12

I recently read 'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?' by Jeanette Winterson. Never read prose like this in a memoir, so powerful and absorbing. I only wish it'd been a longer book.

Thanks for this thread - great idea.

bibliomania Mon 10-Mar-14 12:10:44

Interesting to answer this based on the books that have lingered in my head (instead of going back to check what I wrote at the time).

The three books I remember from last year were all non-fiction:

The Poets' Daughters, about Dora Wordsworth and Sara Coleridge (some surprisingly modern concerns - anorexia and PND. But not at all woe-is-me - lots there about how we're affected by the way we're parented, and the choices we make about which version of ourselves we want to be).

The Vampyre Family - about the less-known members of Byron and Shelley's entourage. What it's like to hang around resentfully on the edge of the limelight.

Under Another Sky - not just about Roman Britain, but about the unknowability of the past, and how our interpretations say more about us than about them.

Absy Mon 10-Mar-14 13:00:12

Gone Girl can count - it's when you read it. I read it in 2013 and thought it was awesome (better than her other two)

CoteDAzur Mon 10-Mar-14 20:07:34

Good thread.

My best reads of 2013 were:

Born to Run - Christopher McDougall
An incredibly entertaining and curiously informative book about the author's trip to Mexican canyons, to meet and run with the Tarahumara tribe, whose people seem to have the secret of extreme endurance. He puts together a very convincing case of how we are running animals (rather than walking animals like pigs and chimps, for example), drawing on evidence from human anatomy and anthropology. Fascinating book!

The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life Of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius - Graham Farmelo
It is hard to exaggerate the brilliance of this book - the incredibly well-researched biography of Paul Dirac, quantum physicist who has pioneered this field with Bohr, Oppenheimer, Einstein, and a few select others. He was no doubt autistic, and his many anecdotes in this book sound quite unreal at times. This single-minded genius deduced the existence of anti-matter through mathematical equations a long time before it became possible to test for and observe it, winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in the process and was the second-youngest Lucasian Professor of Mathematics of Cambridge University after Isaac Newton. However, this book isn't just about Dirac, but also about the pivotal era he worked in - a handful of scientists rushing to uncover the counter-intuitive reality of subatomic particles, the fabric of our universe. Rise of the Nazis in Europe. Stalinist repression in Russia. WWII and the race for the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer, Einstein, Bohr, Farmi, Schröder, Heisenberg.

Measuring The World - Daniel Kehlmann
Brilliant historical fiction about the lives of legendary mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and aristocrat geographer Alexander Von Humboldt. I really loved this book. It's up there with This Thing Of Darkness, imho, and I heartily recommend it.

Operation Mincemeat: The True Spy Story That Changed The Course of WWII - Ben Macintyre
Brilliant true story of a pivotal WWII deception ploy that assured Allied victory. Incredibly detailed, with photos of all players and even most documents. I heartily recommend this book to all non-fiction readers, especially if you are interested in WWII and/or war strategy & espionage

Sweet Tooth - Ian Mc Ewan
I really liked this book. In some ways, it is similar to Atonement but the story is more interesting. I enjoyed the details about the period and stories-within-the-story.

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
Truly awesome story. Brilliant adventure in the virtual reality of a dystopian future.

Umbrella - Will Self
By far the most difficult book I have ever read (and I like big difficult books) but very satisfying. I understand why it was shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize and also why it didn't win. Will Self is a genius.

World War Z - Max Brooks
I've always thought zombie books/movies are silly, so resisted reading this book for a long time. It is actually a very good book about strategies of fighting a global war and a pandemic..

tumbletumble Sun 16-Mar-14 18:32:46

My top reads of 2013:

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
The Worst Journey in the World - Apsley Cherry-Garrard
The Help - Kathryn Stockett
The Night Circus -Erin Morgenstern
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan
Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother - Amy Chua

So far this year I have loved:

The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
Stoner - John Williams
Call the Midwife - Jennifer Worth

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