Another year worth of reading is drawing to a close and it’s time for our annual search for the best books of 2017. With over 300 guests having now shared their reading lists with our website, we have reached out to some and asked them to nominate their favourite new book or two, published in 2017. There’s a wide range of books, spanning lots of genres. If you’re like me, you’re going to want to get your Amazon wishlist open and get ready to start adding these books. Put the kettle on, open a fresh pack of biscuits and get ready to read through our guests’ nominations for best books of 2017. I hope you enjoy this special list and I wish you a happy new year. Please enjoy the best books of 2017.
Helen Hardt – author.
You can see Helen Hardt’s reading list here or explore her work here.
Michael Shermer – author.
What happens in brains and bodies at the moment humans engage in violence with other humans? That is the subject of the Stanford University neurobiologist and primatologist Robert M. Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. The book is Sapolsky’s magnum opus, not just in length (almost 800 pages), scope (nearly every aspect of the human condition is considered), and depth (thousands of references document decades of research by himself and many others), but in importance as the acclaimed scientist integrates numerous disciplines to explain both our inner demons and our better angels.
It is a magnificent culmination of an integrative thinker, on par with Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Its length and detail are daunting, but Sapolsky’s engaging writing style—honed through decades of penning Opinion Editorials, review essays, columns (Wall Street Journal) and popular science books (Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, A Primate’s Memoir), carries the reader effortlessly from one subject to the next. The work is a monumental contribution to the scientific understanding of human nature that belongs on every bookshelf and course syllabus.
You can see Michael Shermer’s reading list here or explore his work here.
Tim Harford – economist & author.
I don’t even know why I picked up this book, to be honest. It would have come in very handy when I was 19, or 23, or 29, and staring down the barrel of painful life and career decisions. Right now I’m lucky enough to have a life and career where no big changes seem needed. And yet – the book was still useful. And I’ve already handed copies to two friends contemplating a career change. It’s really a very useful and fresh take on thinking about careers, creativity, family and work-life balance. Very, very good.
You can see Tim Harford’s reading list here or explore his work here.
Bari Tessler – entrepreneur & author.
I was given an impossible task: to share with you my one favourite book of 2017. Impossible, I say. So, since I’d rather have fun and break the rules than neglect a single one of these books, here are my top three favourite new books of 2017. Because I love books … and I know you do, too.
Memoir is possibly my all-time favourite genre and this is one of the most gorgeous examples I’ve ever read. It’s a beautiful tribute to her African-born husband and the love they shared before he suddenly passed away in his 50’s — right at the pinnacle of his art career and as a father of teenage sons. As life-affirming as it is heartbreaking, this reads like poetry to me.
“If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” That’s what the protagonist of this novel tells himself when placed under house arrest at the Moscow Hotel by the Bolsheviks in 1922 Russia. I got beautifully lost in this storytelling, this breathtaking rhythm, and pacing. And isn’t that one of reading’s greatest delights? Also, all of my grandparents escaped from Russia in the early 1900’s so this novel gave me a glimpse of the world they left.
I believe we humans are wired to learn through stories: around the campfire, at the synagogue, and at the dinner table. At the very least, I am. A novel or memoir can put me in someone else’s shoes and deepen my empathy and understanding far better than a theoretical article about a social issue can. This novel does just that: it addresses crucial, current social issues through powerful storytelling. It’s the story of two African sisters and their divergent lives and legacies. One sister is sold into slavery and shipped to America; the other is married to an Englishman and stays in Africa, living in luxury. We then follow eight generations of their descendants into present-day. Through this painful, beautiful, poetic storytelling, I learned so much about the history of slavery and how it’s created institutionalized racism in our country. This book feels like essential reading for us at this time.
You can see Bari Tessler’s reading list here or explore her work here.
Ryan Holiday – author.
Seanan McGuire – author.
My favourite new book of 2017 has to be Winter Tide, a fabulous re-imagining of the Cthulhu Mythos by Ruthanna Emrys. Published by Tor.com Publishing, this fascinating novel is a follow-up to Emrys’s remarkable novella, “The Litany of Earth,” which is still available to read for free on Tor.com. I really cannot recommend this innovative, familiar, exquisitely composed tale highly enough. This is Wicked for the works of H.P. Lovecraft, elevating, cleansing, and re-framing its source with every page.
You can see Seanan McGuire’s reading list here or explore her work here.
George Monbiot – author.
Carrie Newcomer – musician.
I am a faithful listener of Krista Tippett’s insightful, in-depth interviews presented on her National Public Radio program and podcast, On Being. I have long appreciated her warmth, intellect, and passionate conversations with a delightful and eclectic variety of spiritual thinkers and doers. In Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista weaves her own explorations into the nature of human experience with excerpts from many of those illuminating interviews. She examines the complexity and beauty contained in our differences while winnowing out the resilient seeds of our common life and our most sustaining values. She revels in the open door of a good question, using it as a pathway to meaning and to frame a new approach to the challenges of the modern world. I have a notebook I use to record quotes from the books I am currently reading. At a certain point, I realized I was writing down whole paragraphs and pages. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living is a beautiful journey into the mind, heart, and body of the human condition that encourages us to listen more deeply and live more boldly into hope.
Melissa always dreamt that when she married she would have a “Naomi and Ruth” relationship with her mother-in-law. Then she got Shirley. And Shirley got Melissa. Melissa Keller’s luminous, tender, laugh-out-loud funny memoir, Crazy is Relative, is a nod and testament to family with all its head-scratching, heartbreaking, and absolutely glorious quirks. Melissa has beautifully written a page-turner description of rolling with what life tosses at you, sometimes with grace and good humour, sometimes with frustration, sometimes with an unexpected revelation that changes what you thought was true. Crazy is Relative captures all of this with a wry perceptiveness for all that is sublime and absurd, and then for good measure adds a cup full of faithfulness. Not faithfulness that is pious or sugar-coated, but faithfulness that looks like hanging in there for love—always for love. I could not put it down.
You can see Carrie Newcomer’s reading list here or explore her work here.
Daniel Goleman – author.
This account of a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and a group of scientists examines the unplumbed link between our brain and our consciousness — a link science cannot explain, and which traditions like Buddhism put in an entirely different frame of reference. I’ve always been fascinated by consciousness, and find multiple perspectives like those in this book fascinating. Lots of food for thought, as well as oodles of learning, ranging from quantum physics to neuroscience. I find this delicious.
John Du Cane – entrepreneur & author.
As someone who reads an average of two books a week, on the side, for the pleasure of it, selecting one book as my favourite out of that 100-+ mix of fiction and non-fiction is a tough call. There were many stunners for me in 2017—books that kept me up late into the night, wishing they’d never end. Books that enriched my soul, changed my daily habits, fired me up, moved me profoundly, surprised me, educated me, entertained me and so often seduced me with the beauty of their prose.
Out of this strong field of players, my Oscar goes to Scott Carney’s What Doesn’t Kill Us—How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength. Why? Scott blends the penetrating research of a seasoned investigative journalist with a passionate, personal quest to explore the outer frontiers of human physical capability. With an engaging, accessible and wry style, Scott plunges in experientially as much as theoretically as he engages with some of the world’s toughest and most challenging experiments in pushing the envelope of the possible. The combination of actionable content and inspirational vision makes this the winner for me.
You can see John Du Cane’s reading list here or explore his work here.
Diane Coyle – economist & author.
Lewis Gordon – philosopher & author.
I had written a letter to the editor of the Wits UP edition in South Africa, stating the following:
In a word: “Wow!” This book seriously rocks. Gibson and Beneduce have written a book that needed to be written. First, the writing is superb. Second, the historical nuance and meticulous analysis make the book more than a work on Fanon’s psychiatric thought. It’s a political history of psychiatry both as a colonial and anti-colonial practice through a critical examination of its unfolding under colonial conditions and the fact of agency among psychiatrists and psychologists from below. Third, I love the many important historical characters that come to the fore: the discussions of Richard Wright are fabulous; every time he emerges in this text is profound—especially where the authors correctly point out the limitations of David Macey’s unfortunate treatment of the subject of Fanon’s relationship to nearly every region and area of thought. I love the inclusion of the Afro-Cuban physician and revolutionary Paul LaFargue (Marx’s son-in-law) as well, and I appreciate how the book isn’t disciplinarily decadent and Manichean. Bergson, Freud, Jaspers, etc. emerge alongside Césaire, Diop, Senghor, etc., in conversations with Africana and feminist thinkers, but more, the addition of the phenomenological nuance of Fanon’s efforts is another correction to Macey’s misrepresenting tome. Fourth, Frantz Fanon, Psychiatry and Politics is a marvellous work of political psychology in its own right and even better: it addresses the lacunae in many other works in that field—namely, their failure to address colonization, race, and sexuality. Fifth, in the “psychic life of history,” the authors bring to the fore Fanon’s historical consciousness and also offer a philosophy of history since the point here isn’t only a dialectical unfolding but also a conscious one. I can go on. Bravi, Nigel Gibson and Roberto Beneduce! Brav! I cannot imagine teaching a future seminar on Fanon without assigning and offering this book as worthy of study in its own right, which means I could see using it as well in courses on theories of human science and philosophy of social science. The research is so thorough that it alone would make the text worth reading and using in classes. The added theoretical elements—full of nuance—and the fact that the authors actually have a position to stand on to win the day. Bravi!
I had written an endorsement for that book, which is my succinct assessment: The originality of the organizing theme and the essays in Creolizing Hegel offer something, unfortunately, missing in a good deal of recent Hegel studies—and much work on canonical thought, for that matter—over the past few decades: something new to say. This instalment of ideas inaugurated by scholars from the Caribbean Philosophical Association, especially the groundbreaking writings of Jane Anna Gordon and Michael Monahan on the creolization of theory, is no less than the birth of a classic.
You can see Lewis Gordon’s reading list here or explore his work here.
Laura Vanderkam – author.
It’s incredibly quirky, featuring a young computer programmer protagonist who picks up a baking hobby on the side — with what turns out to be no ordinary sourdough starter. I enjoyed the satire of the San Francisco start-up scene, but what was most intriguing is that Sloan, who is male, has created a believably female narrator. That takes a certain level of sensitivity, and craft, which is wonderful to see in a young writer.
You can see Laura Vanderkam’s reading list here or explore her work here.
Matt Watkinson – entrepreneur & author.
Skye Cleary – philosopher & author.
Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny is the most important book I’ve read this year. It takes a deep dive into what misogyny is, why it’s still a thing, and how it manifests in our everyday lives. Manne draws upon examples such as Trump’s rise to President, the Isla Vista killings, and strangulation to analyze why we tend towards “himpathy,” excusing men for moral and physical crimes against women. Given the current political climate in the US, the discussion around why some women defend the patriarchy out of loyalty and self-preservation – even though it perpetuates the harm inflicted upon them, and harms more vulnerable women disproportionately – is particularly striking. While Manne doesn’t solve the problem or give us a neat or hopeful answer, understanding misogyny is an important first step, so we can recognize it and break the silence that enables it.
You can see Skye Cleary’s reading list here or explore her work here.
Helen Phillips – author.
My favourite new book of 2017 is Amatka by Swedish author Karin Tidbeck. I am overjoyed that this book (originally published in Swedish in 2012) finally appeared in English in June of 2017. As I wrote to Tidbeck’s American editor upon finishing the book: “In her brilliant and bizarre novel Amatka, Karin Tidbeck evokes with quiet precision a dystopian reality that becomes more eerie by the page. The lines blur between fabrication and truth, between annihilation and creation, between bureaucratic obedience and heroic defiance. This book will grip you and move you. Though Amatka may be a fantastical place, we should all heed its warnings.”
You can see Helen Phillips’ reading list here or explore her work here.
Rebecca Rosen – TV & author.
For anyone who is extra sensitive to energy, this book is incredibly validating and useful tool on how to manage energy. Dr. Orloff assists in seeing our highly empathic wiring as a blessing, rather than a curse. As a child, I was told I was “too sensitive” and that I needed to grow a thicker skin. I saw my highly intuitive and empathic nature as a negative thing, thus shutting down my innate gift. Dr. Orloff has been one of my favourite teachers over the years, helping me to own my intuitive power. In her latest book, The Empath’s Survival Guide, she has reminded me of the importance of honouring my truth, to prevent being thrown off balance, both internally and externally. I loved being reminded of the fact I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed daily by all the energy, both from physical and non-physical beings. She provides amazing insight to help us better understand everything that goes along with being an empath, and how to deal with living in this often frenetic world, while remaining grounded, connected, and emotionally sane. I highly recommend this book for anyone seeking clarity, comfort, and actionable steps to take each day for self-care on every level, mind, body, and spirit!
You can see Rebecca Rosen’s reading list here or explore her work here.
Margaret Heffernan – entrepreneur & author.
My book of the year is Cordelia Fine’s Testosterone Rex: a rigorous, relentless forensic demolition of the belief that essential male or female characteristics exist or can be usefully defined. Fine assails every caveat, every prejudice, stripping away centuries of accreted stereotypes, biases, magic and religion. Yes, our minds and behaviours vary from one another but nowhere in ways that can be accurately or usefully codified as masculine or feminine. That binary does what all binaries do: depletes the richness of human capacity and masks what is truly rich and unique about being human. Winning the best science book prize from the Royal Society (the world’s oldest independent scientific academy, dedicated to promoting excellence in science) Fine’s magisterial argument could not be more timely.
You can see Margaret Heffernan’s reading list here or explore her work here.
Ramsey Campbell – author.
This year’s new book that has stayed most powerfully with me is You Can Run by Steve Mosby. He’s published as a crime writer, but I believe some of his deep roots lie in horror. Like his earlier Black Flowers, this novel is intricately plotted and compellingly suspenseful, but in both books, there’s a good deal more – a concern with the relationships between fiction and reality, a sense of the insidious influence of the past and its dormant consequences. His work deserves to be far better known and appreciated. It’s a real contribution to the literature of crime and not the least of his considerable skills are in creating modernist fiction that also works as a thriller. Ultimately You Can Run is very moving too.
You can see Ramsey Campbell’s reading list here or explore his work here.
Wim Hof – scientist & author.
You can see Wim Hof’s reading list here or explore his work here.
Helen Steward – philosopher & author.
You can see Helen Steward’s reading list here or explore her work here.
Chigozie Obioma – author.
I really enjoyed reading What Language Do I dream In? by my former editor, Elena Lappin. Lappin has an acute sense of tension, and the way she loops explosive events of her life—discovering her father was not her father—into the philosophic around art, language is skilful and riveting.
George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo is one of the books where the jacket description gets it right: they use the word “kaleidoscopic” to describe this ingenious, polyphonic structure that is at once entrancing as it is beautiful.
I also found Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry a rich, flourishing cascade of 19th century vocabulary to create an atmospheric novel of friendship, war, immigration, and the fragilities of the human life. It’s a powerful book.
You can see Chigozie Obioma’s reading list here and explore his work here.
I hope that you enjoyed this special list of the best books of 2017. Please comment below with your nominations for the best books of 2017.