Travelling for nearly five months this year allowed more time than usual to read, with a focus on non-fiction and fiction related to the varied places I visited, including Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Peru and Bolivia, Ireland, and Central America. Of the 100+ books I read this year in no particular order here are my top picks from 2018.
Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin
A fascinating biography of one of my favourite authors, which brought great insight into both his work and life, far more connected than they may seem at first. Given his life circumstances it was quite incredible that he wrote 45 books, many of which are classics. It is as good, if not perhaps slightly better than the other must read PKD biography, I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Inside the Mind of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrere.
The Last Days of Hitler by Hugh Trevor-Roper
An undisputed classic of historical reportage, published shortly after the events it describes. Everyone knows what happened, particularly if you’ve seen the film Downfall, but the fascination is in the details collected in this gripping read.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen has higher standards of quality control than any of his musical peers (Dylan, Young, Bowie) so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that this is a good book, but I perhaps wasn’t expecting something quite so good. Both insightful and hugely entertaining, much like his music.
Eiger Dream: Ventures Among Men and Mountains by Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer is a wonderful writer, everything I’ve read by him has been well researched, beautifully written, and compellingly told. This early work is a must read for anyone interested in those who venture into and up mountains.
David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones
The other great music book I read this year. I had high expectations, which were met, by this comprehensive book told through quotations from dozens of people who knew him. It painted a balanced view of a fascinating person and life.
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
The non-fiction companion to Julian Barnes’ brilliant The Noise of Time, telling the story of Shostakovich, his famous Symphony No. 7, and the horrific battle for Leningrad. Compellingly written and well illustrated I read the ~400 page book in a single sitting.
Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman
The best of many books I read on Papua New Guinea before visiting. This is the unputdownable true story of young Rockefeller’s ill fated travels in a remote part of PNG in the early 1960s. Compellingly told and well researched.
Bolivar: The Epic Life of the Man Who Liberated South America by Marie Arana
A well told biography of a quite incredible life, justifiably putting Bolívar in the same ranks as Napoleon or Julius Caesar. Far less well know outside of the Spanish speaking world than he should be, Bolívar left a legacy for an entire continent.
Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari
A fascinating and balanced account of the turbulent two years that formed modern India and Pakistan, an important part of history I knew little about beforehand. It showed the influence individual leaders can have on history, and the seeds they sow for future generations.
Turn Right At Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
Entertaining and informative, this was the best of many books I read on Peru before visiting, as Mark Adams literally walks in the footsteps of the ‘discoverer’ of Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham.
Eastern Europe! by Tomek Jankowsi
A comprehensive, well written and entertaining overview to the extremely complicated history of Eastern Europe, from countries that no longer exist, to the current multitude. It was the perfect companion for travelling around the Balkans, though in eBook format given it’s length.
Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven
I read a lot of books on Pakistan before and during my travels from Islamabad north toward the border with Afghanistan and China, and this was definitely the best. It is an unusually well balanced (most books on Pakistan predict it’s imminent downfall) and wide ranging book, the perfect introduction to this fascinating country.
Patient H.M. by Luke Dittrich
A late addition, just finished it, but easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. Tells the fascinating story of Patient H.M., whose loss of short term memory made him the most studied brain research patient ever. The film Memento was based on his condition. The author is the grandson of the brain surgeon who performed the original lobotomy on Patient H.M. He weaves the personal and historic into a profound and compelling read.