Without further ado, here are my favorite Fiction and Non-Fiction books of the decade.
1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
I was first drawn to this book by the premise, about two Jewish cousins in 1940s New York who create the comic book hero, The Escapist. That part is fantastic, as you get to experience with them the excitement of creating an icon in a just-born art form. What really makes this book great, though, is the scope it takes as it follows the two cousins’ lives through the joys and bitter pills that come with their success. Plus it’s the only book on my list to win a major award (The Pulitzer), so that’s got to count for something.
2. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
I like Lehane’s mystery novels but with this book he branched out further into how the choices we make haunt us and the ones we love. If you’ve seen the movie and not read the book, check it out as there’s a whole other dimension to these characters you haven’t experienced.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Most people point to The Goblet of Fire as the book where the Harry Potter series really came into its own. That is a great book, but I think people underestimate the difficulties of ending a story people have been building themselves up for (just ask Stephen King). Rowling pulls it off beautifully and the whole thing spools out as a natural consequence of everything that’s built up to it. Nothing seems phony or forced. That’s a real accomplishment.
4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I couldn’t emotionally distance myself from this book. As the father and son make their way across the dangerous highways of America after an un-named apocalypse, I kept picturing the boy as my son, Ben. I think that speaks to how deeply affecting this story is.
5. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Miles Roby is flipping burgers at the Empire Grill. He’s been doing this for 20 years, having given up his ambitions for much else. His ex-wife has left him for the local owner of a fitness club and he has a hard time communicating with his teenage daughter. I know this all sounds pretty standard, but this book has a level of heightened reality that I can’t quite pin a good description on. It makes the book way more interesting than the set up implies and it was one of the most pleasurable reads of my life.
6. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
Speaking of heightened reality, Lethem’s book about growing up in NYC in the 1970s rides the fine balancing act between realism and fantasy unlike any other book I’ve ever read. It starts out as an engrossing story of Dylan and his friend Mingus as they come of age in Brooklyn. Then they start flying. When you’re reading it, it sounds like the most natural thing in the world. Hats off to Lethem for pulling it off.
7. Thunder City by Loren D. Estleman
For the final book in Estleman’s Detroit series, he takes us back to the beginning. 1908 to be exact as Harlan Crownover joins forces with Henry Ford as he makes his third run at starting up an automobile company. The forces that align against them include other car companies, Harlan’s own father, the political establishment, and another force that was just coming into being: organized crime. A great look at the beginning of the city and industry as we know them today.
8. The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard
Elmore Leonard + depression era bank robbers + depression era lawman = Dan happy.
9. Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley
This, in my estimation, is the best book from what I call the second wave of Easy Rawlins mysteries. The Watts Riots have just happened and the racial tensions present in all the Rawlins stories have bubbled over. Plus, Easy is involved in a mystery more engaging than any other since Devil in a Blue Dress. A great entry in one of my all-time favorite series.
10. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
This book turned out to be a whole lot better than I was anticipating from the concept. For as “out there” as that concept is, the book is rooted in compelling characters and unlike many other time travel stories, all of their actions and the consequences of them make sense.
1. John Adams by David McCullough
I’ve read a lot of biographies of our founding fathers and this is the most compelling one I’ve ever picked up. Not only did McCullough revive interest in Adams, he saved his reputation from character judgments still hanging over him from as far back as the election against Jefferson. A great book I recommend to anyone looking for a human view of the events that formed our country.
2. The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer
This is the first book in Bauer’s ongoing attempt to tell the story of human civilization up to the present. When you’re covering this much ground, it’s hard to not sound like a textbook but Bauer’s wit and storytelling style keep this an engaging read throughout. I also love that she isn’t afraid to use tradition to fill gaps that we will never know the full story of.
3. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
This is the story of the Chicago World’s Fair and how it transformed that city and created new dreams for our nation. It’s also the story of a serial killer who was operating in and around the fair at the same time. The Fair portion of the story is what really held me and introduced me to one of my heroes from history, Daniel Burnham.
4. The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman
Few people had lives as interesting as Houdini’s and I don’t know that anyone has told the story of that life as well as Kalush and Sloman. My wife bought this for me, thinking I might be interested in it, and it led to a brief obsession with its subject.
5. Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis
If nothing else, this book will make you shake your head every time someone complains, “this isn’t what the Founding Fathers would’ve wanted.” When you read this vibrant a telling of the personalities and opinions that went into making this nation, you have a new appreciation for what it takes to get a whole new society started.