We will start with fictions, then move on to non-fiction.
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is hands down one of the best fantasy tales I’ve ever read in my life. Rothfuss managed to outdo the magic of his first book The Name of the Wind and made it even grander. If you read just one book from my recommendation, please let it be this one.
The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin and its prequel The Three-Body Problem are fantastic sci-fi that ponders the question of what would humanity do on the face of an invasion of a superior alien civilization? This is probably one of the few Chinese works that become very popular in the west.
Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3) by Brandon Sanderson has left me wanting more of the classic Sanderson tale. You must read the previous books to understand the story. I love the magic system in this series, it just makes so much sense.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead showed me how terrible life under slavery could be and how people would fight systematic oppression. I didn’t know that the Underground Railroad isn’t a real railroad as it was depicted in the book.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman this book went from zero to eleven really fast. What started as a slow-paced nostalgic story just changed gear into fantasy horror so suddenly, yet with a very believable transition.
Artemis by Andy Weir tells the story of a moon-base in the future. I love how Weir painted the details of the tech and how our future could be.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is the first book I’ve read about the Asian side of the second world war. Be warned that this book is a multi-generational epic and you might want to sketch the names of the characters to keep track of their relations.
Habibi by Craig Thompson is an exceptional story from the middle east in the form of graphic novel.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande discusses the end-of-life treatment in modern medicine. What happens when there is no hope of recovery? What happens when the pain of chemotherapy get so high that it is better just to give up? At what point do we trade quality of life with the risk of treatments? I think we as a society aren’t paying enough attention to this topic and this book should be a must-read for everyone.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and its sequel The Dichotomy of Leadership posits that a leader’s primary role is to take ownership of the mission. I enjoyed the format of the book wherein every chapter Willink and Babin tell their real combat story which was then followed by its learning and application in the business world. Highly recommended.
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman is a fantastic biography of a genius who just wants to have fun. Feynman makes almost everything he does look easy and enjoyable.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield follows the commander’s story from his childhood to retirement. You will get a deep insight into the life of an astronaut and its challenges.
Free to Be Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Story of Women and Law by Teri Kanefield tells the real-life story of the US supreme court judge that is still active as of now. You will come to appreciate just how much circumstances line up to pave her path to the highest judicial office in the nation.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is a classic that I would probably read once a year every year. The teaching of stoicism is really timeless and would apply to you where ever your current station in life might be.
Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson divulge the secrets of world-class performers. To give you a spoiler, it is deliberate practice. This book could help you understand how Feynman, Hadfield and Ginsburg did what they do.
A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons by Robert M. Sapolsky tells the story of the biologist who lived and gets to know the baboons intimately. He wrote the stories so well that you could imagine yourself sitting there in the savannah with them! I really enjoyed it, and it made me appreciate how dedicated some researcher might be.
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker says that despite all the bad stuff happening in the news every day, we are progressing really well. There are less illness, poverty, war & crimes in the world compared to the past. This is the best time to be alive!