Of the 37 books I read this year, only a few come out on top. I have possibly read more non-fiction than fiction, and possibly because the times demand it. In the 'novel' section I was wonderfully pleased to read one masterly novel, that is surely among my top-10 of the decade: Polish author Olga Tokarczuk's "Flights". I also read Cormac McCarthy's "All The Pretty Horses", not so recent anymore, but highly recommended. The other winners are George Saunders with the brilliantly original and haunting (literally and figuratively) "Lincoln In The Bardo" (thanks, Luc!), and the amazing proze - as usual - by Colm Tóibín's re-writing of the ancient Greek tragedy of Iphigenia's sacrifice, and not to forget Leïla Slimani's modern tragedy in "Chanson Douce". These are the real highly recommended novels. The others are good, but without being exceptional.
In the non-fiction list, Robert Sapolksy's majestic "Behave" comes in the number one spot: it gives us a perspective on how one single act (firing a shot), is the result of events in our brain and body being conditioned from biochemical interactions in the last fraction of a second up to biological and cultural triggers that can be traced back to pre-history. Second in the row is David Reich's genetic analysis of our ancient past, with clear explanations of why our view of ancient migrations and cultural relationships should be revisited. The third group are equally relevant to our world today: Pinker, Rosling and Duffy present us with a strong plea to look at facts, and to understand the limitations of beliefs, assumptions and perceptions. They also show us how wrong we actually often are. In today's world, all three books should be mandatory literature for everyone in the world. Voltaire's biography has its part on this list, as well as other books about biology and religion.
I also read a lot of books of more limited quality. I will not expand on those.
Best novels of the year
For me, there is no doubt or discussion about this year's top of the list : the brilliant and genre-bending book "Flights" by Olga Tokarczuk.
- Olga Tokarczuk - Flights *****
- Colm Toibin - House Of Names ****
- George Saunders - Lincoln In The Bardo ****
- Leïla Slimani - Chanson Douce ****
- Ian McEwan - Nutshell ***½
- Roy Jacobsen - The Unseen ***½
- Colson Whitehead - Underground Railroad ***
- Richard Flannagan - First Person ***
- Benedict Wells - The End Of Loneliness ***
- Paolo Cognetti - The Eight Mountains ***
Not so recent novels
- Cormac McCarthy - All The Pretty Horses ****
Best non-fiction books of the year
- Robert Sapolsky - Behave *****
- David Reich - Who We Are And How We Got Here ****½
- Stephen Pinker - Enlightenment Now ****
- Hans Rosling - Factfulness ****
- Bobby Duffy - The Perils Of Perception ****
- Bill Messler & H. James Cleaves II - A Brief History Of Creation ****
- Ian Davidson - Voltaire, A Life ****
- David Quammen - The Tangled Tree ****
- Bart Ehrman - The Triumph Of Christianity ***
- Alice Roberts - The Incredible Unlikeliness Of Being ***