My Top 5 Books of 2014

In 2013, there were 304,912 traditional print books offered for sale. The numbers aren’t yet in for 2014, but it’s probable that a similar number awaits. Of those ~300,000 new books, I read 22. That’s a solid .00733% of new books I plucked from obscurity (i.e. the best seller lists) and injested into my brain.

Of course, not all books are great. Some are terrible and some are meh. But thanks to the beauty of a normal distribution curve, it’s inevitable that some books are spectacular. Here, I’ve chosen 5 of those splendid options as my favorites of the year. I also suggest you embrace the slowness – wander out to your local book store tomorrow, peruse the shelves at a turtle’s pace, and pick up one of these beauties. Don’t download it on your eReader. Don’t wait for Amazon to ship it. Buy it from the bookstore, take it home immediately, put on some tea, and crack a spine.

The Martian

I first heard of this book during the advertising segment of an episode of Smarter Every Day, a video show dedicated to learning interesting science about the world. The Martian is the story of a space expedition to the red planet and how a single member is left behind on the surface. There’s lots of science as the main character figures out how to stay alive for years until a theoretical rescue. I usually slog through fiction, but this I finished in about 12 hours.

Steve Jobs

Released in 2011, it wasn’t until June of 2014 that I picked it up; the youthful version of Steve on the paperback drew me in. During Steve’s life, I was never a fan. The stories of his ire were legend and I don’t believe people should be treated poorly (which is the same reason I don’t watch Gordon Ramsey cooking shows). The book is a wonderful weaving of stories about an interesting man. It didn’t change my opinion of him, but I’m glad to have read the tale.

Excellent Sheep

Written by William Deresiewicz, an ex-professor at Yale, and released in 2014, Excellent Sheep takes a critical look at the elite higher education institutions and the students that matriculate. I didn’t attend one of the “elite” schools myself (I went to a “public ivy”), but while reading this, I started to ask myself questions about my own college education. The biggest takeaway was the realization that I bought into what my university was selling.

They put forth an idealized path and gave me the tools to follow along, yet this set of directions never quite resonated with me. The result of my reading was a sigh of relief after reframing my college education as merely a tool in my specific journey – a journey of my own choosing.

What If?

I’m an avid reader of the popular XKCD cartoon (little Bobby No Tables is my hero). What If?, the book, is a collection of stories from What If?, the website. On the website, creator Randall Munroe answers absurd questions with equally absurd, yet plausible, answers. Even though it’s filled with cartoons, the reader will need some basic scientific education to comprehend some of the entries.

Ready Player One

Readers of Ready Player One will find the acquisition of Oculus Rift by Facebook an eerily familiar tale. This is a story of a dystopian future where people interact with each other in an online world called OASIS. Its creator, James Halliday, died and left a massive scavenger hunt inside the world. The first person to solve the hunt would earn the rights to Halliday’s riches. It’s filled with warm, video game nostalgia, my favorite of which is the Adventure Atari game. The film adaptation is in progress, and Christopher Nolan is rumored to be a top choice for the director.