2018 Book List: A (non-medical) year in review

Book list title image

I tend to read a lot. In previous years, one of the things I have found frustrating is forgetting which books I have already read when when hunting for my next read (especially with long series or authors with a huge number of titles). Therefore, this year I decided to keep track of the books I read. Looking back over the list, and considering how much I like to get book recommendations, I thought others might be interested in my biased and totally unprofessional opinions. It also seems like a nice non-medical year in review type exercise. So I am posting it here. Feel free to ignore. I am am sure to be back sometime soon with some resuscitation or evidence based nerdiness. Wishing you all a great New Year…

I have included links to all of these books. These are Amazon affiliate links. That means that if you click the link and buy the book, I get a small amount of money. The cost to you is unchanged. You can think of it as a way to support the many costs of running First10EM, if you feel like the site deserves your support. If you are uncomfortable with that, just go to amazon yourself and search for the book. I am not trying to sell you anything (which should become obvious by the opinions I express about a lot of these books).

The Books (In the order I read them)

Royal Flash (Flashman book 2)

By George MacDonald Fraser

I really like the concept of this book series: take an accurate account of history, and then re-explain the events around a single fictional character (who happens to be a lech and a buffoon). It was a good book, but I wasn’t compelled to immediately read the next book in the series (as I usually am), so it probably wasn’t great.

Arbitrary number score: 62


By Nnedi Okorafor

A reasonably interesting science fiction concept, but not good enough that I will read book 2 in the series. (Which is pretty rare for me).

Arbitrary number score: 11


By Andy Weir

I really liked this book. It is by the author of The Martian, and not nearly as good as that book, but it is a fun science fiction novel about life and crime on a moon base.

Arbitrary number score: 86

Six of Crows

By Leigh Bardugo

I am not usually a huge reader of fantasy, but that seems to be what I bought to start this year. This was an excellent novel following a ragtag group of criminals and misfits on an impossible heist. I definitely recommend it for a fun read.

Arbitrary number score: 83

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows book 2)

By Leigh Bardugo

They were double crossed in book 1. The sequel is all about revenge. Like most sequels, it isn’t quite as good as the original, but was still worth the quick read.

Arbitrary number score: 73

The Uncertain Art: Thoughts on a life in medicine

By Sherwin Nuland

A nice collection of essays about medicine.

Arbitrary number score: 63

The Colour of Magic

By Terry Pratchett

This is sort of a parody of the fantasy genre. It was quite funny, but the story was also good. I will probably keep reading this series, but the fact that there are 41 books to get through is a little daunting.

Arbitrary number score: 77

Mrs. Fletcher

By Tom Perotta

Part comedy, part social commentary, this was an entertaining novel about sex and relationships, based around a divorcee searching for meaning in the year after her son left home for college.

Arbitrary number score: 75

We Need to Talk: How to have conversations that matter

By Celeste Headlee

An excellent non-fiction exploring how we can have better conversations. I have been meaning to write a blog post about some of these ideas for a while, but for now people will just have to read the book.

Arbitrary number score: 78

Fools and Mortals

By Bernard Cornwell

Historical fiction based around Richard Shakespeare (William’s brother). Well written, but overall just an average story.

Arbitrary number score: 19

Carve the Mark

By Veronica Roth

Reasonable for a day by the pool, but overall not a great book. I didn’t realise this was the same author who wrote Divergent when I picked up the book, and this is basically the same story in a different setting.

Arbitrary number score: 14

Man’s Search of Meaning

By Viktor E Frankl

An absolutely incredible read. There is nothing light at all about this Holocaust survivor’s account of life in the concentration camps, but the insight into human nature is unparalleled.

Arbitrary number score: 100

Sevlin Ascends

By Josiah Bancroft

This was a great book for an easy read. A nice fantasy fiction about a school teacher visiting the Tower of Babylon, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Arbitrary number score: 86

When You are Engulfed in Flame

By David Sedaris

This collection of short essays is the first book I have read by Sedaris. They were interesting and funny. I will definitely read more Sedaris in the future.

Arbitrary number score: 80

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

By Madeleine Thien

It took me a while to get into this book, but I ultimately loved it. It is a complex novel following an extended family through pivotal times in China’s 20th century (the cultural revolution through to the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square).

Arbitrary number score: 81

Remote Control (Nick Stone book 1)

By Andy McNab

A fairly standard action page-turner, but made more interesting by the fact that McNab really was part of the SAS, and therefore provides interesting insight into operations details. However, the not infrequent nonsensical sentence or jarring grammar made the reading less enjoyable.

Arbitrary number score: 41

The Design of Everyday Things

By Don Norman

I love design. I love the concepts in this books, especially ideas about how design contributes to and can be used to avoid error. Overall, reads a little too much like a textbook to be super enjoyable though.

Arbitrary number score: 39

The Boat People

By Sharon Bala

This is a beautifully written story, told from 3 different perspectives, about refugees from Sri Lanka and their saga trying to find refuge in Canada. Highly recommended.

Arbitrary number score: 91

Eye of the Needle

By Ken Follett

I have liked everything by Ken Follett. This is not the best of his novels, but he knows how to write a good page turner.

Arbitrary number score: 78

Something Fresh

By P.G. Wodehouse

I know of no author who has mastered comedic language quite like Wodehouse. His books are always a pleasure to read. (Wodehouse is one of the reasons I need this list. He wrote so much, and I have read almost everything. I am sure I missed a few, but I am not sure which ones, and I really don’t want to miss anything he wrote.)

Arbitrary number score: 80

Warriors and Worriers

By Joyce F. Benenson

An exploration of sex and gender, and a discussion of whether there is a biologic foundation. The topic is very interesting, but it requires a degree of concentration that I don’t think I had when I was trying to read this.

Arbitrary number score: I don’t know

The Danger Within Us

By Jeanne Lenzer

An absolute must read, whether you are in medicine or not. Medical science has been broken in so many ways by the involvement of industry money. Using interesting stories about medical devices, this book chronicles many of those deficiencies.

Arbitrary number score: 88

Arm of the sphinx

By Josiah Bancroft

Not nearly as good as the first book (Senlin Ascends) but OK for a light, fun read.

Arbitrary number score: 71

Of Human Bondage

By Somerset Maugham

I have considered this one of my favorite novels since reading it in my early teens. It is still a good novel, but I doesn’t quite stand up to my memory on re-reading.

Arbitrary number score: 79

On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not

By: Robert A Burton

I love learning and thinking about the fallibilities of the human brain. Others who like that topic will probably enjoy this book, but the writing isn’t great which made reading feel more like a chore than a pleasure at times.

Arbitrary number score: 69

Space Opera

By: Catherynne Valente

I should have really liked this booked. It is Eurovision in space. Zany science fiction in the Hitchhiker’s guide genre, combined with fun playful language. I should of liked it, but honestly most of the time I found myself bored or lost in overly confusing sentences.

Arbitrary number score: 41

Everything happens for a reason – And other lies I’ve loved

By: Kate Bowler

I didn’t write a note after reading this, and now I really don’t remember it at all. Probably not a good sign.

Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead

By: Brene Brown

A discussion about how shame shapes our lives. The subject matter is interesting, but I didn’t find myself engaging with the book, nor did it leave me thinking when I put it down. Not great.

Arbitrary number score: 38

Real artist don’t starve: Timeless strategies for thriving in the new creative age

By: Jeff Goins

Not super applicable to a career in medicine, but perhaps incredibly applicable to FOAMed. I think this author would think it is incredibly silly to spend all one’s free time creating a medical education blog while at the same time dumping a lot of one’s own money into the project to keep a money losing project alive. Maybe I should have paid more attention when reading?

Arbitrary number score: 63

The book of M

By: Peng Sheperd

The premise of this book is interesting: people lose their shadows, which leads to them losing their memories. Forgetting how things are supposed to be results in some unexpected powers. Overall an OK but not great book.

Arbitrary number score: 74

A darker shade of magic (Shade of Magic book 1)

A gathering of shadows (Shades of Magic book 2)

A conjuring of light (Shades of Magic book 3)

By: VE Schwab

A fun series of books based around 4 versions of London with varying degrees of magic. Good enough for me to read all 3 books.

Arbitrary number score: 77 average

The Devil’s Alternative

By Fredrick Forsyth

A cold war spy novel. It’s supposed to be a page turner, but I did not find myself really needing to turn the pages, so that probably says something.

Arbitrary number score: 45

The Girl With All the Gifts

By M.R. Carey

I didn’t know this was a zombie book when I bought it, which is a good thing, because I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I knew. (I don’t really get the zombie obsession). I enjoyed it a lot.

Arbitrary number score: 82

Happier at Home

By Gretchen Rubin

Not sure what I was looking for with this book, but I didn’t find it.

Arbitrary number score: 25

Mr. Eternity

By Aaron Thier

I liked the concept of this book. I like the issues it tackles. I really should love it, but in the end came away thinking it was just OK.

Arbitrary number score: 60

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Life, the Universe, and Everything

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Mostly Harmless

By Douglas Adams

Must reads. This is probably my 5th or 6th time through, but it had been at least a decade since I last picked these novels up. That was probably too long, because once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

Arbitrary number score: 100

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

By Arundhati Roy

Worth reading. A somewhat complex plot that weaves together the complex lives of a fairly large number of characters, but it offers some fascinating insights into the history, politics, religion, and culture of India, with a focus on those marginalized with that culture.

Arbitrary number score: 83

Last Chance to See

By Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine

Fantastic book. This is nonfiction about endangered animals, but because of Douglas Adam’s way with language, I was laughing out loud throughout. I got some weird looks at the airport in Nairobi at one point. I can’t believe I didn’t know this book existed until this year. It is rare for me to reread a book, but I am sure I will read this again. It would get a perfect score, but because it is more than 25 years old, some of the details could probably use updating. I really wish that Douglas Adams was still alive to give us an updated version.

Arbitrary number score: 97

The Keeper of Lost Things

By Ruth Hogan

The novel was unique and interesting. The writing is great. The story is great. For some reason, it just felt like it was missing a little something for me, although I can’t put  my finger on what.

Arbitrary number score: 79

The Alice Network

By Kate Quinn

An interesting historical fiction story told in 2 timelines. I have nothing bad to say, but I also can’t say anything particularly glowing.

Arbitrary number score: 73

Ajax Penumbra 1969

By Robin Sloan

This is really just a short story. It is the prequel to Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore, that I read a few years back and enjoyed. This probably doesn’t stand alone. I would read the 24 hour bookstore first.

Arbitrary number score: 76

The Punch Escrow

By Tal M Klein

I liked this book. It was good, realistic sci-fi, with an attention to scientific detail that I appreciate, but it was also a decent page turner. It fell short of great, but I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun read.

Arbitrary number score: 79

Snow Crash

By Neal Stephenson

Not a fan. I should have been. Dystopian cyberpunk, with a good mix of action in and out of virtual reality should have been my kind of beach read, but I was mostly bored and couldn’t wait until it was time for the next book.

Arbitrary number score: 33

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

By Michael Hyatt

I only really read this book because I was asked to give a talk on using social media in medicine and I didn’t feel like I had any expertise to offer. There isn’t much groundbreaking material in here, but there were enough decent insights that it would probably be worthwhile for a lot of people who use social media to connect with their audience.

Arbitrary number score: 25

The Social Media Bible

By Lon Safko

Also research for a talk. Not many people would enjoy this one.

Arbitrary number score: 10

Writing on the Wall

By Tom Standage

Yet another social media book, but this is one that I think most people would enjoy reading. It gives a great historical perspective on social media. We like to think that social media is something unique to our times, but human beings are social creatures and have been creating communication networks for millenia. The technology has changed, but our drive for knowledge and interaction remains the same.

Arbitrary number score: 73

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror

By Christopher Moore

Very funny. I am not sure why, but I was very biased against Christopher Moore. I think I thought he fit into the romance vampire genre, but it seems I was wrong. I am glad I gave this a shot, because I laughed out loud a number of times. I am sure more novels by Moore will show up here in time.

Arbitrary number score: 78

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

By Christopher Moore

This book was great. (It actually precedes The Stupidest Angel, but I read it after). It probably isn’t for everyone, but I think it is an intelligent and funny look at religion, in the format of a very readable novel, despite the fact you already know how it’s going to end.

Arbitrary number score: 86

Finding Our Way Home: A family’s story of life, love, and loss

By Damon Dagnone

This is an incredibly powerful book. Anything I say will be biased, as I have always considered Damon to be among the very best teachers, emergency doctors, and people that I know. However, that bias was not what made me cry endlessly throughout this book. It is incredibly emotional, and will definitely force you to question some of your key thoughts about life.

William Osler: A life in medicine

By Michael Bliss

I am not a huge fan of biographies, so it is not surprising that this book seemed a bit more like a chore than a pleasure at times. However, the insights into the history of medicine, and the perspective on how much things have changed in just over a hundred years made this a very worthwhile read.

Arbitrary number score: 61

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe: How to know what’s really real in a world increasingly full of fake.

By Steven Novella

I think this book should be required reading early in school. It is a great primer on science and the many ways that we can be fooled by falsehood. This will definitely be added to the list of books I recommend to medical students and residents.

Arbitrary number score: 82

Kavalier and Clay

By Michael Chabon

I picked this book up randomly, but have since discovered that it is a bit of a cult classic. I enjoyed it, but not with the fervor I have seen displayed elsewhere.

Arbitrary number score: 73

Practical Demonkeeping

By Christopher Moore

Part of a series with “The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” and “The Stupidest Angel”, this was entertaining, but not as funny as Moore’s other books. For a quick light read, it was worth the time.

Arbitrary number score: 71

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove

By Christopher Moore

A relatively funny light read, worthy of a few hours distraction after work.

Arbitrary number score: 79

Theory and Reality: An introduction to the philosophy of science

By Peter Godfrey-Smith

This is really a textbook, so it isn’t surprising that it isn’t always an enjoyable read. I disagree with a number of the conclusions made, but if you are looking to get past some of the practical problems we see in science and want to understand the underpinnings of the enterprise, this book is worth the mental effort.

Arbitrary number score: 50

Douglas Adam’s Starship Titanic: A Novel

By Terry Jones

This is a novel based on a computer game that Douglas Adams wrote. The genre, unsurprisingly, is science fiction comedy. It isn’t as good as anything written by Douglas Adams, but that is a difficult standard to measure by. It was funny and enjoyable, so I guess that is all that counts.

Arbitrary number score: 73

The Godwulf Manuscript (Spenser book 1)

By Robert Parker

I was chatting with someone about the Jack Reacher series, and this series was suggested as a decent similar option. I like Jack Reacher more, but as a guilty pleasure page turner type of book, it definitely kept me turning pages, so that is good.

Arbitrary number score: 76

Storm Front

By John Sandford

Another fairly standard page turner type novel. Nothing to rave about, but I will definitely pick up something by John Sandford again when faced with a long plane trip.

Arbitrary number score: 76

The Big Questions: How philosophy can change your life

By Lou Marinoff

I love the idea of a philosophical counselor. I love the idea of using philosophical teaching to guide real life decisions. I would love to have someone to have these kind of discussions with me. But in the end, the book just seemed to drone on, often name dropping philosophers more than engaging with ideas, and devolving into just another self help book.

Arbitrary number score: 19

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman

I think this is the first Neil Gaimon book I have read since American Gods back in highschool. American Gods was a great book (if I remember correctly). This was a good book, following a boy caught between the worlds of the living and the dead after his family is murdered.

Arbitrary number score: 77


By Min Jin Lee

A lengthy book, but well worth it. A well crafted novel following multiple generations of a family from Korea to Japan through the bulk of the 20th century, giving an interesting perspective on the history between these countries, and the difficulties faced as outsiders in Japan.

Arbitrary number score: 83

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

By Theodora Goss

My wife loved this novel and can’t wait to read the sequel. I don’t think I like it at all. The story was an interesting combination of famous literary figures, such as Dr. Jekyll, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, and Dr. Moreau, but I found the writing dreadfully boring. The same story could have probably been told in half the number of pages and been much better.

Arbitrary number score: 55

God Save the Child (The Spenser Series Book 2)

By Robert Parker

The second book in the Spencer series, and it is much the same as the first. A good novel to unwind with after a shift, but nothing great.

Arbitrary number score: 76

That’s it for this year. I would love to hear about your favourite books. Please leave any suggestions in the comments below.

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