What I read in 2018

1 Jan 2019

Last year, I set myself the challenge of reading 30 books in 2018. 

On December 27th, I succeeded!

This year featured many 'pretty good' reads, but I was disappointed, particularly on the fiction side of things, not to have more to rave about. Having said that, there's plenty of good stuff in here and, who knows? Your next favourite read might be waiting for you below.

Here are my highlights:


The Alienist, by Caleb Carr

This was the only fiction book of the year that got a 5 star Goodreads rating from me. It was a captivating thriller about the introduction of psychology as a tool to help solve criminal cases.

Set in 1896, we follow newspaper reporter, John Schuyler Moore, as he works with his friend and psychologist, Dr. Laszlo Kreisler, to catch a serial killer loose in New York. However, the pair don't go about this conventionally. They focus on building up a psychological profile of the murderer, hoping it will help them to figure out where they will strike next.

I felt like I was there, living through America's Gilded Age, chilled to the bone, but unable to stop turning the pages. I love that there was a lot of historical detail that didn't slow down the story. This is definitely one for murder mystery fans, and will leave you reflecting on the age-old question of: nature versus nurture?

Lethal White, by Robert Galbraith

This is the fourth book in Robert Galbraith's (aka J. K. Rowling) Cormoran Strike series — and it was a fantastic instalment.

The story, set in London in 2012, follows detective Strike, and his partner, Robin Ellacott, as they try and figure out what is going on after a distressed, mentally ill, young man comes into their office imploring them to investigate a crime he believed he witnessed as a child.

How awkward of me to include a book in the middle of a series in my highlights, right? Well, this book was so enjoyable that I encourage you to go and read The Cuckoo's Calling (the first book in the series, which is also great), get through The Silkworm (wasn't a big fan, didn't like any of the characters) and Career of Evil (much better, but a rather messy plot), and then you can get the most out of the Lethal White reading experience.

In The First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I decided to pick this book up after the host of the EconTalk podcast, Russ Roberts, enthusiastically recommended it on his show and said he'd do a couple of special 'book club' episodes about it.

There was one other thing that intrigued me - the book was over 700 pages, spanned just 3 days, and yet, apparently, wasn't slow-paced at all. Oh, really?

Turns out Russ was right! I was blown away by how fast-paced the book seemed, given its depth. The character work was incredible and I learnt so much about the Soviet regime in the 1940s.

This book is not your light bedtime reading though, that's for sure. I did get a little lost in some of the back and forth dialogue and philosophical debates. Also, keeping track of the characters, especially during the first half of the book, was difficult. I read the book with a pencil in tow (opted not to read it on my Kindle after Russ recommended against it), annotating the 'Cast of Characters' list with page numbers of first appearances and defining plot points to help jog my memory of who was who.

Overall, this book was fascinating, moving, and, at times, very funny. If you're interested in this part of history and getting real insight into what life in a special Soviet Russian prison was like, both for those inside and their relations outside, then this is an essential read. Solzhenitsyn based the story and characters on his real life experiences, making the detail, dialogue, and character development incredibly rich.

If you do pick up this book, make sure you are indeed reading "In the First Circle" and not "The First Circle". The latter was published with nine chapters removed and different plot points and characters so as to get past Soviet Russia censorship in the 1960s. The version that I read was how Solzhenitsyn intended for the story to be.

(Want to enhance your reading experience of this book? First listen to Kevin McKenna, a Russian Literature professor, and Russ Roberts discuss Solzhnitzyn and the Soviet Union, then read the book, before listening to the same two men discuss the characters, plot, and themes of the book.)


Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou

This was the juiciest read of 2018 for me. I couldn't put this book down. If this were fiction, I'd have been disappointed in the novel, saying that the plot was far-fetched and the characters were not believable.

Turns out everything that happened in this book was true.

Bad Blood is the behind-the-scenes story of the rapid rise and shocking fall of Theranos, a multibillion-dollar blood testing startup. I remember seeing the founder and CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, on the cover of magazines and thinking: wow, she's amazing. Can I be like her? Turns out I definitely definitely do not want to be anything like her. Her whole company was built on huge lies, fear, and intimidation.

For all you (strange) people out there who don't like fiction but love a good story, this is definitely one for you! It's also a great read for people who love all things to do with tech, startups, or Silicon Valley culture.

To Pixar and Beyond, by Lawrence Levy

This book was a joy to read. A beautiful and inspiring story about how the author worked with Steve Jobs to turn Pixar, a struggling company, into the successful creative giant that we all know today.

What I love is that there were so many practical business lessons, particularly around strategy, partnerships, and leading teams, and Levy did a wonderful job of giving a step-by-step account of what he did while still delivering a compelling narrative.

Here are the rest of the books I read this year, in rough order of enjoyment/recommendation:



So there we have it!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? Have I inspired you to pick up something new this year? Any questions about books I didn't say much about? Drop me a message on Twitter.

Oh, and we're upping the ante again in 2019: 35 books.

Let's go!

tags: books, reading

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