Best Books of 2018

26.12.2018

As always this is a list of books that I read this year and includes recently published books as well as classics.

Biggest Book of the Year

Rem Koolhaas: Elements of Architecture

At more than 2,500 pages Elements of Architecture is the biggest book of the year. It is a revised and expanded edition of the catalogue of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale curated by Rem Koolhaas. It is a truly wonderful book. So far I have only perused it. I plan to systematically browse it, section by section and page by page.

Best Fiction

Fernando Aramburu: Patria
Francesco Pecoraro: Life in Peacetime
Guzel Yakhina: Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer: Grand Hotel Europa

Fernando Aramburu’s Patria is a real page-turner and an exploration of the meaning of family, friendship and what it’s like to live in the shadow of terrorism. It tells the story of Miren and Bittori, who have been best friends all their lives, growing up in the same small town in the north of Spain. But their lives our torn apart when Miren's son joins ETA and Bittori's husband starts receiving death threats from ETA. In Francesco Pecoraro's Life In Peacetime sixty-nine year old engineer Ivo Brandani reminisces about his life as a civil servant, his student days and his childhood. In between he reflects on postwar Italy, urbanism, bureaucracy, corporate life and architecture.

Most Moving Book

Guzel Yakhina: Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes

The book is full of moving scenes, but the ending, although a variation on other classic (movie) endings, is perfect and heartbreaking. I just can't get it out of my head.

Best Book I Wish I Had Read Years Ago

Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise

Best Book About Dinosaurs

Steve Brusatte: The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

Summer 2017 I visited the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Canada, which brought out the little boy in me. I'd never seen so many dinosaur fossils before. The book by Steve Brusatte is an excellent summary of the state of the art in dinosaur research.

Best Physics Book

Carlo Rovelli: The Order of Time
Philip Ball: Beyond Weird

As with all books about cutting edge physics I would need to read both books a second time to properly digest the material.

Best Non-Fiction

Andreas Reckwitz: Die Gesellschaft der Singularitäten

Die Gesellschaft der Singularitäten is by far the best and most complete analysis of contemporary society that I have read.

Most Eye-opening Book

Menno Schilthuizen: Darwin Comes to Town. How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

A reminder that even when it comes to my immediate surroundings there is so little that I know. David Quammen, author of The Tangled Tree, which is on my reading list for next year, reviewed Darwin Comes to Town for the New York Review of Books.

Most Useful Book

Matthew Walker: Why We Sleep

If I would have to recommend one book it would be Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, because it is the most useful book I've read this year. Caffeine has an average half-life of five to seven hours. Thus, if you have a cup of coffee (or tea) at 8:00 p.m., by 2:00 a.m. about 50 percent of its caffeine content may still be active and circulating through your brain. After reading this I resolved to no longer drink tea after 6:00 p.m. As a result the quality of my sleep has improved.

Best Book About Wittgenstein That Is(n't) About Wittgenstein

David Markson: Wittgenstein's Mistress
Thomas Bernhard: Korrektur

Most Disturbing Book

Peter Wadhams: A Farewell to Ice

A Farewell to Ice is a deeply disturbing and depressing book. Because of various feedback effects global warming will continue even if humanity were to drastically cut emissions now. Peter Wadhams ends on an optimistic note, arguing that there is still time for drastic action. It's just that I don't share his optimism.

Most Disappointing Book

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life
Lisa Halliday: Asymmetry

I found A Little Life so grotesque and over the top that it completely failed to move me. I understand why Asymmetry appeals to many critics and readers: a storyline about the relationship between a young aspiring writer and a successful elderly writer who resembles Philip Roth and another storyline about a US/Iraqi citizen who is wrongly detained at Heathrow airport, but I found it too formulaic.

Category: Books