Despite taking a sizable break mid-year, I read 41 books in 2023, making it the year I’ve read the most in my adult life. Below are my 5 favorites from this year, in the order in which I read them.

1. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Due to the fact that I was traveling to Ireland and Northern Ireland for my spring break, I was looking for a book that would fill the appreciable gap in my knowledge on the Troubles in the late 20th century. Say Nothing was an excellent introduction to the conflict, with the book focusing on the mysterious disappearance of Jean McConville, a resident of Belfast in the 1970s. Then story then zooms out to cover the major events of the Troubles, told through the eyes of a couple key figures deeply involved with the movement.

What I particularly liked about this book was that it was written in such a way that I felt deeply sympathetic for the provisional IRA’s cause in the first half of the book, but was also able to see the harm caused by their methods, and the futility of their efforts approaching the 21st century. I found the book very compelling, and was sufficiently educated on the conflict after reading it to appreciate the continued tension on my visit to Belfast.

2. Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller

When I was asked for book recommendations this fall, Why Fish Don’t Exist was invariably my first suggestion. I loved this book so much that I read it all in one 5-hour sitting, unable to tear my eyes away. I don’t want to say too much about the book, because I think the twists and turns were part of what made reading it such a great experience. What I can say is that Miller does an amazing job of taking what I had originally thought was a biography, and incoporating both her personal experience and the experience of those she interviews in a way I didn’t see coming in the first third of the book. This book caused me to shed a few tears at two separate points, which is a pretty rare occurence for me.

3. Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows

Thinking in Systems was a close second for my most recommended book of this fall. An expert in systems thinking, Meadows lays out the fundamental components of a system, some archetypical examples of systems we encounter every day, and strategies for intervention. I thought that this book would make the perfect introduction to an engineering leadership class called Complex Leadership Challenges I took a year before. Equipping students with the basics of systems theory before setting them loose to explore a system of their choosing for the rest of the semester seemed to me a perfect recipe for positive outcomes. Although it’s a long story, discussions around this topic wound up landing me a part-time job this academic year, so I’m very glad that I read this book!

4. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

When I started The Obstacle is the Way, I had just finished Holiday’s other book, Ego is the Enemy, which could be an honorable mention for this list. I found The Obstacle is the Way to contain especially valuable insights for this stage in my life, when I am unsure of what’s next for me after university, and afraid of the coming struggles. Holiday, distilling the learnings of the great stoic thinkers, beseeches the reader to lean into these challenges as the road to growth. While this is easy to say and hard to carry out, the examples throughout the book give concrete examples of how successful people have applied these principles to their benefit. This book really did change my outlook on life challenges and opportunities.

5. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Although this book was required reading for an engineering leadership class I took this semester called Intelligent Leadership, it was one of my favorites of the year. Told from the perspective of an autistic man named Lou in the not-too-distance future, this speculative fiction novel opened my eyes to the experiences of the neurodivergent. Though certainly not representative of the lives of all autistic people, Lou’s internal dialogue showcases a different way of experiencing the world, showcasing his concerted effort towards understanding social cues that many of us take for granted. My favorite part of this book was the classroom conversation, where my peers discussed the extent to which their experience matched Lou’s internal dialogue. For my final project in this class, I chose to write an essay in defense of the controversial epilogue of this book, defending Moon’s narrative choices.