In a year that often seemed stranger than fiction, we turned to books for guidance, solace, escape, and entertainment.
Some were political and polarising. Some were feel-good fantasies. Some were inspiring stories of success against the odds. We devoured tales of war and unrest, of historical figures, of the nature of humanity, of killer clowns. We sought both to evade our problems and to understand them more deeply.
The year’s most popular reads offer a glimpse into the soul of 2017. Amazon’s This Year In Books reveals the most-read fiction and non-fiction titles of 2017, with the top honours going to a 30-year-old dystopian classic and a foul-mouthed take on self-help and happiness.
If you haven’t already, here are the 20 books you should read if you want to sound smart at cocktail parties this year.
#10: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows
As he climbs into the sidecar of Hagrid’s motorbike and takes to the skies, leaving Privet Drive for the last time, Harry Potter knows that Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters are not far behind. The protective charm that has kept Harry safe until now is broken, but he cannot keep hiding. The Dark Lord is breathing fear into everything Harry loves and to stop him Harry will have to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes. The final battle must begin.
Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend a major announcement — the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure.
As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, but the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. Langdon finds himself in a desperate bid to escape Bilbao and locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret, aided the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event.
Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, the duo must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself… and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch.
#8: A Gentleman In Moscow
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humour, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.
#7: Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire
The Triwizard Tournament is to be held at Hogwarts. Only wizards who are over seventeen are allowed to enter – but that doesn’t stop Harry dreaming that he will win the competition. Then at Halloween, when the Goblet of Fire makes its selection, Harry is amazed to find his name is one of those that the magical cup picks out. He will face death-defying tasks, dragons and Dark wizards, but with the help of his best friends, Ron and Hermione, he might just make it through – alive.
#6: Beneath A Scarlet Sky
Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but when his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.
After Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier in hopes it will protect him, he is recruited to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.
Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share.
#5: Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
Dark times have come to Hogwarts. After the Dementors’ attack on his cousin Dudley, Harry Potter knows that Voldemort will stop at nothing to find him. There are many who deny the Dark Lord’s return, but Harry is not alone: a secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to fight against the Dark forces. Harry must allow Professor Snape to teach him how to protect himself from Voldemort’s savage assaults on his mind. But they are growing stronger by the day and Harry is running out of time …
#4: A Game Of Thrones
Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Stark family hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
#3: Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone
Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real. They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them to reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.
#1: The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its image and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing – at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force.
#10: I Can’t Make This Up
The question you’re probably asking yourself right now is: What does Kevin Hart have that a book also has? According to the three people who have seen Kevin Hart and a book in the same room, the answer is clear.
A book is compact. Kevin Hart is compact. A book has a spine that holds it together. Kevin Hart has a spine that holds him together. A book has a beginning. Kevin Hart’s life uniquely qualifies him to write this book by also having a beginning.
It begins in North Philadelphia. He was born an accident, unwanted by his parents. His father was a drug addict who was in and out of jail. His brother was a crack dealer and petty thief. And his mother was overwhelmingly strict, beating him with belts, frying pans, and his own toys. The odds, in short, were stacked against our young hero, just like the odds that are stacked against the release of a new book in this era of social media (where Hart has a following of over 100 million, by the way). In his literary debut, Hart takes the reader on a journey through what his life was, what it is now, and how he’s overcome each challenge to become the man he is today.
#9: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
When it was first published in 1989, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was an almost instant bestseller–and quickly became a permanent part of the cultural lexicon. With over 25 million copies sold worldwide in over 40 languages since its first publication, this book continues to help millions of readers become more effective in both their personal and professional lives. This is one of the rare books that has influenced presidents, CEOs, educators, and individuals all over the world not only to improve their businesses and careers but to live with integrity, service, dignity, and success in all areas of life. It has had an undeniable impact for the past 25 years–and will no doubt continue to be influential for many more.
#8: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate
This is a book about an unlikely campaign that had an even more improbable ending: the closest outcome in history and an unprecedented eight-month recount saga, which is pretty funny in retrospect. It’s a book about what happens when the nation’s foremost progressive satirist gets a chance to serve in the United States Senate and, defying the low expectations of the pundit class, actually turns out to be good at it. It’s a book about our deeply polarized, frequently depressing, occasionally inspiring political culture, written from inside the belly of the beast. In this candid personal memoir, the honorable gentleman from Minnesota takes his army of loyal fans along with him from Saturday Night Live to the campaign trail, inside the halls of Congress, and behind the scenes of some of the most dramatic and/or hilarious moments of his new career in politics.
#7: How To Win Friends And Influence People
Dale Carnegie’s rock-solid, time-tested advice has carried countless people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives. One of the most groundbreaking and timeless bestsellers of all time, How to Win Friends And Influence People will teach you: six ways to make people like you, twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, nine ways to change people without arousing resentment, and much more to achieve your maximum potential.
#6: The 5 Second Rule
Throughout your life, you’ve had parents, coaches, teachers, friends and mentors who have pushed you to be better than your excuses and bigger than your fears. What if the secret to having the confidence and courage to enrich your life and work is simply knowing how to push yourself? Using the science of habits, riveting stories and surprising facts from some of the most famous moments in history, art and business, Mel Robbins will explain the power of a “push moment.” Then, she’ll give you one simple tool you can use to become your greatest self. It takes just five seconds to use this tool, and every time you do, you’ll be in great company. More than 8 million people have watched Mel’s TEDx Talk, and executives inside of the world’s largest brands are using the tool to increase productivity, collaboration, and engagement.
#5: Born A Crime
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth.
Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.
The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humour and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.
#4: Alexander Hamilton
Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time.
Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.
Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, one whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power.
One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?
Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original work that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.
Dr. Harari also compels us to look ahead. Over the last few decades, humans have begun to bend laws of natural selection that have governed life for the past four billion years. We are acquiring the ability to design not only the world around us, but also ourselves. Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become?
#2: Hillbilly Elegy
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.
But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.
#1: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected American society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.
Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.
A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap to help a generation lead contented, grounded lives.