65 good new books I’ve read in 2016

new booksI suppose sixty-five seems like a lot of books to most people, but it’s far from all the books I’ve read in 2016. Listed here are only those that I rated @@@@ or @@@@@ (4 or 5 out of 5). Keep in mind that I’m very selective in choosing books (emphasis on very), and I review only those that I read from start to finish.

I’ve grouped these 65 books (a little arbitrarily) into five sections: new entries in mystery and espionage series; politics and current affairs; trade fiction; history; and science. The titles below are listed in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names within each section.

You won’t find any poetry here, or books about sports, the arts, or cooking. As you can see, a disproportionate share of these books are nonfiction. The explanation is simple: in 2016, I began reading from the beginning of my favorite mystery and thriller series; that accounts for a large share of the books I’ve read this year, yet none of those early titles are included in this list. All those listed here were published in 2016 or during the last half of 2015 at the earliest. In any case, I hope you’ll find at least one or two that reflect your own interests.

New entries in mystery and espionage series

The nine titles listed here represent a broad range of style, subject matter, and locale. Tana French writes thrillers set in Ireland, Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis in Denmark, Stella Rimington and Edward Wilson in England. Michael Connolly’s novels are set in Los Angeles, John Sandford’s in Minnesota, Karin Slaughter’s in Georgia, and Joseph Finder’s in Boston or Washington, DC. Rimington and Wilson explore the realm of intelligence. The rest focus on crime. Of these nine books, my favorite is The Considerate Killer by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye (Harry Bosch #19), by Michael Connelly

Guilty Minds (Nick Heller #3), by Joseph Finder

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6), by Tana French

The Considerate Killer (Nina Borg #4), by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis

Breaking Cover (Liz Carlyle #9), by Stella Rimington

Extreme Prey (Lucas Davenport #26), by John Sandford

Escape Clause (Virgil Flowers #9), by John Sandford

The Whitehall Mandarin (William Catesby #4), by Edward Wilson

A Very British Ending (William Catesby #5), by Edward Wilson

Biography and autobiography

The only thing these twelve books have in common is that their subjects lived in the 19th or 20th century. Some of the subjects are familiar to nearly all Americans: Jonas Salk, Allen Dulles, George Armstrong Custer, Patricia Hearst, and Bobby Kennedy. The others are less well known. In the case of the three autobiographies—those by Antonio Garcia Martinez, William J. Perry, and J.D. Vance—all the subjects are still alive. (So, for that matter, are those of two of the others: Paul English (Tracy Kidder’s subject) and Patricia Hearst (Jeffrey Toobin’s). David Talbot’s biography of Allen Dulles is the best of this lot, in my opinion; it’s certainly the most important.

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, by Timothy Egan

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley, by Antonio Garcia Martinez

Jonas Salk: A Life, by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs

A Truck Full of Money: One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success, by Tracy Kidder

My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, by William J. Perry

Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T. J. Stiles

The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, by David Talbot

America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century, by Gabriel Thompson

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst, by Jeffrey Toobin

David Brower: The Making of the Environmental Movement, by Tom Turner

Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, by Larry Tye

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance

Trade fiction

The twenty-one novels listed represent a very wide range of styles and subject matter. Eleven are works of historical fiction: Matthew Carr, Helen Dunmore, Louise Erdrich, Alan Furst, Yaa Gyasi, Kristin Hannah, Robert Harris, Thomas Mallon, Simon Mawer, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Stewart O’Nan. However, the topics of these eleven books could hardly be more different from one another. The other books range from science fiction, religion, and humor to crime and politics. It’s extremely difficult for me to pick a favorite from among these twenty novels. If I’m forced to do so, however, I have to name The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

The Devils of Cardona, by Matthew Carr

Dark Matter: A Novel, by Blake Crouch

Exposure, by Helen Dunmore

The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich

A Hero of France, by Alan Furst

The Death of Rex Nhongo: A Novel, by C. B. George

The Whistler: A Novel, by John Grisham

Homegoing: A Novel, by Yaa Gyasi

The Nightingale: A Novel, by Kristin Hannah

Dictator (Ancient Rome Trilogy #3), by Robert Harris

Conclave: A Novel, by Robert Harris

Before the Fall: A Novel, by Noah Hawley

Razor Girl: A Novel, by Carl Hiassen

IQ, by Joe Ide

Single & Single: A Novel, by John le Carre

High Dive: A Novel, by Jonathan Lee

Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years, by Thomas Mallon

The Glass Room: A Novel, by Simon Mawer

Midnight Sun: A Novel, by Jo Nesbo

The Sympathizer: A Novel, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

City of Secrets: A Novel, by Stewart O’Nan

Politics and current affairs

The ten titles in this section cover a lot of territory. They explore the Great Recession, urban poverty, liberal politics, Right-Wing politics, drug cartels, and federal whistleblowers, as well as developments in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Jane Mayer’s Dark Money struck me as the most powerful of these ten books.

Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud, by David Dayen

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond

Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank

Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio, by Misha Glenny

Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America, by Ioan Grillo

Bravehearts: Whistle-Blowing in the Age of Snowden, by Mark Hertsgaard

The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics, by John Judis

Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, by Robert D. Kaplan

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer

A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS, by Robert F. Worth


In the ten books listed below, you can learn how Earth’s geological history has shaped the course of human affairs . . . how an Egyptian spy saved Israel from destruction in the Yom Kippur War . . . how the world’s largest construction company has acted as a law unto itself . . . how espionage failed to achieve much of anything of note in World War II . . . how Americans fought and died in the Spanish Civil War . . . how the United States Postal Service became the crippled giant it is today . . . how Britain’s Special Air Service in World War II became the model for special forces the world over . . . how today’s Right-Wing politics grew out of resistance to labor organizing in California’s fruit and cotton fields in the 1930s . . . how American advertising evolved from Snake Oil promotions to pop-up ads . . . and how FDR’s decision to take the US off the gold standard played a far more significant role in ending the Depression than anything else in the New Deal. The Secret War by Max Hastings strikes me as the most significant of these ten books.

A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves, by Walter Alvarez

The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, by Uri Bar-Joseph

The Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World, by Sally Denton

The Secret War: Spies, Ciphers, and Guerrillas, 1939-1945, by Max Hastings

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, by Adam Hochschild

Neither Snow Nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service, by Devin Leonard

Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit that Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War, by Ben MacIntyre

Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism, by Kathryn S. Olmsted

The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace, by Eric Rauchway

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, by Tim Wu


These three titles have nothing in common other than that they’re all grounded in science. Mary Roach is a humorist who finds a way to laugh about the absurdities that abound in military science. Sonia Shah examines the history of epidemic disease—and the existential threat it poses to the world’s people. Steve Silberman writes about the slow and painful development of psychiatrists’ understanding of the autism spectrum. Though it seems pointless to pick a favorite from among just three books, I’ll do it anyway. I choose Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, by Sonia Shah

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, by Steve Silberman


Mal Warwick