8 Great Books from 2016
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While 2016 will likely be remembered first and foremost as the “year the United States elected Donald Trump as President”, when it comes to books, it will go down in the literary annals as a year full of “firsts”: The Nobel Prize in Literature going to a songwriter, the UK’s Booker Prize going to an American, Paul Beatty, for his novel The Sellout, a timely satire about the unjust police shooting of an African-American man by the police; while at home, both the National Book Award for fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction went to minority writers – to Colson Whitehead for The Underground Railroad and to Viet Thanh Nguyen for The Sympathizer. And while the American populace was fully distracted by politics for much of the year, publishers still opted to put out a wide array of fascinating and edifying titles. Here are a few of my favorites from this year:
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
This wrenching novel about the dissolution of a family is dominated by numerous astonishing male voices. Most central of these is that of Michael — a hyper verbal music critic hooked on psychotropic drugs necessary to manage a perpetual state of panic – who is also one of the most original and distinctive creations in modern literature.
Prodigals: Stories by Greg Jackson
Here’s an arresting book of short stories that will make you sit up and go “whoah…” Jackson channels the self-aware macho voice of early Richard Ford and filters it through privileged, moneyed, millennial entitlement. It is a sharp and consistently rewarding collection. For a taste, take a look at “Wagner in the Desert”, originally published by The New Yorker and available online.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
It starts off as light entertainment but this novel about Count Alexander Rostov, a “non person” who is sentenced to house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel, builds into something so much more: a novel about a man of traditional manners, civility and pride who is asked to become modern, but cannot – and manages to make the most of his life nonetheless. Packs a similar punch to Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day.
The Gentleman by Forrest Leo
The “gentleman” in question is not the hero of comedy-of-errors, a send up of Victorian literature….no, it is not. Lionel Savage is an eccentric poet, who on learning he has run through his wealth, gets married for money, gets bored and then sells his wife to the “gentleman” – a man who happens to be The Devil. A rescue mission is launched starring a band of misfits that includes Savage’s sarcastic manservant, a clueless explorer and a horny teenage girl. Hijinks ensue.
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
Who can resist a book with the subhead The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers? Love him or hate him, Ferriss gives a good book: his tomes routinely come in at over 600 pages and offer value for money. Here he distills what he’s learned from more than 150 guests on his wildly popular podcast, one that has had more than 100 million downloads. It’s the ultimate self-help book of 2016.
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Stoicism can offer succor for scary times and Ryan Holiday is Seneca’s self-appointed interlocutor to the 21st century, having published a trio of books about the philosopher. In this tome, Holiday focuses on helping the reader identify when they are being their own worst enemy. Drawing from quotes from the great Stoic writers and and anecdotes from his own life and modern life, many of which are surprising and enlightening, he able to inspire and edify simultaneously. Think Malcolm Gladwell crossed with Krista Tippett, who, incidentally, also published her own great book in 2016 Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz
Voss is the former chief hostage negotiator for the FBI and his books distill years of techniques and strategies he employed to get unexpected concessions and satisfying solutions in numerous life-or-death negotiation scenarios. His book – while sometimes long on anecdote – reveals psychological triggers most of us don’t know we have. It is the most practical and actionable business book to come out this year.
The Seventh Sense by Joshua Cooper Ramo
When looking to the future, it helps to have a Virgil to guide you. Ramo is something of a visionary, a journalist-turned-businessman who saw and capitalized on the opportunities in China years before others were able to follow. His new book looks at “power, fortune, and survival in the age of networks.” Here, Ramo issues a series of red-alert warnings to middle managers and information workers that need to be heeded now, lest they be made redundant in less time than it takes to finish reading this sentence.