Here are the 10 best books of 2023


1. ‘The Bee Sting,’ by Paul Murray

Murray’s novel, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, reads like an instant classic. In it, the gleaming facade of one Irish family - a successful car dealer, his legendarily beautiful wife and their two children - begins to fracture under the weight of long-held secrets. Murray is a fantastically witty and empathetic writer, and he dazzles by somehow bringing the great sprawling randomness of life to glamorously choreographed climaxes. He is essentially interested in the moral conflicts of our lives, and he handles his characters and their failings with heartbreaking tenderness.

2. ‘The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store,’ by James McBride

The National Book Award-winning author of “The Good Lord Bird” sets this exuberant novel in a ramshackle Pennsylvania neighborhood before and during the Great Depression. There, Black and Jewish residents come together to hide an orphan from state officials who want to send the boy to a harrowing institution ruled by a violent fiend. Such circumstances might seem to promise a grim tale, but this is a book by James McBride. Vitality and humor thrum through his stories even in the shadows of despair. This vibrant, love-affirming novel bounds over any difference that claims to separate us.

3. ‘Loot,’ by Tania James

A real-life object of fascination - an 18th-century automaton depicting a tiger biting into an Englishman’s neck - is the basis for this novel. The story begins in Mysore with a 17-year-old peasant who has a talent for carving mechanical toys, and spans decades as the curiosity he creates changes hands and crosses continents. James moves within the historical record while freely exploiting its considerable gaps and silences. Her prose is lush with the sights, sounds and smells of India, France and England, and always laced with Dickensian wit.

4. ‘The MANIAC,’ by Benjamín Labatut


Like Labatut’s last book, “When We Cease to Understand the World” (2021), “The MANIAC” is captivating and unclassifiable, at once a historical novel and a philosophical foray. Its resident genius is the polymath and pioneering computer scientist John von Neumann, who displays “a sinister, machinelike intelligence.” The book’s many narrators offer a polyphonic portrait of the brilliant, frustrating von Neumann, and its extraordinary final segment brings us to the wonder and potential danger of artificial intelligence. Labatut is a writer of thrilling originality. “The MANIAC” is a work of dark, eerie and singular beauty.

5. ‘North Woods,’ by Daniel Mason

Mason plants his novel on an expanse of land in western Massachusetts where, over centuries, various absorbing tales unfold and interweave. There’s an illicit marriage between two Puritan runaways, a shocking, brutal murder and an enslaved woman fleeing north. The silent spaces between these stories articulate what the residents can’t, as their errant lives begin locking together in a winding chain of unlikely history. Elegantly designed with photos and illustrations, this is a time-spanning, genre-blurring work of storytelling magic. Mason has a light, mischievous touch, and it’s hard to imagine there is anything he can’t do.


6. ‘The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths,’ by Brad Fox

In 1930, the naturalist William Beebe descended deep into the ocean in a 41/2-foot steel sphere, describing what he saw outside the porthole through a telephone wire that rose to the surface. By turns philosophical and elegiac, Fox’s history of Beebe’s explorations is a hypnotic ode to the world beneath the waves. This is no straightforward narrative but a book built from scraps that belie its intricate engineering. It is also an exceptionally beautiful object, bursting with full-color illustrations and paintings of the creatures Beebe encountered.

7. ‘How to Say Babylon,’ by Safiya Sinclair

Born in a seaside Jamaican village near Montego Bay, Sinclair grew up in a strict Rastafarian family on the fringe of a hedonistic tourist mecca. She wanted more than the Rasta wifedom that was mapped out for her, and in this lushly observed memoir, she chronicles how she threw off that yoke. Doing so risked the wrath of her father, a reggae musician who feared that corrupting Western influences would ruin his daughter. The book grabs the reader with the beauty of its words (Sinclair is also a published poet), but it sticks because of the thorniness and complexity of its ideas.

8. ‘Judgment at Tokyo: World War II on Trial and the Making of Modern Asia,’ by Gary J. Bass

The post-World War II war crimes trial in Tokyo of leading Japanese military and civilian perpetrators lasted from May 1946 to November 1948 and resulted in 16 life sentences and seven hangings, including that of the wartime prime minister and minister of war, Hideki Tojo. This trial - far more complex, drawn-out and contentious than the Nuremberg proceedings - is the subject of Bass’s comprehensive, landmark and riveting book. Bass employs the complexities of the trial as a fulcrum to sketch a wide canvas, documenting not just atrocities and attempts at justice but the history of World War II in Asia.

9. ‘King: A Life,’ by Jonathan Eig

Eig’s book is the most compelling account of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life in a generation. To write it, he conducted more than 200 interviews, including with scores of people old enough to have known or observed King, and pieced together numerous accounts gathered by other journalists and scholars, some of them never published before. The result might be described as a deeply reported psychobiography - one infused with the narrative energy of a thriller, as Eig vividly reconstructs some of the story’s most dramatic turning points.

10. ‘The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts: The True Story of The Bondwoman’s Narrative,’ by Gregg Hecimovich

In 2001, the professor and literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. purchased an unheralded novel of unknown authorship at an auction. He verified that it was authentic and had probably been written by a Black person before 1860. It was published to wide acclaim and robust sales as “The Bondwoman’s Narrative.” Hecimovich’s book tells the incredible story of Hannah Crafts, the woman who wrote it, and of Hecimovich’s tireless efforts to discover her identity and reconstruct her trajectory. The result is an inspired amalgam of genres - part thriller, part mystery and part biography.