December 8

My Top Ten Books of the Year: 2023 Edition

I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson’s words resonate with me deeply. The fact that I try to read a lot, coupled with the reality that I have the memory of a firefly, it is a miracle I remember anything I read.

And even if I can’t accurately recall the details or plotlines of books, I know what I read changes who I am. Books, in subtle and often imperceptible ways, challenge my beliefs and inspire me. I will forever be grateful for the profound influence of the written word.

I used to be diligent about logging what I read, but in 2023, that was one other habit that took a backseat. Thankfully, my local, digital, and home libraries came to the rescue by keeping track of my reading history throughout the year. Without further ado, here are my top ten reads of 2023, presented in no particular order.


The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human - Siddhartha Mukherjee

In my opinion, very few people living today can make a scientific textbook sound lyrical. One of them is Siddhartha Mukherjee. My first introduction to his work was not his Pulitzer-winning Emperor of Maladies, but rather, it was his 2016 treatise, The Gene, that reignited my fascination with biology.

At 496 pages, The Song of the Cell is by no means an easy or a light read. It is an encyclopedia. But thanks to the author’s genius, it doesn’t read like one. Mukherjee weaves science into stories, and his narratives kept me riveted, deepening my understanding of the incredible complexity within something as microscopic as the human cell.

Works like The Song of the Cell prompt us to marvel at the genuine wonders of life and remind us that if we don’t pause enough to appreciate the wonder we all are, we are kind of missing the point of living altogether.

Govt Cheese: A Memoir – Steven Pressfield

I’ll admit. I’m a Pressfield fan and will read anything he lends his name to. As someone who reads many memoirs (with over five making it to my top ten books list last year), I can emphatically say that Govt Cheese is one of the most heartfelt, vulnerable memoirs you’ll ever come across. Pressfield doesn’t leave any of the cringey bits out and unapologetically recounts his journey through self-doubt and loathing to become the beloved writer he is today.

If you aren’t acquainted with Pressfield’s work, I highly recommend getting started with his website.

Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity – Peter Attia

Peter Attia is no stranger to those who follow health-related blogs or podcasts. His book, Outlive, is a magnum opus on how to live well longer and challenges conventional thinking on medicine and aging. The book's focus is not just on increasing lifespan but addresses the most important but often-ignored paradigm of medicine: “Prevention is the best cure.”

I recommend this book to everyone because, in today's world, advocating for oneself is more critical than ever, and true self-advocacy requires a solid understanding of the subject matter.

While longevity often tends to be associated with bio-hacks. I was just glad Attia’s book isn’t that. It’s a far more practical, approachable way to challenge some of our outdated perceptions about medicine and health.

Elon Musk – Walter Isaacson

I’m no stranger to Isaacson’s biographies. I’ve read most of them, except Kissinger (no, thank you), generally finding them appealing to various degrees. It is always enlightening to read the personal stories behind extraordinary human achievements such as CRISPR.

Elon Musk was one of the few books I had on my preorders this year. I’m neither in the “Musketeer” (fan) nor the “Never Musk” (hater) club. I was simply eager to gain more insight into the man who believes we should colonize Mars soon.

Parts of the book, however, felt somewhat dull to me, possibly because I lack the intellectual depth to fully appreciate the intricate details of automobile or space engineering.

Nonetheless, it affirmed what I had long suspected about extraordinarily high achievers—they possess a distinct makeup, and it's unfair to assess them using the same criteria we apply to ourselves. Musk, I gathered, is both a genius and a flawed human being. And, after reading many Isaacson biographies, I think it’s safe to conclude you can’t be the former without the traits of the latter.

Build the Life You Want - Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey

I was first acquainted with Arthur C Brooks’ work through his 2022 book From Strength to Strength, which author Daniel Pink recommends as one “Ever ambitious person should read.” Pink goes on to say, “If you’re a striver tired of striving, this remarkable book is for you.”

Build the Life You Want is about how to effectively take charge of our happiness no matter our circumstances. As someone who teaches a happiness class at Harvard and writes a regular column on happiness in the Atlantic, Arthur C Brooks is no stranger to the self-help universe. With the assistance of self-help queen Oprah Winfrey, Brooks draws upon wisdom from Keats to Socrates in his 2023 book Build the Life You Want. If nothing else, the book’s content can be great icebreakers for social or dinner table conversations.

Also worth noting is The New Yorker magazine's book review, which almost deserves its own spot on this list. Pay the dollar, if you must, to get past their paywall. But read the piece.

Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes - Morgan Housel

Ever since I read Morgan Housel’s book The Psychology of Money, which incidentally was one of my ten favorite books of 2021, I, like many others, have become an avid Housel fan. Naturally, I promptly joined the preorder list upon learning about his new book.

I know each book is unique and should be evaluated on its own merits, Same as Ever didn’t hold my attention as much as Housel’s previous book did. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great and worthwhile read. If you’re a US or World War history buff, you’ll enjoy the book much more than I did. Additionally, having listened to nearly every interview and podcast featuring the author, I found that I was already familiar with a substantial amount of the content in the book. Nonetheless, Same as Ever is a worthwhile addition to your library.


The Chinese Groove: A Novel – Kathryn Ma

It’s hard to find immigrant stories that don’t lean towards tragedies or heartbreak. (Think American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins.) However, Kathryn Ma's The Chinese Groove breaks this mold, presenting a coming-of-age immigrant tale centered around an optimistic and somewhat naïve young boy from Yunnan province who makes it to San Francisco to find out what he’s been told about his American relatives, or for that matter American life, may not be wholly true. But he finds his groove and, from there, finds himself.

As an immigrant myself, I appreciate and understand the importance and value of the “groove” — the community, connections, and generosity of your own people who help you get settled when you move into a foreign land.

Lessons in Chemistry: A Novel – Bonnie Garmus

I first listened to the audio version of this book and absolutely loved it. And as I write this, I’m finding out there’s a TV series based on the book. It’s times like this that I feel like I do live under a rock. And, for those tempted to “watch” the book, I’d recommend you read it first. Then watch the show. If you insist.

Lessons in Chemistry is a very clever, charming, and page-turning read on the subject of feminism and gender stereotyping and is a reminder that though we’ve come a long way as a society in just a few years, we still have ways to go.

Yellowface – R.F. Kuang

I took a little detour from the tried and tested to read a book that’s not very formulaic for me. I’m glad I did that for Kuang’s Yellowface, a book, for lack of a better word, is very woke and current—something I’m definitely not. The book explores a question I’ve always found fascinating: Who decides what stories you can or cannot tell?

Yellowface explores some of the hottest subjects of our time—xenophobia, racism, and the extraordinary influence of social media. Also, as someone who dabbles in writing, I found the author’s insights into the intricacies of the publishing industry particularly fascinating.

The Covenant of Water: A Novel – Abraham Verghese

By September, it seemed like every book recommendation list I encountered featured Abraham Verghese’s The Covenant of Water. Intrigued, I borrowed a copy from the library and dove into the pages.

Unputdownable is how I’d describe the book. At 776 pages, again, it’s not a breezy read. But I don’t regret the few days I lost to the book.

The fact that some of the book's locations and settings are closely connected to my own roots made it easy for me to feel nostalgic and transported me back in time. The only parts of the book that bothered me were the excessive religious references. However, considering the devout nature of some characters, I suppose it's par for the course.

Honorable Mentions

In addition to the top ten reads, here are a few other honorable mentions for the books I read this year. Most of these were newly released this year except for the last one on the list.

Late Bloomers: A Novel – Deepa Varadarajan

Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs: A Journey Through the Deep State – Kerry Howley

Renewal: From Crisis to Transformation in Our Lives, Work, and Politics – Anne-Marie Slaughter

Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I'd Known Earlier – Kevin Kelly

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art – James Nestor (2020)


Reading nourishes the soul. Books help us travel to other worlds as much as they help us explore our own.

If you can’t seem to find the time to read, I end with a quote from Emerson again, who, it’s said, read like a hawk.

 The glance reveals what the gaze obscures. Somewhere, the author has hidden his message. Find it, and skip the paragraphs that do not talk to you. Emerson.

Happy Reading!



Start Before You’re Ready

Start Before You’re Ready
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
Get a FREE detailed step by step guide to build a practical to-do list to achieve all your life goals. 
You'll also get weekly actionable tips based on science for a healthy, productive and happy life!