Written by Richard Bardon IV, no matter what the byline says.
Disclaimer: While many of these books didn’t come out in 2018, I tried to pay special attention and award books that are current either in release or prescience to 2018 in whatever means I see fit. Deal with it.
Literary Fiction (High-Brow): The Waterworks - E.L. Doctorow
Runner Up: None
I didn’t read a ton of novels this year, and the ones I did were mostly disappointing; however, Mr. Doctorow never ceases to amaze me with his eye for really smart and captivating historical fiction. This book has a great mystery along with a super creepy build up to the reveal. Doctorow remains among the most underrated of modern American novelists.
Airport Fiction (Low-Brow): The Hellfire Club - Jake Tapper
Runner Up: None
This is not the sort of book I normally read, as I’m not a big pulpy Mystery/Thriller reader, but the subject matter and characters here (McCarthy-Era DC) were too tempting not to pick up and I enjoyed this read immensely. I need to read more of this style of political thriller – this was too much fun.
Essay/Short Form: The Rub of Time - Martin Amis
Runner Up: The End of the End of the Earth - Jonathan Franzen
Amis remains the author I’ve read the most of and his essays/reviews are my favorite incarnation of his style. He is the best book reviewer I’ve ever read and this modern collection of his magazine/journal works are, like Amis, equal-parts hilarious, ruthless, and intelligent.
I haven’t read much of Franzen, but I really enjoyed this collection (I tend to start with a novelist’s non-fiction/essay work to decide if I like their style before diving into the long fiction). Surprisingly, I found some of the essays on birdwatching to be quite moving and I have a new respect for the hobby. I look forward to reading a lot more Franzen in the future.
Humor: Hits & Misses - Simon Rich
Runner Up: Conference Room, Five Minutes - Shea Serrano
As long as there is a Simon Rich book out in a given year, particularly comedic short stories, it will win this category. There is simply no one funnier on the page in the world. Every sentence of this perfect little book is laugh out loud genius.
I mean, I love Shea and I love The Office. This had to get mentioned here.
History: Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power - Steve Coll
Runner Up: Kissinger Volume 1: 1923-1968 - Niall Ferguson
Private Empire approaches this history with the thesis that Exxon is essentially a private state operating within the United States, meaning that the foreign policy, defense, and economic expertise of Exxon are not unlike an actual nation-state. Coll does an excellent job articulating this as well as detailing all the various eras and projects of ExxonMobil in the 20th and 21st centuries. I came out of this book with the realization that Rex Tillerson, the ex-CEO of ExxonMobil and – at the time of reading – current Secretary of State, was more than qualified for his government position. I may have had my disagreements with Tillerson politically; however, anyone (including me before reading this book) that thinks the ex-CEO of a company like Exxon isn’t qualified, shows a lack of understanding of how multinational organizations like ExxonMobil truly work.
There may not be any human in the 20th century involved in more prominent issues than Mr. Kissinger. For better or worse, the world will remember him and while Ferguson’s book is often more sympathetic than other work on Kissinger, it’s an incredibly accessed and researched biography that truly gives the reader a sense of the man, his intentions, and his impact on the world-at-large.
Classical/Philosophy: Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
Runner Up: None
I try to read something like this every year and the stoics like Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca are always the most calming and influential on my own particular outlook on life.
Journalistic Non-Fiction: Billion Dollar Whale - Bradley Hope & Tom Wright
Runner Up: None
One of the more outrageous, baffling, and fun reads of 2018. The Jho Low saga is incredible and the ensuing investigation will certainly be interesting.
Biography: Robert Kennedy: A Life - Evan Thomas
Runner Up: The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels - Jon Meacham
I read a few RFK bios this year for whatever reason, but Evan Thomas’ (who also wrote the masterful Being Nixon) book is incredibly well researched and written, especially regarding RFK’s early years.
Meacham’s biography (and ensuing eulogy) of George HW Bush has really placed him among some of the great historians of our time, and this book – which is a collection of smaller histories of America overcoming tough times – continues his hot streak.
Business: Bad Blood - John Carreyrou
Runner Up: Getting Naked - Patrick Lencioni
Bad Blood is a hot book this year for a reason: it’s a meticulously sourced and researched book about a business failing with a lot of big names involved (Kissinger! Shultz! Holmes!) happening in what seems like real-time. The book reminds me a lot of Smartest Guys in the Room in the sense of its immediacy and sense of context. A fantastic read.
Getting Naked is something I’d never read, it’s a business fable about consulting. My next door neighbor, a consultant, recommended it and I thought I’d branch out a bit (a theme this year). I really enjoyed this book and found a lot of the lessons in it useful in both my professional and personal life.
Finance: Black Edge - Sheelah Kolhatkar
Runner Up: The Billionaire’s Apprentice - Anita Raghavan
Black Edge was my favorite book this year. I’m not much of a finance nerd, but this book opened up a new world of histories on these hedge funds and the personalities therein. The investigation of SAC is captivating but as is the portrait of the lead protagonist/antagonist, Steve Cohen. If you’re remotely interested in finance/business in 2018, I highly recommend this fantastic detective story.
The Billionaire’s Apprentice is another hedge fund investigation, this time into Galleon/McKinsey with a great sub-narrative of the Indian-American elite in the US. Both of these books are A+ and I can’t wait to read more long-form from both of these incredible writers.
Political (Domestic): What it Takes - Richard Ben Cramer
Runner Up: The Red and the Blue - Steve Kornacki
I finally did it! It took about 2 months of my reading time, but I read What it Takes, the MASTERPIECE of electoral narratives. *Stefon voice* This book has EVERYTHING: Bush! Dole! Biden! Hart! and is written in the most sarcastic and knowing voice that was surely enormously influential. This would be a great audiobook – due to all the snarky asides – but it hasn’t been produced. If you have a taste for this stuff, this is the granddaddy of them all (enjoy all 1100 pages!).
Kornacki affords himself well with this compelling narrative about 1990s politics and his thesis seems to be spot on with its influence on modern politics. Come for the stories about Newt Gingrich, stay for the high-minded analysis.
Political (Foreign Policy): War on Peace - Ronan Farrow
Runner Up: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China - Evan Osnos
Farrow is one of those people I’d really like to hate, but books like this make it hard. This is a VERY smart book about modern diplomacy from someone who has not only studied it, but also lived it. It’s a bit politically motivated (Farrow, admittedly, worked in the Obama Admin and certainly has his favorites therein), but Farrow also provides years of context to support the arguments he makes. The tribute to Richard Holbrooke is touching and informative.
Osnos on Asia is always a must read in the New Yorker, and this long-form version taught me a lot about modern China (though this was published in 2014). China was one of the subjects I vowed to learn more about this year and this was a fabulous macro and micro narrative that really aided that quest.
Economics: Capitalism Without Capital - Stian Westlake & Jonathan Haskel
Runner Up: The Third Revolution - Elizabeth Economy
Capitalism without Capital was recommended to me by my close, personal friend Bill Gates. This book does a great job of explaining and prescribing the modern economy. It’s a dry book, but its thesis is clean and well-supported. I really enjoyed this and it is, again, not something I’d normally pick up.
The Third Revolution (and yes, this is really the author’s name) is another – this time, more current – attempt to learn more about China. Economy is a fellow at the council of foreign relations and this book does an excellent job of explaining Xi Jinping thought, its influence on China and the world writ-large.
Science/Technology: World Without Mind - Franklin Foer
Runner Up: Enlightenment Now - Steven Pinker
World Without Mind was a hot book last year, and has only become more important with the investigations into large tech firms. While this book doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, writers that think like Foer does here continuously will lead – one hopes – to society living more at peace with the import tech has on all of our lives.
Steven Pinker is an excellent writer and psychology professor and this book certainly will cheer you up in tough times, while is optimism is well-supported statistically, it’s still hard for your brain to process.
Sports: Tiger Woods - Armen Keteyian & Jeff Benedict
Runner Up: Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times - Mark Leibovich
Tiger Woods isn’t the best book I read this year, but it’s certainly among the most fun. The book delivers a complete look at Tiger’s life (one we’ve never had until this point), a catalog of his glory (always fun), and – of course – all the gossip-y details you’d want from a book about Tiger Woods. I was in Valencia, Spain on the beach in May and ran into another American reading the book. We bonded for about 30 minutes discussing all the juicy tidbits there in and this will always have the most fun (and exotic) conversation about books I’ve had in my life.
Leibovich is one of my favorite political writers (This Town is a masterpiece of the genre) and watching him turn his eye to something like the NFL (as a proposed respite from politics; however, we all know how that turned out) is a true joy to read.