The Best Books Read in 2017

For the sixth straight year, I have rounded up my favorite books of the year (though not necessarily published this year) and presented them here in the hopes that you might find something that piques your own interest. For the first time, I have presented them as a Top 10 list. Of the roughly 80 books I read this year, I first isolated about 20 of them for potential inclusion, then performed another surgery to get it down to 15, then really dug in deep with the scalpel to identify the best 10.

This has been a year unlike any other in my 35 years, to put it mildly, bewildering and exhausting in equal measure, a year-long exercise in gaslighting that has probably rewired all our brains in some ineffable way; opening up my Twitter feed each morning feels like an act of increasing courage.

Things have gotten so radioactive that nearly every move one makes can often feel like a reaction to the political and social moment; choosing not to get worked up over the latest ground-shifting news, if only for mental health reasons, is itself a conscious political decision, and of course that extends to our reading choices as well. What I pulled off the shelf this year was either a necessary distraction from the noise, or a head-long attempt to engage with it. I think my list speaks to that conflict, and I suspect it will only become more acute in 2018.

Onto the list!

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Blood in the Water (2016), by Heather Ann Thompson

A monumental work of reporting, this book is an exhaustive (and exhausting) account of the four-day Attica Prison rebellion that took nearly four decades to resolve*. Indeed, by the time the uprising ends and the prison has been violently retaken, there is still well more than half the book left, given to a mind-numbing parade of lawsuits and legal machinations. That Thompson is able to make this half as dramatic as the first is remarkable.

*If in fact it ever has been resolved. Despite some modest payouts to victims, the state has never admitted any wrongdoing in its calamitous decision to retake the prison with such fatal, arbitrary force, nor was any law enforcement official involved in the retaking ever indicted.

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